cover image Rebecca West: A Life

Rebecca West: A Life

Carl Rollyson. Scribner Book Company, $34.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-684-19430-1

Sinclair Lewis once scoffed about West's exasperating son, Anthony, sired out of wedlock by H.G. Wells, that his parentage was ""the only interesting thing in his life."" The difficult, disloyal Anthony would spoil for Rebecca (1892-1983) the acclaim she earned for her fiction (The Return of the Soldier, The Fountain Overflows) and her vivid, in-depth reportage (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, The Meaning of Treason). For the last 50 years of her life, her son was eager to exploit his Wellsian connection to promote himself. To Wells, the conception of Anthony was just another accident resulting from his often concurrent affairs. While West (Cicily Fairfield, her feminist pen name, that of an Ibsen heroine) was hidden away by Wells, literary insiders knew, and her life became more public as she became recognized as a writer. Growing up, Anthony was drawn to his celebrity father, and Rollyson returns again and again to West's cycles of recrimination and reconciliation with her son. The first biographer permitted to forage in her papers at Yale, Rollyson (Lillian Hellman) has been thorough in other research as well; however, the trivia of everyday life, sexual and social, is often overwhelming here. Despite the resetting from the British edition, he has apparently paraphrased so closely from West's diaries and other papers that he uses Briticisms (cosh, spanner) at odds with the rest of his prose. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)