The operation of necessity: Intellectual affiliation and social thought in Rebecca West's nonfiction
AuthorHarris, Kathryn M.
AdvisorEpstein, William H.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractMajor scholars of the literary production of Rebecca West (1892-1983), English journalist, critic, biographer, historian, and novelist, universally cite the generic range of her writing as the primary impediment to a unified critical view of her work. For seventy-one years, from 1911 to 1982, her career as journalist, political analyst, theater critic, and literary reviewer was the stable matrix from which emerged her fiction, literary criticism, biography, and history. A growing body of scholarship is working toward the construction of a unified view of West's vast body of work, which includes eight books of fiction, twelve books of nonfiction, numerous lectures printed as monographs, perhaps one thousand newspaper articles and review-essays, and more than 10,000 letters. By far the greater portion of her work is her nonfiction prose, yet extended critiques of her nonfiction are surprisingly few. The present study considers the contexts to which West's major works of nonfiction respond, their central propositions, their formal organization, the images and metaphors that characterize her accounts of ideas incarnate in the experience of individuals, classes, and nations, the critical reception of these works at the time of their publication, and, where possible, more recent critical views. Comprehensive survey of West's nonfiction uncovers not a single unifying theme but rather a circuit of secular ideas indebted to the scientific-rational thought of Herbert Spencer, which was enormously persuasive among the educated classes of late Victorian and Edwardian England. According to Spencer, who is credited with having constructed the materialist body of thought known as Social Darwinism, the slow working of evolution finds a parallel in the evolution of social organization in human society. This broad view of the social organism, which was an article of faith with West's intellectual predecessors and mentors--her father, Charles Fairfield; her sister, Letitia Fairfield; her lover and colleague H. G. Wells--confirmed in West a hardy empiricism, a consciously scientific perspective on history, an uncompromising and lifelong feminism, and a progressive politics which inform her examination of complex social and political relationships among individuals, classes, and nations and which are everywhere evident in her literary criticism, political analysis, biography, and cultural history.
Degree ProgramGraduate College