Pat Barker was born on the 8th of May 1943 in Thornaby-on-Tees, England. She is an English author and published her first novel, Union Street, in 1982. She became famous by her Regeneration Trilogy in which she dealt with the First World War. The single works are Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995). The third volume was priced with the ‘Man Booker Prize for Fiction’. In 2001 she received the literary prize by the German newspaper ‘Die Welt’. Today, Pat Barker is married and lives in Durham, England. This term paper will deal with Pat Barker’s Regeneration. 1 It is the first novel of the Regeneration Trilogy. The novel is about the time between July 1917 and November 1917. It is not based on the actual fighting but rather with the emotional and psychological consequences of it. The novel takes place at the British hospital for mentally ill soldiers at Craiglockhart and describes, among other things, the relationship between the army psychologist W.H.R. Rivers and anti-war activist and poet Siegfried Sassoon, who both are historical characters.
Their stay in Craiglockhart, at this time, is verifiable through the publicly accessible diaries and letters of Siegfried Sassoon, as well as through the published notes of Rivers.2 The public protest about the conduct of war, which was read out in the House of Commons and which can be traced back accordingly, was the reason for Sassoon to be sent to a hospital for mentally ill officers. There Sassoon met Rivers for the first time, who treated him. The treatment consisted of talking sessions, in which Rivers tried to make his patients face their war experiences so that they could handle their traumata.3 Other historically verifiable characters in Barker’s novel are Wilfred Owen, who suffered from a shaky, tremulous and confused memory, after being blown up on a railway embankment and buried alive.
He was therefore taken to the same hospital.4 Owen, however, was treated by Arthur Brock, who has also published a book about his methods of treatment, namely occupational therapy. A description of this treatment can be found in Dominic Hibberd’s biography of Owen. 5 Sassoon and Owen met the first time when Owen, who had admired Sassoon even before they got to know each other, knocked on Sassoon’s door in order to have some copies of Sassoon’s latest book signed.6 Barker sticks to the known facts here and retells the story as it is commonly accepted. She also incorporates the fact that Sassoon helped to improve Owen’s poetry and includes scenes, like the one when Sassoon corrects mistakes in Owen’s poems and suggests alterations, which are documented in Owen’s original manuscripts.7 Robert Graves should not be forgotten here, as he was a close friend of Sassoon at the time and appears in the novel frequently. Graves undertook great efforts to make sure his friend would not be court-martialed and locked away, which can be confirmed in Graves’ autobiography Good-Bye to All That, to name just one source.8 Barker chooses to present the war from an officer’s point of view.
The images of war are expressed through accounts of experiences by different soldiers, including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Barker was aware that Sassoon and Owen were two famous poets who had fought in the First World War. Therefore a lot of secondary literature about their lives, their experiences in the war and their work are available and offer a solid basis for her research. It also does not come as a surprise that the two gifted writers wrote many letters, poems and diary entries. Although a huge amount of information was therefore accessible, it has to be kept in mind that Barker still had to invent, based on the obtainable information, “a psyche for her characters”. 9 That is, as Martin Löschnigg points out, where fiction begins.10 This circumstance disposed me to deal with the characteristics of a war novel and to analyse to which extent Regeneration accords to these characteristics.
The author Pat Barker herself added a note to the novel which reads: “Fact and fiction are so interwoven in this book that it may help the reader to know what is historical and what is not.” 11 Linda Hutcheon, who brought up the term of ‘historiographic metafiction’, is stating that one of the features of contemporary historiographic metafiction is, “the double awareness of both fictiveness and a basis in the ‘real’”.12 Therefore it is worth examining whether Regeneration fits into the category of historiographic metafiction, or if it underlines the criticism of Ansgar Nünning, who argued, that the category is defined too narrow. I will also attempt to make cross-references to Nünning’s splitting of the historical novel into five subcategories.
For that reason, I decided to analyse whether the novel fits into the category of historiographic metafiction by focusing on fictional, as well as on historical aspects. Furthermore I will consider single characters, subjectivity and style of narration.
II. Regeneration – A war novel?
1. What is a war novel about – Defining war novel as literary term The main statement of war novels is that war is an “uncontainable”-experience. There are however war stories, which are with memorable personal war experience. Those typically involve an element of danger, hardship, adventure and some emotional descriptions, like protection of subcultures, feelings of homelessness and post war trauma.14 A war novel is associated with specific periods like the First World War. It shows soldiers on the battlefields with its brutality and wounded people. A war novel attempts to convey some sort of truth – to bear witness and to inform about atrocities. Therefore they seek for authenticity. The primary action in a war novel takes place in a field of armed combat or a domestic setting, where the characters are preoccupied with the preparation for, or recovery from, war. Sometimes it is referred to as military fiction with realist mode and psychological issues.
15 As an opposite point of view, there is the difference between lived experience of the soldiers at home and their comrades of the battlefield. The main point is mostly to convey a sense of traumatic experience of the battlefield as well as the destruction and the political background.16 Another aspect of a war novel is the post war trauma, which is described in detail in Pat Barkers novel. As one reads through a war novel, one may notice that it is extensively associated with naturalist literature and sociological fascination with society’s hidden spaces. It is mostly associated with the social circumstances of one slice of society.
Besides general themes as combats and soldiers, a war novel may also deal with non-combats and civilian experiences. Mostly it is about a real war as it is on the battle field.17 These are experiences told and written of soldiers, civilians and other people experiencing the war. On the most basic level, there is the description of warfare, whether played out in military engagements or witnessed by civilians. 18 Here it is all about soldiers on battlefields, the brutality and psychological issues on the deeper level. Furthermore, a war novel may contain many different issues like war and soldiers, duty and ideals, battlefield and dug out, killing and being killed or shell shock trauma, as well as many feelings like pain, anxiety, desperation, mentally and physically destruction and the emasculation of masculinity and power as kind of barrenness, which leads to conflicting duties and protest. 19 The British novelist Pat Barker outlines the First World War from a contemporary witness’s perspective.
2. The characters – Mental instabilities and social status The novel Regeneration takes place at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, between July and November 1917 during the First World War. One of the three central characters is Siegfried Sassoon, who is captain and a poet. Sassoon was sent to the institute because he was called insane by the bias medical board of war. This was done because of the declaration he had written, which plainly stated that the war was going on for unjust reasons:
“A Soldier’s Declaration”. Siegfried Sassoon protested against war and resisted his duty as a soldier. He believed the war was started for just reasons, but when he realised that it too was dragging on, taking thousands of innocent men down with it, he began to question this notion. This is the “madness” of Sassoon. His opinion is only met with misunderstanding, therefore he was declared as insane: “Better [being declared] mad than [being] a pacifist.” 20 The psychologist and anthropologist Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, who is trying to cure the patients, is the doctor in charge at Craiglockhart. He cures men who are suffering from mental illnesses and breakdowns caused by their experiences in the war. Rivers refers to Sassoon’s declaration when he first arrives at the institute: “Taking unnecessary risks is the first sign of war neurosis.”
Throughout his first interrogation, Rivers does not act like the typical doctor trying to heal a patient from the torment of war. Instead, he tries to be more sensitive and calm with Sassoon. His experienced and professional manner of dealing with Sassoon also impresses him and makes him feel more comfortable in the interview. It is the “duty” of Rivers to cure Sassoon from having an “anti-war neurosis”. What is more, he is the reader’s main source of information, because he initiates Sassoon’s reports on his experiences. Another one of his patient is Billy Prior. At the beginning he suffers from muteness. Wilfred Owen, the third main patient in this novel, refers to the legend of Antaeus and Hercules, when he describes the patient’s situation and selftherapy: “we – the patients – are like Antaeus in the sense that we’ve been ungrounded by the war. And the war back to health is to re-establish the link between oneself and the earth, but understanding ‘earth’ to mean society as well as nature.” 22
Most of the action takes place at Craiglockhart or other places than the real battle field. The war is only described and sensed from a distance. The battlefield experiences of the patients are only seen through the eyes of the characters, for example in their psychological and physical illnesses, their dreams and the wounded soldiers in the hospital, although these are only snapshot visions of the war. The reader is never taken to the actual battle field, but gets an impression of it by the stories of the protagonists. For that reason the novel never gives an explicit description of war. All patients and even their therapist suffer from their war experiences. Their trauma gives us a new perspective on soldiers at that time. Therefore the characters can be called anti-heroes. In so far, as it is not set on the battle field, the novel cannot be labelled as a “War Novel”, but the effects of war are described. Pat Barker’s novel does not focus on depicting combats and stratagems.
On the contrary, it portrays in detail the mental and physical consequences of the war. The soldiers have nightmares, stammer and have hallucinations. As a result of that, their lives have changed so that they cannot go on as they did before the war. They are mute, have lost their memories because the shock of the battle was too intense, also they suffer from breakdowns; only by recollections of patients the reader gets an impression of horrors of the war. The three following quotations stand for horrific experiences of the patients: “They brought in this lad. He was a Frenchman, he’d escaped from the German lines.”23; “They’d almost finished when Prior shifted his position on the duckboards, glanced down, and found himself staring into an eye.” 24; “A shell had exploded close to the patient,…”. 25 The patients of Craiglockhart, especially Siegfried Sassoon, question the war.
He does not want the government to prolong the war because he does not see any reason for the bloodshed, therefore he wants peace and negotiations. Still, he insists on returning to the front and risks to be killed, because he wants to take care for his men. War causes conflicts even within the protagonists. As does Sassoon, Dr. Rivers also has an attitude towards fulfilling his duty to cure the patients and send them back afterwards, although he is aware of the fact that they might die. But on the other hand, he gets convinced that the war is prolonged unnecessarily, as stated by Sassoon. The patients want and need to be cured to fulfil their duty as a soldier or men in society: “I think the army’s probably the only place I’ve ever really belonged.” 26; “When all this is over, people who didn’t go to France, or didn’t do well in France – people of my generation, I mean – aren’t going to count for anything.” 2
On the other hand, this society is characterised as:
“A society that devours its own young [and] deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance.”28 Here a clear criticism is stated on a society, that is not able to look at the consequences of war. The wounded men are shut away in a hospital, but: “If the country demanded that price, then it should be bloody well be prepared to look at the result.” 29 Another inner conflict is that Rivers and most other men were raised with the belief that a breakdown is related to weakness and cowardice which is inacceptable for them as men. Still Rivers is using methods as a psychologist, which abandons this view and rather concentrates on confrontation with their memories and talks about them, in order to show that weakness is alright and occurs in the course of the therapy.
Rivers stands as a father figure for patients: “He could see why Layard might use the term.”30 At the same time he is going through a change himself, appearing stable while being instable. He stammers, has a breakdown himself and starts to question his opinion of the ongoing and purpose. The effects of war on people, their lives and their psyche are described as well as effects on society and gender roles. War obscures gender roles and swaps gender roles. Thus characters are immediately influenced by war.
Therefore one might state, that the novel deals with the war from a different angle than a traditional war novel. Concluding these facts, Karin Westman said: “I think that analysis of men’s dependency and their lack of autonomy in that war, a study of why they suffered from hysterical symptoms rather than paranoia, is a feminist analysis”.31 Women where left alone and had to work. They escape and abandon their usual role when they are forced to do monotonous physical work, just as men. On the other hand, women might be seen to the status of machines, for example like in ammunition factories: 32
“They looked like machines, whose sole function was to make other machines.”
In contrast to that, men fighting at the front, although heroically, as imagined in games of children, are forced to take on the role of women. Officers are caring for their men and soldiers are caring for each other with food, clothing and other supplies. If they are coming back as wounded soldiers with “wasted legs” 33 and their bodies weakened, they are no longer able to physical work, as men should, at that time: “The war that had promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activity had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity, and on a scale that their mothers and sisters had scarcely known.” 34
Wounded and traumatised men are forced into an inferior position, even inferior to their women, because women now had to use their body for work, when men were not able to anymore. Soldiers were fighting together on the front, thus living together and feeling companionship and responsibility for each other: “One of the paradoxes of war – one of the many – was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was… domestic.”35 Therefore, homosexuality in times of war was even less persecuted than in times of peace.
III. Classification of Regeneration
1. Subjectivity in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Since the novel is centred about Siegfried Sassoon character and his role as a soldier, Pat Barker was able to base her work on a rich foundation of subjective material. Pat Barker mostly uses subjective sources like letters, poems and diaries. Already the first page is a subjectivity source, when Pat Barker chooses to introduce her novel with an authentic letter of the main character Siegfried Sassoon, which conveys his statements, thoughts and feelings. This is underlined by giving his impression of his personality and his experiences of death, hopelessness and devastation. John Stuart Roberts says in his biography of Siegfried Sassoon, when dealing with his attitude towards the war, that: “It was all subjectivity, as though the world turned on his ego.” 36 Sassoon uses terms like “a war of aggression and conquest”, “suffering of the troops” and “his own protest” to state his point of view about his impression on the past time of war.
The reader is informed about the basic aspects of Sassoon’s individual, subjective opinion from the first page onward and contemplates the following plot with the impressions of his as a marked man. Even Siegfried Sassoon himself, whose memoirs and diaries were used by Pat Barker to retell the story, admits to himself in Sherston’s Progress that his “ ’protest’ […] was evoked by personal feeling” 38 and that his “intellect was not an ice-cold one”.39 These memories illustrate the past from his point of view, but they do not necessarily give an objective report. 40 Basically, the novel enlightens the negative implications on the First World War of the soldiers. During the whole novel, the reader is confronted with several memories and personal impressions of Sassoon and cannot get around taking over his view of things.
Besides, Sassoon never insisted on influencing anyone, but always reported about incidents in his surroundings the way he experienced them. Furthermore, the sources which were used to make Regeneration authentic also support the fact of subjectivity. Several letters and poems involve a really emotional kind of subjectivity. Each person who takes part in a war and reports about it in written form, for example to tell his or her family about the condition, automatically speaks in a subjective way about experiences and impressions, since letters and poems are something very personal. In general, subjectivity is an irrefutable aspect of Regeneration, since it deals with a controversial topic and is reported from several different perspectives, of people who mostly experienced death and ferocity.
2. Understanding of war from an officer’s point of view When dealing with the sufferings of soldiers during the First World War, it should not be forgotten that Siegfried Sassoon himself was an officer, taken to a war hospital only provided for officers. Pat Barker chose to present the war from several officers’ points of view, so that the descriptions of war are conveyed through their accounts while experiences by low rank soldiers are not mentioned. Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are two of them. Martin Löschnigg points out “that most of the English literature of the First World War renders the point of view of officers.” 41 He calls “their interpretation of the war […] to a large extend class-specific interpretations.”
It must not be disregarded that, as an officer, the task of Sassoon was to lead soldiers to fulfil their actual task. When Sassoon first led troops in a war, he thought that they were fighting for “defence and liberation”.43 Later it turned into a war that did not support the aspects Sassoon wanted to stand for. Despite that fact, he still had to fulfil his own duty to lead soldiers to destroy lives, to kill people. This mental conflict caused Sassoon psychological pain and led to his residence at Craiglockhart. As poets, it is likely that Sassoon and Owen were emotional persons from the upper class, who were used to living a life without poverty. So when they entered the war, the circumstances of their lives changed dramatically and made them emotionally vulnerable. In this case, one can certainly not speak of the “Wahrnehmung des historischen Geschehens im Bewusstsein durchnittlicher Figuren” contemporary historical novels by Ansgar Nünning.
IV. Argumentation about fact and fiction in the historical novel
1. Historiographic metafiction – a definition To explain the meaning of historiographic metafiction I chose to use an definition by Linda Hutcheon which describes it as “novels that are intensively self-reflexive but that also both reintroduce historical context into metafiction and problematize the entire question of historical knowledge.” 45
As a result of that, ‘historical metaficiton’ describes a certain style to treat
historical incidents in a very critical way. Instead of just stating obvious facts and accept given information, historical metafiction challenges also the outer circumstances of these events and the content of truth that is given by different sources. Today the term historiographic metafiction has been generally accepted as the means of postmodern historiography. It also takes a look on various possibilities to interpret a historical incident. Therefore, historiographic metafiction uses more than one perspective to enlighten circumstances in the past. Multiple points of view are introduced to give a detailed outline of a plot.
When reading a novel like this, the reader is always aware of those possibilities and develops his or her own way of evaluating certain events, being more critical in many ways. The reader is always reminded that impressions are always depending upon a point of view. Therefore an interpretation of an historical event is always subjective. 46 In addition to that, a focus has been put on showing, which postmodern novels, as Hutcheon puts it, “refer at the first level to other texts”. ‘subjectivity’, historiographic metafiction.
Each form of interpretation, of war novel as well in other novels, is based on subjectivity. Another point that has to be considered when making a judgement about truth and fiction in historiographic metafiction, is the fact that in most cases there are only a few or no witnesses of history left. Historical incidents that happened in a past, very long gone, can hardly be reconstructed without making mistakes. The facts that are given about these incidents are usually made by agreement of historians, concerning dates and details. When investigating historical events, a look at different sources brings up a lot of different opinions and statements. This enables modern techniques of reconstruction, which give new results in short intervals. Erwin Wickert says: “Das historische Datum, die Fakten an sich sind stumm.” 48
What Wicker means is that in order to formulate statements, historians have to compromise and get nearer to an agreement.
Ansgar Nünning concentrates his criticism mostly on the lack of different categories of the post-modern historical novel and on the omission of defining functions for these. He therefore distinguishes between different forms of post-modern historiography and also outlines their functions. 50
For those reasons Regeneration can be located in the genre of historiographic metafiction, because of its multifaceted ways to take a look on the First World War.
2. Style of narration in historiographic metafiction In many pieces of post-modern historiography, Linda Hutcheon found another feature, which is, that historiographic metafiction in general usually chooses two different styles.
Summed up by her, who first brought up this term, “historiographic metafiction appear to privilege two modes of narration, […]: multiple points of view […] or an overtly controlling narrator [… ].” 51 The novel Regeneration by Pat Barker is – excluding the original letter which is used as an introduction – written in third person perspective. This means there is no omniscient point of view, so the reader is only as far informed as the persons in the plot. Therefore, Regeneration is not written in first person narration. Many different opinions about the First World War are represented by the characters whose opinions disagree quite often. This can be seen when Sassoon is asked by a member of the medical board, whether he has changed his opinions: “‘You haven’t changed your views?’ Balfour Graham asked. ‘No, sir.’[…] ‘I believe exactly what I believed in July. Only if possible more strongly.’ ” 52
There is even a disagreement between Sassoon and his fellow inmates, for example Graves, who also disagrees with the actions of Sassoon, namely the protest against the behaviour in war, but he agrees with the content of his Declaration. 53 Even “Rivers was aware, as a stable background of his work of a conflict between his belief that the war must be fought to a finish, for the sake of the succeeding generations and his fears, that such events as those, which had led to the breakdown, Burns should be allowed to continue.” 54 Rivers however, starts questioning his own point of view and his work “Every case posed implicit questions about the individual costs of the war, and never more so than in the run up to a round of Medical Boards, […].”
Nünning supports this judgement with his statement that “die Vorstellung einer einheitlichen und verbindlichen ‘great story‘ im Zeitalter der Postmoderne ihre Gültigkeit […] verloren hat […].” 56 However, he would assign in a more specific way the telling of “fiktive Gegengeschichten aus der Sicht von Frauen, Unterprivilegierten oder Minderheiten“ to the genre of „revisionistische historische Romane“. 57
3. Intertextuality in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Until this point, I have already pointed out the unavoidable fact of subjectivity and went into detail about the combination of historical and fictional aspects. Another important topic to talk about is “intertextuality” in Regeneration. Most of the existing sources about historical events are written sources. When reporting about incidents in a very far past – like the First World War in Regeneration – there is no chance to find ‘objective’ data material like video clips and audio files. But as already mentioned when talking about ‘subjectivity’, written sources are influenced by personal evaluations and opinions. Even when reporting about the same incident, each author or witness is presenting his or her own impression.
Written sources can be a very rich source of exclusive interviews of historical witnesses or original transcripts. It has to be kept in mind, as Linda Hutcheon points out in her essay The Pastime of Past Time that “we only know the past (which really did exist) through its textualized remains 58 When composing Regeneration, Pat Barker had to consider many different sources to gain information about the main characters, places and circumstances. Barker used first-hand sources, like the diaries and poems of Siegfried Sassoon, the letters by Owen to his mother, his complete poetry and the notes of Rivers on his treatment methods, to get a picture of their personalities. But Pat Barker also had access to libraries and museums to get information about Craiglockhart, the treatment methods for shellshock patients in the First World War and opinions and attitudes of the era. 59
Pat Barker incorporates pieces of historical evidence into her novel.
She does so in case of “A Soldier’s Declaration”. 60 She shows the reader that her novel is based on written texts. First-hand sources like diaries and poems by Sassoon and letters by Owen meant important material to make the novel as authentic as possible. Another important example is one Nünning. “’Beyond the Great Story’: Der postmoderne historische Roman als Medium revisionistischer Geschichtsdarstellung, kultureller Erinnerung und metahistoriographischer Reflexion”.
Reading about a real incident, proven by original material, grabs the reader’s attention and conveys knowledge about history, while starting her novel. Nünning also points out, that it is a feature of historiographic metafiction, “dass die geschichtliche Welt dem Historiker nicht direkt zugänglich ist, sondern nur in sprachlich vermittelnder Form von Beschreibungen. “ 62 However, on the other hand, by using authentic characters like Sassoon, Owen and Rivers, Pat Barker runs the risk of creating the false notion of historiographic truth, when it comes to minor characters, like Billy Prior and specific details of the plot. 63 All of the mentioned sources used for Regeneration belong to the category of written material. Therefore one might say that the novel contains many “intertextual” elements.
This is also another important argument for labelling Regeneration as historiographic metafiction. But also the negative aspects of this mixture of fact and fiction have to be considered. A reader who is not well informed about the circumstances of a plot can easily be confused by the change between authentic information and fictional elements. In this genre it is not possible to mark parts according to their content of truth. Furthermore, each character of Barker’s novel is portrayed in a subjective way, the way the author experienced them got to know them, when working with different sources. Nevertheless, Barker never met the characters of her book in person, and so the novel might possibly be influenced by false impressions and interpretations of sources.
In this term paper I tried to analyse in which way the novel Regeneration fulfils the qualities of a war novel. As shown by matching certain characteristics of this category, the novel of Pat Barker belongs to some extent to the genre of historiographic metafiction. For example, this can be proven by her usage of subjectivity, intertextuality and the combination of historical facts and fictional elements. In contrast to other novels dealing with the difficult topic of the First World War, Barker also enlightens the complex of psychical problems and introduces suffering officers instead of soldiers, to point out different facets of consequences of war on different people. For that reason Regeneration gives us a deeper insight into the soldier’s mental vulnerability and their suffering from their war experiences. Thus, it is rather an anti-war novel than a war novel. It touches upon the terrible destruction done by war and the cruel healing methods.
Barker condemns war and her negative feelings are displayed by her versatile, realistic characters and significance of its consequences. Every chapter of the novel can be characterised by the depiction of both mental and physical war injuries. Arousing the sympathy of the reader by involving also fictional elements, the reader gets a new point of view on this historical event, which is also an important characteristic of historiographic metafiction. But in comparison to the few matching aspects, there are a lot of aspects about Regeneration which speak against the labelling with this category. Historiographic metafiction demands a well-defined differentiation between fact and fiction, while Pat Barker’s novel covers the tracks between reality and fiction by making incidents seem true without making the reader question the authenticity of certain points.
The novel refers to issues normally associated with women or people, refer to as “cowards”. Therefore she is rather offering a female view of war than a male one. The novel itself does not mention the subjectivity and intimacy of Barker’s sources – poems, diaries and letters – and thus doesn’t make the reader aware of the missing objectivity. This argument is also underlined with statements of various characters, which cannot be proven by historical sources. Due to its universal themes, Regeneration stands for all other wars and war novels. In consideration of these facts, Regeneration does apply to the criteria of historiographic metafiction.
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