"The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West," A Heartfelt Biography - The Missourian: Blogs

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"The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West," A Heartfelt Biography

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Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 7:00 am

Extraordinary is an apt description for the life of Rebecca West. Born in England in 1892, Rebecca (whose real name was Cicely Isabel Fairfield) observed years of change and conflict and recorded her observations in international publications.

Rebecca and her two sisters were encouraged to think for themselves. Early in their lives they championed the cause of voting rights for all people. Rebecca's first published writing, written when she was fifteen-years-old, was a letter to the editor of the Scotsman newspaper in defense of suffrage for women, drawing attention to women working in leadwork factories who had no rights or representation.

In later years, she expressed outrage that girls were taught that their goal should be to be desirable rather than to live for life's sake and that they had to "regulate their dress according to men's lack of self control rather than their own comfort."

Her private life wasn't always consistent with her enlightened gender role ideas. She had a long affair with a married man, novelist H.G. Wells, who routinely treated her badly. She once said that "nothing can be worse than the lot of a woman without a man" because society disapproved of women in that state. She constantly wanted reassurance that she was, indeed, desirable.

Rebecca wrote book reviews, opinion columns, and novels. Her book “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia” was prescient in its predictions about the future of that country. Rebecca covered treason trials all around the world. She wrote firsthand accounts of the Nuremberg Trials that were later published in the book “The Meaning of Treason.” After she covered the trials of people accused of spying during the Cold War, new chapters were added to this definitive volume. Rebecca fully supported Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

This biography is fast-paced and written with sympathy for Cicely, who took the pen-name Rebecca West because her own name sounded like the name of "someone blonde and pretty and wouldn't have suited a profession writer through life at all."

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