Rebecca West Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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

Although Rebecca West excelled in a variety of literary genres, she first came to prominence as a book reviewer, a role that she continued throughout her life. From her first critique, which appeared in The Freewoman in 1911, to her last, which appeared in the London Sunday Telegraph on October 10, 1982, West wrote almost one thousand reviews. Several of these appear in the collection The Young Rebecca (1982). Her first book, Henry James (1916), which is an evaluation of Henry James’s contributions to literature, was considered an audacious project for a young woman. This fearless honesty and willingness to write bluntly about sacrosanct persons and ideas marked West’s entire career. After that bold debut, West published several other notable works of literary criticism. The Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews (1928), a collection of essays from the New York Herald Tribune and the New Statesman, introduced one of West’s recurring themes: the necessity of art in human life. The Court and the Castle (1957), based on lectures she delivered at Yale University, describes the role of the arts in government and society from the time of William Shakespeare to Franz Kafka.

West was also a prominent journalist and social commentator. Her coverage of the Nuremberg Trials (the trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II) appeared in A Train of Powder (1955). One of her most famous books, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (1941), a combination travelogue, history, and sociopolitical commentary on the Balkans, is still considered essential reading for those who wish to understand the complexities of that area.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Rebecca West was a writer of great perception, encyclopedic knowledge, extensive interests, and great curiosity. It is hard to categorize her work because of its variety and complexity. As a result, West’s individual works, both fiction and nonfiction, have not received the critical analysis and acclaim that they deserve. She often received recognition for the body of her work, however. Certain universal themes permeate her writing: the nature of art, the frauds and weaknesses of the social system, the causes and results of treason and betrayal. West received numerous honors because of her ability to portray accurately the social milieu of the twentieth century. In 1937, West was made a member of the Order of St. Sava by Yugoslavia. The French government named her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1959. She became Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire, in 1959 and was made a Companion of Literature for the Royal Society of Literature in 1968. The American Academy of Arts and Letters inducted West as an honorary member in 1972. She also received the Women’s National Press Club Award for journalism.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Deakin, Motley F. Rebecca West. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Clear examination of major genres and themes in West’s writing. Provides detailed commentary on theme, character, style, and setting in West’s novels.

Glendinning, Victoria. Rebecca West: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. Detailed account of West’s life, focusing particularly on the early years. Provides insight into West’s development as a writer.

Orel, Harold. The Literary Achievement of Rebecca West. London: Macmillan, 1986. Analyses West’s life and her critical stance. Compares and contrasts characters, style, idiom, and recurring themes in her novels.

Rollyson, Carl E. The Literary Legacy of Rebecca West. San Francisco: International Scholars, 1998. A thorough book of criticism and interpretation of West. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Rollyson, Carl E. Rebecca West: A Life. New York: Scribner, 1996. Detailed biography discussing West’s importance to twentieth century literature, tracing the development of her long career and illustrating the connections between her fiction and nonfiction.

Schweizer, Bernard, ed. Rebecca West Today: Contemporary Critical Approaches. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006. Nearly all of West’s works are discussed in this volume, the first published collection of essays devoted to her writing. Included are in-depth analyses of ten novels, two short stories, one essay, and two of her journalistic writings. The 48-page chapter that West omitted from her novel, The Real Night, is also discussed at length. This comprehensive look at West’s writing offers interpretations and critical views that are invaluable to anyone interested in the author.

Scott, Bonnie Kime. Refiguring Modernism. 2 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. The first volume of this set discusses women of 1928, and the second volume offers postmodern feminist readings of Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, and West.

Wolfe, Peter. Rebecca West: Artist and Thinker. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971. Evaluates problems and achievements in West’s novels, arguing the early novels lack satisfactory plot development while the later novels are stylistically and thematically superior.