Birthday: December 21, 1892
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Born in: London
Famous as: British author
Quotes By Rebecca West
Spouse/Ex-: Henry Maxwell Andrews
father: Charles Fairfield
siblings: Letitia, Winifred
children: Anthony West
Died on: March 15, 1983
place of death: London
City: London, England
education: George Watson's College
awards: 1948 - Women's Press Club Award for Journalism
Rebecca West was once considered to be "the world's number one woman writer" for her works that covered many genres including politics, traveling, socialism, and feminism. Known for her fiercely independent nature and strong political views, she dared to defy the accepted norms the society expected women to follow during her times. A prolific writer and literary critic, she had reviewed books for several famous publications like ‘The New York Herald Tribune’, ‘New Republic’ and the ‘Sunday Telegraph’. A woman of strong character, she was noted for her feministic views and was a staunch supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. Counted among the foremost political and intellectual thinkers of the 20th century, she was acquainted with several other modernist writers. She wrote the novel ‘The Return of the Soldier’ which was the first World War I novel written by a woman. Her novels were often based on the themes of love, romance, politics, and history. A believer in free-love, she had a long term affair with the writer H.G.Wells and had a son with her. Even though she was recognized and respected well during her lifetime, her fame declined after her death. The once highly renowned author has now become an obscure name that not many contemporary readers are aware of.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Cicely Isabel Fairfield in London. Her father, Charles Fairfield was a journalist while her mother Isabella was an accomplished pianist before marriage. She had two sisters.
She grew up in an atmosphere full of intellectual and political discussions, good books and music. However, things changed when her father deserted the family when she was eight years old.
She was educated at George Watson’s Ladies College in Edinburgh, Scotland. But, she had to drop out in 1907 because of tuberculosis and could not receive any further formal education as she lacked the funds.
She was of a rebellious and independent nature and studied theatre at the Academy of Dramatic Art (1910–11) with the initial ambition of becoming an actress. During this time she adopted the name ‘Rebecca West’ from the heroine in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Rosmersholm’.
She along with her sister Lettie became dedicated campaigners for women’s suffrage and often participated in street protests.
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In 1911, West found employment as a journalist for the feminist weekly ‘The Freewoman’ which was published by three women’s suffrage campaigners, Dora Marsden, Grace Jardine and Mary Gawthorpe.
She wrote an article on free-love for the first edition of the journal ‘The Freewoman’ which created quite a stir. She gained many admirers for her bold language as well as several critics.
She joined the Fabian Society—a socialist debating group—and became very active in the socialist movement. She also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw during this time.
In 1912, she began working for ‘The Clarion’, a weekly dedicated to socialism and socialistic causes. The journal published 34 of her articles over the next 16 months.
She regularly wrote for a number of newspapers and journals including ‘The Freewoman’ from 1912 to 1916. The feminist publication ‘The Freewoman’ addressed several issues of social inequalities faced by women.
After the World War I she worked as a book critic for ‘New Statesman and Nation’. She wrote about travel for ‘New Republic’ in 1923 and was made the first woman reporter in the House of Commons in 1924.
During 1920s, she wrote two novels—‘The Judge’ (1922) which was an existential tale that combined Freudian themes with suffrage and ‘Harriet Hume’ (1929) which was a modernist story about a pianist and her obsessive lover.
She released ‘The Harsh Voice: Four Short Novels’ in 1935 which included the story ‘There is No Conversation’ which was adapted into an hour-long radio drama in 1950 on NBC University Theatre.
She worked as a reporter during the 1940s and 1950s and covered many trials concerning espionage and treason. Instead of just reporting the facts, she tried to understand the psychology behind such activities and what motivated the accused to commit such crimes.
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She was an independent minded woman writer known for her sharp wit and fearless journalism and literary criticism. She is credited to be the first woman to have written a novel on World War I and also the first woman reporter in the House of Commons.
Awards & Achievements
She was made a dame commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1959 in recognition of her outstanding contributions to British letters.
Personal Life & Legacy
She had a romantic affair with the writer H.G.Wells in 1913. This relationship lasted for ten years and produced a son. She was also said to have been involved with the actor Charlie Chaplin.
She married a banker, Henry Maxwell Andrews in 1930. Their marriage lasted till Henry’s death in 1968.
She always believed in helping the underprivileged and provided accommodation to a group of Yugoslav refuges during World War II. She had also collaborated with the likes of Emma Goldman and Sybil Thorndyke to establish the Committee to Aid Homeless Spanish Women and Children after the Spanish Civil War.
She led an active lifestyle well into her old age and died at the ripe old age of 90 in 1983.
Robert D. Kaplan called her book ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’ "this century's greatest travel book".
A female Canadian rock group headed by Alison Outhit is named after this great activist cum writer.