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Summary Article: West, Dame Rebecca from Chambers Biographical Dictionary

pseudonym of

Cecily Isabel Andrews

née

Fairfield

1892-1983

Irish novelist and critic

She was born in County Kerry and moved to Edinburgh with her family when her father, a journalist, left her mother. She was educated at George Watson's Ladies College, and trained for the stage in London, where she adopted (1912) the pseudonym Rebecca West, the heroine of Ibsen's Rosmersholm which she had once played, and who is characterized by a passionate will. She was involved with the suffragettes from an early age, joined the staff of the Freewoman (1911) and became a political writer on the Clarion, a socialist newspaper (1912). Her love affair with H G Wells began in 1913 and lasted for ten turbulent years during which time they had a son. Her first published book was a critical study of Henry James (1916). Her second, a novel, The Return of the Soldier (1918), describes the homecoming of a shell-shocked soldier. After the final break with Wells she went to the USA where she lectured and formed a long association with the New York Herald Tribune. In 1930 she married Henry Maxwell Andrews, a banker, and they lived in Buckinghamshire until his death in 1968. She published eight novels including The Judge (1922), Harriet Hume (1929), The Thinking Reed (1936) and the largely autobiographical The Fountain Overflows (1957). Her last (unfinished) novel was Cousin Rosamund (1988). In the mid-1930s she made several trips to the Balkans to gather material for a travel book, but her interest deepened and resulted in her masterful analysis of Yugoslav politics and history Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (2 vols, 1941). It is generally considered her magnum opus. During World War II she supervised BBC broadcasts to Yugoslavia, and she attended the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (1945-46). From this and other cases came The Meaning of Treason (1949) and A Train of Powder (1955). Witty, incisive and combative, she was described by George Bernard Shaw as handling a pen "as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely".

  • Glendinning, V, Rebecca West (1987).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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