Selected Letters of Rebecca West


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Rebecca West; Edited, annotated, and introduced by Bonnie Kime Scott

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From the time that George Bernard Shaw remarked that “Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely,” West’s writings and her politics have elicited strong reactions. This collection of her letters—the first ever published—has been culled from the estimated ten thousand she wrote during her long life. The more than two hundred selected letters follow this spirited author, critic, and journalist from her first feminist campaign for women’s suffrage when she was a teenager through her reassessments of the twentieth century written in 1982, in her ninetieth year.

The letters, which are presented in full, include correspondence with West’s famous lover H. G. Wells and with Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Emma Goldman, Noel Coward, and many others; offer pronouncements on such contemporary authors as Norman Mailer, Nadine Gordimer, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; and provide new insights into her battles against misogyny, fascism, and communism. West deliberately fashions her own biography through this intensely personal correspondence, challenging rival accounts of her groundbreaking professional career, her frustrating love life, and her tormented family relations. Engrossing to read, the collection sheds new light on this important figure and her social and literary milieu.

Bonnie Kime Scott is professor and director of graduate studies in English at the University of Delaware.

“[This book] is obviously the result of many years of careful and diligent scholarship. More than two hundred letters—selected from the estimated ten thousand that West wrote during her lifetime—are included. Professor Scott’s annotations are unstinting and informative; a chronology and an section of biographical sketches featuring nearly seventy of West’s correspondents are also helpful.”—Jim Barloon, English Literature in Transition 1880-1920

“Dame Rebecca was one of the most voluble and productive British writers of the twentieth century and involved with some of the most famous people of the century. Her letters are unfailingly interesting and often scandalous.”—Alfred Kazin

"Here is the real Rebecca, on guard and off; but always a vibrant champion of the epistolary art."—Arthur Crook, Former Editor of the Times Literary Supplement

“Rebecca West’s letters are irresistible—a medley of wit, insight, and canny observation mixed with a touch of paranoia. This ably annotated volume portrays a brilliant, strong, and romantic woman in stormy literary, political, and romantic times.”—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"The selected letters of Rebecca West add immeasurably to our understanding of literary Modernism and the feminist and socialist movements in which she participated. Across her long life, Rebecca West was a courageous and astute interpreter of twentieth-century culture. The letters in this beautifully edited volume capture the woman and her world view."—Shari Benstock, Professor of English, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida

“A unique, exhilarating and disturbing torrent of letters by a unique, exhilarating and disturbing woman whose life and literary work spanned almost a century, and who was both the agent and the victim of social change. Forthright and controversial, her letters range over politics, literature, gossip, sex, friendship, and her own extraordinary experience of life.”—Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West’s first biographer 

“The more than 200 letters from The Selected Letters of Rebecca West, culled from the 10,000 West wrote in her ninety years, flash and sizzle with combative energy whether West is refuting a critic, fending off an unwanted lover, or unabashedly speaking her mind.”—Joyce Johnson, ELLE

“[A] handsome collection. . . . [Scott] has done well to continue the work done by an earlier generation of feminists towards the restoration of Rebecca West to a place of honor among the writers of the twentieth century.”—Frank Kermode, New Republic

“The eclectic, energetic correspondence of Dame West. . . . [West] hoped to keep her private and literary lives separate—but Scott diligently reintegrates them here, well representing the same brilliant, awkward chaos with which she lived.”—Publishers Weekly

“West’s letters are so fascinating that even a sampling is bound to give some idea of her intellect, wit, passions and robust opinions. Whether she is elucidating her stand on McCarthyism, expressing her disgust at fellow writers or asserting Dostoevsky’s superiority to Tolstoy, there is no mistaking that magisterial yet iconoclastic voice. . . . Over the years, West expressed some wildly divergent feelings about her son by H. G. Wells, her increasingly eccentric banker-husband and her accomplished but domineering oldest sister. Ms. Scott’s selection of letters dealing with these relationships achieves a fine balance. We are led to recognize the love . . . that underlay the irritation, and at times the fury, that she all too often felt the need to vent.”—Merle Rubin, Wall Street Journal

“Scott has judiciously culled more than two hundred letters from the ten thousand or so West wrote to friends, relatives, editors, and fellow writers. . . . More satisfying still is the fresh chance this new volume offers to hear West’s voice—witty, arch, wise, acerbic, graceful. She was one of the great masters of the English prose sentence, and her letters are filled with the incisive, beautifully cadenced, and frequently hilarious descriptions of characters and places that give her work such resonance and power.”—Francine Prose, Lingua Franca

“The letters . . . give a full and affecting picture of West’s private life. . . . [West] is a brilliant observer, funny and precise, eccentric in her literary judgements but an expert judge of people. Her letters remain as delightful to read as they must have been to receive.”—Adam Kirsch, Washington Post Book World

“Scott provides succinct, informative introductions to each section of letters. This well-edited volume will help contribute to scholarship on West. Recommended for academic libraries.”—Library Journal

“Brilliant, funny, vulnerable, combative: the bulk of these splendid letters find West trying to set one record or another straight. . . . There is ample documentation of West’s travels in the Balkans (the grist for her 1941 classic, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon), of her liaison with H. G. Wells, and of her troubled relationship with their son, Anthony West; the letters are punctuated by her irritation and grief over the fact that his memory of his childhood diverges so sharply from her own.”—The New Yorker

“[Scott] bring[s] us more of the stimulating and slightly alarming pleasure of being in West’s company. . . . Scott has provided helpful short biographical chapters to bridge the letters, a chronology of West’s life, and biographical sketches of her principal correspondents; her commentary on the letters is also pertinent and useful.”—Richard Dyer, Boston Globe

“Even those familiar with West’s biography and body of work will find startling new information in this superb collection. Her letters reveal a behind-the-scenes candor and provide refreshing insight into her reporting on the suffragists, the New Deal, Yugoslavia, the Nuremberg trials, the Cold War, communism, and much more. The letters will grant devotees of West’s great novels . . . a new awareness of the autobiographical and historical roots of her fiction. . . . For all academic collections.”—Choice

“Bonnie Kime Scott’s selection of letters shows how West’s interest and sense of purpose evolved, from her first visit to the Balkans as a lecturer for the British Council . . . through two later journeys, which created multiple personal entanglements and a deep commitment to both the terrain and the people which would enmesh her for most of her life.”—Hillary Mantel, New York Review of Books

“West’s unstoppable letters make a remarkable book, one of the great demonstrations of letter-writing in the last century.”—Hermione Lee, Japan Times

“The more than 200 letters from the 10,000 West wrote in her ninety years, flash and sizzle with combative energy whether West is refuting a critic, fending off an unwanted lover, or unabashedly speaking her mind.”—Joyce John, ELLE

“Bonnie Scott Kime has worked hard to provide explanatory background to the letters. . . .This is a volume of treats.”—Mark Bostridge, Independent

“Bonnie Kime Scott . . . has performed a huge labour of love, tracking down letters in archives all over England and America, and has edited them in a generally scholarly and self-effacing.”—Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph

“The letters of this magnificent woman are as extraordinary in quantity as in content and, as editor, Bonnie Kime Scott shows both judgment and discipline in her discriminating selection from the thousands at her disposal.”—Selina Hastings, Daily Mail

“A truly remarkable book of correspondence.”—Douglas Fetherling, Ottawa Citizen

“Reading these letters is a bracing experience, because Rebecca West was such a great figure. Her memory was amazing, her curiosity about almost everything encyclopedic.”—Merritt Moseley, Sewanee Review

“A truly remarkable book of correspondence.”—Douglas Fetherling, Canadian Bookseller

“A treasure trove of cheeky wit. . . . Blithe, quirky, irreverent, wanton, glib, but never shallow, burning always with the hard gemlike flame that lighted her success, West found writing as exhilarating as shopping. Reading her is exhilarating too. Don’t miss it.”—Eugene Weber, Key Reporter

“Verbal snapshots of an extraordinary career; West booms forth, larger than life.”—Toronto Globe & Mail

ISBN: 9780300079043
Publication Date: February 9, 2000
546 pages, 6.125 x 9.25
20 b/w illus.

Sales Restrictions: For sale in the U.S., its territories and dependencies, and Canada only
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