Regeneration by Pat Barker was first published in 1991. It is the first of three novels (known collectively as The Regeneration Trilogy) set during and after the First World War, and explores the experiences of British officers suffering from ‘shell shock’ who received treatment at Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh.
Regeneration centres on the radically new treatment provided at the time by the real-life psychiatrist and neurologist W. H. R. Rivers, whose approach was based on his research into nerve regeneration. Craiglockhart patients included the poets Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon, who also feature in Barker’s novel.
Regeneration is a terrific, absorbing read. In lucid, measured prose, Barker brings alive both the suffering of the soldiers and the specific challenges faced by hospital staff. She vividly conveys contemporary attitudes to war and patriotism, and medical theories about shell shock and its treatment. She also brings alive the setting of Craiglockhart, where, in real life, Wilfred Owen began to compose his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” in 1917. The title is from a line by the Roman poet Horace. Owen uses the whole quote to conclude his poem. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: ‘it is sweet and honourable to die for your country’.
This poem always bears rereading. It never loses its power to remind us that the choice to wage war has a terrible price. On the centenary anniversary of Armistace Day, a hundred years since the guns at long, long last fell silent on the Western Front, we can perhaps best honour those thousands who suffered by reflecting on Owen’s call to question the ‘high zest’ of adversarial political and patriotic rhetoric. This is a poem for peace. [Read more…]