May 25, 2024

Scanlon Publishes Essay on Modernist Writer Rebecca West

Mara Scanlon’s essay “Gender Identity and Promiscuous Identification: Reading (in) Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier” was recently published in The Journal of Modern Literature. The article focuses on the frequently overlooked narrator of West’s novel, set on the home front in the First World War. Scanlon interprets Jenny as an embedded reader of the novel’s main plot, a love triangle precipitated by a shell-shocked soldier’s amnesia, which Jenny’s own complicated desire further tangles. Positioned as such, Jenny breaches appropriate boundaries between herself and the “characters” of the main events, exhibiting a radical empathy called “promiscuous identification,” which finally troubles both her class and gender identity. Using theories of readership, Scanlon argues that Jenny’s zealous identification as a reader finally challenges the novel’s own stated moral and seemingly inevitable outcome, one dependent on a model of stable identity that Jenny radically undermines.