The Return of the Soldier

by

Rebecca West

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Christopher (Chris) Baldry Character Analysis

Chris is 36 years old, Kitty’s husband, and Jenny’s beloved cousin. He and Kitty had one child, Oliver, who died as a baby five years before the start of the story. Chris has a warm, friendly, sympathetic character. As a child, Chris had a vivid imagination, and as an adult, he always seems to be searching for lasting, transforming joy. As a young man, he took over his father’s failing mining business in Mexico, but he doesn’t enjoy the work. Around the same time, he had a short-lived romance with Margaret Allington, then married Kitty a few years later. He is now a captain in the British Army, serving on the front somewhere in France. After suffering shell-shock and amnesia, Chris believes that he and Margaret are still a couple, and he has no memory of Kitty. He and Margaret have a joyful reunion back home at Baldry Court, and it becomes apparent to Jenny that Chris was never satisfied with the luxurious, relatively superficial life with Kitty, having longed for a deeper relationship all the while. Chris’s amnesia represents Rebecca West’s view on the ultimately futile human tendency to escape into fantasies of seemingly simpler times. Although Chris is happy when he believes that his marriage to Kitty never happened, the other characters all understand that denying reality in this way will only lead him to lose his dignity in the long run. After Dr. Gilbert Anderson visits and diagnoses the longings at the root of Chris’s amnesia, Margaret shows Chris some of baby Oliver’s old things, and Chris comes out of his amnesia, once again “every inch a soldier.”

Christopher (Chris) Baldry Quotes in The Return of the Soldier

The The Return of the Soldier quotes below are all either spoken by Christopher (Chris) Baldry or refer to Christopher (Chris) Baldry. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Return of the Soldier published in 1998.
Chapter 1  Quotes

You probably know the beauty of that view; for when Chris rebuilt Baldry Court after his marriage, he handed it over to architects who had not so much the wild eye of the artist as the knowing wink of the manicurist, and between them they massaged the dear old place into matter for innumerable photographs in the illustrated papers.

Related Symbols: Landscape and Nature
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we had made happiness inevitable for him. I could shut my eyes and think of innumerable proofs of how well we had succeeded, for there never was so visibly contented a man: the way he lingered with us in the mornings while the car throbbed at the door, delighting just in whatever way the weather looked in the familiar frame of things, how our rooms burned with many-coloured brightness on the darkest winter day, how not the fieriest summertime could consume the cool wet leafy places of our garden; the way that in the midst of entertaining a great company he would smile secretly to us, as though he knew we would not cease in our task of refreshing him; and all that he did on the morning just a year ago, when he went to the front. . . .

Related Symbols: Landscape and Nature
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2  Quotes

“Oh, I’ll take you up!” Kitty rang out efficiently. She pulled at his coat sleeve, so they started level on the lowest step. But as they went up the sense of his separateness beat her back; she […] fell behind. When he reached the top she was standing half-way down the stairs, her hands clasped under her chin. But he did not see her. He was looking along the corridor and saying, “This house is different.” If the soul has to stay in his coffin till the lead is struck asunder, in its captivity it speaks with such a voice.

She braced herself with a gallant laugh. “How you’ve forgotten,” she cried, and ran up to him, rattling her keys and looking grave with housewifery, and I was left alone with the dusk and the familiar things.

Related Characters: Kitty Ellis Baldry (speaker), Jenny Baldry (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

That night […] we sat about the table with our faces veiled in shadow and seemed to listen in quiet contentment to the talk of our man who had come back to us. Yet all through the meal I was near to weeping because whenever he thought himself unobserved he looked at the things that were familiar to him. Dipping his head he would glance sideways at the old oak panelling; and nearer things he fingered as though sight were not intimate enough a contact […] It was his furtiveness that was heartrending; it was as though he were an outcast and we who loved him stout policemen. Was Baldry Court so sleek a place that the unhappy felt offenders there? Then we had all been living wickedly and he too.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

As I played I wondered if things like this happened when Purcell wrote such music, empty of everything except laughter and simple greeds and satisfactions and at the worst the wail of unrequited love. Why had modem life brought forth these horrors that make the old tragedies seem no more than nursery shows? Perhaps it is that adventurous men have too greatly changed the outward world which is life’s engenderment. There are towns now, and even the trees and flowers are not as they were; […] And the sky also is different. Behind Chris’ head, as he halted at the open window, a searchlight turned all ways in the night like a sword brandished among the stars.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Well, one sounded the bell that hung on a post, and presently Margaret in a white dress would come out of the porch and would walk to the stone steps down to the river. Invariably, as she passed the walnut tree that overhung the path, she would pick a leaf and crush it and sniff the sweet scent; and as she came near the steps she would shade her eyes and peer across the water. “She is a little near-sighted; you can’t imagine how sweet it makes her look.” (I did not say that I had seen her, for indeed this Margaret I had never seen.)

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry (speaker), Margaret Allington Grey
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

She was then just a girl in white who lifted a white face or drooped a dull gold head. And as that she was nearer to him than at any other time. That he loved her, in this twilight which obscured all the physical details which he adored, seemed to him a guarantee that theirs was a changeless love which would persist if she were old or maimed or disfigured. He […] watched the white figure take the punt over the black waters, mount the grey steps and assume their greyness, become a green shade in the green darkness of the foliage-darkened lawn, and he exulted in that guarantee.

Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

When she came back into the parlour again she was wearing that yellowish raincoat, that hat whose hearse plumes nodded over its sticky straw, that grey alpaca skirt. I first defensively clutched my hands. It would have been such agony to the finger tips to touch any part of her apparel. And then I thought of Chris, to whom a second before I had hoped to bring a serene comforter. I perceived clearly that that ecstatic woman lifting her eyes and her hands to the benediction of love was Margaret as she existed in eternity; but this was Margaret as she existed in time, as the fifteen years between Monkey Island and this damp day in Ladysmith Road had irreparably made her. Well, I had promised to bring her to him.

Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Then, one April afternoon, Chris landed at the island, and by the first clean quick movement of tying up his boat made her his slave. I could imagine that it would be so. He was so wonderful when he was young; he possessed in great measure the loveliness of young men, which is like the loveliness of the spry foal or the sapling, but in him it was vexed into a serious and moving beauty by the inhabiting soul. […] [F]rom his eyes, which though grey were somehow dark with speculation, one perceived that he was distracted by participation in some spiritual drama. To see him was to desire intimacy with him so that one might intervene between this body which was formed for happiness, and this soul which cherished so deep a faith in tragedy.

Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

But instead she said, “It’s a big place. How poor Chris must have worked to keep it up.” […] No one had ever before pitied Chris for the magnificence of Baldry Court. It had been our pretence that by wearing costly clothes and organizing a costly life we had been the servants of his desire. But she revealed the truth that although he did indeed desire a magnificent house, it was a house not built with hands.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Margaret Allington Grey (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

[Jenny] constantly contrasted [Margaret’s] appearance with the new acquisition of Kitty’s decorative genius which stood so close behind her on the table […] This was a shallow black bowl in the centre of which crouched on hands and knees a white naked nymph, […] Beside the pure black of the bowl her rusty plumes looked horrible; beside that white nymph, eternally innocent of all but the contemplation of beauty, her opaque skin and her suffering were offensive; beside its air of being the coolly conceived and leisurely executed production of a hand and brain lifted by their rare quality to the service of the not absolutely necessary, her appearance of having but for the moment ceased to cope with a vexed and needy environment struck one as a cancerous blot on the fair world.

Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

I covered my eyes and said aloud, “In a minute he will see her face, her hands.” But although it was a long time before I looked again they were still clinging breast to breast. It was as though her embrace fed him, he looked so strong as he broke away. They stood with clasped hands, looking at one another (they looked straight, they looked delightedly!), and then as if resuming a conversation tiresomely interrupted by some social obligation, drew together again and passed under the tossing branches of the cedar to the wood beyond. I reflected, while Kitty wept, how entirely right Chris had been in his assertion that to lovers innumerable things do not matter.

Related Symbols: Landscape and Nature
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

You may think we were attaching an altogether fictitious importance to what was merely the delusion of a madman. But every minute of the day, particularly at those trying times when he strolled about the house and grounds with the doctors, smiling courteously, but without joy […] it became plain that if madness means liability to wild error about the world, Chris was not mad. It was our peculiar shame that he had rejected us when he had attained to something saner than sanity. His very loss of memory was a triumph over the limitations of language which prevent the mass of men from making explicit statements about their spiritual relationships.

Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

I felt, indeed, a cold intellectual pride in his refusal to remember his prosperous maturity and his determined dwelling in the time of his first love, for it showed him so much saner than the rest of us, who take life as it comes, loaded with the inessential and the irritating. I was even willing to admit that this choice of what was to him reality out of all the appearances so copiously presented by the world, this adroit recovery of the dropped pearl of beauty, was the act of genius I had always expected from him. But that did not make less agonizing this exclusion from his life.

Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

I have often seen people grouped like that on the common outside our gates, on Bank Holidays. […] So it was not until now, when it happened to my friends, […] that I knew that it was the most significant as it was the loveliest attitude in the world. It means that the woman has gathered the soul of the man into her soul and is keeping it warm in love and peace so that his body can rest quiet for a little time. That is a great thing for a woman to do. I know there are things at least as great for those women whose independent spirits can ride fearlessly and with interest outside the home park of their personal relationships, but independence is not the occupation of most of us. What we desire is greatness such as this which had given sleep to the beloved.

Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Perhaps even her dinginess was part of her generosity […] I could believe of Margaret that her determined dwelling in places where there was not enough of anything, her continued exposure of herself to the grime of squalid living, was unconsciously deliberate. The deep internal thing that had guided Chris to forgetfulness had guided her to poverty so that when the time came for her meeting with her lover there should be not one intimation of the beauty of suave flesh to distract him from the message of her soul.

Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Not only did [Margaret’s agony] make my body hurt with sympathy, it shook the ground beneath my feet. For that her serenity, which a moment before had seemed as steady as the earth and as all-enveloping as the sky, should be so utterly dispelled made me aware that I had of late been underestimating the cruelty of the order of things. Lovers are frustrated; children are not begotten that should have had the loveliest life, the pale usurpers of their birth die young. Such a world will not suffer magic circles to endure.

Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

“Effort!” He jerked his round head about. “The mental life that can be controlled by effort isn’t the mental life that matters. You’ve been stuffed up when you were young with talk about a thing called self-control— a sort of barmaid of the soul that says, ‘Time’s up, gentlemen,’ and ‘Here, you’ve had enough.’ There’s no such thing. There’s a deep self in one, the essential self, that has its wishes. And if those wishes are suppressed by the superficial self […] it takes its revenge.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Dr. Gilbert Anderson (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Now, why did Kitty, who was the falsest thing on earth, who was in tune with every kind of falsity, by merely suffering somehow remind us of reality? Why did her tears reveal to me what I had learned long ago, but had forgotten in my frenzied love, that there is a draught that we must drink or not be fully human? I knew that one must know the truth. I knew quite well that when one is adult one must raise to one’s lips the wine of the truth, heedless that it is not sweet like milk but draws the mouth with its strength, and celebrate communion with reality, or else walk for ever queer and small like a dwarf.

Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

He walked not loose-limbed like a boy, as he had done that very afternoon, but with the soldier’s hard tread upon the heel. It recalled to me that, bad as we were, we were yet not the worst circumstance of his return. When we had lifted the yoke of our embraces from his shoulders he would go back to that flooded trench in Flanders under that sky more full of flying death than clouds, to that No Man’s Land where bullets fall like rain on the rotting faces of the dead[.]

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Christopher (Chris) Baldry
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
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Christopher (Chris) Baldry Character Timeline in The Return of the Soldier

The timeline below shows where the character Christopher (Chris) Baldry appears in The Return of the Soldier. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
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Kitty Baldry hasn’t heard from her husband, Chris, for two weeks—he’s on the Western Front, “somewhere in France”—but she begs Jenny not to... (full context)
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...can dry it by the window; it’s the sunniest room in the house. She wishes Chris had not kept the room as a nursery, she says, “when there’s no chance.” (full context)
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Jenny joins Kitty and gazes out the window at Baldry Court, which architects transformed after Chris and Kitty’s marriage, with “not so much the wild eye of the artist as the... (full context)
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...because like many other Englishwomen, she is “wishing for the return of a soldier”—her cousin, Chris. She’s been having bad dreams about Chris running across No Man’s Land, dodging bodies, until... (full context)
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After Kitty wails to Jenny, “Ah, don’t begin to fuss” about Chris’s whereabouts, she studies her reflection in a hand-mirror as if “[bending] for refreshment over scented... (full context)
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Jenny believes that they have “made happiness inevitable” for Chris, because he is so “visibly contented.” She recalls how Chris delights in his surroundings at... (full context)
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Jenny cherishes Chris’s happiness because she believes that he isn’t like other men. They’d played together as children,... (full context)
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However, Chris has been too busy for such joy. After his father’s death, he had to take... (full context)
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...address.” She figures the woman may need money, and it’s good to be charitable while Chris is at war. As they head downstairs, though, Kitty pouts over the interruption. (full context)
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...and seems embarrassed. She’s heard from her maid, she explains, that Kitty doesn’t know about Chris—that he’s been hurt. Kitty’s and Jenny’s eyes meet in amusement—they both know this can’t be... (full context)
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...off by the accusatory way Kitty begins interrogating the woman. When Mrs. Grey says that Chris has “shell-shock,” Kitty doesn’t react. When she asks how Mrs. Grey knows all this, Mrs.... (full context)
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...dismisses her in shrill tones. Jenny feels ashamed that such an incident is connected to Chris, and she is touched by Mrs. Grey’s patient gaze, which reminds her of “an old... (full context)
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...up. Kitty knows that she seemed rude, but she can only see two alternatives: either Chris has gone mad, which she can’t bear, or else Chris really does know and have... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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...there is a letter postmarked from France, written by Frank Baldry, a clergyman cousin of Chris. He informs Jenny that Chris has suffered shell-shock and is in “a very strange state.”... (full context)
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Oddest of all, though, is that Chris boyishly informed Frank that he is in love with a girl named Margaret Allington, daughter... (full context)
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Chris asked Frank if he wouldn’t mind sending Margaret some money, or fetching her himself, since... (full context)
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Frank replied that Chris married Kitty Ellis in February, 1906. When Chris learned that it is now 1916, he... (full context)
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The doctor advised Frank to take Chris home for the time being. In the letter, Frank urges Jenny to prepare Kitty for... (full context)
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A week later, Chris is brought home. Until he arrives, a restless feeling of dread hangs over the house,... (full context)
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When Kitty emerges from the shadows, white-faced and grimacing, it’s obvious that Chris has no memory of her. He refrains from inquiring, instinctively not wanting to hurt her,... (full context)
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When Chris goes to dress for dinner, he initially starts toward his old bedroom, but Jenny holds... (full context)
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...bridal hairstyle, and on her left hand, she’s removed all but the wedding ring. When Chris enters the room, breathing hard from tripping down some unfamiliar steps, he’s greeted by the... (full context)
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Over dinner, Chris talks cheerfully of childhood memories, but Jenny feels grieved, because Chris keeps staring at and... (full context)
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...life, which she attributes to “adventurous men” who’ve altered the external world too much; beyond Chris, she sees a searchlight sweeping the sky. (full context)
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Chris speaks up, telling Kitty that he knows his behavior must seem insulting, but that he... (full context)
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Chris and Jenny are left alone to talk, Chris seeming more relaxed in Kitty’s absence. Chris... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Chris describes the country walk that took him from his Uncle Ambrose’s house to Monkey Island.... (full context)
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Eventually Chris and Margaret go up to find her father, Mr. Allington, tending to his poultry or... (full context)
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Chris’s life continued in this way for some time, though he doesn’t remember exactly how long.... (full context)
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After nightfall, Chris and Margaret cross the lawn to a little Greek-style temple, which had been built by... (full context)
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In Jenny’s telling, the Greek temple dissolves, and suddenly Chris is lying again among the barbed wire of the trenches, the sky is full of... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...next day, it’s Jenny’s job to fetch Margaret from Wealdstone. Before she leaves, she sees Chris rowing a skiff around the pond. He feels uncomfortable being around Kitty and all the... (full context)
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...her hair is askew, she’s covered with flour, and she’s sweating. Jenny tells Margaret that Chris is home. (full context)
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After Jenny describes the situation with Chris, Margaret weeps, explaining that when something resurfaces after 15 years, and one is very tired,... (full context)
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...chauffeur (“the poor are always afraid of menservants”), Jenny asks what came between her and Chris, since Chris didn’t remember their parting. Embarrassed, Margaret tells the story. She describes Monkey Island... (full context)
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...Mrs. Allington’s death, when Margaret was 14. Life had been happy for her there. When Chris appeared one day for a visit, looking spry yet thoughtful and serious, Margaret was instantly... (full context)
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...the connection—in the spring 15 years ago, old Mr. Baldry’s business had begun to fail. Chris had been summoned home to be told that he had to take it over. When... (full context)
...brushes indifferently past it, going on with her story. Three weeks after her quarrel with Chris, Mr. Allington died. She longed for Chris to come, but he never did. Depressed, she... (full context)
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...Margaret refrained from reading them, thinking it against her wifely duty. But after she got Chris’s telegram, she finally opened the letters. She now weeps at the memory, saying nothing of... (full context)
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Margaret, however, merely pities Chris for having to work so hard to keep up such a place. Jenny is privately... (full context)
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...it, Margaret’s appearance looks especially offensive. Jenny thinks the nymph on the bowl also symbolizes Chris’s idealization of women—passionless figures who only exist for others’ admiration. She cringes at the thought... (full context)
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After Jenny sends Margaret outside to meet Chris, she finds she’s on the point of an anxious collapse—or perhaps, she admits to herself,... (full context)
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Jenny sees Chris running across the lawn, just as he’d run across No Man’s Land in her nightmares;... (full context)
Chapter 5
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After Margaret is driven home, Chris comes to Kitty and Jenny in the drawing room and says that Margaret has explained... (full context)
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From then on, Chris spends his days sitting like “a blind man waiting for darkness to lift,” except for... (full context)
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A week after Chris’s reunion with Margaret, Kitty, still bedridden, declines a walk and reminds Jenny that Dr. Gilbert... (full context)
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...that while it might seem as if she and Kitty attributed too much importance to Chris’s delusions, Chris appears to be perfectly sane, even while walking the grounds with various doctors... (full context)
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...pair of carriage horses,” and Margaret “[champions] the soul against the body.” Jenny thinks that Chris sees a transfigured, eternal version of Margaret; she and Kitty, however, are only worth a... (full context)
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...doctors who’ve visited over the past week. One of them seems to have successfully hypnotized Chris, causing him to remember Kitty and regain his middle-aged personality, but as soon as the... (full context)
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...comes upon them in the woods. They are sitting on a rug in a clearing, Chris has fallen into an innocent, childlike sleep, and Margaret is watching him. To Jenny, they... (full context)
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...them, Jenny realizes that Margaret has been generous to her and Kitty, too. By placing Chris into “this quiet magic circle,” Margaret has created a pattern in their lives that wouldn’t... (full context)
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...of peaceful sleep—she no longer dreams of No Man’s Land, because she knows that in Chris’s condition, he cannot be sent back to the Army. That very morning, in fact, Jenny... (full context)
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Though it feels intrusive—it’s clearly an ecstatic moment for both Margaret and Chris, who stirs awake but keeps clinging to Margaret’s hand—Jenny sits on the rug beside the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...three of them, identifies Margaret, and tells her they’ll talk later. He walks off with Chris. Inside the house, Kitty emerges in a nice dress, ready to meet a new man.... (full context)
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...agony. The sight of Margaret’s pain disrupts Jenny’s sense of a benign “magic circle” enfolding Chris; the world is crueler than she’d realized. (full context)
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...feeling. They find Dr. Anderson in the drawing room, cheerfully discussing amnesia. He explains that Chris’s unconscious self is refusing to let him reconnect with his normal life, hence the loss... (full context)
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Kitty suggests that if Chris would just make an effort, perhaps he’d be cured. Dr. Anderson reacts sharply to this.... (full context)
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Kitty argues that Chris lacks for nothing, but Dr. Anderson responds that there must be some discontentment in his... (full context)
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...often doesn’t seem necessary to him. Margaret says that only a jarring memory would bring Chris back—like the memory of his boy, Oliver. The doctor is surprised—Kitty had not mentioned this.... (full context)
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...gives Margaret Oliver’s blue jersey and red ball, but Margaret quails at presenting them to Chris. (full context)
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Margaret says that she ought never to have come to Chris, or else they should just let him be. After living a hard life, she knows... (full context)
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Jenny further realizes that if they truly love Chris, they must safeguard his human dignity. If he stayed in the “magic circle,” he would... (full context)
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...“spirit asleep in horror,” trying to take comfort in the thought of the parts of Chris’s personality that will remain intact after the shock. Kitty comes in and paces fretfully, asking... (full context)
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Chris no longer walks boyishly, as he had that afternoon, but with a soldier’s tread. Jenny... (full context)