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Regeneration Pat Barker

Regeneration (1991) is a historical novel by Pat Barker. It follows a group of traumatised men being treated in Craiglockhart War Hospital for shellshock during the First World War.

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Regeneration Pat Barker

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Regeneration (1991) is a historical novel by Pat Barker. It follows a group of traumatised men being treated in Craiglockhart War Hospital for shellshock during the First World War.

Historical novels are texts that are set in a different time from when they were written. Because of this, there is often an effort made by authors of historical novels to accurately capture all the nuances of the era they are writing about. Other famous historical novels include Ian McEwan's Atonement (2001) and Brooklyn (2009) by Colm Tóibín.

Below is a summary and analysis of Regeneration. You will also find a brief explanation of Regeneration as part of a trilogy and an exploration of the novel's significance.

Regeneration by Pat Barker: summary

Overview: Regeneration
Author of RegenerationPat Barker
Published1991
GenreHistorical fiction, World War One literature
Brief summary of RegenerationThe story follows several characters, including war poet Siegfried Sassoon, as they struggle to come to terms with the psychological effects of the war. Dr. William Rivers, the psychiatrist at the hospital, treats his patients with compassion and empathy, but is conflicted about his role in the war effort.
List of main charactersDr W.H.R Rivers, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Billy Prior, Robert Graves, David Burns
ThemesMasculinity, trauma
SettingCraiglockhart War Hospital, during the First World War
AnalysisThrough the experiences of the characters, Barker portrays the horrors of war and the toll it takes on those who fight in it. The novel also touches on issues of class and power, with the upper-class officers often receiving preferential treatment over the working-class soldiers.

Regeneration explores masculinity during World War One. Barker uses both fictional versions of real people and fully fictional characters in her novel. Regeneration has a host of characters but one of the most central is Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon is a fictional version of a real person and Barker takes much from Sassoon's own life. Sassoon was a poet and soldier, particularly known for his war poetry. In Regeneration, Sassoon is introduced as a conscientious objector to the war, despite his time as a soldier.

A conscientious objector is a term used to describe a person who refuses to join an army or participate in violence based on moral grounds. These may be religious or personal reasons.

Sassoon was known as a good and courageous soldier and so his objection to the fighting is seen as highly controversial. He is sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, a mental facility for traumatised and shell-shocked soldiers. This reflects what the authorities think of his mental condition. Sassoon is convinced to go by his friend and fellow poet, Robert Graves. He believes he has no other option. Robert Graves is another character of Barker's that is based on a real historical figure.

In Craiglockhart, Sassoon meets Dr W.H.R. Rivers, an army psychiatrist. He is also based on a real historical figure. Rivers operates in a very different manner to how many other psychiatrists did at the time. He believes that soldiers suffering trauma from the war should not be encouraged to repress it. Instead, Rivers is of the belief that they should face their fears and trauma in order to overcome them. Rivers has sympathy for the horrors Sassoon has suffered in the war. This is why he is now objecting to it. However, it is Rivers' duty to get Sassoon to return to the war and he sticks by this. It is also revealed that Sassoon sometimes suffers hallucinations because of his trauma from the fighting.

Regeneration by Pat Barker, World War One, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Regeneration explores the effects of shell shock and World War One on soldiers who fought.

Sassoon is not the only patient in Craiglockhart that has been impacted by the horrors of the First World War. Barker introduces readers to a host of characters that are all traumatised in various ways. One of these is David Burns who has been left unable to eat after being thrown facefirst into the rotting flesh of another soldier in an explosion.

Anderson is also a patient in Craiglockhart. He is a war surgeon who has become traumatised by the sight of blood and is now struggling to get back into his profession. The other central patient in Craiglockhart is Billy Prior. Prior is so impacted by what he has seen in the war that he has become mute and can only communicate via writing notes. Rivers treats all of these men with varying degrees of difficulty.

Despite Sassoon's anti-war ideas, he and Rivers quickly become quite close. They are both similarly intellectual and have respect for each other. Sassoon's anti-war letter that he writes is read before the House of Commons. It is instantly dismissed. This impacts him somewhat. Sassoon also admits to Rivers that he is homosexual. This shows the trust that the two men have built. Rivers is very accepting of this but advises Sassoon to keep this part of his life quiet as it was illegal to be homosexual in Britain at this time.

Around the same time, Sassoon becomes friends with another patient, Wilfred Owen. He too is a poet and Sassoon helps him with his poetry. Owen improves as a writer because of this. He has great respect for Sassoon and greatly admires his work.

Rivers puts much work into helping Prior find his voice again. This eventually succeeds and Prior takes a trip to Edinburgh. He meets Sarah Lumb who works in a munitions factory. The two begin a romantic relationship. They have multiple meetings after this and have premarital sex during a storm. Prior also agrees to undergo hypnosis at the hands of Rivers. This treatment works. Prior can finally remember the traumatic incident that caused him to become mute. This is a significant moment of catharsis for him.

Catharsis refers to a moment of release. This is often from strong or repressed emotions. For example, coming to terms with repressed emotions can be release from the stress this repression places on a person. This is a cathartic moment.

Rivers begins to become affected by his job. It is placing him under great stress as he cares so deeply for his patients. Sassoon feels somewhat guilty for remaining at Craiglockhart while other men are dying in the war. Meanwhile, Rivers comes around to some of Sassoon's anti-war ideas. Rivers is advised to take time off work to recover from stress and does so. This impacts Sassoon as he has come to rely on Rivers. He realises the feelings of abandonment he feels in regards to Rivers leaving are the same as the ones he felt when his father left him when he was a child.

Rivers spends his time off work in London. He meets with Henry Head, an old colleague, who offers him a new job that would allow him to leave Craiglockhart. He takes time to think about this but eventually decides to take it. Rivers returns to the hospital and meets with Sassoon who tells him he has been having hallucinations again. Sassoon believes this is because of the guilt he feels for being away from the fighting and he resolves to return.

Regeneration Pat Barker, Wounded Soldiers, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The soldier's in Regeneration struggle with the psychological effects of the war, and are unable to express the horrors they faced even as they heal in the hospital from physical injuries.

Prior and Sassoon are both reviewed by a board that will evaluate whether they are fit to return to service. Prior is discharged because of his asthma. He is angered by this but ultimately relieved. He finds Sarah and confesses his love for her. Sassoon skips his evaluation and must wait another month for one. This causes a disagreement between Sassoon and Rivers. Owen is due to leave Craiglockhart around this time. It is clear how much he will miss Sassoon. Sassoon suspects that Owen's feelings for him may be more than platonic. This can never be explored in their society.

Rivers leaves Craiglockhart to take up his new job in London. He works with other psychiatrists who have much more inhumane methods than he does. Many of them use shock therapy in which electrical shocks are applied to their patients in order to force them to get past their trauma. Rivers is horrified by this. He returns to Craiglockhart a month later for Sassoon's evaluation. Sassoon is judged fit to fight and will soon be deployed back to France.

The pacifist movement is upset with Sassoon but he resolves to fight regardless. Rivers and Sassoon say their goodbyes. Barker concludes Regeneration with Rivers reflecting on how much Sassoon's protests have changed his opinion on war. He now sees it as something horrendous and destructive, with little actual purpose. He also began to regret sending traumatised men back to fight, seeing it as almost as cruel as electric shock therapy.

Regeneration by Pat Barker: characters

The following characters in Regeneration interact with each other throughout the novel as they grapple with the physical and psychological trauma of World War I.

Regeneration charactersRole
Dr W.H.R RiversA psychiatrist at Craiglockhart War Hospital and the protagonist
Siegfried SassoonWar poet and patient at Craiglockhart
Wilfred OwenAspiring war poet and patient at Craiglockhart
Robert GravesAnother poet and soldier who is also a good friend to Sassoon
Billy PriorSoldier and patient at Craiglockhart
David BurnsAnother patient at Craiglockhart who has been unable to eat
Dr Lewis YeallandA psychiatrist who uses electroshock therapy to treat patients
Sarah LumbFactory worker and love interest of Billy Prior
AndersonA patient who was formerly a war surgeon
CallanA mute, he is one of Dr. Yealland's patients at the National Hospital in London
BryceA psychiatrist at Craiglockhart

Regeneration by Pat Barker: themes

The main themes in Regeneration are masculinity and trauma.

Masculinity

Masculinity is a key theme that Barker explores in Regeneration. The trauma that the men in Craiglockhart are suffering was not properly understood at the time. Because they were men, they were expected to be tough and not show their feelings. This made life much harder for these traumatised soldiers. They are unable to express the horrors they have seen.

There are many examples of this in Regeneration. Despite the horrors he has faced, Prior is initially concerned that he will be thought of as a coward when he is medically discharged from the army. His own father continually belittles the mutism Prior suffers as a result of his trauma. It was a common belief at the time that it was more honourable to be physically injured by the war than mentally impacted by it. Men who were mentally affected were seen as weak and unmasculine.

Rivers observes these issues throughout his time as a psychiatrist in Craiglockhart. He notices the societal pressures that his patients are under. Rivers has many discussions with Sassoon about these topics. They note that male friendships and camaraderie are encouraged in wartime but anything closer than this is strongly discouraged. Men are not allowed to have close relationships with any kind of affection. This makes it even harder for the men in Craiglockhart to recover from their trauma. They lack any kind of comfort.

After his experience with hypnosis, Prior is traumatised and upset. He begins headbutting Rivers' chest after he wakes up. This seems a somewhat violent act. In reality, it is the only way Prior can touch another man and gain any kind of comfort in a society that does not allow men to do this.

As a psychiatrist during the First World War, Rivers is unusual. He does not discourage his male patients from feeling their emotions. Instead, he encourages them to express themselves and let out their feelings. At the time, this would have been seen as feminine. Barker shows in Regeneration that Rivers' methods significantly help many of his patients despite what society thinks.

Can you identify any other examples of men suffering because of masculine stereotypes in Regeneration?

Trauma

Characters suffering from trauma are a constant in Regeneration. Barker goes to great lengths to show how traumatising the events of the First World War were for the men involved. All the characters in Craiglockhart Hospital are impacted by the war in different ways. All are equally as destructive. It is even more significant that many of these characters are based on real people and their real experiences. Their suffering is often historically accurate.

This trauma was not seen as an acceptable thing to show in the society of First World War Britain. Men were expected to be constantly stoic. That is partly why these men are placed in a hospital isolated from civilisation. Their traumatised behaviours are not thought to be appropriate for others to witness. The First World War was one of the first times society began to come to terms with the idea of trauma as a result of war. Barker shows that this society still had a long time to go.

Many of the men in Craiglockhart experience breakdowns at various times throughout Regeneration. Burns is unable to eat because of an explosion that landed him facefirst into a rotting corpse. Prior spends a significant amount of time in the novel unable to even speak because of what he has seen in the trenches. Sassoon has recurrent hallucinations and often sees the corpses of his dead friends.

All these men are struggling but their society sees them as cowards for showing this weakness. Rivers ignores these stereotypes. He does his best to treat these men in a kindly manner and help them express their feelings. As seen in the below quote, Rivers comes around to the idea that very little can defend what these men have been put through.

Rivers got hold of [Burns] and held him, coaxing, rocking. He looked up at the tower that loomed squat and menacing above them, and thought, Nothing justifies this. Nothing nothing nothing. (Chp. 15)

Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

Regeneration is the first in a trilogy of novels by Pat Barker. It was published in 1991. This was then followed by The Eye in the Door (1993) and The Ghost Road (1995). All books in the trilogy revolve around the First World War and contain many of the same characters.

The Eye in the Door (1993): Pat Barker

The Eye in the Door begins in the Spring of 1918. It continues the stories of Rivers, Sassoon, and Prior. There is a special focus on Prior in this novel of Barker's. Prior is now working for the domestic side of the military as he was medically discharged from fighting in Regeneration due to his asthma. He is now helping to investigate the plots of pacifist groups that are against the war. Prior is slightly uncomfortable with this. He is not a pacifist but is working class and does not like helping the authorities to spy on ordinary people.

The Eye in the Door follows Prior as he wrangles with all of this. He also gradually comes to terms with his sexuality, beginning a relationship with Captain Charles Manning. At the same time, he maintains a deep love for Sarah Lumb, now his fiancé. Barker gives the impression that Prior may be bisexual. Prior also makes recurrent visits to Rivers to help with his trauma throughout the text. As in Regeneration, Pat Barker includes both real characters and real historical events in her novel.

The Ghost Road (1995): Pat Barker

The Ghost Road sees Prior and Wilfred Owen return to the front in the last months of the war. Rivers did not want to let Prior go but the board approved him as they did not acknowledge his mental trauma. Prior has maintained both his engagement with Sarah and his affair with Captain Manning since The Eye in the Door.

The men return to France and face horror upon horror, just as they have before. Their battalion is a mix of older returning men and young boys who have never seen war before. Some of the soldiers experience injury and trauma that results in them too being sent to Craiglockhart. Back in Britain, Rivers has the flu and suffers hallucinations. He thinks back on previous experiences and also about Prior and Owen in France. Both Prior and Owen are killed in the fighting, not long before peace is declared in November 1918.

Analysis of Regeneration Novel by Pat Barker

Although quite a recent work, Regeneration is a very significant novel. It deals in-depth with issues of masculinity and trauma in First World War Britain. The novel does not shy away from the graphic and brutal nature of the war. Pat Barker gives readers detailed descriptions of the violence that soldiers suffered. She also shows the traumatic and permanent impact this had on soldiers like Prior, Sassoon, and Burns.

Regeneration is also important because it questions societal norms in First World War Britain. Barker often uses the character of the psychiatrist Rivers to challenge the way this society treated shell-shocked men. It was a world in which men were often not permitted to have emotions and truly feel. They were seen as cowards for suffering psychological damage. Rivers' methods were unusual at the time. He encouraged his patients to deal with their emotions and not repress them. This is much closer to how modern psychiatry operates today.

Another significant aspect of Pat Barker's Regeneration to remember is how many real characters and events are included. Many aspects of the text are fictional but Barker also includes a lot of reality. This places a lot more importance on the events in the novel. For example, Sassoon's pacifism was a real issue he grappled with and was very vocal about. These were very prevalent issues that people were dealing with at the time this novel is set.

Regeneration Pat Barker - Key Takeaways

  • Regeneration is a 1991 novel by Pat Barker.

  • It fits under the genre of historical fiction.

  • Regeneration follows a group of shellshocked men during the First World War staying in a mental facility.

  • Two key themes in Regeneration are masculinity and trauma.

  • Regeneration is part of a trilogy.

Frequently Asked Questions about Regeneration Pat Barker

Barker's novel is partly inspired by her grandfather's experiences in the First World War. She was also influenced by her husband's studying of Rivers as a psychiatrist and the poetry of Sassoon.

It is a historical novel.

Two key themes in Regeneration are masculinity and trauma.

Regeneration is technically a fictional novel but incorporates many real people and real historical events.

There is no specific year given, but Regeneration is set during the First World War.

Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993), and The Ghost Road (1995).

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