Selected Letters of Rebecca West by Rebecca West

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From the time that George Bernard Shaw remarked that "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely", West's writings and her politics have elicited strong reactions. This collection of her letters the first ever published has been culled from the estimated ten thousand she wrote during her long life. The more than two hundred selected letters follow this spirited author, critic, and journalist from her first feminist campaign for women's suffrage when she was a teenager through her reassessments of the twentieth century written in 1982, in her ninetieth year. The letters, which are presented in full, include correspondence with West's famous lover H.G. Wells and with Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Emma Goldman, Noel Coward, among many others; they offer pronouncements on such contemporary authors as Norman Mailer, Nadine Gordimer, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; and provide new insights into her battles against misogyny, fascism, and communism. West deliberately fashions her own biography through this intensely personal correspondence, challenging rival accounts of her groundbreaking professional career, her frustrating love life, and her tormented family relations. Engrossing to read, the collection sheds new light on this important figure and her social and literary milieu.

About Rebecca West

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Taking her name from one of Henrik Ibsen's strong-minded women, Rebecca West was a politically and socially active feminist all her long life. She had an intense 10-year affair with H.G. Wells, with whom she had a son. A brilliant and versatile novelist, critic, essayist, and political commentator, West's greatest literary achievement is perhaps her travel diary, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia (1942). Five years in the writing, it is the story of an Easter trip that she and her husband, British banker Henry Maxwell Andrews (whom she had married in 1930), made through Yugoslavia in 1937. A historical narrative with excellent reporting, it is essentially an analysis of Western culture. During World War II, she superintended British broadcast talks to Yugoslavia. Her remarkable reports of the treason trials of Lord Haw and John Amery appeared first in the New Yorker and are included with other stories about traitors in The Meaning of Treason (1947), which was expanded to deal with traitors and defectors since World War II as The New Meaning of Treason (1964). The Birds Fall Down (1966), which was a bestseller, is the story of a young Englishwoman caught in the grip of Russian terrorists. From a true story told to her more than half a century ago by the sister of Ford Madox Ford (who had heard it from her Russian husband), West "created a rich and instructive spy thriller, which contains an immense amount of brilliantly distributed information about the ideologies of the time, the rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church, the conflicts of customs, belief, and temperament between Russians and Western Europeans, the techniques of espionage and counter-espionage, and the life of exiles in Paris" (New Yorker). Unlike that of her more famous contemporaries, her fiction is stylistically and structurally conventional, but it effectively details the evolution of daily life amid the backdrop of such historical disasters as the world wars. Her critical works include Arnold Bennett Himself, Henry James (1916), Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews, and The Court and the Castle (1957), a study of political and religious ideas in imaginative literature. In 1949, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Published February 9, 2000 by Yale University Press. 546 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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The eclectic, energetic correspondence of Dame West (1892-1983) begins here with the 14-year-old West, born Cicily Fairfield, writing precociously on women's suffrage to the editor of the Scotsman.

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London Review of Books

She knew – came to know – everybody who was anybody, so this first selection of her letters, as well as sparkling with wit and malice, is full of the great and famous (the really great and famous such as the Queen, wearing ‘something one could buy in a dress-shop in the high street in High Wycomb...

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