What Samuel Hynes' quick, astute introduction calls the ""fine, strong androgynous"" mind of Rebecca West has for 60 years...


REBECCA WEST: A Celebration

What Samuel Hynes' quick, astute introduction calls the ""fine, strong androgynous"" mind of Rebecca West has for 60 years navigated around genres, causes, and continents--determined to understand (the ubiquitous West word), to ""wrestle with reality."" She wrote ""a novel about London to find out why I loved it, a life of St. Augustine to find out why every phrase I read of his sounds in my ears like the sentence of my doom and the doom of my age"" . . . and a travel-history book, perhaps the finest one of all, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, to understand Yugoslavia, to ""see with my own eyes"" the German hatred of Slavs and ""follow the dark waters"" of an inevitable second Anglo-German war back to their source. The Augustine biography is here in full, and 200 prologue-to-epilogue pages of Black Lamb. . . , along with two novellas, pieces of trial/crime reportage and literary criticism, and excerpts from The Thinking Reed and The Birds Fall Down. And what emerges is a strangely conservative voice that transcends any of West's cultural-historical roles--feminist, free-lover, crusader--tough and inflexible in its demand for rational answers, but surprisingly self-negating in its adaptation of style to substance; writing is, after all, meaningful only as a way of ""giving us information about the universe."" The early, imperfect fiction recalls Forster, then Dorothy Parker; the recent, in-progress work uncorks the Victorian strain that bubbles throughout; journalism at Nuremberg and London treason trials foreshadows the impassively compassionate criminal portraits that West would later praise in Capote's In Cold Blood; and West absorbs Freud (St. Augustine's parents loom large) with less to-do than her contemporaries, comfortable enough to call the unconscious ""really a shocking old fool."" Ideas are all--""Ibsen cried out for ideas for the same reason that men call out for water, because he had not got any""--and West has been too busy wrestling, learning, and living to produce the serf-protective, self-defining body of work we've come to think of as the legacy of a Great Writer. All that she's going to leave us is great writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 1977


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1977