Rebecca West (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
This biography of Rebecca West begins with an insight that might well have shaped the entire text: “The story of Rebecca West, who lived from 1892 to 1983, is the story of twentieth-century women.” West both initiated and reflected major changes in the modern history of ideas, politics, and literature. She wrote about World War I, World War II, and the Cold War; about the suffrage movement, workers’ rights, and the complex power relationships between men and women; about contemporary history as shaped by the forces for good and evil; and about the style, themes, and significance of Henry James, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and other major twentieth century literary figures. She was an independent thinker, she created a literary reputation for herself with her prolific writing, and she defied society’s expectations for women. She is a formidable subject for a biography, because of the interdisciplinary range of her writings, the intellectual acuity of her analysis, the strongly expressed judgments in her nonfiction prose, the diverse forms of her novels, and the span of years over which she wrote. Victoria Glendinning, who met West toward the end of her life and who has written three other biographies—Vita: The Life of Vita Sackville-West (1983), Edith Sitwell: A Unicorn Among Lions (1981), and Elizabeth Bowen (1978)—has organized the materials of West’s long, complicated life with professional skill.
(The entire section is 1987 words.)
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Rebecca West (Magill Book Reviews)
After meeting Rebecca West, then barely age twenty, H.G. Wells said, “I had never met anything like her before, and I doubt if there ever was anything like her before.” Wells’s extramarital affair with her two years later, in 1914, produced the novelist Anthony West; her decision to rear the child alone helped to establish her reputation for flouting convention.
In the life of Rebecca West is concentrated every issue faced by modern feminists. Her story, says Glendinning, is “the story of twentieth-century women.” Born Cicely Fairfield in 1892, she was, according to her biographer, “an agent of change and the victim of change.” She took her nom de plume from a Henrik Ibsen character whose motto is “Live, work, act.” Yet, paradoxically, this acclaimed novelist, critic, journalist, and independent woman felt that she needed a strong man to shield her from the world; she scoffed at convention but chided others for breaking social rules; she had equally great capacities for melancholy and for enjoying life. She suffered from society’s misconceptions about her own sex even as she defied these limitations.
While deftly revealing these conflicts, Glendinning also shows West displaying the vigor and originality that brought her literary fame, producing such landmark books as BLACK LAMB AND GREY FALCON, THE MEANING OF TREASON, and THE FOUNTAIN OVERFLOWS. Troubles that might have destroyed a lesser person barely slowed her down:...
(The entire section is 292 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
Kirkus Reviews. LV, September 1, 1987, p. 1290.
Library Journal. CXII, October 15, 1987, p. 82.
Listener. CXVII, June 18, 1987, p. 24.
London Review of Books. IX, November 12, 1987, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 11, 1987, p. 6.
The New Republic. CXCVII, October 19, 1987, p. 46.
New Statesman. CXIII, April 17, 1987, p. 27.
The New York Times Book Review. XCII, October 18, 1987, p. 3.
The New Yorker. LXIII, December 21, 1987, p. 132.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXII, September 4, 1987, p. 59.
The Spectator. CCLVIII, April 18, 1987, p. 34.
The Washington Post Book World. XVII, October 4, 1987, p. 5.
(The entire section is 72 words.)