A Study in Courage

As one who dislikes “psycho-biography” as a genre, I was fully prepared to dislike this dual biography of Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson.  I was somewhat disarmed by the author’s Introduction, in which she attributes to West the observation that

it was impossible for biographers to know anything beyond the bare facts about the details of their subjects’ intimate lives or subjective experience.  She was right.  Arrogance and unadulterated conjecture are part of the game.  But it is a fascinating game . . .

Susan Hertog is also the author of a similarly conceived and equally well-executed biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  Both projects were aided by the pack-rat habits of her subjects.  Thompson’s archive is at her alma mater, Syracuse University; West’s is at the well-heeled purchaser of her papers, the University of Tulsa.  If nothing else, the author deserves a purple heart for the time she must have spent in these cities.

Her task was further aided by her subjects’ involvement with famous men.  If H.G. Wells and Sinclair Lewis are not remembered as well as Charles Lindbergh, they were colossi in their time, and much has been written about both of them.

As with her previous biography, the author is concerned with her subjects as icons of feminism,...

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