Rebecca West

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Rebecca West (1892-12-211983-03-15) was the pseudonym of Cecily (or Cicily) Isabel Fairfield, an Anglo-Irish feminist and author.


  • I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.
    • "Mr. Chesterton in hysterics," The Clarion, (1913-11-14)
  • God forbid that any book should be banned. The practice is as indefensible as infanticide.
    • "The Tosh Horse," The New Statesman (1925); later included in Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews (1928), ch. 11
  • There is one common condition for the lot of women in Western civilization and all other civilizations that we know about for certain, and that is, woman as a sex is disliked and persecuted, while as an individual she is liked, loved, and even, with reasonable luck, sometimes worshipped.
  • I can't help thinking that the whole of the Vietnam War was the blackest comedy that ever was, because it showed the way you can't teach humanity anything. We'd all learnt in the rest of the world that you can't now go around and put out your hand and, across seas, exercise power; but the poor Americans had not learned that and they tried to do it. The remoteness of Americans from German attack had made them feel confident. They didn't really believe that anything could reach out and kill them. Americans are quite unconscious now that we look on them as just as much beaten as we are. They're quite unconscious of that. They have always talked of Vietnam as if by getting out they were surrendering the prospect of victory, as if they were being noble by renouncing the possibility of victory. But they couldn't have had a victory. They couldn't possibly have won.
    • Interview with Marina Warner (Summer 1981), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, Sixth Series [Viking/Penguin, ISBN 0-14-00.7736-7] (pp. 13-14)
  • If there is a God, I don't think He would demand that anyone bow down or stand up to Him. I often have a suspicion that God is still trying to work things out and hasn't finished.
    • Interview with Marina Warner (Summer 1981), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, Sixth Series (p. 15)
  • Like all bad drivers, he thought he was the best driver in the world.
    • Interview with Marina Warner (Summer 1981), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, Sixth Series (p. 17)
  • It's an absurd error to put modern English literature in the curriculum. You should read contemporary literature for pleasure or not at all. You shouldn't be taught to monkey with it.
    • Interview with Marina Warner (Summer 1981), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, Sixth Series (p.31)
  • I do not myself find it agreeable to be 90, and I cannot imagine why it should seem so to other people. It is not that you have any fears about your own death, it is that your upholstery is already dead around you.
    • Quoted in "There is nothing like a dame: Dame Rebecca West at ninety," Vogue (February 1983)

The Harsh Voice (1935)

  • The point is that nobody likes having salt rubbed into their wounds, even if it is the salt of the earth.
    • "The Salt of the Earth"
  • There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all.

The Thinking Reed (1936)

[Viking/Penguin, ISBN 0-14-00.7321-3]

  • But just as it sometimes happens that the most temperate people, who have never acquired the habit of drinking alcohol, or even a taste for it, are tormented by the fear that somehow or other they will one day find themselves drunk, so Isabelle perpetually feared that she might be betrayed into an impulsive act that was destructive to such order as reason had imposed on life. Therefore she was forever running her faculty of analysis over in her mind with the preposterous zeal of an adolescent running a razor over his beardless chin.
    • Chapter I
  • To him boredom was a tragedy, for he had no more realization than if he had been an animal that any state he was in would ever come to an end.
    • Chapter III
  • She was indeed aching with that depression, which oddly takes the form of a sense of guilt, that comes to those who find themselves alone in sobriety among the alcoholized.
    • Chapter III
  • That certain women were ready to sell themselves caused no excessive disgust in Isabelle. It was inevitable that a number of both men and women should compromise the institution of marriage by marrying for money, and once that happened there could be no question of impressing on the toughly logical female mind the unique vileness of prostitution. She had sometimes wondered, too, whether the contempt men felt for women who market their favors did not in part proceed from from the sense of grievance eternally felt by buyers against vendors.
    • Chapter VI
  • These women were fatuous with a fatuity which had threatened her all her life, as it threatened all people of means, and which was of mournful significance for humanity in general, since it proved the emptiness of one of man's most reasonable expectations. No more sensible form of government could be imagined than aristocracy. If certain able stocks in the community were able to amass enough wealth to give their descendants beautiful houses to grow up in, the widest opportunities of education, complete economic security, so that they need never be influenced by mercenary considerations, and easy access to any public form of work they chose to undertake— why, then, the community had a race of perfect governors ready made. Only, as the Lauristons showed, the process worked out wholly different in practice. There came to these selected stocks a deadly, ungrateful complacence, which made them count these opportunities as their achievements, and belittle everybody else's achievements unless they were similarly confused with opportunities; and which did worse than this, by abolishing all standards from their minds except what they themselves were and did.
    • Chapter VII
  • One was kind, out of a bounty that could hardly be exhausted, to old governesses and gardeners, who could be relied upon to give thanks with proper abjection; one performed public duties, for which one was paid in full by deference; one was chaste, refusing to run away from one's husband with other men who for the most part did not ask one to do so, and who in any case had nothing better to offer than one's own home. Knowing no difficulties one was without fortitude; knowing no criteria but one's own achievements one was without taste.
    • Chapter VII
  • The general tendency to be censorious of the vices to which one has not been tempted.
    • Chapter IX


  • Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse.
    • Letter (1959-08-20), quoted in Victoria Glendinning, Rebecca West: A Life (1987), Part 5, Chapter 8
  • Everyone realizes that one can believe little of what people say about each other. But it is not so widely realized that even less can one trust what people say about themselves.
    • The Sunday Telegraph, London (1975)
  • After any disturbance (such as two world wars coinciding with a period of growing economic and monetary incomprehensibility) we find our old concepts inadequate and look for new ones. But it unfortunately happens that the troubled times which produce an appetite for new ideas are the least propitious for clear thinking.
    • The Sunday Telegraph, London (1981)

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