West's World

Lorna Gibb

27 February 2014
336 pages


Born Cicely Fairfield in 1892, as a young woman - and a budding actress – Rebecca West changed her name to that of the feminist heroine in Ibsen's play, Rosmersholm . West was a passionate suffragist, a socialist and fiercely intelligent and her long career as a writer began when she was barely out of her teens. As did her notorious affair with H.G. Wells, which resulted in a son, Anthony, whose relationship with his mother was, at best, stormy.

Perhaps best remembered for her classic account of pre-war Yugoslavia, Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, West was a towering figure in the British literary landscape. Lorna Gibb's vivid and insightful biography looks at the woman behind the reputation

‘Brisk and affectionate . . . presents with discerning succinctness, a sharply etched portrait of a true original.’ John Carey, The Sunday Times

‘Riveting . . . a gripping story of a woman's life that was such a sprawling mess, such a catalogue of minor and major disasters, mistakes, enmities and discomforts, that one's jaw drops on every page.’ Country Life

'In this calm, well-researched biography, she does an excellent job of reminding us why West was so ahead of her time: she burst through the glass ceiling despite wreaking emotional havoc in the process.' Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday

'Lorna Gibb makes the most of the reams of paper that West and her many friends and acquaintances produced.' Caroline Moorehead, Literary Review

'West's story is well worth retelling, not least because her personal and professional struggles, as an independent-minded woman, have proved both an inspiration and a warning ever since.' Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph

'The offspring of literary parents rarely fare well, or so it seems in biography. Lorna Gibb's fair and balanced account of the life of Rebecca West finds itself almost as pre-occupied with West's relationship with her son as with the writer itself. Is this a bad thing? Not when such a relationship reveals so much about the woman and the writer: then it becomes essential.' Lesley McDowell, Independent

'Captures vividly West's contradictions. A wonderful read about a feminist life lived in the full glare of the twentieth century.' Times Higher Educational Supplement