Chapter 11

Owen enters Sassoon's room to talk. They make conversation about Rivers. Sassoon is frustrated that Rivers makes him imagine a future after a war. He feels that Rivers knows how to get to him by making him feel guilty about sitting in a hospital while his friends are out on the front dying. Sassoon admits that Rivers is wearing away at him and that he sometimes feels inferior because Rivers is much better educated than he is (Sassoon left Cambridge without a degree).

Sassoon gives Owen one of his poems to publish in the Hydra, the literary magazine of Craiglockhart, for which Owen serves as editor. Owen asks Sassoon to read some of his poems and comment on them. He agrees that he should write about the war because it has been such a personal experience for him. Sassoon thinks that Owen has promise as a poet, but that he should work harder and more diligently on his writing. Sassoon agrees to be a mentor for Owen if Owen agrees to publish some of his own work in the Hydra.

Chapter 12

Prior goes to Sarah's door to see if she will come out with him that weekend. She is angry with him for standing her up last week, but when he tells her the truth about how the people at Craiglockhart would not let him out, she forgives him and agrees to go out with him. Prior notices the yellow tinge to Sarah's skin from working at the munitions factory. Together they board a train to the coast. When they arrive, they walk along the seashore. Prior pays attention to the crowds enjoying themselves on the shore, licking ice cream cones and playing in the sand. He feels completely separated from this carefree world, and he envies and despises Sarah for belonging with them. He feels that they owe him something and that Sarah "should pay."

Prior and Sarah go for a quick swim and see a storm coming overhead. There is not enough time for them to escape it, so they find cover under a thorn bush. Prior feels he no longer despises Sarah, and they make love under the bushes. After they are finished and the storm is over, they go to a pub for a drink. Prior does not want Sarah to think that anything important happened on the beach. He discusses how one of his men during the war wrote the exact same letter to his wife every week for two years. It was Prior's job to censor the letters, but no one ever censored his own personal letters because he was an officer and he was on his honor. Sarah is upset that the army feels that only officers are assumed to have honor. They leave the pub.


In the scene between Owen and Sassoon, Barker's gift for historical fiction shines. It is historically true that in real life, both Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were patients at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in 1917. They formed a friendship, and Sassoon's guidance greatly influenced Owen in his poetry. Yet the scene in Chapter 11 is entirely fictional. It consists completely of dialogue between the two poets, written in a playful yet respectful style. Through dialogue such as this, Barker deepens the characters of both Owen and Sassoon. Sassoon, in particular, is shown to be patient, helpful, and sincerely interested in helping Owen. The relationship between the patients highlights the fact that characters do not exist in isolation; they are formed, changed, and healed by their interactions with others.

The beach scene between Prior and Sarah is also important. Although Barker does not dwell on Sarah's thoughts and feelings, she allows us to know everything that Prior thinks and feels. He is capricious in his feelings toward Sarah, despising her one moment and desiring her the next. Later, in the pub, Prior tries to destroy their moment by bringing up a topic Sarah clearly does not want to discuss. For Sarah, Prior, and the crowds, the beach is an escape from reality and from the war. But Prior cannot allow such a mental escape to continue; he loathes the luxury that others have of choosing to "forget." Consequently, he tries to hurt Sarah by bringing the war back into her consciousness, refusing to let her escape from the reality he must face.