In an interview 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 hospital. Jamie was a close friend of Julie and Barbara’s brother Clive, as they both loved to ride horses. Juliet says that Barbara was attracted to Jamie’s heroism and athleticism, and that she was an unsophisticated snob who tagged along with Clive and Jamie until Clive told her to stop interfering in their friendship.
The image of Jamie riding horses as a teenager is a stark contrast to his current immobilized state in the hospital; the war has completely altered his life by physically devastating him, as well as robbing him of his boyhood innocence. Barbara’s attraction to heroic men like Jamie suggests that civilians, as well as soldiers, view duty and self-sacrifice as honorable qualities.
Juliet reflects that Jamie and Clive were in love and remembers that Barbara stole Jamie away from another woman when he returned from war as a decorated hero. Clive, who became an accomplished 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 erotically, but emotionally. She believes that athletic and artistic men seek each other out because they share a similar appreciation for aesthetic beauty and perfectionism.
Again, Barbara’s attraction to Jamie shows the intoxicating effects that a heroic legacy can have on both soldiers and their loved ones. Given her reaction, it makes sense why young men like Robert, Clifford Purchas, and Levitt yearn to put themselves in danger. Juliet’s observation about Clive’s relationship with Jamie and Robert’s relationship with Harris suggests that men are drawn to the very qualities they lack, perhaps explaining why young, inexperienced soldiers are eager to feel mature and formidable on the battlefield.
Juliet says that every generation has a war, and that the great men and women of any given time are defined by their response to their era’s particular set of challenges. She acknowledges war’s ability to normalize death for ordinary people, but angrily rejects the notion that society became cold and complacent in the midst of trauma. Rather, World War I brought people closer together as the romance and propriety of life was stripped away to reveal humanity’s raw vulnerability and foster deep connections. Juliet reflects that this reality is what made Barbara’s silence in Jamie’s presence at the hospital so cruel—she refused to give anything of herself to him.
Juliet’s perspective on guilt is much different from other characters in the novel—while people like Robert and Mrs. Ross are consumed by self-blame over the trauma they experience, Juliet believes that this mindset does more harm than good. Rather, everyone’s actions are merely reactions to the circumstances they face, and nothing is solved by trying to cast judgment or seek justice. Much like Miss Turner, Juliet believes that ordinary people made the war what it was, and that the only way to cope with the trauma was to seek out the companionship of others, rather than to treat people harshly.
Harris, who had a poetic soul, loved to tell stories about men lost at sea and whales singing to 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 burial. Harris was cremated instead, which horrified Robert. In lieu of a burial at sea, Robert, Barbara, and Taffler decided to scatter Harris’s ashes on the Thames River.
The loss of Harris is yet another event that solidifies Robert’s transition from childhood to adulthood. Harris is the last friend that Robert makes before going off to fight in France. Given this reality, in addition to the symbolic significance of the sea water as a marker of transition, Harris’s death is a final goodbye to Robert’s adolescence.