West, Rebecca

BORN 21 Dec 1892, London: Westbourne Park - DIED 15 Mar 1983, London
BIRTH NAME Fairfield, Cicily Isabel
GRAVE LOCATION Brookwood, Surrey: Brookwood Cemetery (Plot 081)

Cicily Fairfield was educated at the Academy of Dramatic Arts and choose the name Rebecca West (from a play by Ibsen) when she started her acting career. It was unsuccessful and soon it was over. In 1911 she started contributing to "Freewoman" and work for "Clarion", "The Star", "Daily News" and "New Statesman" followed. She came to the attention of Ford Madox Ford after she wrote a more or less negative review of one of his novels. Ford supported her work and she became a close friend of him and his lover Violet Hunt.

Her writings impressed H.G. Wells and in 1913 they started a secret love affair. In 1914 a son was born, Anthony. She was often travelling and sent Anthony to boarding schools, where he often felt abandoned by his mother. Their relationship would continue to be difficult in later years. In 1918 Rebecca published her first novel, "The Return Of The Soldier".

The affair with Wells ended in 1923 when she went to the USA. She suffered from it and visited a psychoanalyst in 1927 before she married the banker Henry Maxwell Andrews. Before that she had several affairs. Among her lovers were Charlie Chaplin (in Hollywood), Max Beaverbrook and John Gunther. Her marriage lasted until Henry's death in 1968. She lived with him at Ibstone in Buckinghamshire but both were often away for work and both had lovers. At times she had doubts if she should stay with Henry.

She wrote several more novels before in 1937 she travelled to Yugoslavia. She was convinced that the country would soon be destroyed by the nazis and started writing a history of Yugoslavia with autobiographical elements. She worked on this for years and in 1942 the monumental "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" was published. In England she sharply criticized the pacifists and the government for their appeasement of Hitler. She was also opposed to Stalin, whose mentality she regarded as criminal.

After the Second World War she was a reporter during the trials in Nuremberg for "The New Yorker". There she had her last love affair with the American Francis Biddle, one of the judges. Her accounts of the trials were published in 1955 as "A Train of Powder". Also in 1955 her son Anthony published the autobiographical novel "Heritage", in which she appeared as a bad mother. She never forgave him for this and she continued to distrust him for the rest of her life.

In 1956 her partly autobiographical novel "The Fountain Overflows" was published. It was the first part of a planned trilogy. She worked on the other parts but never published them. In 1959 she was created Dame of the British Empire. She published her last novel "The Birds Fall Down" in 1966. After Henry's death in 1968 she moved to a large appartment in London that overlooked Kensington Gardens. There she continued writing book reviews and articles. She befriended many people, among them novelist Doris Lessing and journalist and broadcaster Bernard Levin. She was also visited by Martha Gellhorn (once the wife of Ernest Hemingway) and actor Warren Beatty.

During her last years her relationship with Anthony was as difficult as ever. She died at her London home in 1983. Several of her unfinished works were published posthumously. Anthony West died only a few years after his mother in 1987.

Related persons
• was the lover of Chaplin, Charly
• was a friend of Frankau, Pamela
• was a friend of Hall, Radclyffe
• was a friend of Hunt, Violet


The grave of Rebecca West at Brookwood Cemetery, Woking.
Picture by Androom (25 Jun 2009)


The grave of Rebecca West at Brookwood Cemetery, Woking.
Picture by Androom (25 Jun 2009)


• Crawford, Anne and others, The Europa Biographical Dictionary of British Women, Europa Publications Ltd, London, 1983
• Rollyson, Carl, Rebecca West, Scribner, New York, 1996
Wikipedia (EN): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_West

Westbrook, Harriet

Published: 01 Nov 2009
Last update: 20 Feb 2022