Art as Politics: Rebecca West's Unpleasant Mirror

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is
that good men do nothing."

—Edmund Burke

There is a photograph of Rebecca West taken shortly before her death: she sits in a throne-like armchair looking slightly off camera. One of her hands rests on the carved handle, the other is in her lap. Her hair is respectably gray and her necklace and her rings, without any doubt, come from the right store. She has everything: money, self-confidence, knowledge.

It is her answer to the hate-mail she has been receiving all her life and for having started out as Cicely Fairfield, unsuccessful actress, London's instant literary celebrity, and unwed mother. In 1983 she died at the age of 90, a Dame of the British Empire, after lighting the age with her intelligence and vivacity.

Her newest official biographer, Victoria Glendenning, attempts to defend West as a frail human being who needs our understanding. If Dame Rebecca tried to achieve, through Mrs. Glendenning, what she had often been accused of wanting while still alive—"a good posthumous press"—the result is not a complete victory for the defense.

By choosing to follow the middle road between her respect for both Rebecca West and her accusers, the alleged defender has unwittingly joined the side of those who saw in the British author, dead as well as alive, a threat...

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