West has been called ‘the world’s number one woman writer’, ‘the greatest woman since Elizabeth I’, and ‘a strong contender for woman of the century’.
As a young woman she was a fiery suffragette and socialist; by her thirties, a world-famous journalist and political analyst as well as a distinguished novelist.
During her long, prolific career she moved and worked among the twentieth-century’s most important thinkers and writers. West’s works include the magisterial history and travelogue of Yugoslavia Black Lamb and Grey Falcon; studies of the Nuremburg trials and World War II British traitors, in A Train of Powder and The Meaning of Treason; the modernist World War I masterpiece The Return of the Soldier; and the autobiographical Aubrey family novels-a trilogy subtitled ‘a saga of the century’ –The Fountain Overflows, This Real Night, and Cousin Rosamund.
As studies of modernist and feminist writers have flourished since the 1970s, Rebecca West’s reputation has grown. Since her death twenty years ago, two West biographies have been published as well as a collection of her letters. Yet the eclectic nature of West’s vast canon has made her difficult to classify, and her works have not been read and studied to the extent they deserve. Her countless essays and reviews-written for major newspapers and journals like The London Times, The New Yorker, and The New Republic as well as for women’s magazines like The Ladies’ Home Journal and Mademoiselle-have not been collected, and most of her books are out of print. Many contemporary literature and history students never encounter her work in the classroom, and few readers know her name or the titles of her works.