Jenny Baldry, the narrator of Rebecca West's First World War novel The Return of the Soldier, has traditionally been discussed as a detached observer or unreliable raconteur of the narrative's wartime love triangle. But she may be productively understood not only as one who tells the story, but as one who reads and interprets it. Positioned as a reader, Jenny breaches appropriate boundaries between herself and the "characters" or primary participants in the events, exhibiting a radical empathy that Susan David Bernstein calls "promiscuous identification." In doing so, she destabilizes not only her family and class loyalties but her very self. Jenny absorbs and appropriates others' passions, and, even more strikingly, unsettles her gender identity through zealous identification with her male cousin Chris, even attempting to psychically access the masculine battlefield. Jenny's desire, class allegiance, and gender identity, all complicated by her reading practice, challenge the novel's stated moral and its seemingly inevitable conclusion.


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pp. 66-83
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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