Speaking of Siegfried Sassoon, another group of books that Leavitt notes his acknowledgements is Pat Barker's brilliant World War I trilogy - Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road (which won the 1995 Booker Prize). Here's what he has to say:
Yet it was from a sequence of novels - Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road, all published by Plume) - that I got the most vivid sense of the ways in which homosexual love was expressed, exploited, and manipulated in England during the Great War.
In the novel, as in history, Sassoon finds himself at Craiglockhart, a war hospital for the treatment of "shell shock", as a consequence of his landmark "Finished with the War: A Soldier's Declaration." In an early interview with Dr. William Rivers, Sassoon essentially outs himself by acknowledging the impact of The Intermediate Sex on his life.
"Yes. I've had patients who swore their entire lives had been changed by it."
"Mine was. At least I don't know about 'changed'. 'Saved', perhaps."
"As bad as that?"
"At one point, yes. I'd got myself into quite a state."
By the interview's end, we're given a grim sense of what's to come.
Rivers began polishing his glasses on his handkerchief. "You know, I realize Ross's caution probably seems excessive. To you. But I hope you won't be in too much of a hurry to dismiss it. There's nothing more despicable than using a man's private life to discredit his views. But it's very frequently done, even by people in my profession. People you might think wouldn't resort to such tactics. I wouldn't like to see it happen to you."
"I thought discrediting my views was what you were about?"
Rivers smiled wryly. "Let's just say I'm fussy about the methods."
By the end of the first volume, Sassoon is on his way back to the front, unable to single-handedly turn the tide of the prejudices of the day. He fades into the background in the subsequent volumes, in which Barker's fictional creation Billy Prior steps up to the center stage for an unforgettable, devastating denouement.
The Regeneration Trilogy is available in a single volume and constitutes Barker's crowning achievement - some of the strongest English language fiction of the past twenty years. (It's exciting news to learn that Barker returns to the World War I setting for her new novel , due out next year in the US from FSG.) We know we've recommended it before but we can't do so highly enough.