Regeneration focuses on troubled soldiers' mental states during WW1. The Craiglockhart setting allows Barker to explore the psychological effects of warfare on men who went to fight and also their feelings about the war and the military's involvement in it. While the focus of the novel is firmly on the male perspective (indeed Barker claimed she had partly chosen this novel to prove she could 'do men as well as women'), there is a small but important female presence.
When WW1 began in 1914, women in Britain were still very much the oppressed gender. Campaigns for women to be allowed the vote were well established. It was only one year previously that Emily Davison had thrown herself under the King's horse at the Derby, but no votes were to be awarded until after the war, and even then only to women who owned their own homes or were married. By introducing Sarah Lumb and her friends, Barker allows a female perspective to be considered in yet another male dominated situation (ie, the war).
With conscription removing nearly an entire generation of male workers to battle, a large gap in the country's workforce appeared, a gap made larger by the increasing demand for ammunition created by the war effort. The people who filled tese gaps were mainly lower class women who took the places of their fathers/brothers/uncles who had gone to the front lines. It comes as no surprise to readers of Barker that this is the group of women chosen to focus on as it is representative of the gritty, coarse spoken and northern women of previous novels.
Until the war began, Sarah was employed as a 'lady's maid', a job which her mother, Ada, considered suitable and which earned her 10 bob per week. The financial pull of the...