Rebecca West: A Life

Overview

A novelist, critic, biographer, travel writer, and investigative journalist, Rebecca West had a keen eye for conflict, and a razor tongue for battle. Called "George Bernard Shaw in skirts" by pundits, she was a woman both feted for her achievements and feared for her cutting wit - "With malice toward all" was her motto, and her barbs are legend. Yet her vitriol was a mask for the pain she spent her life trying to escape. Born Cicily Fairfield to a ne'er-do-well, sexually abusive father and an emotionally fragile ...
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1st Edition, Fine/Fine Clean, tight & bright. No ink names, tears, chips, foxing etc. Price unclipped. ISBN 0684194309

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Overview

A novelist, critic, biographer, travel writer, and investigative journalist, Rebecca West had a keen eye for conflict, and a razor tongue for battle. Called "George Bernard Shaw in skirts" by pundits, she was a woman both feted for her achievements and feared for her cutting wit - "With malice toward all" was her motto, and her barbs are legend. Yet her vitriol was a mask for the pain she spent her life trying to escape. Born Cicily Fairfield to a ne'er-do-well, sexually abusive father and an emotionally fragile mother, she took the name Rebecca West from a strong-willed character in an Ibsen play, and thus began the remarkable process of reinvention that would culminate in her being named Dame of the British Empire at the peak of her career. West's first great love was H. G. Wells, with whom she had a son out of wedlock; her stormy relationship with both father and son would plague her throughout her life. She traveled around the world for her writing, and her fame, beauty and wit drew men to her wherever she went. She left behind a notable train in her wake, including the likes of Wells, Lord Beaverbrook, and Charlie Chaplin. Drawing upon a wealth of never-before-seen archival material and interviews with family and friends, authorized biographer Carl Rollyson has re-created this singular life with compassion, animation, and rare insight. He has plumbed deeply, to the truth behind Dame West's outrageous reputation, and - a harder feat - he has taken the first full measure of her dazzling range of accomplishments. At last, one of this century's most gifted and colorful writers has been given the biography she so richly deserves.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sinclair Lewis once scoffed about West's exasperating son, Anthony, sired out of wedlock by H.G. Wells, that his parentage was "the only interesting thing in his life." The difficult, disloyal Anthony would spoil for Rebecca (1892-1983) the acclaim she earned for her fiction (The Return of the Soldier, The Fountain Overflows) and her vivid, in-depth reportage (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, The Meaning of Treason). For the last 50 years of her life, her son was eager to exploit his Wellsian connection to promote himself. To Wells, the conception of Anthony was just another accident resulting from his often concurrent affairs. While West (Cicily Fairfield, her feminist pen name, that of an Ibsen heroine) was hidden away by Wells, literary insiders knew, and her life became more public as she became recognized as a writer. Growing up, Anthony was drawn to his celebrity father, and Rollyson returns again and again to West's cycles of recrimination and reconciliation with her son. The first biographer permitted to forage in her papers at Yale, Rollyson (Lillian Hellman) has been thorough in other research as well; however, the trivia of everyday life, sexual and social, is often overwhelming here. Despite the resetting from the British edition, he has apparently paraphrased so closely from West's diaries and other papers that he uses Briticisms (cosh, spanner) at odds with the rest of his prose. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Thirteen years after her death, West is again being readher Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) is still the definitive study of Balkan politics. Rollyson, a biographer of Lillian Hellman and Norman Mailer, had access to the massive Yale archive of West papers previously closed by her son, the writer Anthony West, and is thus able to comment directly on the difficult relations between mother and son and on Rebecca's ten-year affair with H.G. Wells, Anthony's father. A brilliant journalist and reviewer and sometimes inspired novelist, Dame Rebecca had anti-Communist beliefs that often colored her writings and made her a prickly outsider in Labour Britain. Rollyson is a thorough researcherhe seems to have read widely and interviewed all surviving contemporariesand he portrays West as the razor-tongued, "difficult" woman evident in her public and private utterance. But he is less adept at analyzing her work or the charm she had for many; ultimately, Victoria Glendinning's biography (Rebecca West, LJ 10/15/87), though half as long, is more readable. For more comprehensive literature collections.Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale
Kirkus Reviews
Rollyson (The Lives of Norman Mailer, 1991, etc.) piles on the details but never gets to the novelist, critic, and essayist known as Dame Rebecca West, born Cecily Fairfield (she borrowed her pen name from an Ibsen character).

Her career stretched from 1911 when, still a teenager, she began writing for the British feminist journal Freewoman, to the publication of 1900, which appeared when she was 90 years old. West was once notorious for her affairs: Her lovers included Charlie Chaplin, writer John Gunther, and Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper magnate. Most important though, was her long association with H.G. Wells, with whom she had an illegitimate child, the writer Anthony West. Anthony's lifelong anguish and anger are evident in his letters to his famous father: " . . . listen, little sadist sweetheart . . . you've made me realize what a little wart you are." Rollyson does a solid job of showing—mostly through letters from the hitherto restricted Yale collection—how West bridled against convention and the mores of the times but was also guilt- ridden and ambivalent about her roles as mother and as Wells's "kept" woman. Her marriage to banker Henry Maxwell Andrews, while more conventional, was plagued by a series of illnesses and infidelities, his and hers. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), considered West's masterpiece, a massive profile and history of Yugoslavia at the outset of WW II, "interweaves . . . description, reportage, autobiography, literary criticism, philosophy, theology, and feminism," and has been been praised as everything from a travel guide to "an account of civilization and its discontents." Rollyson generally does an adequate job of summing up West's works, particularly her novels.

But his lifeless writing often settles for a mere catalog of illnesses, lovers, and political battles; even his use of the letters fails to bring West to life. All of the juice has been squeezed out of the details of a long, rich, unique life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684194301
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 9/3/1996
  • Pages: 511
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.51 (d)

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