Form and Content
Family Memories is an edited version of a memoir Rebecca West worked on intermittently for the last twenty years of her long literary career. The memoir is incomplete and exists in several undated drafts now deposited in the Rebecca West Collection at the University of Tulsa. Faith Evans, the editor of Family Memories, has done a skillful job of selecting the most finished drafts. She scrupulously points out (in an introduction and in extensive notes) that in some cases there are multiple and contradictory versions of events. The title of the memoir captures the spirit of West’s work, but it is not her choice, and no evidence has yet come to light about her intentions for the title or exactly how far she would have taken the history of her family and of herself. The extant drafts end with the period of West’s childhood and early adolescence, with a separate chapter on her husband and his family, which is included as an appendix in the Evans edition, although West once contemplated using it as an introduction to her memoir.
The memoir aims to show how the unfortunate history of a remarkable family shaped West’s character. The first chapter details the career of Alexander Mackenzie, her uncle. A distinguished musician and composer, he became the head of the family after his father died. Yet he practically disowned his mother (Janet Campbell Mac-kenzie) and his brothers and sisters (Johnnie, Joey, and Isabella) when one of the brothers (it is not clear which one) insulted Mary Ironside, the woman Alexander wished...
(The entire section is 632 words.)