Rebecca West

On this date in 1892, literary giant Rebecca West (née Cecily Isabel Fairfield) was born in Ireland. She moved with her family to Edinburgh at 10. Her father was a journalist. Cecily was educated in Edinburgh at George Watson's Ladies College, where some innocently penned verses caused a scandal. In 1911 she briefly joined the staff of the feminist publication, Freewoman. She renamed herself after an Ibsen heroine from "Rosmersholm." "Rebecca West" became a lead writer for a socialist newspaper, the Clarion. At age 19, she embarked on a 10-year love affair with H.G. Wells, who was 46 and whom she had previously referred to as "the old maid among novelists." Their son Anthony was born in 1914. In 1923, West left Wells. After other love affairs, including one with Charlie Chaplin, she happily married a banker in 1930. Her noted articles included "A Reed of Steel" about Emmeline Pankhurst. Her first novel was The Return of the Soldier (1918), followed by The Judge (1922), Harriet Hume (1929), The Thinking Reed (1936), Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1942, about Yugoslavia), The Birds Fall Down (1966) and The Fountain Overflows (1956). She covered the Nuremberg trials, and wrote A Train of Power about the case in 1955. She was made a "Dame" in 1956, and continued writing until her death at age 90. She was known for her pithy quotes, such as those cited in The New York Times obituary about her, including: ''I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.'' In 1928, she observed in a speech to the Fabian Society in London: ''There is one common condition for the lot of women in Western civilization and all other civilizations that we know about for certain, and that is, woman as a sex is disliked and persecuted, while as an individual she is liked, loved, and even, with reasonable luck, sometimes worshipped.'' ''I do not myself find it agreeable to be 90, and I cannot imagine why it should seem so to other people. It is not that you have any fears about your own death, it is that your upholstery is already dead around you'' (Vogue article, 1983). In the 1970s she called Richard Nixon "an example of bad form combined with Original Sin.'' D. 1983.

“I have no faith in the sense of comforting beliefs which persuade me that all my troubles are blessings in disguise. . . . Creeds pretend to explain the total universe in terms comprehensible to the human intellect, and that pretension seems to me bound to be invalid. . . .

The belief that all higher life is governed by the idea of renunciation poisons our moral life. . . . If we do not live for pleasure we will soon find ourselves living for pain. . . . ”

—Rebecca West, cited by Warren Allen Smith in Who's Who in Hell

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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