Rebecca West

(1892—1983) Irish-born British writer and feminist

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British writer. She was made a DBE in 1959.

Rebecca West was born in Kerry and educated at Watson's Ladies College in Edinburgh. She trained as an actress in London, but from 1911 onwards became increasingly attracted to journalism, particularly in the cause of women's suffrage. In 1913 she began her stormy liaison with H. G. Wells and their son Anthony was born the following year. In 1916 her first significant work, a critical biography of Henry James, appeared.

In 1923 Rebecca West broke with Wells and went to the USA, where her journalistic talent was soon recognized. She had also begun writing novels, publishing The Judge (1922) and Harriet Hume (1929), among others. In 1930 she married Henry Maxwell Andrews, who died in 1968. She was sent to report on Yugoslavia in 1937 and the outcome of her observations there is perhaps her most famous book: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942). After World War II the New Yorker magazine commissioned her to write about the trial of ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ (William Joyce); this prompted the major study of the psychology of traitors, The Meaning of Treason (1949). A Train of Powder (1955) grew out of her observations on the Nuremberg trials of German war criminals. She pursued the theme of treachery in two later publications, The Vassall Affair (1963) and The New Meaning of Treason (1964).

The Thinking Reed (1936), The Fountain Overflows (1957), The Birds Fall Down (1966), and This Real Night (a sequel to The Fountain Overflows published posthumously in 1984) evinced Rebecca West's continuing interest in fiction, but her reputation and most later books lie in the field of nonfiction. In The Court and the Castle (1958) she turned to the study of religion and politics in imaginative literature. 1900 (1982) is a skilful evocation of the world of her childhood.

Subjects: Literature.

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