Dame Cicily Isabel Fairfield DBE (21 December 1892 – 15 March 1983), known as Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, was a British author, journalist, literary critic, and travel writer. An author who wrote in many genres, West reviewed books for The Times, the New York Herald Tribune, The Sunday Telegraph, and The New Republic, and she was a correspondent for The Bookman. Her major works include Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), on the history and culture of Yugoslavia; A Train of Powder (1955), her coverage of the Nuremberg trials, published originally in The New Yorker; The Meaning of Treason (1949), later The New Meaning of Treason (1964), a study of the trial of the British fascist William Joyce and others; The Return of the Soldier (1918), a modernist World War I novel; and the “Aubrey trilogy” of autobiographical novels, The Fountain Overflows (1956), This Real Night (published posthumously in 1984), and Cousin Rosamund (1985). Time called her “indisputably the world’s number one female writer” in 1947. She was made CBE in 1949, and DBE in 1959, in each case, the citation reads: “writer and literary critic”. She took the pseudonym “Rebecca West” from the rebellious young heroine in Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen. She was a recipient of the Benson Medal.

Books in order of publication:

Fiction

  • 1914 – Indissoluble Matrimony, a controversial short story which was first published in Blast No. 1. Edited by Yolanda Morató for the Spanish publishing house Zut, it was also published in the Spanish edition of Blast No. 1 (Madrid: Juan March Foundation, 2010). This novella challenges many issues about feminism and women’s involvement in politics in pre-war Britain.
  • 1918 – The Return of the Soldier, the first World War I novel written by a woman, about a shell-shocked, amnesiac soldier returning from World War I in hopes of being reunited with his first love, a working-class woman, instead of continuing to live with his upper-class wife.
  • 1922 – The Judge, a brooding, passionate novel combining Freudian Oedipal themes with suffragism and an existential take on cosmic absurdity.
  • 1929 – Harriet Hume, a modernist story about a piano-playing prodigy and her obsessive lover, a corrupt politician.
  • 1935 – The Harsh Voice: Four Short Novels, contains the short story “The Salt of the Earth,” featuring Alice Pemberton, whose obsessive altruism becomes so smothering that her husband plots her murder. This was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as “The Paragon” starring Joan Fontaine (season 1, episode 20) in 1963. An additional story from the collection, “There is No Conversation”, is the tale of a romance as told in hindsight by both parties, one a caddish Frenchman and the other a coarse American woman. This story was adapted for an hour-long radio drama in 1950 on NBC University Theatre and featured a commentary on West’s story and writing skills by Katherine Anne Porter.
  • 1936 – The Thinking Reed, a novel about the corrupting influence of wealth even on originally decent people. Perhaps a disguised self-critique of her own elegant lifestyle.
  • 1956 – The Fountain Overflows, a semi-autobiographical novel weaving a fascinating cultural, historical, and psychological tapestry of the first decade of the 20th century, reflected through the prism of the gifted, eccentric Aubrey family.
  • 1984 – This Real Night, sequel to The Fountain Overflows published posthumously
  • 1985 – Cousin Rosamund, final, unfinished installment of the “Aubrey Trilogy” published posthumously.
  • 1966 – The Birds Fall Down, spy thriller based on the deeds of the historical double agent Yevno Azef.
  • 1986 – Sunflower, published posthumously, about a tense love-relationship between an actress and a politician, reminiscent of West’s relationship with H. G. Wells.
  • 2002 – The Sentinel, edited by Kathryn Laing and published posthumously, West’s very first extended piece of fiction, an unfinished novel about the suffragist struggle in Britain, including grim scenes of female incarceration and force-feeding.

Non-fiction

  • 1916 – Henry James
  • 1928 – The Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews, a blend of modernist literary criticism and cognitive science, including a long essay explaining why West disliked James Joyce’s Ulysses, though she judged it an important book
  • 1931 – Ending in Earnest: A Literary Log
  • 1932 – Arnold Bennett Himself, John Day
  • 1933 – St. Augustine, first psychobiography of the Christian Church Father
  • 1934 – The Modern Rake’s Progress (co-authored with cartoonist David Low)
  • 1941 – Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a 1,181-page classic of travel literature, giving an account of Balkan history and ethnography, and the significance of Nazism, structured around her trip to Yugoslavia in 1937
  • 1949 – The Meaning of Treason , edit new 1964 – The New Meaning of Treason
  • 1955 – A Train of Powder
  • 1958 – The Court and the Castle: some treatments of a recurring theme, excellent revisionist interpretations of literary classics, including Hamlet and Kafka’s stories
  • 1963 – The Vassall Affair
  • 1982 – 1900, cultural history and fascinating “thick description” of this pivotal year
  • 1982 – The Young Rebecca, West’s early, radical journalism for The Freewoman and Clarion, edited by Jane Marcus
  • 1987 – Family Memories: An Autobiographical Journey, West’s autobiographical musings which remained unpublished during her life, assembled and edited by Faith Evans
  • 2000 – The Selected Letters of Rebecca West, edited by Bonnie Kime Scott
  • 2003 – Survivors in Mexico , posthumous work about West’s two trips to Mexico in 1966 and 1969, edited by Bernard Schweizer
  • 2005 – Woman as Artist and Thinker, re-issues of some of West’s best essays, together with her short-story “Parthenope”
  • 2010 – The Essential Rebecca West: Uncollected Prose.