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Dame Rebecca West (Dame Rebecca Cicily Isabel Fairfield, later Andrews) Biography

(1892–1983), (Dame Rebecca Cicily Isabel Fairfield, later Andrews), Rosmersholm, Freewoman, New Freewoman, Clarion


British novelist and political essayist, born in London of Anglo-Irish parents, educated in Edinburgh. She borrowed her pen-name from the passionate heroine of Ibsen's Rosmersholm. After a brief stage career, West became a journalist and political commentator, inspired by feminism and the ideas of the Pankhursts. From 1911 she wrote for the Freewoman, the New Freewoman, and the Clarion; some of her best work of this period appeared in The Young Rebecca (1982). An encounter with H. G. Wells, whose work she had reviewed, led to a relationship that lasted a decade and resulted in the birth of her only child, Anthony West. Her first novel, The Return of the Soldier (1918), is the account of a shell-shocked soldier's involvement with three women; in its preoccupation with unconscious motivations, repression, memory, and regression, it reveals the influence of psychoanalytic theories. She continued to write fiction, including The Judge (1922), Harriet Hume (1929), and The Thinking Reed (1936), but reviewers of the period complained that her novels, though beautifully written and richly informative, were the contrived products of an overly intellectual mind. However, her early training as a journalist greatly contributed to her development as a social and political commentator. Her works of non-fiction include a volume of collected criticism, The Strange Necessity (1928); a masterly biography, St Augustine (1933); a penetrating study of the causes of the Second World War, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941); and the post-war works The Meaning of Treason (1947) and A Train of Powder (1955). With her return to fiction, The Fountain Overflows (1956), her reputation as a novelist began to grow. The Birds Fall Down (1966), a lavishly detailed account of a young woman's encounter with the elements that gave rise to the Russian Revolution, is a political thriller displaying links with her best nonfiction. In the 1980s West was reclaimed as a feminist heroine. The republication of her earlier novels by Virago Press brought her a wide new readership. Her novels of ideas were admired both for their unique knowledge of the periods chronicled, and for their psychological depth and density. She was a fearless champion of such neglected talents as A. L. Barker, and the influence of her technique and vision is discernible in the work of Sybille Bedford. Her reputation continued to grow with the appearance of such posthumous works as This Real Night (1984), a continuation of the semi-autobiographical narrative of The Birds Fall Down, and the hitherto unpublished earlier novel, Sunflower (1986). The Only Poet and Short Stories, also comprising hitherto unpublished and uncollected material, edited by Antonia Till, was published in 1992. She is the subject of a detailed biography by Victoria Glendinning, published in 1987.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Robert Penn Warren Biography to Kenneth White Biography