Defeat written in 1941 is anther favorite of mine in The Persephone Book of Short Stories. Its author, Kay Boyle was born in the US. She later moved to London before returning to the US during World War II. Kay has written both novels and short stories even though her novels are mostly forgotten now. Defeat is one of her most critically acclaimed short stories.
Defeat is set in France during World War II. France is occupied by Germans, and the defeated French troops are returning home from North. Kay describes their return in some stunningly written passages. I could see that these soldiers are not clearly who they used to be. They walk with their eyes cast down – eyes full of shame and anger. They no longer wear their uniforms, and they are embittered by the superiors who let them down. They tell their stories to anyone who would listen, but among them, there is one man who tells his story only once. It is to two strangers that he meets at a cafe he opens up. He tells them how he was taken a prisoner, and how he escaped, people who risked their lives to help him on his way, and who refused to help him fearing the Germans. He also tells the two strangers something he learned on the road – “as long as the women of a country aren’t defeated, it does not matter if its army is.”
I think that line is one of the reasons I love this short story so much. These women were the unsung heroes of the World Wars, and Defeat recognizes that they were more than bystanders in a war fought between men. Without the contributions of these women, the economies of most of the countries that were involved in the wars would have collapsed. They kept the countries running and often showed the courage that must have helped to boost the morale of the troops. So, I believe Defeat is a nod to those brave women! 🙂