Rebecca West on Feminism
Born in London in 1892, Cicely Isabel Fairfield re-named herself Rebecca West after a character in an Ibsen play. Novelist, essayist and critic Rebecca West was considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century during her own lifetime and was named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1949. Sadly, the woman who H.G. Wells once said “writes like God,” is largely forgotten today. She was an early feminist, suffragist, political activist and acute cultural observer and critic who lived life on her own terms and was not afraid to make her voice heard.
At a time when unwed mothers were shunned, West had a child with H.G. Wells when she was 21 years old, but chose not to marry him. At a time when many women of her class did not work, she wrote essays and criticism for major magazines, as well as longer works: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, on the history and culture of Yugoslavia; The New Meaning of Treason, a non-fiction narrative about the trial of British Fascist Lord Haw-Haw; The Return of the Soldier, a modernist World War I novel; and three autobiographical novels, The Fountain Overflows, This Real Night, and Cousin Rosamund.
In 1947, Time Magazine called West “indisputably the world’s number one woman writer.” When she died in 1983, at the age of 90, The New Yorker Magazine wrote, “Rebecca West was one of the giants and will have a lasting place in English literature. No one in this century wrote more dazzling prose, or had more wit, or looked at the intricacies of human character and the ways of the world more intelligently.”
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