Rebecca West

Rebecca West

Rebecca West (December 21, 1892 – March 15, 1983), British novelist, journalist, and essayist, was born Cicely Isabel Fairfield in County Kerry, Ireland. She grew up in an intellectual home. Her mother was a pianist; her father, a journalist, abandoned his family when West was only eight years old, after which they moved to Scotland.

She was a woman of many trades and trades early on: she studied as an actress, started working as a journalist in 1912 at The Freewoman, and was active in the woman’s suffrage movement.  In her work as a journalist, West wrote essays and reviews for publications like New York Herald Tribune, The Daily Telegraph, The New Republic and New York American. Her first book, Henry James: A Critical Biography, was published in 1916.

After writing a scathing review of H.G. Wells’ Marriage in 1912, calling him “the Old Maid among novelists,” the two met. The following years they become lovers and had a ten year long affair, which produced a son, Adam West. Among her other lovers were said to be Charlie Chaplin and Lord Beaverbrook, a newspaper tycoon.

Rebecca West loved travel and politics, both of which figured significantly in her writing. Traveling to countries such as Mexico, Yugoslavia, and South Africa influenced her works, notably Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), considered a classic of travel literature.

In 1949 she was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and ten years later became a Dame Commander of the Order, hence her oft-used title, Dame Rebecca West. West’s writing won her the Women’s Press Club Award for Journalism in 1948 in the United States, one of many visits to the country. In 1982, her first novel, Return of the Soldier, was made into major film.


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West produced a vast body of work, both fiction and nonfiction. This is but a small sampling of her most enduring.

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