Journal of Modern Literature 27.3 (2004) 63-67
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Two Borrowings in Pat Barker's Regeneration
Alistair M. Duckworth
Pat Barker amply acknowledges indebtedness to other works in the writing of her World War I trilogy. In the "Author's Note" that follows each volume she refers readers to books that form the background of fictional episodes and characterization. In the note to Regeneration (1991) she refers, among other works, to W. H. R. Rivers's posthumously published Conflict and Dream (1923) and Lewis Yealland's Hysterical Disorders of Warfare (1918); in the note to The Eye in the Door (1993) she refers to Sheila Rowbotham's Friends of Alice Wheelan (1986); and in the note to The Ghost Road (1995) she recommends to readers no fewer than six scholarly studies of Wilfred Owen. "Fact and fiction are so interwoven in this book," she writes in the note to Regeneration, "that it may help the reader to know what is historical and what is not."1 Indeed, much of the appeal of her novels rests not only in the stories they tell (or retell) but in the information they provide on such topics as conditions in the trenches, treatment (or non treatment) of shell shock, experiments in nerve regeneration, female employment in munitions factories, early twentieth-century anthropology, and homophobic paranoia during World War I.
The author's notes do not provide an exhaustive list of the backgrounds to Barker's novels. Such a list would be long, given the author's immersion in her period and extensive knowledge of the literature of World War I. Even if a comprehensive list had been compiled, it would not have included, one may surmise, works read, absorbed, and forgotten, or works in which actual reported episodes became occasions for Barker's creative elaborations in fiction. In this essay I examine two possible borrowings in Regeneration, one from Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That (1929) and the other from Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War (1928).
The first concerns Burns, the officer who suffers from chronic vomiting, a condition caused by his having been hoisted in the air by an exploding shell and landing head-first in the gas-filled, rupturing belly of a German corpse. Barker based her description of Burns's condition on a case described by Dr. Rivers in his "The Repression of War Experience" (Lancet, 2 February 1918), and [End Page 63] she cites the article in her "Author's Note." As with other patients at Craiglockhart Hospital, such as the historical Siegfried Sassoon and the fictional Billy Prior, Burns develops a close relationship with Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, the character based on the real neurologist and social anthropologist. Rivers goes so far as to stay with Burns at Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, where he is able to foil Burns's attempt to kill himself. Earlier, Burns tells Rivers that while in the trenches he used to go out on patrol every night:
You tell yourself you're setting a good example, or some such rubbish, but actually it's nothing of the kind. You can't let yourself know you want to be wounded, because officers aren't supposed to think like that. And, you see, next to a battle, a patrol is the best chance of getting a good wound. In the trenches, it's shrapnel or head injuries. On patrol, if you're lucky, it's a nice neat little hole in the arm or leg. I've seen men cry with a wound like that. ... Cry for joy. Anyway, it wasn't my luck. Bullets went round me, I swear they did.2
This account may find its germ in Goodbye to All That, in the episode in which Graves, having returned to his regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, earns the Colonel's praise for his successful completion of a night patrol. Graves writes:
After this I went on patrol fairly often, finding that the only thing respected in young officers was personal courage. Besides, I had cannily...