Selected Letters of Rebecca West

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Overview

From the time that George Bernard Shaw remarked that "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely," West's writings and her politics have elicited strong reactions. This collection of her letters—the first ever published—has been culled from the estimated ten thousand she wrote during her long life. The more than two hundred selected letters follow this spirited author, critic, and journalist from her first feminist campaign for woman suffrage when she was a teenager through her reassessments of the twentieth century written in 1982, in her ninetieth year.

The letters, which are presented in full, include correspondence with West's famous lover H. G. Wells and with Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Emma Goldman, Noël Coward, any many others; offer pronouncements on such contemporary authors as Norman Mailer, Nadine Gordimer, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; and provide new insights into her battles against misogyny, fascism, and communism. West deliberately fashions her own biography through this intensely personal correspondence challenging rival accounts of her groundbreaking professional career, her frustratinglove life, and her tormented family relations. Engrossing to read, the collection sheds new light on this important figure and her social and literary milieu.

About the Author:

Bonnie Kim Scott is a professor and director of graduate studies in English at the University of Delaware.

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Editorial Reviews

Francine Prose
In Selected Letters of Rebecca West, this new volume offers to hear West's voice...witty, arch, wise, acerbic and graceful. She was one of the great masters of the English prose sentence, and her letters are filled with the incisive, beautifully cadenced, and frequently hilarious descriptions of characters and places that give her work such resonance and power.
Lingua Franca
Merle Rubin
West's letters are so fascinating that even a sampling is bound to give some idea of her intellect, wit, passions and robust opinions. Whether she is elucidating her stand on McCarthyism, expressing her disgust at fellow writers or asserting Dostoevsky's superiority to Tolstoy, there is no mistaking that magisterial yet iconoclastic voice. . . . Over the years, West expressed some wildly divergent feelings about her son by H. G. Wells, her increasingly eccentric banker-husband and her accomplished but domineering oldest sister. Ms. Scott's selection of letters dealing with these relationships achieves a fine balance. We are led to recognize the love . . . that underlay the irritation, and at times the fury, that she all too often felt the need to vent.
Wall Street Journal
Joyce Johnson
The more than 200 letters from The Selected Letters of Rebecca West, culled from the 10,000 West wrote in her ninety years, flash and sizzle with combative energy whether West is refuting a critic, fending off an unwanted lover, or unabashedly speaking her mind.
ELLE END
Frank Kermode
A handsome collection. . . . Scott has done well to continue the work done by an earlier generation of feminists towards the restoration of Rebecca West to a place of honor among the writers of the twentieth century.
New Republic
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The eclectic, energetic correspondence of Dame West (1892-1983) begins here with the 14-year-old West, born Cicily Fairfield, writing precociously on women's suffrage to the editor of the Scotsman. It finishes, after one of the longest, most active careers in English letters, in 1982, with West's descriptive powers still vital. West's dual career as novelist and journalist pays a dividend in her vivid depictions of her travels, notably to the U.S. and pre-WWII Yugoslavia. The drama of the historic events of which she writes--the Nuremberg trials, the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa ("we were... simultaneously afraid of an outbreak of the Africans in the townships and of arrest by the Government"), the obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover ("the reasons for the jury's decision were manifest in the Judge's vile temper")--is matched by the richness of her address book. Her correspondents include Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Harold Ross, Lionel Trilling and Emma Goldman. Unfortunately for the paper trail of her notorious romance with H.G. Wells, Wells and West's son, Anthony, destroyed some personal letters, particularly from the earliest period of their relationship. Combing assorted archives, editor Scott, a professor of English at the University of Delaware, has tracked down later ones, from slightly embarrassing pet name exchanges ("Dearest Jaguar"/"Your loving Panther") to bitter disputes over child custody and finances. West's other relationships could be equally complicated, and she had hoped to keep her private and literary lives separate--but Scott diligently reintegrates them here, well representing the same brilliant, awkward chaos with which she lived. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Dame Rebecca West (1892-1983)--novelist, journalist, essayist, literary critic, travel writer, and political writer--wrote with vigor throughout her 90 years. In addition to these genres, West wrote several letters a day, an estimated 10,000 in her lifetime. Of those surviving, Scott (English, Univ. of Delaware) selected over 200 from family and library collections in the United States and Great Britain for this volume. Arranged chronologically, the letters reflect West's personality, political concerns (e.g., suffrage, communism, fascism, Fabian socialism, apartheid, and Cold War espionage), love affair with H.G. Wells, literary opinions and interpretations of contemporaries (e.g., George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Emma Goldman, and Fanny Hurst), travels, and concerns with biographical works written by her son, Anthony West; Victoria Glendinning; and Gordon Ray. Scott provides succinct, informative introductions to each section of letters. This well-edited volume will help contribute to scholarship on West. Recommended for academic libraries.--Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Sarah Kerr
[A] majestic volume of her letters . . . [Her] correspondence grows more compelling once she leaves behind those crucial formative years. . . . [T]hese letters back up West's complaint that her literary reputation never quite rose to the level she deserved.
The New York Times Book Review
Fleischer
It really is about time we had the letters of Rebecca West. And this plump selection, sumptuously produces and plushly upholstered with Bonnie Scott's introduction and notes, is a first edition of which Dame Rebecca would, I think, have been proud.
The Nation
The New Yorker
Brilliant, funny, vulnerable, combative: the bulk of these splendid letters find West trying to set one record or another straight...
Joyce Johnson
[These letters] flash and sizzle with combative energy whether West is refuting a critic, fending off an unwanted lover, or unabashedly speaking her mind.
ELLE
Francine Prose
Witty, arch, wise, acerbic, graceful.
Lingua Franca
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Introduction

Rebecca West was a prolific correspondent, writing several substantial letters on a typical day, and as many as ten thousand in her long lifetime (1892-1983). The letters display the same inclination toward history, philosophy, psychology, cultural critique, realistic description, and modernist fantasy that made this woman a remarkable writer of fiction, political journalism, literary criticism, and travel narrative. From the time that George Bernard Shaw remarked that "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely," West's politics and her writing have elicited strong, contradictory reactions from writers and scholars alike. The letters are bound to provoke reactions that are just as lively, bringing a deserved renewal of attention to West as a defining intellect of the twentieth century.

    West deliberately fashions her own biography through letters; in them she challenges rival accounts of her groundbreaking professional career, her frustrating love life, and her troubling family relations. She offers many versions of her parents. West needed particularly to come to terms with her father, Charles Fairfield, and with what she is reluctant to call his desertion of the family when she was eight years old. She struggles along into old age with the criticisms of her elder, talented, but authoritarian physician-sister, Letitia Fairfield. Her decade-long love affair with H. G. Wells (1913-1923) presents enduring problems. Their letters help the two to shape a feline love-fantasy, in the face of Wells's regular retreats to his wife Jane Wells and of West'sunplanned pregnancy. After separating, Wells and West argue over educating and rearing their son, Anthony West, and later she battles with Anthony's versions of their shared story. In correspondence to a set of loyal confidants, West mulls over various later love affairs, including failed ones with Lord Maxwell Beaverbrook and Judge Francis Biddle, as well as the problems encountered in her long-term marriage to Henry Andrews.

    West also sets down her own version of the literary movements and writers of her day, including in the older generation Arnold Bennett, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Ford Madox Ford, and among her contemporaries, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot. Throughout her career, in the letters as well as her essays and reviews, West puts women writers and editors on the map—to mention a few from the long list, Dora Marsden, Emma Goldman, Bryher, Irita Van Doren, G. B. Stern, Fanny Hurst, Eleanor Wylie, and Dorothy Thompson. She takes us into the inner circle at the New Yorker immediately after World War II, when she offered her first spy reportage to its editor Harold Ross. She takes us along on challenging assignments, for example, showing how hard it is to get a good story on royalty for the Evening Standard, and notes the problems of transatlantic syndication. West defends her most controversial writing, including her accounts of American congressional investigative committees established to combat communism in the McCarthy era.

    When West wants to make known her version of a troublesome incident, she repeats whole blocks of material to numerous correspondents. This obsessive pattern is particularly pronounced in accounts concerning her struggles to separate from Wells and obtain an adequate financial settlement for herself and their son. Disputes over Anthony's autobiographical and biographical efforts are the most frequently and tumultuously rendered. West has left explanations several pages in length to accompany some of his letters to her, all preserved in the West archive in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. When such biographers as Victoria Glendinning and Gordon Ray appear, they receive long summaries of events, signed as a letter might be, to guide their writing. West liked to believe that, in dealing with personal and professional problems, she was logical and could secure the endorsement of reasonable people. Her letters eased the solitary decision making that characterized much of her life.

    In his biography of his father, Anthony described his mother's letters as "riveting mixtures of wit, acute observation, sharply intelligent commentary and a wild paranoia." Perhaps blinded by his own biased sampling, he predicted mistakenly: "Their strangeness, and the cruelty of many of the caricatures of her contemporaries that they contain, as well as the freedom with which they approach the truth, make it seem highly unlikely that her executors will make them generally available for a long time to come" (A. West, 1984) 58.

    More problematic for today's readers is the occasional inclusion in West's letters of derogatory ethnic, racial, and sexual attitudes and labels. She uses Wop and Jew ape, as if the terms come naturally, when writing in 1948 to Henry of an unpleasant experience. Homosexuals are repeatedly referred to as pansies. She records ambivalent opinions of Oscar Wilde for decades. That she mentions homosexual liaisons as a regular element in her accounts of communist spy cases suggests that she shared and promoted a belief, common in the McCarthy era, that the two were associated. She writes about Jewish women friends such as Fanny Hurst and of the African-American actor Paul Robeson as exotics. Countering these patterns, she writes of Harlem with flair and enjoyment. She shows affection for gay men, beginning with Reginald Turner, whom she addresses as "Uncle Reggie." West reports her attraction to a series of Jewish men, gives evidence of enduring, close friendships with Jewish women such as G. B. Stern, and makes early and sustained efforts to help fugitives of the Holocaust, Slavs as well as Jews.

    West offers fresh interpretations of the well-known figures who surrounded her (in addition to the figures already cited, John Gunther, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Harold Nicolson, D. H. Lawrence, Sinclair Lewis, Alexander Woollcott, Charlie Chaplin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Macmillan, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.). In her later years, she generously assists biographers of other writers with lengthy recollections, replete with amusing incidents and physical details. Ever the journalist, she delights in making a scoop, whether it be news of a former lover or of a Soviet spy plot. She both investigates and generates political intrigues. West gives friends living abroad periodic assessments of the British government's performance in times of crisis. Some letters are vibrant travelogues, observant variously of such matters as native clothing, crafts, landscapes, employment, conventions of gender, festivals, and history. She helpfully identifies the nature of her local informants and her most valuable source books. In going on at length about her discomforts, West may give detailed information on the transportation system of a distant place, or its health remedies. Her love of the Riviera and the American Middle West take form first in the letters. Descriptions that later appeared in her exceptional work on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, or her essays on South Africa receive their first formulation in letters written to friends and family members.

    Rebecca West played a vibrant role in nine decades of history and made the most of her place in them, as the letters show in new ways. She addressed Fabian socialism, the suffrage movement, the domestic side of two world wars, women's entry into the scientific and literary professions, the emergence of literary modernism out of Edwardian realism, America in the Roaring Twenties, the rise and trials of fascism, the plight of refugees, communism, cold war espionage, lynching trials, apartheid, and second-wave feminism. She tests our ideas of political affiliation by identifying herself to J. B. Priestley as the "last liberal left" (22 June 1955, University of Texas at Austin), despite her increasing conservatism and writing that convinced many that she favored Senator McCarthy's methods in rooting out communism.

    Some of the letters reveal surprising material. West was an astute financial planner. She stuck to a negative reading of Britain's support of Tito and argued to the end the merits of his rival, Draza Mihailovitch. West entered competitively into the family obsession with their family tree. She gossiped at length about the royal family—for example, reporting on an early encounter with Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales and on the course of their romance. The letters give enough information about her health problems and their treatment to engage a medical historian. While they reveal a great deal about the writing and reception of her published work, the letters also set forth her hopes for projects that never materialized—additional travel books on America, Mexico, and South Africa, and a study tentatively titled "Second Thoughts on Feminism." Until her death, she suppressed publication of Sunflower, the novel inspired by her relationship with Lord Beaverbrook, though she discusses its progress for years in the letters. On balance, she comes out relatively well, as a concerned woman who strove for the understanding of her discontented son. Her caring extended to the grandchildren within reach, and to younger people such as Merlin Holland and Norman Macleod, who compensated for the remoteness of her immediate family.

    Members of West's generation, born a decade or two before the turn of the twentieth century, were probably the last great letter writers, having both the habit of regular writing and the willingness to express themselves at length. West's letters have value beyond their obvious biographical interest because they frequently address the concerns of the century she so avidly occupied. She consistently finds and sorts out remarkable information. Her letters entertain, with representations of character that are often as lively and as piercingly witty as Virginia Woolf's. Her correspondence with her literary colleagues and agents helps illuminate the economics of publishing, without falling into the self-serving quality that characterizes much of James Joyce's much more narrowly focused correspondence. She displays, rather, the concern for others' work that is one of the finest qualities of the letters of D. H. Lawrence.

    West takes an interest in the letters of other writers, though she rarely reviewed collections. In a 1932 review of D. H. Lawrence's letters, West is pleased to find that "the irascibility and suspicion which have been overemphasised in some accounts of him were more than balanced by serenity and good sense." She also admires the "exquisite landscapes" of his letters and their "revelation of how spontaneous in him was his sense of beauty in nature." In her exchange with Vyvyan Holland over the publication of the letters of his father, Oscar Wilde, she argues against expurgation of their homosexual content, despite family concern about his image and about the potential effect on Wilde's grandson. She discusses Gordon Ray's editing of the Wells-Shaw correspondence before turning him loose on her own collection of Wells's letters.

    The trope of the letter served West at various stages of her writing career. At its start, when she was literary editor at the New Freewoman (1913), West was required to respond to letters to the editor, in the process defending and often extending her essays and reviews. Letters were her principal form of contribution to a later feminist periodical, Time and Tide. The Bookman titled her columns for 1929-1930 "A London Letter" and (when she ventured to the Continent) "A Letter from Abroad." This format allowed her to expand beyond reviewing lists of books to include events and cultural observations.

    West reveals herself in many moods and states of mind—girlish mischief, extreme fatigue, rapture over the beauty of places or fine food, and ultra confidence in her pronouncements on literature, politics, and persons. She repeatedly expresses suspicion of malice in others, including the Deity, and on rare occasions expresses that emotion herself. Yet the letters also display long-term devotion to friends and feminist solidarity. West can be extremely funny, as when she describes a hospital where she had an operation for a fibroid tumor as the invention of Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce. Alexander Woollcott took to reading her letters aloud at Washington dinners and reported that she had Felix Frankfurter and Archibald MacLeish rolling on the floor (11 November 1939, Yale University). As a gifted and witty raconteur, she was able to craft original comparisons and move toward unexpected, yet (one realizes) carefully orchestrated conclusions. As in her essays, West favors whatever sustains the life force, and dreads evil with a firm conviction of its existence and its deadliness.

    West's secretary in the 1940s, Anne Charles McBurney, recalls West at her vast, disorderly, horseshoe-shaped desk, sequestered on the second floor of Ibstone House. West describes the desk as an "early eighteenth century wine table." Eventually, owing to excessive age or the burden of her papers, it "suddenly split across in two places" (letter to Gordon Ray, 2 August 1972, Pierpont Morgan Library). At her desk, West would be rifling through brimming baskets of letters received, exclaiming, "Oh, God! Oh, God," at intervals, when a desired paper failed to surface. That same exclamation marks numerous letters to the intimates admissible during her moments of domestic or professional mayhem. Her last secretary, Diana Stainforth, found West fun to work with—often more eager to chat than to get to her letters. In Stainforth's memory, West is seated beneath a beautiful circular window in Kingston House, her final abode. She occupies a high-backed, vinyl-covered wing chair, with tables arranged around her, and wears a favorite turquoise dressing gown. She might dictate letters while lying in bed. In her prime, West also frequently wrote from ships bound to or from America, wiring in a publishing emergency to A. D. Peters or George Bye, her agents on either side of the Atlantic. In Philadelphia on an oppressive summer day, she admitted to McBurney, "I have written most of this in a bra and pants—but now those have gone" (1948, private collection).

    Although there is no typical Rebecca West letter, some general conventions obtain. West often begins with an apology for the delay that includes a description of what family responsibility, illness, or travel has prevented her from corresponding. Early in a letter, she is likely to pick up on a theme of common interest, or respond to the recent experiences of her correspondent. When she is obsessed with a problem—some assault on her professional reputation, or the problematic behavior of a family member—almost any topic will lead into that concern. Her sentences are apt to be ponderous, with a complex phrase for each of many intersecting or additive forces to the situation described. Dashes work to string out the sentence, and the verb often comes as a delayed gratification. Seeming to like the repetition of proper names, West uses pronouns sparsely. It is not unusual for her to supply her own notes, marked with a cross or an asterisk; afterthoughts run along the sides of letters, or follow her signature.

    West usually signed her letters simply "Rebecca," sometimes abbreviated R or RW. She had taken the name Rebecca West from Ibsen's heroine in Rosmersholm when she started writing for the New Freewoman in 1912. To many of her Fairfield relatives she remained Cicily, her spelling of her given name, Cicely Fairfield. She was Auntie C. to the offspring of Winifred, the middle sister in the family. The youngest of three daughters, West signed her early letters to her eldest sister, Lettie, with "Baby." A childish misunderstanding of the spelling of antelope won her the name Anne in the family; she furnished the names Frisk and Podge for her sisters, and regularly used Podge or Podgers in letters to Winifred. Many of West's intimate names derived from an imaginary bestiary, with a premium placed on "pussingers," or cats. Most famously, she was "Panther" to Wells's "Jaguar"—a feline pair regularly commemorated in his love letters to her. As a small boy, Anthony was encouraged to call her Aunty Panther. For a time, Anthony chose to go by the Miltonian name Comus, which enters the letters as well. At the height of the relationship with her grandson, Edmund, and his first wife, Vita (which declined with their divorce), they received letters that closed with her line drawing of a cat's posterior. West and her husband, Henry Andrews, selected "Ric" for him and "Rac" for her, names taken from dogs that appeared in a French comic strip; she tended to use "Rac" with her grandchildren. "Simpkin" was a signature saved for confidants, when West was some years into her marriage, and she was "Lady Mary" to Pamela Frankau. The distinguished justice Francis Biddle called her "my dearest Rat" and "my dragon lady" in his love letters (letter to West, 29 August 1946, Yale University). Hers to him appear not to have survived.

    Most of her letters are imprinted with her current address, or that of the hotel where she was staying. West's small, consistently neat handwriting is, even into her old age, relatively easy to decipher. One dealer (Bernard Rota) has used compactness as a selling point for her letters—there is often a great deal to the page. Dating is a more difficult matter. With the exception of business correspondence, which is carefully dated, West supplies the day of the month sometimes, but rarely the year. Except in her letters on Yugoslavs, she generally omits accent marks in foreign languages. The University of Tulsa archive reveals that before sending letters of emotional importance, West frequently drafted fragments in notebooks or at the typewriter. Letters not sent have survived in the archives, and a few appear in this selection. With family and close friends, West sends letters slashed with crossed-out words, many of which are worth showing because they may betray emotion, or the perfecting of her impressions.

    West began to develop a strategic plan for the disposition of her correspondence around 1955, when she was shocked by what she took to be her own portrait in her son's novel, Heritage. An invaluable collection of biographical evidence existed in letters she had received from H. G. Wells before, after, and during their famous ten-year liaison. Yale became the repository for her letters, by a process explained in a 1973 letter to an old friend, the author Beverley Nichols:


I kept all H. G.'s letters, which amounted to 800. I think I would have destroyed them before I died, but when Anthony began to act peculiarly and wrote that awful book, I gave them to Yale University, who put them in the Beinecke. I would have given them to the British Museum but they replied to my letter offering them with a printed form asking me to send a specimen letter so that the Trustees could judge whether they wished to accept them. The Beinecke then followed up by asking me to send them all my papers, past and current, which I have been doing ever since. (Typescript letter [June or July 1973], private collection)


She represented Yale's interest in her papers to G. B. Stern, as follows: "This is not a tribute, I regret to say, I mean the buying of my letters, to the greatness of the Panther, but they are taking over all my papers, bank books, solicitors' files, after I am dead, as an effort at historical research—since it is most difficult to reconstruct how people actually lived from day to day" (11 September 1960, Stern Collection, Boston University). The Yale archive is far from complete. Papers left at her death were sold by West's estate to the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. Numerous letters are still in private hands. A major collection was sold while this edition was in progress.

    In several cases, West's letters were deliberately destroyed. She reports that Wells disposed of nearly all of her letters to him, with the exception of a few in an envelope that escaped his attention. Some of these remaining ones were sacrificed by Anthony West, who claimed to be protecting her from judgments that she was too materialistic, though she suspected more sinister motives. Letters from the years of West's deepest infatuation with Lord Beaverbrook were also destroyed by their recipient. West wrote to Pamela Frankau and G. B. Stern in an effort to secure more letters for Yale and was disappointed to find large gaps in the correspondence they had preserved. In justifying herself, Stern expressed a wish to protect Lettie from reading her sister's negative comments.

    West, too, limited the collection. Her letters disclose that she tore up some letters at the time she sent the bulk of them to Yale. In the draft of a letter to Wells's daughter-in-law Marjorie, West assured her: "I have weeded out these letters carefully and there are none which are not charming and delightful and the best of H. G., except for some irritable ones which are also amusing. And those I am annotating so that they will do nobody any harm" (14 February 1950, University of Tulsa).

    West controlled access to the letters she did deposit at Yale. The basic plan was to deny use of them to all but those persons she designated, until after the deaths of both herself and her son. This "blanket veto on inspection of any of all this except by persons authorized by" her was "according to custom," or so she explained to Beverley Nichols. She approved of Gordon Ray, who was given access to the letters as Wells's biographer and subsequently produced a narrative of their relationship, H. G. Wells and Rebecca West (1974), written in frequent consultation with West, who barred him from speaking with Anthony. Ray deferred also to the feelings of Wells's son Gip, particularly in regard to Jane Wells, who figured as a villain in many of West's accounts. West imposed some censorship on Ray. She instructed him to remove any references in the letters that were damaging to survivors, including Lettie, whom she wanted to shield from knowledge of Wells's negative assessments of her. The Ray volume evoked a response from Anthony, and in turn one from West to him. Ray's book has also had the unfortunate effect of reducing her presence in the forthcoming four-volume edition of Wells's letters. Its editor, David C. Smith, prints only a very small number of Wells's letters to West. He justifies this near-exclusion by citing the existence of Ray's volume, even though the book really only weaves extracts from the letters into Ray's own narrative on the relationship of West and Wells.

    In selecting from West's letters available to me, I have endeavored to include a wide range of her acquaintances, as either recipients or subjects of letters, and substantive references to the full canon of her writing. I am striving for a balanced record of her character, which could easily be sweetened or soured in the selection. I have to some extent protected the living from intrusion and defamation. There are now plenty of the dead to bear the main burden of her satire. The selection will complement the two existing biographies by Victoria Glendinning and Carl Rollyson and will, I hope, serve to encourage additional critical and biographical projects.

    Annotating Rebecca West is a challenging business because she was active for so long, traveled so widely, and participated in so many circles of writers and political figures. To read her letters in an informed way is to receive an education in the culture of the twentieth century.


Chapter One

1907-1923


Panther with a Pen


THIS EARLIEST GROUP OF LETTERS BEGINS PRECOCIOUSLY WITH A LETTER to the editor of the Scotsman, published when Rebecca West was fourteen. The sequence continues through her decade of intimacy with H. G. Wells. Recorded here are her initiation to public life, through participation in the suffrage movement as well as the Fabian Society, her entry into the writing profession via the Freewoman and the Clarion, and her struggles to keep a literary career going alongside the challenges of attending to a lover and a son.

    The correspondence first locates West as a schoolgirl in Edinburgh, where the female members of the family settled in 1902 after her father, Charles Fairfield, left them indefinitely for a brief, unsuccessful venture in Sierra Leone. In 1960, West declined an invitation from Edinburgh to speak about her old headmistress at George Watson's Ladies' College, where she had been a scholarship student. She offered, by way of explanation, an early literary exploit:


There were in the class in which my best friend, Flora Duncan, and I found ourselves when we were about fourteen, some silly girls who liked to go to Blackford Hill and be picked up by students. Flora and I thought this was silly and dangerous, and we wrote some derisive verses of the most innocent nature which we circulated.... Miss Ainslie came into possession of them and read us a lecture before our class which would have [been] justified if we had introduced La Vie Parisienne or some similar publication to the halls of George Watson's. (Letter to Miss Fleming, 1 December 1960, Yale University)


West goes on to say, "I think I would have gone on to the University if it hadn't been for her, and I have always felt the lack of a University education as a real handicap."

    By April 1910, West had made her move to London, where she settled with her mother and sisters in the house they named Fairliehope. She reports on her rough entry into Academy of Dramatic Arts: "I have passed into the A. D. A. all right—under difficulties. I fainted in the Tube going up, at Baker St.... Three very nice women came and looked after me, and one asked, `Are you going to meet anyone who'll look after you, a sister?' `No,' I muttered piteously `A Theatrical manager!' and closed my eyes. I then heard a whisper—`Poor child—an actress! I'll pay for the brandy!'" (letter to Letitia Fairfield, 18 April 1910, Indiana University, Bloomington).

    In the balance of these letters, we find West at a series of addresses of dwellings chosen jointly with H. G. Wells, who became her lover in 1913 and who was the father of her son, Anthony West, born in August 1914, just as World War I was breaking out. "Jaguar" is her pet name for Wells in these letters, and "Panther" his salutation for her. "Panther," which also became their son's middle name, remained a preferred signature for her intimate letters. Important correspondents are her eldest sister Letitia Fairfield, addressed at first childishly as "Cow," Dora Marsden, editor of the Freewoman, S. K. Ratcliffe, a Fabian journalist who befriended the family during their early days in London, and G. B. Shaw. There is a gap in the letters around the time of Anthony's birth.

    With these letters, West takes us into the melee of police action during suffrage demonstrations. We experience the home front during World War I, when bombs fell close enough to kill the family cat. West remarks on her intentions with her first books and struggles with manipulative literary agents. We hear of the pleasures and trials of her decade with Wells. Troubled by such events as a woman's attempted suicide in his flat (which West helped to cover up), and what she considered increasingly erratic and demanding behavior on his part, it was she who ended the affair. We meet their son Anthony, seen as both a treasure and a distraction from her work.

    West's talents for drama, humor, and parody of herself and others develop early. She takes on Cockney accents and devises pet names. She poses and amuses, already balancing the historical with the personal and the philosophical. She spends the check for her first novel on "the most expensive hat I have ever bought in my life," offering characteristic justifications:


The hat was a direct consequence of the Italian disaster. All these war horrors instead of making me ascetic make me turn furiously to sensuous delights. Such a pleasure to think that if all the world's gone wrong that hat at least is right. And after {and during} air raids I don't pray or speculate on the World State but drench myself in scent and eat chocolates. Perhaps it's only a reaction against an unusually abstinent life—I've never had any amusing trimmings to life—but I think there is an impulse to reassure oneself that life's worth living by simple pleasures. (Letter to Sylvia Lynd, Thursday 1917, Boston University)


To: The Editor of the Scotsman 16 October 1907

Sir,—I was very much interested in the letter signed "Mater" in this morning's issue, as it seems to reflect no inconsiderable part of feminine opinion. The writer is not very clear as to her opening point. She denounces the N. W. S. P. U. [National Women's Social and Political Union] as unpatriotic on the declaration of war on the Liberal Government, independent of their divers personal political creeds. And why? Because it is the duty of women to support our Constitution against all revolutionary efforts; to, in short, defend the nation from Socialism. I for one cannot follow "Mater" here. How are we to fulfil the aforenamed duties by supporting the party that has been Socialism's truest friend, that has been its most devoted fosterer; that has, in fact, already commenced an active campaign against an integral part of our Constitution—the Lords?

    Also, I do not think that "Mater" realises the profound national effects of the subjection of women on the nation. If she considers the position of women in the industrial field, if she thinks of the Cradley Heath chainmakers and the whitelead workers, surely she should realise it is a question affecting the Empire itself. While women have to endure such squalid physical agony to gain their daily bread, while children are born sightless and distorted, already tainted with the lead poisoning, it is not only the duty of every woman, but of every patriot to press this question before all others and immediately. For not only is the sex degradation implied in manhood suffrage dangerously near, but we are threatened by a Legal Prevention of Married Women's Factory Employment Act—a magnificent measure, but without the guarantee of a legal share of a husband's wages falling to the wife. Heaven knows what that will mean!

    It is obviously incumbent on every one whose eyes are open not only to the sufferings of women, but to the well-being of the nation, to accept the call to action of the N. W. S. P. U., and to thank the noble women who are giving not only their time and labour, but not a little of their own private interests, to this great cause.—I am, &c.

CICILY ISABEL FAIRFIELD


To: Letitia Fairfield

24 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh
[late December 1908]

Dear Cow,

    Thank you so very much for your present, you naughty old Cow! I have been so very busy and dissipated of late that I have delayed writing. We have had a very fine time—last Wednesday Miss Moloney and Louisa Walker spoke for the Men's League—I think Miss Moloney is one of the loveliest creatures I ever saw. She spoke very well indeed, but has an astonishing faculty for saying the first-thing that comes into her head—e.g. "Think of the cumbrousness of Irish divorce laws! Why, a relative of my own had to go to the House of Lords to get rid of a man who wasn't worth staying in the room with!" The audience reeled but adored her!

    On Thursday I went to a supperparty at Mrs Easson's to meet Miss Moloney. She was simply delighted to hear of Miss Gawthorpe's disturbing influence on Writston. She is a very witty speaker and really rather logical in spite of her wild tendency to say the most unexpected thing possible. Her looks carry her every where—she has such pretty brown hair and blue eyes and a marvellously perfect mouth. The occasion was the inauguration of the Votes for Women Club—a secret militant society for men and women. We come into active service first on Jan. 5th, when Haldane comes. We are to have a big protest meeting outside.

    While we were at Mrs Easson's a funny little man came in—the husband of one of the W. F. L. [Women's Freedom League] London organisers, named Holloway. He left the Civil Service on account of having delivered a political speech not long ago, and is now on the stage. He was in the King's Theatre panto, so he invited {Nelly and I} (me) to go round to the rehearsal on Friday morning. It was very interesting. The King's Theatre is lovely "behind," and the dear old wardrobe mistress took us to her bosom and showed us all the dresses. The company—which was very kind to us—was most bushossy—mostly highly respectable Jews. The girls, altho' some were popular panto beauties, were all very plain—Nelly and I were about the best looking there. We were only admitted because the manager, Davis, who used to be a Gilbert & Sullivan man, is a keen Suffragist. Mr. Holloway is a dear little Cockney, who talks about nothing but his wife, his daughter and womans Suffrage.

    On Monday I shopped until I flopped, and went to the Paterson Concert. Bushos told you about the meeting at the Mound. Nelly was very captivating and "fluttered." The crowd "licked its lips." The dear dainty little Scotts spoke too with Morag Burn Murdoch, Miss Chapman, and Cecilia Haig. The Scotts are magnificent workers but have not the slightest sense of humour. They said to me very solemnly: "Could you not come to prison with us in July, Miss Fairfield? It would be so nice and homelike if we could all go together!" They are very keen on Nelly and us going to E. Fife then. They were there last holidays.

    I hope you will like the Shropshire Lad. Do read "Bring in the nameless grave to throw"—"Loveliest of Trees"—"Look not in my eyes for fear!"

    I am glad Pat Woodlock got off so easily, though it was obviously a police conspiracy.

    I am so sad when I think of a lonely Cow on Christmas Day—hasn't anyone offered to house the Cow for the day? I hope you will have your turkey and plum pudding, anyway.

    Lily is tired, so will write tomorrow. Please write me Mary G's [Gawthorpe's] address.

    I am so glad you are better. Anyone would get ill if that gas stove is still raising Cain in the sitting room!

    With best wishes for the New Year. May 1909 bring votes for Women!

Your loving baby


West, R., MSS manuscript

Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana


To: Letitia Fairfield

34 Park Parade
Whitley
[1909]

Dear Cow!

    I am sorry I couldn't write before but I have been busy all the time ever since I left you. We had a splendid meeting at Harrogate—both Christabel & Lovey Mary were at their very best. Zena and Phyllis Dare were among our most enthusiastic listeners. I believe there was a splendid profit but of course don't know. We missed <both>{each} other at the station but from Stockton to Newcastle we travelled together. I thought Christabel was very decent indeed, not at all sarcastic.

    As for Newcastle I have been very busy—helping at meetings all Wednesday. That morning at the dinnerhour in an engineering and railway works district Mary talked the little Shortt down completely. On Thursday I stood outside the poll at Forsyth Rd and shouted "Keep the Liberal out!" I turned three votes on the doorstep, anyway. But the Liberal women are ghastly! They stood on the other side of the gate and shouted insults at us the whole time. I had five large Liberal ladies bearing down on me calling me a hooligan and a silly fool and other pretty names. One Liberal man tried to shake me and hurt me, much to their delight; but the police man settled all that. However one Suffragette, Mrs Brown of New Castle, was knocked down and trampled on by a member of the Woman's Liberal Federation. They tried to make me stop shouting "Keep the Liberal out" but of course it was no good. I kept on from 10 till 8! Of course I got my meals all right. Everybody was very nice except the Liberal women—who have a repertoire of vituperation that I cannot believe to be equalled anywhere. They looked exactly like comic postcard Suffragettes. The police were quite all right, so I was always safe. The police warned me not to go up to hear the poll unless I was with plenty of friends, as the women would scratch my eyes out! I knew Renwick was in. Shortt is a more attractive man, and was followed about by bevies of adoring damsels. He lost a good many workmen's votes on account of a motor he sent round the town—full of his children, with a huge placard "Vote for Daddy!" They couldn't stand that. A great number of working men voted for woman's Suffrage—spoiled their papers or voted Socialist, in most cases, I am told. I haven't seen an analysis of the votes yet; as I didn't go up.

    I was agreeably surprised with Mrs Martel. She s a dear old soul in spite of the hair, and takes the crowd tremendously. Of the prisoners only Elsie Howie and Vera Wentworth are anything like first-rate speakers. Vera W. is a little terror—rather a handsome girl. Miss Hamilton Scott and Miss Higgins are very good too.

    We had some very queer experiences. Miss Agston received an invitation to "The Girls of Gottenburg" outside the poll. I was selling p[ost].c[ard].s at one of our largest meetings when a wild eyes [sic] individual rushed up and thrust half a sovereign in florins into my hand and said "That is for your picture post card, madame!" I blushed and declined the compliment, and rushed away. Outside the poll one of the Liberal agents addressed me thusly—"Stop shouting, my dear, and come and have some tea in town!" I didn't! It reminded me of little Archietect [sic]. To whom I send my love.

    I suppose you will have seen Lovey Mary by now. I lost track of her in Newcastle. How the crowd adored her. But Mrs Pankhurst has a wonderful hold on them. Mr. Shortt spoke to me, by the way. He has plenty of push, but solid intellectual talent, I should think.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed myself all this month, and wish I was going back to play with my Cow in cheerful Gheetham. Isn't it dreadful to be left with neither little dawg nor baby?

    I am too tired to write anymore, and I don't think I have much more to say. I am writing to Darwin.

Your affectionate
Baby

West, R., MSS.

manuscript

Indiana University, Bloomington


To: Letitia Fairfield

24 Buccleuch Place
Edinburgh
20 March 1910

My dear Cow,

    We are so sorry to hear that you are run down again! It will be good to be nearer you so that we can inspect you at more frequent intervals. It's very unfair that a fine Cow like you should be weakly.

    I expect you have heard as much as we have about Fairliehope Cottage—I hope you like the name. If you don't you ought to be ashamed of yourself, because it is a most beautiful William Morris word and the name of a wonderful old farm on the Pentlands looking over towards the Clyde. Podge [Winifred Macleod] is planning cut a garden—herbaceous borders, rosepoles, and such like. Mother's only stipulation is that there must be wallflowers, and I demand a lilac bush and almond tree, so she has a free hand.

    The great event of this week was Lovey Mary's [Gawthorpe's] visit on Thursday. I had to stay in on Thursday afternoon, as it is the day the house is to be seen and Cousin Jessie "doesn't like to be left alone with strangers in the house," but I went on Thursday evening to the Oddfellow's Hall. She called me on the platform afterwards and we had a talk. She looked well though tired, and had on the nummiest green silk gown you ever saw! The audience was very much taken with her—particularly when she turned up her snubby little nose. She sent her love to you—and hoped to see me at the Actresses' Franchise League meeting she is having in April. She was in one of her naughty, gurglesome moods, and bounced on her chair and waved her hands about in her funniest way. I couldn't understand half she said. She was always jumping about; giving a dramatic representation of a dialogue between an Anti and a Adult Suffragist: and whisking round to me with confidential information—all rather confusing! Something about the "New Age"—and that she was going to live in London when we got the vote—she always came back to that with a purport I couldn't quite catch. For once I wished that her conversational style was a little less fragmentary. But she had great, great ch'm!

    Yesterday Flora, Ada and I went a 15 mile walk. We trained to Balerno, walked along the Old Lanark Road and crossed over Carnwath Moor by Harperrig Reservoir, and climbed up to the pass between the East & West Cairn Hills. This is the Cauldstaneslap—the one in The Weir of Hermiston—a most awful wilderness of bare moors—1300 ft above sea level. We had to go rather out of our way, as we couldn't walk in the snow, which lay pretty thick on the mountains. The hills are about 2,000 ft, and in wild shapes. We walked for six miles without seeing a house, and in the whole 15 miles only met 2 people. When we got to West Linton—which is a lovely place, in the prettiest part of Peebleshire,—we found that the benevolent railway company insisted on us leaving at 4.45 or not at all till 8 o'clock. So—as the station is 2 miles from the village—we couldn't have tea. For 1/6 the N. B. R. gave us 2 hrs of travelling including half an hour's repose at a station, dropped, for some reason, beside a couple of cottages. No stuffing anywhere, and we'd wolfed all our sandwiches among the mountains! The dear child did wonders when it returned to the bosom of its fambly [sic]! The bother is that my left leg is quite lame today. I don't know if its possible, but I feel as if that burn had affected it. It's been queer ever since.

    Cousin Jessy is slowly driving the family to acute mania. The old thing, which came back from the Scarlet Babylon quite perky, is driven into being quite shocking. Both Podgers and I want to punish fussiness by a blow on the head, but we do very well.

    Although Nelly [Porter] has not heard about her engagement all her friends have been invited to a "farewell tea" on Thursday—very Nelly-like! She is very keen to go to London and wants me to introduce her to an actor—her ambition is to "go up the river—on Sunday—with an actor." Talk about Miss Porter's heart attacks!

Your loving
Baby

West, R., MSS

manusript

Indiana University, Bloomington

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

xi Acknowledgments

xv Introduction

xxv Chronology

xxxii Rebecca West's Family Tree

xxxv Biographical Sketches

xlvii Note on Editing Conventions

1 Part One Panther with a Pen, 1907-1923

61 Part Two Rebecca Goes West, 1923-1930

125 Part Three Ric, Rac, and the Fight Against Fascism, 1930-1945

197 Part Four Confronting Communism, 1944-1955

301 Part Five Dame Commander of Letters, 1955-1969

415 Part Six Auntie C. and Personal History, 1969-1983

481 Bibliography

485 Index

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