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A grand attitude to life

Rebecca West had a savage pen and a stormy life. Frank Kermode, who judged the first Booker prize with her, finds her letters full of candour, sadness and snobbery

By Frank Kermode   May 2000

Cicily fairfield was born in 1892 and died in 1983. At 19 she began a successful career as a journalist and adopted the name Rebecca West, the heroine of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. If ever a writer so young demonstrated what Shakespeare called “the flash and outbreak of a fiery mind,” it was she. Hardly anybody now writes such devastating reviews, and few later feminists have written about politics with such accurate fury.

In the course of a life spanning most of the century, she lost none of her force. As traveller, novelist and political essayist, West won fame on both sides…

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