The Return of the Soldier

by

Rebecca West

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Jenny, age 35, is Chris Baldry’s cousin and childhood playmate. She is the novella’s narrator. Jenny grew up at Baldry Court and loves Chris deeply; it’s implied, though never directly stated, that her feelings for Chris are at least somewhat romantic in nature. Unmarried and childless, Jenny continues living at Baldry Court as an adult and takes pride in maintaining a beautiful home for Chris. Jenny is a loyal companion to Chris’s wife Kitty, but as the story develops, she sees through Kitty’s superficiality more and more. Though Jenny shares Kitty’s disdain for lower-class people, she gains admiration for Margaret throughout the story, and she is generally much more sensitive than Kitty, both to beauty and to other people’s feelings. In these ways, she stands as a mediating character between Kitty and Margaret and the very different forms of beauty and truth that they represent. At the end, Jenny realizes that Chris’s ability to face reality is more important than his happiness and supports Margaret in bringing about Chris’s cure.

Jenny Baldry Quotes in The Return of the Soldier

The The Return of the Soldier quotes below are all either spoken by Jenny Baldry or refer to Jenny 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:

Well, she was not so bad. Her body was long and round and shapely and with a noble squareness of the shoulders; her fair hair curled diffidently about a good brow; her grey eyes, though they were remote, as if anything worth looking at in her life had kept a long way off, were full of tenderness; and though she was slender there was something about her of the wholesome endearing heaviness of the draught-ox or the big trusted dog. Yet she was bad enough. She was repulsively furred with neglect and poverty, as even a good glove that has dropped down behind a bed in a hotel and has lain undisturbed for a day or two is repulsive when the chambermaid retrieves it from the dust and fluff.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Margaret Allington Grey, Kitty Ellis Baldry
Page Number: 10
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

Wealdstone is not, in its way, a bad place; it lies in the lap of open country and at the end of every street rise the green hill of Harrow and the spires of Harrow School. But all the streets are long and red and freely articulated with railway arches, and factories spoil the skyline with red angular chimneys, and in front of the shops stand little women with backs ridged by cheap stays, who tapped their upper lips with their forefingers and made other feeble, doubtful gestures as though they wanted to buy something and knew that if they did they would have to starve some other appetite. When we asked them the way they turned to us faces sour with thrift. It was a town of people who could not do as they liked.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Margaret Allington Grey
Related Symbols: Landscape and Nature
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

As the car swung through the gates of Baldry Court she sat up and dried her eyes. She looked out at the strip of turf, so bright that one would think it wet, and lit here and there with snowdrops and scillas and crocuses, that runs between the drive and the tangle of silver birch and bramble and fern. There is no aesthetic reason for that border; the common outside looks lovelier where it fringes the road with dark gorse and rough amber grasses. Its use is purely philosophic; it proclaims that here we estimate only controlled beauty, that the wild will not have its way within our gates, that it must be made delicate and decorated into felicity. Surely she must see that this was no place for beauty that has been not mellowed but lacerated by time, that no one accustomed to live here could help wincing at such external dinginess as hers.

Related Characters: Jenny Baldry (speaker), Margaret Allington Grey
Related Symbols: Landscape and Nature
Page Number: 55
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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Jenny Baldry Character Timeline in The Return of the Soldier

The timeline below shows where the character Jenny 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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...her husband, Chris, for two weeks—he’s on the Western Front, “somewhere in France”—but she begs Jenny not to fret. She and Jenny are sitting in the nursery that had belonged to... (full context)
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Jenny turns away, not wanting to intrude on Kitty’s grief, but Kitty calls her back—she’s just... (full context)
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Jenny joins Kitty and gazes out the window at Baldry Court, which architects transformed after Chris... (full context)
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Jenny feels offended by the beauty, however, because like many other Englishwomen, she is “wishing for... (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... (full context)
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Jenny believes that they have “made happiness inevitable” for Chris, because he is so “visibly contented.”... (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... (full context)
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...used to an expensive standard of living. Later, his little son Oliver died. It became Jenny and Kitty’s job, then, to make up for Chris’s lack of freedom and joy “by... (full context)
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Jenny’s reflections are interrupted by the parlourmaid entering with someone’s card—a visitor has arrived. The visitor... (full context)
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At the top of the staircase, Kitty and Jenny look down and see a middle-aged woman in a yellow raincoat, unfashionable hat, and muddy... (full context)
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...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 true, because the War Office would... (full context)
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Jenny can’t help feeling put off by the accusatory way Kitty begins interrogating the woman. When... (full context)
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...Kitty accuses the woman of trying to defraud them and dismisses her in shrill tones. Jenny feels ashamed that such an incident is connected to Chris, and she is touched by... (full context)
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After a while, Jenny tells Kitty that Kitty wasn’t of much help in clearing this up. Kitty knows that... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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...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.” Chris had telegrammed... (full context)
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...advised Frank to take Chris home for the time being. In the letter, Frank urges Jenny to prepare Kitty for the coming shock. Kitty reads over Jenny’s shoulder and complains that... (full context)
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...sleepy, contented smile. Seeing that part of his brown and gold hair has turned silver, Jenny cries out, and Chris turns to greet her. Jenny feels ashamed to be visibly 35,... (full context)
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When Chris goes to dress for dinner, he initially starts toward his old bedroom, but Jenny holds him back. Kitty rushes over to guide him in the right direction, but they... (full context)
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Over dinner, Chris talks cheerfully of childhood memories, but Jenny feels grieved, because Chris keeps staring at and caressing familiar objects. Jenny sees that Baldry... (full context)
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After dinner, Kitty scolds Jenny for playing Beethoven (“German music”) on the piano, so she switches to a cheerier piece... (full context)
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...must seem insulting, but that he must see Margaret or else he’ll die. Kitty agrees. Jenny is amazed at Kitty’s unselfishness, then notices the ugly expression on Kitty’s face, as Kitty... (full context)
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Chris and Jenny are left alone to talk, Chris seeming more relaxed in Kitty’s absence. Chris asks Jenny... (full context)
Chapter 3
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In Jenny’s telling, the Greek temple dissolves, and suddenly Chris is lying again among the barbed wire... (full context)
Chapter 4
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The next day, it’s Jenny’s job to fetch Margaret from Wealdstone. Before she leaves, she sees Chris rowing a skiff... (full context)
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...she answers the door, 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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Margaret, apologetically telling Jenny that her “girl” is off today, seats her in the parlour. Jenny is disgusted by... (full context)
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After Jenny describes the situation with Chris, Margaret weeps, explaining that when something resurfaces after 15 years,... (full context)
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Mr. Grey comes in from the garden, and Jenny understands from Margaret’s “girlish” tone that she has made it her life’s mission to “keep... (full context)
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As they leave, Margaret comments that Mariposa is “a horrid little house,” and Jenny is forced to agree. Yet, “with the smile of the inveterate romanticist,” Margaret points out... (full context)
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...a visit, looking spry yet thoughtful and serious, Margaret was instantly devoted to him. But Jenny stops Margaret from talking about their romance, fearful of feeling jealous. Margaret describes their quarrel,... (full context)
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Jenny makes the connection—in the spring 15 years ago, old Mr. Baldry’s business had begun to... (full context)
Jenny mentions something of this to Margaret, who brushes indifferently past it, going on with her... (full context)
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...at the strip of turf along the drive, which is landscaped and covered with flowers. Jenny observes that this border has no aesthetic justification; in fact, the common land along the... (full context)
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...merely pities Chris for having to work so hard to keep up such a place. Jenny is privately shocked; no one has ever pitied Chris in this way. She and Kitty... (full context)
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While the women drink tea, Jenny contrasts Margaret’s appearance—especially her dull hat and air of suffering—with a decorative bowl on the... (full context)
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After Jenny sends Margaret outside to meet Chris, she finds she’s on the point of an anxious... (full context)
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Jenny sees Chris running across the lawn, just as he’d run across No Man’s Land in... (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 things to him, and everything... (full context)
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...in Margaret’s company. Kitty, depressed, is like a “broken doll,” rarely getting out of bed. Jenny grieves too, spending her days taking what pleasure she can find in the house and... (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 Anderson is coming that afternoon—their last hope. Everyone must see him, she... (full context)
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Jenny says that while it might seem as if she and Kitty attributed too much importance... (full context)
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Jenny sees herself, Kitty, and Margaret as symbolizing different types of women. Kitty is the type... (full context)
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Jenny has little faith in the many doctors who’ve visited over the past week. One of... (full context)
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Though Jenny has been thinking discontentedly of Margaret’s ugliness, she is stunned by the beauty she sees... (full context)
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Watching them, Jenny realizes that Margaret has been generous to her and Kitty, too. By placing Chris into... (full context)
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Margaret has also given Jenny the gift of peaceful sleep—she no longer dreams of No Man’s Land, because she knows... (full context)
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...ecstatic moment for both Margaret and Chris, who stirs awake but keeps clinging to Margaret’s hand—Jenny sits on the rug beside the two. She tells them about the doctor’s impending visit,... (full context)
Chapter 6
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When they reach the house, they see Dr. Gilbert Anderson, and Jenny feels a chill of premonition. He has a surprisingly “unmedical” appearance, including a cheerful moustache... (full context)
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Jenny and Margaret go upstairs, and even in her anxiety, Margaret openly admires the beauty of... (full context)
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Jenny explains that Oliver had always been delicate, and that he finally faded away from a... (full context)
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...doctor wishes to see them. Margaret’s grief-stricken gestures as she sets the photograph aside give Jenny a foreboding feeling. They find Dr. Anderson in the drawing room, cheerfully discussing amnesia. He... (full context)
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...questions the women as to what it might be. Kitty has nothing to say, but Jenny admits she has always sensed something wrong in him. Then Margaret speaks up, saying that... (full context)
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Jenny takes Margaret to the nursery to find some of Oliver’s belongings. Seeing Oliver’s things, Margaret... (full context)
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...bear that Chris should lose it—and then he’d have to go back to the war. Jenny relaxes, grateful that Chris will be able to know an enduring, youthful happiness. (full context)
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...them tearfully, she walks on. Somehow, her presence, despite her “falsity,” recalls them to reality. Jenny remembers that “there is a draught that we must drink or not be fully human.” (full context)
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Jenny further realizes that if they truly love Chris, they must safeguard his human dignity. If... (full context)
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Sadly, Margaret takes Oliver’s jersey and ball and goes downstairs. Jenny collapses on an ottoman, her “spirit asleep in horror,” trying to take comfort in the... (full context)
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Chris no longer walks boyishly, as he had that afternoon, but with a soldier’s tread. Jenny realizes that the worst is yet to come—this cure means he will have to return... (full context)