The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West
Booklist Reviews 2014 May #1
Cicely Isabel Fairfield, born in London in 1892, had to leave school at 16. Rebellious and independent, she thought the stage was her destiny, but, drawn to the suffragist cause and the socialist Fabian Society, she began to write, lifting a pseudonym, Rebecca West, from an Ibsen play and quickly making her mark as a critic. At 18, she wrote a "blistering" review of a novel by H. G. Wells, which led to a heated and messy affair with the married, notoriously unfaithful celebrity writer. West's tragic relationship with their much-wronged son, Anthony, is a dark thread running throughout Gibb's meticulous biography. In spite of persistent sexism, poor health, and myriad hardships, all diligently chronicled here, West worked nonstop, traveling widely and achieving fame for her coverage of the Nuremburg trials, a dozen novels, and many books of nonfiction, including the now-classic book on the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941). Avid yet methodical, Gibb offers scant insights into West's writing, concentrating instead on her magnetic subject's complex personality and all the drama and controversy that make West's life truly "extraordinary." Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2014 February #2
Numerous biographies have been published about the England-born author, journalist, and critic Cicely Isabel Fairfield (1892–1983), otherwise known as Rebecca West. But Gibb (visiting research fellow, Essex Univ.; Lady Hester) offers a fresh look at a writer who was ahead of her time in the early 20th century. West (The Return of the Soldier) had many successes but also experienced heartache and struggle. While she lived an accomplished career, had many love affairs, including one with H.G. Wells that produced an illegitimate son, and was wed for over three decades to banker Henry Maxwell Andrews, she also encountered a challenging childhood, a strained relationship with her son, and issues in her marriage. Gibb's passion for her subject is illustrated in the writing's rich detail; readers feel like they're witnessing the described accounts firsthand. Using West's correspondences and personal papers, media interviews, and conversations with the writer's friends and employees, the author captures West's point of view and describes how this complicated individual interpreted her relationships and experiences. VERDICT Gibb succeeds in offering an accurate, honest study of a multifaceted woman in this excellent biography. It will particularly appeal to British literary and historical enthusiasts.—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA[Page 103]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
PW Reviews 2014 January #4
Gibbs (Lady Hester) unfortunately misses the mark in this desultory and bland retelling of the long and storied life of a significant literary and cultural figure of the 20th century. Born CicelyIsabel Fairfield in 1892, West first tried a theatrical career, then turned to writing (taking Rebecca West as her pen name), and became involved with political movements, including the fight for women's suffrage, and worked as a novelist, critic, and journalist well into her old age. Her long, tumultuous affair with the married H.G. Wells, with whom she had a son, proves a central thread, with Wells emerging as a caddish figure. Despite the promising subject, West's life reads as a dreary stream of unhappy love affairs, illness, and strained familial relations, including with her troubled, angry son, Anthony. The era's famous figures make the briefest of cameos: D.H. Lawrence, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Agnes de Mille, the Prince of Wales, and Wallis Simpson. Gibbs's account also falls short of critically assessing West's work and her sometimes controversial political views, such as her rabid anti-communist sentiment. A few moments give the reader hope, as when Gibb discusses West's non-fiction masterpiece about Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, but these are short-lived. Photos. (May)[Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC