Rebecca West Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207123-West_R.jpg Rebecca West Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Rebecca West is best known for her contribution to nonfiction writing, in which she showed a remarkable facility for blending the genres of history, travel, biography, and literary criticism. Ranking just below such masterpieces as Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and The Meaning of Treason are her works The Fountain Overflows and The Birds Fall Down. It does her a disservice to separate her fiction and nonfiction, for all of her mature writing is informed by a strongly novelistic sensibility.{$S[A]Fairfield, Cicily Isabel;West, Rebecca}

West was born Cicily Isabel Fairfield. Her father, Charles Fairfield, was of Anglo-Irish descent and made something of a reputation for himself as a staunch defender of individualism in debates with George Bernard Shaw and Herbert Spencer, two of the most important and influential thinkers in Victorian England. When her father died in 1902, however, West found herself in straitened circumstances, one of four daughters whom her mother had somehow to support. She never forgot the feeling of shabbiness in her early years, and by the age of nineteen, determined to make her mark as an actress, she changed her name to Rebecca West after a character in Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm (pb. 1886; English translation, 1889). When West was advised that she had minimal talent as an actress, she took up her pen as a militant feminist journalist. She dared to attack even the most advanced thinkers of her time, including H. G. Wells, who eventually became her lover. She had a son with him, but they later parted in bitterness,...

(The entire section is 654 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Rebecca West was born Cicily “Cissie” Isabel Fairfield, the youngest of three daughters of Charles Fairfield and Isabella Mackenzie. Charles Fairfield pursued several careers, including journalism, yet failed to succeed at any of them. In 1901, he abandoned his family in order to pursue yet another dream in Sierra Leone. Although he returned to England after a few months, he never again lived with his family. Still, West admired her father’s Anglo-Irish gentility and charm, finding him a strong and romantic figure. Throughout her life she wrote fondly of him and frequently justified his poor treatment of his family.

After her father’s departure, the family was forced to move to Isabella Mackenzie’s family home in Edinburgh. West described this as a period of deprivation. Although the family had enough income to survive, they were caught between social classes, not fitting into any established social level. All three of the Fairfield daughters embraced feminism. West’s first job, in 1911, was writing for The Freewoman, a weekly publication focusing on women’s issues. In the spring of 1912, she adopted a pseudonym, Rebecca West, the name of a character she had once played in Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm (pb. 1886; English translation, 1889). The character, a strong woman, mistress of a married man, convinces her lover to join her in suicide. Later, West said that this had been a hasty decision and that she liked neither the play nor the character. However, the name took hold, and to all but her family,...

(The entire section is 633 words.)


(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Rebecca West was born Cicily Isabel Fairfield on December 21, 1892, in London, England. Her father was Charles Fairfield, a former army...

(The entire section is 497 words.)