Rosemary Dinnage, 22 June 2000
Rebecca West died 17 years ago at 90, in a comfortable flat overlooking Hyde Park. She was a Dame Commander of the British Empire, to her amusement and gratification. Will she be remembered more as a character, thoroughly damely and commanding, or for her writings? Eleven novels, of no outstanding literary merit; nine other books on general subjects, of which the most admired (and especially relevant today) is Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, on Yugoslavia; a mass of articles on the public affairs of her time. She was an oracle, a pontificator, and unclassifiable; had she written only fiction or only political analysis, she might have left a more settled reputation. She was chagrined to know quite well that she would be remembered for her private life: her affair with H.G. Wells – girl, 21, meets bounder, 47 – and the birth of their son. The story is not gossip fodder, but tragic and central to her life. When Wells is properly reassessed as a writer, it will be known which of the two leaves the greater literary reputation.