Material Things

“. . . my mind refused to consider the situation any longer and turned to the perception of material things. I leant over the banisters and looked down at the fineness of the hall: the deliberate figure of the nymph in her circle of black water, the clear pink and white of Kitty’s chintz, the limpid surface of the oak, the gay reflected colours in the panelled walls. I said to myself, ‘If everything else goes there is always this to fall back on’” (120).

This passage in The Return of the Soldier interests me in its speaking to Jenny’s – and Kitty’s and everyone else sheltered away from the war front – false sense of security. While Chris was away, the war seemed relatively far removed from the world Jenny inhabits. She is separated geographically, on a distant estate in the countryside, as well as socioeconomically, enjoying the benefits of Chris and her family’s wealth and the luxury of their manor. In this sheltered world Jenny believes she is also sheltered from the world at large, that the war and its horrors are far removed, topics of discussion never actually to be lived or felt. In this isolated, material world, Jenny believes she can lose herself in it, escape from the world. Chris’s return complicates this by bringing the war to them -- a different war in a sense, though he also brings with him the effects of the war he just endured. Though Jenny does her best to grapple with her cousin and his set of issues, this quote illustrates that Jenny still believes she can find escape in her material things, that they can provide her with something more than just their physical use. Together, these material things – from the nymph figure to Kitty’s chintz – form a fortress for Jenny within which she places her fears and anxieties about the world and her brother. The material things take on a meaning larger than what they simply are.

Jenny reminisces early in the novel about the intention she and Jenny put into creating their surroundings, specifically as a place for Chris: “we had made a fine place for Chris, one little part of the world that was, so far as surfaces could make it so, good enough for his amazing goodness” (16). But this fine place for Chris does not prove so fine for him, becoming instead a place for Jenny and Kitty to ground themselves in amidst the instability of their world. Perhaps, in working to make the place so fine for Chris, Jenny and Kitty actually made it more fine for them.