They don't write letters like this any more: churning with energy, witty, engaging, defensive, provocative, informed, and opinionated - always opinionated.
From as many as 10,000 letters that Rebecca West wrote in her lifetime, editor Scott (English/Univ. of Delaware) has delved into archives at Yale, Tulsa, and elsewhere to select around 200 that represent West's personal and professional life and her broad political interests. The letters are arranged chronologically in six sections, each preceded by an introduction summarizing West's interests and concerns at that particular point in time. The first letter, written to a newspaper when West was 15 years old, concerns women's suffrage. The last, written to friends in 1982 (when she was 90), comments on overdevelopment in Provence, the Irish troubles, and Margaret Thatcher. In between is a spill of reportage, commentary, complaint, and critique - ranging from her first meeting with H.G. Wells ("one of the most interesting men I have ever met") to prescient observations from her first trip to Yugoslavia (later incorporated into Black Lamb and Gray Falcon) to controversial comments on communists in the US government and on South Africa under apartheid. Liberals sometimes questioned West's commitment to the causes, and she, in turn, questioned their commitment to facts. Throughout the letters are painful accounts of her deteriorating relationship with her son; attacks upon reviewers who misrepresented her books or her history; and sharp snapshots of celebrities (Wallis Simpson: "common and trivial"; Norman Mailer: "that stupid lout"). Her correspondents included George Bernard Shaw, Harold Ross, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Dorothy Thompson, and John Gunther, as well as numerous other writers, relatives, agents, and publishers to whom she confided her personal and financial woes. A useful chronology and brief biographies of the most frequent correspondents are included, but the collection suffers from the necessities of editing and becomes something of a hodgepodge in the end.
Bright, lively, idiosyncratic, and penetrating observations of the personal and political that span a century. (Illustrations, family tree not seen.)