Siegfried Sassoon was a decorated lieutenant in World War I before he published this letter of protest and declared that he would no longer take part in the war. His friend Robert Graves persuaded the Medical Board not to court-martial him, and instead Sassoon was sent, to his disappointment, to Craiglockhart, a psychiatric hospital in Edinburgh. There, among the many other shell-shocked soldiers, he was assigned to Dr. William Rivers in the hope that Rivers would "cure" him of his delusions and make him fit to be sent back to the front.This is the opening, real life premise of The Regeneration Trilogy, by British author Pat Barker, which takes place in 1917 and 1918 in Britain and France. Although the books are fictional, they feature several historical figures such as William Rivers, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Lewis Yealland, Lewis Carroll, as well as many, many more. They explore the effects of war on the minds of soldiers and civilians, the ethics of psychological treatment, the spectrum of sexuality, and different forms of duality. In general they mix serious philosophical discussions with fascinating characters and an in-depth portrait of wartime England.The first book, Regeneration, mainly takes place at Craiglockhart. Its principal subjects are the relationships between Rivers, his patients, and the other men at the hospital, as they attempt to deal with their trauma and the overarching philosophical and ethical questions in their treatment and past experiences. Sassoon meets Wilfred Owen, and Rivers has some extremely challenging patients, including Billy Prior, who is a central character for the next two books.In the second book, The Eye in the Door, Prior leads a double life in many complicated ways—as a bisexual, Ministry of Munitions employee and friend of a pacifist family, who observes sexual and social class hierarchies from a working-class background, and who struggles against a developing split personality. Throughout all this, he maintains a relationship with his girlfriend Sarah Lumb, whom he met in Regeneration. The government is prosecuting pacifists, and prejudice against homosexuals rises when a “black list” starts to circulate in the paranoid wartime society. Sassoon and River’s stories also continue.In the third book, The Ghost Road, several main characters return to the front. Rivers, taking care of his sick sister and worrying about his patients who are back in the war, remembers his experiences as an ethnographer in the Pacific Melanesian Islands before the war, as he meditates on different methods of curing and cultural views towards death.Regeneration was made into a movie in 1997, called Regeneration in the UK and Behind Enemy Lines in the US. It was directed by Gillies McKinnon and starred Jonathan Pryce as Rivers, James Wilby as Sassoon, and Jonny Lee Miller as Prior.
Tropes in The Regeneration Trilogy:
A Father to His Men: Sassoon—he's more of the age to be a big brother, but still fits the trope.
Afraid of Blood: Anderson, a former surgeon, who can’t stand the sight of blood after his experience in battle.
Actually, he was a surgeon who was given a patient, on a busy day, who spoke no English, and was so filthy that Anderson couldn't see a huge wound as he stitched minor ones, until the boy bled to death in front of him.
Armchair Military: The people to whom Sassoon appeals with his letter, and the main people he hates, for their War Is Glorious attitude and disregard of the rising death toll.
Bi the Way: Prior. He's in love with Sarah throughout most of the books, but The Eye in the Door opens with him picking up a man, and we find out that he's been sleeping with both men and women since he was (at most) a young teenager.
He's also been a rent boy, though it was possibly more a case of blackmailing the man who was abusing him, at least at first.
Also Robert Graves in real life (though in the novel he appears- at least to Sassoon- quite horrified by the idea)
Cannon Fodder: Every soldier. Including Prior and Owen’s unit at the end of the books and the war.
Double Consciousness: This is a major theme throughout the books. Rivers, Prior, and Sassoon have many dilemmas of conflicting professional, sexual, social, and familial identity—and that’s just the beginning.
Downer Ending: Only natural in a book about World War I, and the reader might already know about some of the historical characters' deaths.
Electric Torture: Lewis Yealland, who has a very condescending view towards mental illness, uses electroshock therapy on his patients.
Eye Scream: One of Prior’s worst war memories is of picking up one of his soldier’s eyeballs, after a bomb hits their trench and kills two men.
Faceless Eye: A recurring theme—as well as the Eye Scream above, the jails have a hole in the door to spy on prisoners, which Prior sees as an actual eye.
The Farmer And The Viper: After Prior’s “Mr. Hyde” self betrays Mac to the police, he visits Mac in jail and tells him this fable, bitterly asking how Mac and the Roper family, the farmers, could have expected anything else of Prior, the viper.
General Failure: The junior officers have nearly all been given unbelievably stupid orders by superiors who either don't know what the front looks like or are just out to make grand gestures whatever the cost. Though one of the men's greatest horrors is having made- or thought one has made- a terrible mistake oneself.
Hero-Worshipper: Arguably how Sassoon and Owen's relationship began, although they were much closer friends than this trope usually implies. In any case, Owen's emulation of Sassoon and Sassoon's profound influence on his style are well documented in Real Life. In Regeneration, Owen, as a fan of Sassoon's poetry, asks him to sign some books; in return, Sassoon persuades Owen to show him some of his own writing, and helps him to start writing about the war.
Internalized Categorism: What happens when you’re a male soldier in love with another male soldier, and those in charge tells you that gays are depraved and that homosexuality is a threat to the nation’s security? You could become Armored Closet Gay, or end up in a place like Craiglockhart as a result of a Freak Out. Barker also makes some interesting points about internalized classism. And the self-hatred of the men who feel they shouldn't have broken down at all.
It's All Junk: Sassoon throws his military cross, an award for extreme bravery, into the river. He explains that he wasn’t in agony—he was upset.
He did this in Real Life, and explains that it wasn't an act of protest; he was just in a bad place mentally and wanted to destroy something valuable to make himself feel better. His MC ribbon just happened to be all he had to hand, and one of his pre-war sporting trophies would have done just as well.
Mercy Kill: Manning has to do this after one of his men is injured and slowly drowning in a mud pit.
Missing Time: This starts to happen to Prior in The Eye In The Door. Some of the effects:
Though despite all this, when Rivers meets the other Billy Prior, he doesn't consider him evil, as such- Rivers' overriding impression is of someone emotionally immature.
Moral Dilemma: For everyone. Sassoon’s decision of how to speak out against the war, Graves’ decision of how to respond to that, and Rivers’ decision of how to deal with Sassoon just start off the story.
Parental Substitute: By the end of the trilogy, Rivers realizes that he has become closer to a father figure than a therapist for many of his patients.
Psycho Psychologist: Yealland might qualify, though Rivers subverts this. That doesn't stop him questioning his own sanity.
It's very ambiguous with Yealland- partly because of Values Dissonance, but because all treatment of the mentally ill was in its early stages- both doctors' approaches were still experimental. (The doctors at Craiglockhart also vary a bit in what they try for therapy).