Real Lives: Rebecca West

Historian feature

By Paula Kitching, published 5th May 2022

Rebecca West

Our series ‘Real Lives’ seeks to put the story of the ordinary person into our great historical narrative. We are all part of the rich fabric of the communities in which we live and we are affected to greater and lesser degrees by the big events that happen on a daily basis. Sometimes we might even play a part in the big events, although our names are not recorded, while on other occasions we are witnesses to events and times which we would now consider remarkable. Sometimes our regular lives are the perfect illustration of how people live at any given time – but all our lives matter and we want to celebrate some of those lives here. If you have any people that you think might also fit this category and would like to write about them, please do contact: martin.hoare@history.org.uk 

There was a time Rebecca West (1892–1983) was a household name as a successful journalist and novelist, with books such as Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) and The Birds Fall Down (1966). But today many people are unfamiliar with the writer, traveller, and women’s rights campaigner. 

She was born as Cicely Isabel Fairfield in London, on 21 December 1892, and had two older sisters. Their father was a journalist who left the family when West was eight years old. Her Scottish mother moved them all to Edinburgh, where the children went to school. Around her father political discussion and politics were ever-present, and this affected and politicised West from an early age. One event that impacted her early on was the reporting of the Dreyfus Affair, and the power of the press to effect and influence change...

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