The Wars

The Wars

by

Timothy Findley

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The protagonist of the novel. Robert is a handsome, intelligent, athletic young Canadian man who comes from an affluent family. He is the second child of Mr. Ross and Mrs. Ross and the brother of Rowena, Stuart, and Peggy Ross. Robert is shy, sensitive, and empathetic. He is extremely close with his beloved handicapped sister, Rowena, and blames himself when she dies in a tragic accident. In the spring of 1915, at eighteen years old, Robert enlists in the army to escape the guilt and pain of his sister’s death. In December of that year, Robert turns nineteen and ships off to England to fight in World War I as a Second Lieutenant, where his observant, clever nature is an asset to him and his fellow men. Throughout 1916, Robert and his fellow Canadian and British soldiers wage war against the Germans, primarily in France and Belgium. Although Robert has his heart set on fighting and dying honorably, he experiences a gradual loss of innocence and is driven to near-madness by trench warfare and the other horrible acts of violence he experiences at war. After his dugout is bombed in the Battle of St. Eloi, he goes to St. Aubyn’s convalescence hospital in England (owned by the wealthy d’Orsey family) to recover. Twelve-year-old Juliet d’Orsey falls in love with Robert during his stay and is distraught over her older sister Barbara’s sexual relationship with him. From here, Robert is again stationed in France. Along his journey there, he is brutally raped by his fellow soldiers, an assault that further erodes his sanity. Gradually, Robert becomes completely disillusioned with war and reaches the point where can no longer stand the incessant, senseless violence. Robert kills Captain Leather, his Officer Commanding, and commits a series of war crimes which ultimately result in him and a large number of horses being trapped in a burning barn. The incident leaves him badly disfigured, and he is branded as a traitor by his fellow soldiers as well as his family. After living out his last few years at St. Aubyn’s with Juliet by his side, Robert dies at age twenty-five.

Robert Ross Quotes in The Wars

The The Wars quotes below are all either spoken by Robert Ross or refer to Robert Ross. 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:
Trauma and War Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Australia edition of The Wars published in 1995.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

What you have to accept at the outset is this: many men have died like Robert Ross, obscured by violence. Lawrence was hurled against a wall—Scott entombed in ice and wind—Mallory blasted on the face of Everest. Lost. We’re told Euripides was killed by dogs—and this is all we know. The flesh was torn and scattered—eaten. Ross was consumed by fire. These are like statements: “pay attention!” People can only be found in what they do.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, The Reader
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“He was unique. But you have to be careful, searching his story out. I’ve been through it all, you know…the whole of this extraordinary century—and it’s not the extraordinary people who’ve prevailed upon its madness. Quite the opposite. Oh—far from it! It’s the ordinary men and women who’ve made us what we are. Monstrous, complacent and mad.”

Related Characters: Marian / Miss Turner (speaker), Robert Ross, The Reader
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

All these actors were obeying some kind of fate we call “revenge.” Because a girl had died—and her rabbits had survived her.

Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 17 Quotes

Nothing he’d read had covered this situation. Whores, of course, had been discussed at school but no one actually ever said this is what you do. They’d made it all up. But what they’d made up was not like this. At all. They’d flown from trapezes and made love in bath tubs and ravished several women to the bed posts, but no one had ever sat in a room with lilac wallpaper and been asked if there was “nothing special you’d like.”

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Ella
Page Number: 39-40
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

What had become of all the spires and the formal, comforting shapes of commerce he remembered—banks and shops and business palaces with flags? Where were the streets with houses ranged behind their lawns under the gentle awnings of the elms? What had happened here in so short a time that he could not recall his absence? What were all these fires—and where did his father and his mother sleep beneath the pall of smoke reflecting orange and red and yellow flames? Where, in this dark, was the world he’d known and where he was being taken to so fast there wasn’t even time to stop?

Related Characters: Robert Ross
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 21 Quotes

Oddly, too, he didn’t feel like sending love to anyone. It seemed unmanly. What he did do was enclose a photograph (official) and say to his father: “This will show you that my draft makes a brawling, husky lot of men. Not quite gunners or drivers yet—just as I can’t quite feel that I am a soldier myself.”

Related Characters: Robert Ross (speaker), Mr. Thomas Ross, Peggy Ross, Clifford Purchas
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 22 Quotes

“I do not understand. I don’t. I won’t. I can’t. Why is this happening to us, Davenport? What does it mean—to kill your children? Kill them and then…go in there and sing about it! What does that mean?” She wept—but angrily.

Related Characters: Mrs. Ross (speaker), Robert Ross, Miss Davenport
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 23 Quotes

Ord said hoarsely that since he was going to do a boy’s work he must read the “stuff of which boys are made” and smiled. Clifford didn’t appreciate the humor. To him, the war was a deadly serious and heaven-sent choice to become a man.

Related Characters: Captain Ord (speaker), Robert Ross, Clifford Purchas
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 29 Quotes

But Mrs. Ross just stood at the windows of the private car and was afraid to go outdoors. Her mind was full of trolley cars and she knew that if she tried to cross the tracks, then she and everyone would be struck down. Instead, she waved from behind the glass and she watched her boy depart and her husband standing in his black fur coat—it seemed for hours—with his arm in the air and the snow falling down around him. “Come on back to the raf’, Huck, honey.” And this was what they called the wars.

Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

The mud. There are no good similes. Mud must be a Flemish word. Mud was invented here. Mudland might have been its name. When it rains…the water rises at you out of the ground. It rises from your footprints—and an army marching over a field can cause a flood. In 1916, it was said that you “waded to the front.” Men and horses sank from sight. They drowned in mud. Their graves, it seemed, just dug themselves and pulled them down.

Related Characters: Robert Ross
Related Symbols: Horses, The Four Elements
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

Poole said: “You needn’t worry about the Germans here, sir. They’re a long ways off yet. At least as much as two miles or more.”

Levitt said: “Oh.” He seemed somehow demoralized by this news. Perhaps he thought you weren’t in the war unless the enemy could shoot you. In this he was much like everyone else who’d just arrived. You weren’t a real soldier unless you were in jeopardy.

Related Characters: Levitt (speaker), Willie Poole (speaker), Robert Ross
Related Symbols: The Four Elements
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

From the gap, when Robert’s eyes had cleared, he cast a single look back to where the man had been. He saw that the whole field was filled with floating shapes. The only sounds were the sounds of feeding and of wings. And of rafts.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Willie Poole
Related Symbols: The Four Elements, Eyes
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

All he wanted was a dream. Escape. But nobody dreams on a battlefield. There isn’t any sleep that long. Dreams and distance are the same. If he could run away…like Longboat. Put on his canvas shoes and the old frayed shirt and tie the cardigan around his waist and take on the prairie…But he kept running into Taffler. Throwing stones. And Harris.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Captain Eugene Taffler, Harris
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

You live when you live. No one else can ever live your life and no one else will ever know what you know. Then was then. Unique. And how does one explain it? You had a war. Every generation has a war—except this one. But that’s beside the point. The thing is not to make excuses for the way you behaved—not to take refuge in tragedy—but to clarify who you are through your response to when you lived. If you can’t do that, then you haven’t made your contribution to the future. Think of any great man or woman. How can you separate them from the years in which they lived? You can’t. Their greatness lies in their response to that moment.

Related Characters: Lady Juliet d’Orsey (speaker), Robert Ross, Harris
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

And what I hate these days is the people who weren’t there and they look back and say we became inured. Your heart froze over—yes. But to say we got used to it! God—that makes me so angry! No. Everything was sharp. Immediate. Men and women like Robert and Barbara—Harris and Taffler…you met and you saw so clearly and cut so sharply into one another’s lives. So there wasn’t any rubbish. You lived without the rubbish of intrigue and the long drawn-out propriety of romance and you simply touched the other person with your life.

Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes

In another hole there was a rat that was alive but trapped because of the waterlogged condition of the earth that kept collapsing every time it tried to ascend the walls. Robert struck a match and caught the rat by the tail. It squealed as he lifted it over the edge and set it free. Robert wondered afterwards if setting the rat free had been a favour—but in the moment that he did it he was thinking: here is someone still alive. And the word alive was amazing.

Related Characters: Robert Ross
Related Symbols: The Four Elements
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

This—to Bates—was the greatest terror of war: what you didn’t know of the men who told you what to do—where to go and when. What if they were mad—or stupid? What if their fear was greater than yours? Or what if they were brave and crazy—wanting and demanding bravery from you? He looked away. He thought of being born—and trusting your parents. Maybe that was the same. Your parents could be crazy too. Or stupid. Still—he’d rather his father was with him—telling him what to do. Then he smiled. He knew that his father would take one look at the crater and tell him not to go.

Page Number: 132-133
Explanation and Analysis:

Robert sagged against the ground. It was even worse than that. Lying beside the German was a modified Mauser rifle of the kind used by snipers. He could have killed them all. Surely that had been his intention. But he’d relented. Why?

The bird sang.

One long note descending: three that wavered on the brink of sadness.

That was why.

It sang and sang and sang, till Robert rose and walked away. The sound of it would haunt him until the day he died.

Related Characters: Robert Ross
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Robert sat on his bed in the old hotel at Bailleul and read what Rodwell had written.

To my daughter, Laurine;

Love your mother
Make your prayers against despair.
I am alive in everything I touch. Touch these pages and you have me in your fingertips. We survive in one another. Everything lives forever. Believe it. Nothing ever dies.

I am your father always.

Related Characters: Rodwell (speaker), Robert Ross
Page Number: 150-151
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

Robert I discovered was a very private man. His temper, you know, was terrible. Once when he thought he was alone and unobserved I saw him firing his gun in the woods at a young tree. It was a sight I’d rather not have seen. He destroyed it absolutely. Other times he would throw things down and break them on the ground…he had a great deal of violence inside and sometimes it emerged this way with a gesture and other times it showed in his expression when you found him sitting alone on the terrace or staring out of a window.

Related Characters: Lady Juliet d’Orsey (speaker), Robert Ross, Mrs. Ross
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

Robert thought of a Saturday crowd at a football game where everyone would link hands on the cold, fall afternoons and the long chains of singers would weave back and forth in the stands till the whole arena would be swaying from side to side.

Related Characters: Robert Ross
Related Symbols: The Four Elements
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

Robert sat on the mutilated mattress and opened his kit bag. Everything was there—including the picture of Rowena. Robert burned it in the middle of the floor. This was not an act of anger—but an act of charity.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Rowena Ross
Related Symbols: The Four Elements
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 8 Quotes

He got out the Webley, meaning to shoot the animals not yet dead, but he paused for the barest moment looking at the whole scene laid out before him and his anger rose to such a pitch that he feared he was going to go over into madness. He stood where the gate had been and he thought: “If an animal had done this—we would call it mad and shoot it,” and at that precise moment Captain Leather rose to his knees and began to struggle to his feet. Robert shot him between the eyes.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Captain Leather, Devlin
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 13 Quotes

Robert called out very distinctly (and there are twenty witnesses to this): “We shall not be taken.”

It was the “we” that doomed him. To Mickle, it signified that Robert had an accomplice. Maybe more than one. Mickle thought he knew how to get “them” out.

Related Characters: Robert Ross (speaker), Major Mickle
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 210-211
Explanation and Analysis:
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Robert Ross Character Timeline in The Wars

The timeline below shows where the character Robert Ross appears in The Wars. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Prologue
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert Ross, a soldier who has been wandering alone for over a week, sits watching a... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert comes across an abandoned train with cattle cars full of horses. In anticipation of the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 1
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...weep or exclaim “that bastard!” when asked specifically about the horses. It is revealed that Robert Ross somehow died in a fire. Many other soldiers also succumbed to violent fates that... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...switches to the reader’s point of view: you are told that you are looking through Robert’s old family photographs that are kept in the public archives, along with maps, letters, newspaper... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...somber attitudes toward Word War I, there was a lighthearted social climate during this time. Robert appears in a photo of a parade in honor of departing soldiers. At this time,... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
The narration shifts to a series of the Ross’s family photos. The snapshots feature Robert, his parents Thomas and Mrs. Ross, and his siblings Peggy, Stuart, and Rowena. The Rosses... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
...a present-day interview with Marian Turner, a nurse from World War I who remembers treating Robert after he was arrested and hospitalized. She muses on how young and handsome Robert was,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
On Good Friday (April 2, 1915), Robert stands at a train station in Ontario, feeling shy and uneasy amidst the crowd. He... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Robert continues to stand immobilized on the train platform, catching the attention of the Station Master.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Rowena falls on a Sunday, when Stuart is supposed to be watching her. Robert, however, blames himself because he was his sister’s “guardian” yet was masturbating in his bedroom... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Mrs. Ross insists that the rabbits must be killed since they belonged to Rowena, and Robert objects vehemently. He begs his mother to give them away or let him take care... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
Trauma and War Theme Icon
After arguing with Robert, Mrs. Ross retires to her bedroom and refuses to open the door when Tom knocks. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...Mrs. Ross are stoic. Peggy’s boyfriend, Clinton Brown, is there in his soldier’s uniform, and Robert thinks that it must be nice that he can escape when the funeral is over.... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Back at home, Robert sits in his bedroom while the funeral guests are in the parlor. After they have... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...from Mr. Ross’s factory named Teddy Budge is called in to kill the rabbits, and Robert races to the stable to stop him. He dashes outside, sliding in the mud as... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 10
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
After the fight with Teddy, Robert soaks his aches and bruises in the bathtub. Mrs. Ross, coming into the bathroom with... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Mrs. Ross breaks into a fit of laughter, but Robert can see that she is not hysterical. She explains that Robert was a comically serious... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
After a period of silence, Mrs. Ross suddenly turns on Robert. She tells him that Rowena did not belong to him because “no one belongs to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 11
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
After his admittance to the army, Robert is dispatched to join the 30th Battery, C.F.A. (Canadian Field Artillery) in training at Lethbridge,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
One night while Robert is out running, he sees a coyote ahead of him. He decides to follow the... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Robert thinks to himself that he would like to go for a swim, reflecting that he... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
The coyote scales the bank of the valley and looks directly at Robert as it howls and barks. Robert thinks that maybe the animal knew he was there... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Over the summer of 1915, Robert is assigned to a detail whose job is to break wild mustangs who are intended... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Suddenly, Robert and Clifford come upon a shirtless figure throwing stones at a row of bottles, with... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...soldiers and the enemy lines, likening both sides to “one little David against another.” As Robert and Clifford leave, Robert wonders if Taffler really wants the challenge of a Goliath. While... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Eventually, Robert and Clifford find the missing mustangs. On their way back, Robert thinks that Taffler may... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...of 1915, it rains heavily in North America and Europe. Tom and Mrs. Ross shower Robert with gifts of winter clothing and food. Since the Canadian forces are a “people’s army”... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Robert is pressured by his fellow soldiers to go to a brothel in Lousetown, a hamlet... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
As the men begin to retire upstairs with different prostitutes, Robert is shocked to see a cowboy fondling a prostitute’s breasts under her dress. Robert is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
In one of the bedrooms upstairs, Ella is vexed by Robert’s hesitance. Robert reflects on what he’s heard about prostitutes in the past compared with his... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Ella asks Robert if he wants to touch her, and he thinks that he both does and does... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert and Ella hear thumps coming from the next room, and she beckons him over to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 18
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
In November 1915, Robert is sent back to Kingston, Ontario to study military law and trajectory mechanics. On the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 19
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The war worsens while Robert and his fellow soldiers are in Ontario, creating a need for more Canadian troops. Robert... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...at that time would “be home before the leaves had fallen from these trees.” When Robert embarks for war, the leaves have already fallen twice. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 20
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert’s childhood hero was an Indian marathon runner named Longboat. Wanting to emulate his idol, Robert... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert faints with jaundice on his twenty-fifth lap, and Tom helps him through his illness by... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
The narrative shifts to describe a photograph of nineteen-year-old Robert, looking posed and serious in his army uniform. In the photo, Robert seems to be... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 21
Trauma and War Theme Icon
As the S.S. Massanabie prepares to embark, Robert is placed in a stateroom with Clifford Purchas, Captain Ord, and a young soldier named... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert writes one last letter to Tom. He tells his father that he had been surprised... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 23
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Though Robert has always loved the sea, the conditions on the S.S. Massanabie are grim. The ship... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Captain Ord, one of Robert’s cabinmates, claims to have lost his voice and spends the rest of the journey in... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Harris, another one of Robert’s cabinmates, catches pneumonia and is sent to the infirmary. Ord, who is Harris’s company commander,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 24
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert is horrified by the cramped, manure-filled, fly-infested stalls in the hold where the horses are... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 25
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...and forced to remain silent and without light. One night, Battery Sergeant-Major Joyce comes to Robert’s bunk to tell him that one of the horses has broken its leg. Robert will... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 26
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert panics and becomes ill over the thought of shooting the wounded horse because he has... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 27
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert and B.S.M. Joyce reach the S.S. Massanabie’s hold, where the horses are packed in tightly... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
The ship begins to crash violently, and Robert is surprised by his own authority when he assures Regis that they will not drown.... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert’s first shot fails to kill the horse. B.S.M. Joyce advises him to be “cool and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 28
Trauma and War Theme Icon
The next morning, Robert and Regis emerge from the hold as the S.S. Massanabie approaches the harbor, crashing through... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
From the quay, Robert and Harris watch the soldiers round up the horses and drive them toward the nearest... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 29
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Once Robert is stationed overseas, Tom has the idea of going to meet his son in Montreal... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 30
Trauma and War Theme Icon
From his post in Europe, Robert writes formal letters to Tom, Mrs. Ross, Peggy, Stuart, and even the family’s dog, Bimbo.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Trauma and War Theme Icon
In February 1916, Robert has been stationed in France for two months and is heading toward Belgium on a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert and his men depart from a town called Bailleul, which they call “the last place... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert rides with a bugler named Willie Poole, who chose active duty over joining the military... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Suddenly, massive flocks of birds begin to fly out of the ditches around Robert and Poole, adding to the disorienting, ominous atmosphere of the fog. Robert tells an orderly... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Eventually, junior officer Levitt emerges with Poole’s bugle and tells Robert that the orderly and his horse drowned to death because Robert had led the men... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Trauma and War Theme Icon
As Robert rides ahead of Poole and the rest of the convoy, he accidentally puts his foot... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Eventually, Poole and Levitt catch up to Robert and help him up. Once his eyes have cleared, Robert looks back and realizes that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...that the soldiers and their horses must swim across. When they reach the other side, Robert falls off his horse into the water, but his men pull him up the bank.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
Trauma and War Theme Icon
The Second Battle of Ypres took place in April 1915, around the time Robert first enlisted in the army. After the battle, Ypres remains in Allied possession. Most of... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert, Levitt, and the other junior officers alternate between convoy and battery duties. Robert and another... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...the French, aiming to create a “zone of death.” They fly planes overhead (which mesmerizes Robert) and make a gas attack at the Ypres Salient, but it is far enough away... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert and Levitt oversee the men who are fighting in trenches with mortars. The fighting has... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Robert and Levitt relieve two other men, Devlin and Bonnycastle, from their position in the dugout.... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Robert empties his knapsack full of food and cigarettes to share with the other men. Devlin... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Lying in his dugout bunk, Robert thinks about how strange Levitt and Rodwell are, reflecting that everyone is strange in war... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert feels instinctively afraid of sleeping and is unsettled by the surrounding sounds and smells of... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
The novel flashes back to January 1916. Arriving in England on the S.S. Massanabie, Robert and Harris are sent to an old country house where the C.F.A. keeps its reserve... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
One evening at the hospital, Robert runs into Taffler and a woman named Lady Barbara d’Orsey, who are there to visit... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
In the present day, Barbara’s sister, Lady Juliet d’Orsey (now in her seventies), still remembers Robert vividly. She is the fourth of the Marquis and Marchioness of St. Aubyn’s five children... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...from the present day with Lady Juliet d’Orsey, she recalls that her sister Barbara met Robert because of Harris and Jamie Villiers, the bandaged man Barbara and Taffler visited in the... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...Cambridge poet, was killed in the Somme Offensive on July 1, 1916. Juliet says that Robert was in love with Harris in the same way Jamie and Clive loved each other—not... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...each other in the ocean. Juliet says that, after Harris succumbed to pneumonia and died, Robert tried and failed to get in touch with Harris’s parents to give him an honorable... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Close to midnight on February 27, 1916, Robert finally falls asleep. At 4 a.m. the next morning, the Germans set off a string... (full context)
Part 3
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Robert’s dugout is bombed by the Germans. After the roof caves in, he, Rodwell, and Levitt... (full context)
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Robert struggles to survey the devastated trenches amidst the fire and smoke from burst shells. He... (full context)
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Robert reaches the Signals Office but cannot get through to his O.C. (Officer Commanding) for orders,... (full context)
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Captain Leather, Robert’s company commander, arrives from Wytsbrouk and asks Robert to explain the situation. Leather continually repeats... (full context)
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Robert and Bates lead twenty-two men through the remains of the trenches. Robert likes Bates because... (full context)
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When Robert, Bates, and their men reach the remains of the forward trench, they find it still... (full context)
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Robert spots an object in the distance and tells Bates they will head toward that. He... (full context)
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...men dig out a site to set up the guns according to Captain Leather’s orders. Robert notices one of the gunners throwing mud into the pools below like a child playing... (full context)
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Suddenly, a pale blue fog appears overhead. Robert orders the men to put on their gas masks, but Bates tells him they were... (full context)
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Robert remembers being in chemistry class with Clifford Purchas years ago and learning that the natural... (full context)
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...their hands for three hours, playing dead and praying as it begins to snow. Finally, Robert eases himself up and commands the other men to stay still. He hears the same... (full context)
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Robert freezes as he spots a German soldier lying at the edge of the crater, looking... (full context)
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Robert begins to climb out, too, but thinks he sees the German reaching for a gun.... (full context)
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...books piled up on his knees. Devlin, Bonnycastle, and Roots make forays from Wytsbrouk, and Robert and Bonnycastle fight in confusion over the fact that all of the guns were left... (full context)
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...ground is extinguished. Rodwell reappears and says goodbye, as he is being transferred. He entrusts Robert with his toad, sketchbooks, and a letter addressed to his daughter for safekeeping. Captain Leather... (full context)
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A few days later, Robert receives word that Rodwell shot himself. He was assigned “down the line” to a company... (full context)
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The novel flashes back to January 1916, from the perspective of Robert’s mother. Mrs. Ross begins to seek comfort in rain and snow, forcing Miss Davenport to... (full context)
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Mrs. Ross obsessively rereads, memorizes, and catalogues Robert’s letters. She writes him rambling, illegible responses. Tom feels distant from his wife and misses... (full context)
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On March 8, 1916, Robert is sent from St. Eloi to England. On the train ride there, he flips through... (full context)
Part 4
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...Emmeline, to convert their abbey into a convalescence hospital for soldiers. Around March of 1916, Robert returns from the Battle of St. Eloi and receives an invitation (bearing Captain Taffler’s forged... (full context)
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...child whose only playmate is her five-year-old sister Temple. She takes an immediate liking to Robert and admires his physical appearance. The two chat about their families, and Juliet tells Robert... (full context)
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One afternoon, Juliet picks daffodils to take to Captain Taffler. She sees Robert and Barbara come out of Taffler’s room and embrace. A short while later, Juliet goes... (full context)
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Barbara’s attraction to Robert quickly develops into an affair. Juliet is jealous of her sister because she, too, is... (full context)
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...and “blundering” into places where she does not belong. When she sees Barbara go into Robert’s room one night, she decides to pull a prank on them by dressing up as... (full context)
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...and cannot stop crying. Clive comes to sit with her, and she asks him why Robert and Barbara are so afraid. Clive replies that it is because “everyone they’ve loved has... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 1
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Robert takes a train from London to Southampton and boards a ship to the Canadian Base... (full context)
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The next day, Robert takes a long train ride to a town called Magdalene Wood, reflecting on childhood memories... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 2
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Robert, exhausted from his convoluted two-hundred-mile journey from Le Havre to Bailleul, falls into a deep... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 3
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Robert wakes up to find that it has rained. An old woman brings him a jug... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 4
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Robert arrives at Asile Desolé and undresses in one of the abandoned cells. He hurries out... (full context)
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Back at the cell, Robert realizes that the lantern has been extinguished and that someone is in there with him.... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 5
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After his rapists have left him alone in the cell, Robert tears the room apart, wanting clean clothes and his pistol. Suddenly, there is a knock... (full context)
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Robert thanks Poole for bringing his kit bag and wishes that he could embrace him. They... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 6
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The next morning, Robert joins an ammunition convoy riding to the front with thirty-five mules and one hundred horses.... (full context)
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Robert looks up and realizes that there are no birds flying overhead. Suddenly, a bomb explodes,... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 7
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Robert spends the next six days riding with the supply wagons. They are constantly shelled and... (full context)
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One night, Robert rides as part of an ammunition train. It is raining, and the mud forces him... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 8
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One week into his return to the front, the Germans execute a fourteen-hour barrage on Robert’s convoy. Robert is delirious after sleeping only eight hours in three days and subsisting on... (full context)
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As shells begin to land in the barnyard, Robert can no longer stand it. Devlin agrees to help him disobey orders and save the... (full context)
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As Robert comes out of the stable Captain Leather yells that he is a traitor and threatens... (full context)
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Robert looks out over the scene and is so angry that he fears he will go... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 9
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On June 16, 1916, Robert’s family receives word that he is missing in action. Mrs. Ross refuses to get dressed... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 11
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...from the prologue. Having wandered alone for a week since the incident with Captain Leather, Robert sits watching the black mare and the black dog on the railroad tracks. He walks... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 12
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...the narration, the mythology of the events after this point is “muddled.” Some say that Robert galloped through La Chodrelle like a “raving cowboy” with the horses and deliberately trampled a... (full context)
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A more likely version of events is that Robert and the horses made a detour around the woods near La Chodrelle and woke the... (full context)
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...that no one had been given permission to remove them. Mickle is assigned to capture Robert, and within a few hours he and forty men set off to pursue him on... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 13
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The men find Robert, the horses, and the dog in the abandoned barns that he had first seen while... (full context)
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Mickle, believing that Robert has gone mad, decides to “dispense not only with mercy—but with reason.” Robert fires again... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 14
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In a final interview with Marian Turner in the present day, she remembers that Robert was brought to the hospital where she worked on June 18, 1916. Because Robert killed... (full context)
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In the hospital, Robert was barely able to speak due to his injuries. Miss Turner hoarded morphine for him... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 15
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Robert is held under arrest at Bois de Madeleine hospital for two months before he is... (full context)
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Robert dies a few years later in 1922, at twenty-five years old. There is a photograph... (full context)
Part 5, Epilogue
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In a photograph from the spring of 1915, Robert is pictured in his army uniform, sitting on a keg of water with a campground... (full context)
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...is a photograph of Rowena on the back of the Ross family’s pony, Meg, with Robert holding her in place. On the back of the photo is written “Look! You can... (full context)