The Wars

The Wars Summary and Analysis of Part Four


Part Four of the novel returns to the transcript of the interview with Lady Juliet d’Orsey and addresses how Robert and Lady Barbara d’Orsey’s affair began. The marriage between her mother and father, Lady Emmeline and the Marquis of St Aubyn’s, was not a warm one. Her father had many mistresses and loathed his children and possibly his wife as well. Juliet has little recollection of him but remembers his funeral, which she presided over as his last living heir. She made it an extravagant affair, something of which her father would likely have disapproved.

After the war broke out, Lady Emmeline convinced her husband to pull some strings to have their home, St Aubyn’s, declared a convalescent hospital. Soldiers would go there to recuperate. Robert receives an invitation to go to St Aubyn’s after the Battle of St Eloi. The invitation bears Taffler’s name, but is a forged signature.

Robert arrives at St Aubyn’s and is greeted by Lady Juliet and her mother, who mistakes him for a patient, embarrassing Lady Juliet. Lady Juliet takes him to his room and informs him that the room is haunted by a ghost named Lady Sorrel, who lights candles when she appears. He inquires about Lady Barbara and Taffler. The two of them chat briefly about their families and siblings. Robert continues to inquire about Taffler and Lady Barbara, so finally Juliet takes him to see Taffler. On the way they encounter Barbara and another man, Major Terry, laughing and holding packages. Robert seems to be worried as to why Major Terry is there. When Robert enters Taffler's room, he sees that Captain Taffler had lost both his arms.

That night Juliet hears someone walking and thinks it might be Lady Sorrel. She hopes she can follow her into Robert’s room and apologize for not warning him about Captain Taffler. Instead, she sees Barbara coming out of Major Terry’s room after what seems to have been a fight. She overhears Barbara call Major Terry “a jackass.” Barbara then walks down the hall and stops in front of Robert’s door before continuing down the hall and down the stairs into what Juliet believes is Captain Taffler’s room. The next morning she finds their old Pin The Tail On The Donkey game and slips it under Major Terry’s door. Major Terry promptly leaves after the weekend and no longer pursues Barbara.

Clive arrives at the house with some pacifist friends. They seem to want to persuade him not to fight, but he has decided he will. Michael loaths the pacifists. He and Clive fight about it in the nursery. Robert returned from a walk outside excited because he has seen three foxes in the field while walking. Juliet gathers daffodils to bring to Captain Taffler. She sees Barbara and Robert both leave Taffler’s room and embrace. Juliet enters the room to find Taffler rubbing his wounds against the walls to make them bleed. Blood is spurting out onto the floor. She drops the flowers and cries out. Nurse Babbington comes and Juliet is taken away and given a sedative.

Juliet becomes infatuated with Robert. He develops his affair with Barbara quickly, making it more difficult for Juliet. Barbara never again visits Taffler. Juliet notices that Robert is very private, but also has a violent temper. Once, when he thinks he is alone and unobserved, she watches him firing his gun at a tree. He destroys it completely.

Juliet feels everything she learned in life she did by blundering into a situation or room where she was not supposed to be. Otherwise, she says in her diary, no one would have told her anything. She sees Barbara go into Robert’s room and decides she can have some small bit of revenge by dressing up like Lady Sorrel's ghost and scaring them. She steals a dress from Barbara’s room and lights some candles. She enters Robert’s room and sees he and Barbara making love, only it seems to her like they are hurting one another. Barbara is pale and Robert’s neck is tight. It seems like he is angry and killing her. Juliet does not sleep that night, regretting what she has seen.

The next day she is holding her doll, Amanda, its stitches coming undone. She looks down at the breasts that are beginning to grow on her body and suddenly begins crying. Clive comes by and the two of them talk. She asks Clive why Robert and Barbara are so afraid. Clive tells her it’s because everyone they’ve loved has died. Clive admits that he is afraid, too. He smiles, and this makes Juliet feel better. When Robert leaves St. Aubyn’s Juliet gives him a present: one of Lady Sorrel’s candles and a box of wax matches. The candle had only been lit once, by her.


Juliet's transcript and diaries provide another perspective on the war and Robert as well as giving us a better picture of her sister, Lady Barbara d'Orsey. Robert goes to St Aubyn's to allow his legs to recover. Consider that Robert's legs are a frequent source of medical concern, just as they might be in horses. Findley draws this parallel to further connect his character to these animals. Lady Barbara continues to move from one man to another. As Juliet has stated, Barbara has a taste for athletes and heroes, for winners overall. However, all the men she comes to be with, Captain Villiers, Eugene Taffler, and Robert Ross, are losers. Villiers is forgotten after being horribly burned. Taffler is replaced by Robert after he loses both his arms and attempts suicide. Robert is forgotten too after being burned in the barn fire.

Some scholars see Lady Barbara as a metaphor for the war machine itself. The war uses these men up and spits them out, plying them with a short-lived "hero" status. Medals and praise will not return Villier's voice, or Taffler's arms. Findley returns to this theme again in Part Five of the novel with Robert's brutal rape. The war takes everything from these men including their privacy and dignity. It turns their best intentions against them. This is echoed in the quote from Carl von Clausewitz that can be found at the beginning of the novel: "In such dangerous things as war the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst." These men go into war with the belief that they are doing good and fighting for a just cause. Likewise, Robert's ultimate undoing comes about after he tries to save a herd of horses in an act of benevolence. It is when we are too understanding or giving that we can do ourselves the greatest harm.

Findley revisits the theme of private vs. public in this part of the novel. When Juliet walks in on Eugene Taffler she catches him in the private act of taking his own life. It is her public interference which prevents him from being successful. She again invades the privacy of other when she attempts to play a prank on Robert and Barbara in an act of jealousy. When she sees the two of them engaged in intercourse she sees the act as a violent one rather than an intimate one. Compare this to when Robert witnesses Eugene Taffler engaging in sex with the Swede. Both times the sexual act is seen as a violent one. This is further explored when Juliet remembers secretly watching Robert unload his pistol on a small tree. She learns that he has a great temper and a capacity for violence that he must actively subdue at all times.

Juliet does not fully comprehend what she has seen after witnessing the sex act. Sex is mistaken for pure violence. Findley further extrapolates on the concept of private vs. public by reminding us that we do not always know what we see or what we think we see. To see anything as it truly exists is nearly impossible. As we try to piece together who Robert Ross was we must rely on second-hand accounts and photographs from a bygone era. As outside observers we bring our own biases with us when observing something foreign to ourselves. Perhaps the greatest offense in invading someone's privacy is not that we break someone's trust, but that we might not even fully understand what we have seen.

As a result of this event, Juliet becomes sad and finds herself weeping uncontrollably for reasons she is not entirely sure of. She holds a doll, a symbol of her childhood, and notices the breasts that are growing on her body. Change is coming and with it great uncertainty. Juliet's innocence is eroded after seeing Robert and Barbara. Though this can be interpreted as a rite of passage, a necessity for her to grow up, consider that the war has brought change and a loss of innocence to all who are affected by it. Juliet's changing body is an allegory for the changing world. Her brother Clive provides some comfort by explaining why Robert and Barbara are the way they are: everyone they have known or loved has died. This paints Barbara in a more sympathetic light. Clive admits that he is scared too. This comforts Juliet because she sees that fear is a perfectly normal reaction. She counters this with hope in the form of a gift to Robert: a candle, a symbol of the element of fire, a light for the darkest hours.