7 Thought-Provoking Quotes by Rebecca West

Rebecca West

Dame Rebecca West (1892 –  1983) was one of the most respected and prolific intellectual minds of the twentieth century. At her death in 1983, William Shawn, then the editor of The New Yorker said of her:

“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.”

A prolific author of essays, novels, and weighty books of nonfiction, she  was a force to be reckoned with and shouldn’t be forgotten. Here are some thought-provoking quotes by Rebecca West:

Only part of our self is sane

“Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us.

The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.” (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 1941)


God is still trying to work things out

“If there is a God, I don’t think He would demand that anyone bow down or stand up to Him. I often have a suspicion that God is still trying to work things out and hasn’t finished.”  (from a 1981 interview, The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, Sixth Series)

On Margaret Thatcher

“Margaret Thatcher’s great strength seems to be the better people know her, the better they like her. But, of course, she has one great disadvantage — she is a daughter of the people and looks trim, as the daughters of the people desire to be. Shirley Williams has such an advantage over her because she’s a member of the upper-middle class and can achieve that kitchen-sink-revolutionary look that one cannot get unless one has been to a really good school.” (from a July 1976 interview in The Sunday Times)

. . . . . . . . . .

Rebecca West

Rebecca West Quotes on Art, Experience, and Human Nature
. . . . . . . . . .

Woman as a sex is disliked and persecuted

“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.”  (from a 1928 speech to the Fabian Society)

Don’t put English literature in the curriculum

“It’s an absurd error to put modern English literature in the curriculum. You should read contemporary literature for pleasure or not at all. You shouldn’t be taught to monkey with it.”  (from a 1981 interview, The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, Sixth Series)

Man is but a reed

“Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.”  (The Thinking Reed, 1936)

We disgust works of art by our meaninglessness

“Works of art feel towards human beings exactly as we do towards ghosts. The transparency of spectres, the diffuseness in space which lets them drift through doors and walls, and their smell of death, disgust us not more than we disgust works of art by our meaninglessness, our diffuseness in time which lets us drift through three score years and ten without a quarter as much significance as a picture establishes instantaneously.”  (Harriet Hume, 1929)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *