West, Dame Rebecca

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

West, Dame Rebecca

Dame Rebecca West, 1892–1983, English novelist and critic, b. Ireland as Cicily Isabel Fairfield. West began her career as a journalist for feminist and suffragist publications. At various times she served as a literary critic and political writer for American and British journals. Her trenchant volumes of criticism and reportage include The Strange Necessity (1928), studies of Henry James (1916) and St. Augustine (1933), and The Court and the Castle (1957). Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942) was an extraordinary examination of the contending nationalisms that comprised the fragile nation of Yugoslavia on the eve of World War II, a combination travel book and political study. The Meaning of Treason (1947) was based on her reports of treason trial of Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce) after World War II. Her novels, detailed studies of the psychology of the individual, include The Return of the Soldier (1918), The Judge (1922), The Thinking Reed (1939), The Fountain Overflows (1956), and Birds Fall Down (1966). An insightful travelogue and history, Survivors in Mexico, was written in the 1960s and posthumously published in 2003. In 1959 she was made a Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire. A stern and uncompromising moralist, West was one of the finest writers of prose in 20th-century Britain.

See her selected letters ed. by B. K. Scott (2000); annotated bibliography by J. G. Packer (1991); biography by C. Rollyson (1996); studies by P. Wolfe (1971), G. N. Ray (1974), M. Deakin (1980), and A. West (1984).

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