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Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl
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Hot books/small group reads > "Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl" by Carl Rollyson

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Nigeyb Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl by Carl Rollyson was not successful when nominated for a BYT non-fiction group read for August 2016. A number of people intend to read it, so here is a thread to discuss the book.



I think many of you will already be familiar with Rebecca West, however here's a bit more about her...

Rebecca West was a British author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer. An author who wrote in many genres, West reviewed books for The Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Sunday Telegraph, and the New Republic, and she was a correspondent for The Bookman. Her major works include Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), on the history and culture of Yugoslavia; A Train of Powder (1955), her coverage of the Nuremberg trials, published originally in The New Yorker; The Meaning of Treason, later The New Meaning of Treason, a study of the trial of the British Fascist William Joyce and others; The Return of the Soldier, a modernist World War I novel; and the "Aubrey trilogy" of autobiographical novels, The Fountain Overflows, This Real Night, and Cousin Rosamund. Time called her "indisputably the world's number one woman writer" in 1947.

H.G. Wells, Lord Beaverbrook and Charlie Chaplin were among the notable lovers attracted by her fame, beauty and wit.

This authorised biography explores the life of the novelist, critic, biographer, and travel writer whose writing left an indelible mark on 20th-century British letters, and whose razor wit and notorious love affairs have made her life almost as legendary as her work.

What's not to love?

There's a couple of other Rebecca West biographies out there, however this review, written by the wonderful Lara Feigel, of another biog, suggests that Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl by Carl Rollyson is one of the better ones...

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

It's currently available for Kindle in the US ($3.99) and the UK (£3.49).


Nigeyb Barbara wrote: "Nigeyb--A hot read for Rebecca West sounds good to me. I already have it on my kindle and intend to read it no matter how the poll goes."

Here you are Barbara, and anyone else - add any comments as and when...


message 3: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I think I got it on my Kindle. So once I locate it I may join you.


message 4: by Val (new) - rated it 1 star

Val The poll is not closed yet and Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl is currently tied in the lead.
If it wins, can the moderators move this thread from Hot Reads to Non-Fiction? (or ask the Goodreads admin team to do it).


Nigeyb Hi Val, as the person who started the thread I can move it if it from Hot Reads to Non-Fiction if it wins.

Maybe I was a bit too quick in setting up this thread? Still, the good news is that either way we get to discuss Rebecca West who sounds like an interesting person with plenty to discuss.


message 6: by Val (new) - rated it 1 star

Val We know you are always eager to get on with reading and discussing the books Nigey and since you can move the thread if it wins there is no problem with setting it up early.
I will be reading this one, but probably not for some weeks.


Nigeyb Thanks again Val. I am not sure when I will read this book either, probably not for a few weeks. If it wins the poll I may delay until closer to August.


message 8: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 21, 2016 01:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb By the way, here is Paul Bryant's review of The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West: A Biography by Lorna Gibb...

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

...which tells you a bit more about Rebecca West and, although it's about a different biography, Paul does state..

It turns out this was the wrong biography to read, and there’s a much better one by Carl Rollyson.

Anyway, his review is entertaining and worth a read to whet you appetite for 'Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl'

It is also The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West: A Biography by Lorna Gibb that is being reviewed by the wonderful Lara Feigel, in the Guardian, in which she also suggests that Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl by Carl Rollyson is one of the better biographies...

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...


Nigeyb I've just snapped up a copy of this for Kindle - hurrah!


Nigeyb I'm going to read this book next


#excited


message 11: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 28, 2016 04:31AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb @ 3% - fab intro. Bravo Carl Rollyson - sets up the book wonderfully

Final paragraph...

HG Wells said there would never be another person like her. He was speaking of the person. Frank Swinnerton said there would be another like her. He was speaking of the critic. She was enormous fun. Powell adored her. She was dangerous. She scared people. Both her humour and her anger were explosive. As her niece Alison has said, if she were to return, it would have to be as a firework.

Fabulous eh?

She sounds amazing.


message 12: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 28, 2016 07:20AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb @ 4% - Rebecca’s dad - you couldn’t make it up. Where is his biography?


Nigeyb @ 7% - I am really enjoying the brisk, no nonsense style, and Rebecca, what a woman. She had a lot to contend with but her personality shines through.


Nigeyb @ 9% - The new woman and the old man, or rather RW and HG Wells.

I had no idea H.G. Wells was such a sexual magnet.

The details of his nascent relationship with RW are very interesting, and quite gossipy. I'll say no more as I don't want to spoil it for anyone else planning on reading this book.

So far, still very enjoyable and interesting.


Nigeyb ^ It also makes me quite keen to read Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells. A fictional book about his affair with Amber Reeves.

Amber Reeves also looks like an interesting writer....

The life of Amber Reeves did not come to a standstill when she was 21. She did not dwindle away into silent and inactive respect-ability: Wells, in his later novel Marriage (1912), projected a fictional future in which the daring runaway of the earlier novel appears as a "dark-haired quiet-mannered wife ... a woman of impulsive speech and long silences, who had subsided from an early romance ... into a markedly correct and exclusive mother of daughters". This summary does not do her justice. Correct in manner Mrs Blanco White may have been, and some of those who remember her recollect a formidable figure, but she was also a hard-working writer and a lecturer with a keen interest in new ideas in feminism, but also anthropology, monetary theory and psychology.

There's a lot more here in this fascinating article...

Amber Reeves is remembered as the mistress of HG Wells, but she survived their affair to become a pioneering feminist author, says Margaret Drabble

https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...


message 16: by Barbara (last edited Jun 28, 2016 10:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara So far, I'm loving this bio and it is definitely making me want to read more of West's books as well as some HG Wells, and a bio of him. I know Judy nominated Ann Veronica a while back and it sounded very good.

I wonder if Jane Wells was really fine with HG's behavior? or if she https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/... put up with it because she was cowed by him or fearful of leaving him or maybe had sexual issues of her own?

Rebecca's experiences as an unwed mother were quite similar to Dorothy L Sayers. Both very talented and strong but still with a need to hide certain aspects of their lives in order to be accepted by society.

Have you read The Fountain Overflows? It was discussed at some length in Oliver Saks's wonderful Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and it sounded so interesting I had to read it. I loved it and went on to read the other two books in the trilogy. They were quite autobiographical, while remaining fiction. I think you'd enjoy them.


Nigeyb Barbara wrote: "So far, I'm loving this bio and it is definitely making me want to read more of West's books as well as some HG Wells, and a bio of him."

Thanks Barbara. I feel exactly the same way. Loving the biography, intrigued to find out more about HG Wells (funny that everyone called him HG) and, of course, reading a few of RW’s books too

Barbara wrote: "I know Judy nominated Ann Veronica"

I think I missed that nomination. I’d definitely be up for reading it now.

Barbara wrote: "I wonder if Jane Wells was really fine with HG's behavior?"

That certainly seems to be Carl Rollyson’s view, but who knows. At the least it was an unorthodox arrangement. I think context is key here, in those days once a woman was married her options were very limited and the ‘for better or for worse’ part of the vows was a lot more pertinent.

Barbara wrote: "Rebecca's experiences as an unwed mother were quite similar to Dorothy L Sayers. Both very talented and strong but still with a need to hide certain aspects of their lives in order to be accepted by society."

Sad but true. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

Barbara wrote: "Have you read The Fountain Overflows? It was discussed at some length in Oliver Saks's wonderful Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and it sounded so interesting I had to read it. I loved it and went on to read the other two books in the trilogy. They were quite autobiographical, while remaining fiction. I think you'd enjoy them."

I’ve yet to read any RW, including The Fountain Overflows which I did once get out of the library but didn’t get time to read before it was due back. I am sure this biography will inspire me to investigate her work.

I’m so glad you’re enjoying the biography too Barbara.

Here’s a question for you to ponder and, possibly, answer if you feel inclined…

To what extent do you think you would get on with RW? What aspects of her personality attract you? What aspects of her personality seem less attractive?


message 18: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 30, 2016 02:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb There is still so much to like and admire in the biography. Unlike many biographies this whips along. I suspect Carl Rollyson had such a wealth of material that he had no choice but to keep things moving along. I feel that I am getting a really rounded impression of Rebecca, who was, by any standards a remarkable woman, particularly given what women had to contend with in the early twentieth century.

Poor old Anthony West though. Son of Rebecca and HG Wells. Two wholly inadequate parents and also a victim of the less enlightened attitudes when he was growing up.


message 19: by Val (last edited Jun 30, 2016 03:58AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Val Nigeyb wrote: "@ 4% - Rebecca’s dad - you couldn’t make it up. Where is his biography?"
There are some about the Fabian society, including this old one: History of the Fabian Society: The Origins of English Socialism, and this one: The Fabians, which has more about the personalities.
(Her mum was unusual for the times as well.)


message 20: by Dawn (last edited Jun 30, 2016 11:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) My book does not arrive until Saturday . So , I am starting this one Sunday ! You two are making me so excited ! I just knew this was going to be a good read ! Thanks for the extra tidbits Nigeyb ! I don't know about thinking if Ole H.G. As a sexual magnet! HA! That is hilarious . You just never can tell about these creative types . They definitely said William Faulkner was a ladies man . He had several very public affairs out in Hollywood where he often worked in between his own novels as a screenwriter . He had to have the money . He stayed broke . He took care of everyone and his brother that needed him . They said at one time he must have been paying to care for over 39 people . His lovely black Nannie that raised him and he loved so dearly had her own home right out in back of Rowen Oak for her and her family so she would remain close and taken care of as needed. Estelle , Faulkner's wife, was a terrible alcoholic and often went into terrible fits of jealousy when Faulkner had to leave home to return to Holloywood or go to New York because she knew about some of his women . When he died , there was one actress , I remember that came after his funeral and paid her respects at the graveside. She was afraid that she would upset Estelle. I can't remember who she was. Maybe we could read a biography of him one month too ! Famed people are sometimes just as common with their emotions and everyday ways as all the rest of us. Then some are just plain crazy !

Dawn


Nigeyb I look forward to your thoughts and reactions Dawn


It's good that you're getting a hard copy too. The Kindle version (as is so often the way) has a lot of typos and one section where there's a chunk in the wrong place. V frustrating.


message 22: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 05, 2016 05:17AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb A two minute intro to Rebecca West that includes a few contributions from Carl Rollyson...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka4ba...

Published on Jul 9, 2012
Dame Rebecca West (1892-1983) is one of the most critically acclaimed English novelists, journalists, and literary critics of the twentieth century.

Uniquely wide-ranging in subject matter and breathtakingly intelligent in her ability to take on the oldest and knottiest problems of human relations, West was a thoroughly entertaining public intellectual.

"She was able to go wherever her curiosity took her," explains Helen Atkinson, West's great-niece. Watch this video to learn more about one of the most "extraordinarily adventurous" literary figures of the last century.

Learn more: www.openroadmedia.com/rebecca-west


Dame Rebecca West (1892–1983) is one of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling English novelists, journalists, and literary critics of the twentieth century. In her eleven novels, beginning with The Return of the Soldier, she delved into her characters' psychological landscapes and explored topics including feminism, socialism, love, betrayal, and identity. She was lauded for her wit and intellectual acuity, evident in her prolific journalistic work, such as her coverage of the Nuremberg trials for The New Yorker, later published as A Train of Powder, and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her epic study of Yugoslavia and its people. She had a child with novelist H. G. Wells, but married banker Henry Maxwell Andrews later in life and continued writing until she died in London at age ninety.


message 23: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 06, 2016 05:08AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nigeyb @ 49%


This is really two books in one: an in depth look at Rebecca's work, and also a detailed account of Rebecca's life. I am enjoying the story of her life much more than the detailed analysis of every book she ever wrote.

I had no idea this book was so long. I thought I'd read it was c320 pages. As I'm reading it on Kindle I can't see how long it is but it's much longer than 320 pages.

EDIT: the paperback edition is 488 pages


message 24: by Barbara (last edited Jul 06, 2016 09:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara Eek. I didn't know it was that long either. I've temporarily put it on hold to read this month's group reads (and I WILL answer your question about whether or not I think I'd get on with RW). I'm at 23% and think it's really interesting, so I'll get back to it soon.

I'm looking forward to reading her book on Henry James . It was free on US Amazon, don't know if it is in Britain as well.

I also recently bought The Birds Fall Down,

Wonder what Rollyson makes of those two?


Nigeyb ^ You'll find out Barbara. He seems very enthused by virtually everything she ever wrote - I suppose that's why he wrote the biography


message 26: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Somehow I had this one archived on my Kindle. I hope to start reading it today.


Nigeyb Whilst reading Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl I came across a reference to William Joyce....


Rebecca's portrait of William Joyce aka Lord Haw Haw, in The Meaning of Treason (her study of the post-war treason trials), is, according to Carl Rollyson, the single best biography she was ever to write, a brilliantly perceptive study of a disaffected spirit.

Sounds well worth a read


Nigeyb Jan C wrote: "Somehow I had this one archived on my Kindle. I hope to start reading it today."

Great news Jan - I look forward to discovering your reaction. Rebecca is quite a woman!


Nigeyb @ 57%

Seems as though Rebecca's non-fiction is really quite something. Truman Capote claimed she invented the non-fiction novel.

Meanwhile Anthony wants to write a biography of HG Wells in which he is explicit that HG was his father. Needless to say Rebecca is not too keen.


message 30: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I still haven't started.

But I just noticed that her 1922 book The Judge is available for $1.99 (US) today.


Nigeyb Jan C wrote: "I still haven't started."

I look forward to discovering your reaction when you get to it.

Jan C wrote: "I just noticed that her 1922 book The Judge is available for $1.99 (US) today."

Did you get a copy?


message 32: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Jan C wrote: "I still haven't started."

I look forward to discovering your reaction when you get to it.

Jan C wrote: "I just noticed that her 1922 book The Judge is available for ..."


Yes, I did.


message 33: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) Nigeyb~ my book is late ! I am so disappointed . I am nearly finished with the sad stories of the men from the Somme . No matter about the sadness . They are all so incredibly realistic and I do not think any of us truly see the depth of the wars influence on everyone until you actually read their personal stories and see their photos. In the BBC History Magazine I have I heard the men tell parts of their own stories . War is just never good for either side and really does not solve anything . If only words were stronger than bullets and bombs . I will charge right in when I receive my book .
Good day to all ~
Dawn


Nigeyb Thanks Jan. Thanks Dawn.

Dawn, you should post your thoughts on this month's Somme discussion thread.


Nigeyb @ 64%


Is this one of the most dysfunctional mother-son relationships of all time? I'm actually amazed that Anthony is not even more messed up.


Nigeyb Barbara wrote: "I WILL answer your question about whether or not I think I'd get on with RW"

I've concluded I would like her a lot - but only in small doses. She's exhausting. Amazing though. A remarkable life. Another person who is undeservedly neglected in our own era.


message 38: by Val (last edited Jul 22, 2016 09:13AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Val I have just started it. I can't say the author's style appeals to me.
So far I have only been reading about Rebecca's family and childhood. The book will probably get more interesting when she is older, then the style won't bother me so much.

Edit: It is getting more interesting now, but I'm still not keen on the way it is written.


message 39: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) Oh ! Val - the story reads fast ! She was a journalist and a just the facts sort of person so maybe this author is trying to show no bias and let you see her exact character in fact and circumstances . I am seeing sides of Rebecca West without much empathy in her direction from me right now. She knows exactly what she is getting into every step she takes . I hate to be so cruel but you will see.

Keep reading and keep me posted ...
She is sort of reminding me a bit of Scarlett O'hara in Gone With the Wind for some reason ???

Dawn


message 40: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) While taking a reading break , I was looking at some of Barbara comments above . This RW is something else ! I am really taken with her personality ! She never stops surprising ! I really do want to read some of her fiction . I read a review from someone on her Aubrey Rose book #1 Trilogy and would love a go at that one . Barbara liked it very well . Then we have The Good Soldier too. I am keeping myself from reading your review Nigeyb!
Dawn


message 41: by Val (last edited Jul 26, 2016 03:02PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Val I am struggling with this one a bit, to be honest. Rebecca is someone I want to know more about, but this book is not bringing her back to life for me. I will be getting hold of some of her journalism and literary criticism however, if I can.

Dawn: I have read The Good Soldier and it is a good book, very appropriate for the changing literary scene of our BYT era. (Innovative when written, a bit stale ten years later.)


message 42: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I just started last night. Some of you aren't intriguing me too much on this book. But I have picked a couple of hers that have been offered in the daily Kindle deals.


message 43: by Val (new) - rated it 1 star

Val Give it a go Jan. You may be sufficiently interested in Rebecca not to care about how the author relates her life or you might like his style. He sets my teeth on edge, but that is a personal reaction, I think he is factually accurate.


message 44: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments I am just at the very beginning. Too soon for an opinion.


message 45: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) http://my.w.tt/UiNb/rG83uw1Ljv

The above is the URL to this really great article in reference to Amber Reeves and her life representing the life of the true character in H.G. Wells' novel Ann Veronica . Supposedly , there is a new edition of this great novel released with a foreword written by Amber Reeves . I thought that was very interesting . She was a very strong woman at such a young age having her affair with H.G. Then, Miss Reeves continued on to have Wells' child in secrecy with the help of a friend . Quickly Amber married a wealthy man to cover the scandal of which everyone was already aware .

I have placed this book on my to read list too ! I am so happy we chose to read this book on Rebecca West . It is leading me to so many areas where the artists and writers are all so connected !

Almost finished ~
Dawn


Barbara I can't believe how long it took me to finish this book. It was very good, but extremely detailed. Everything she ever wrote was discussed. Seemingly every detail of her horrible relationship with her son was analyzed. I started out thinking Rebecca was a fascinating character and one who I would have liked to have known. As she grew older however, she seemed to become odder and more paranoid, and I realized that while I enjoy her writing, I wouldn't want to know her. As a person, she was truly awful to her son and not very appreciative of her husband or some of her other family members. As a writer, she had an incredible mind and far-ranging interests. I'm looking forward to reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (her masterpiece on Yugoslavia), The Meaning of Treason (with its coverage of Lord HawHaw), and The Birds Fall Down. Very glad to have read this.


message 47: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments After apparently about a year I went back to this the other night.

I take it that the book improves. Because it looks as though the author is trying to really turn people off about her. So far the only nice thing she said was to Antonia Fraser and even it was a snide comment, advising her to save her money from Mary Queen of Scots. Otherwise everything about her seems rather rude or possibly just eccentric.

But I will continue.


Nigeyb Jan C wrote: "I take it that the book improves."

I was weary of this biography well before the end. That probably says more about my level of interest in Rebecca West than the quality of this detailed look at her life and work.

That said, I have still not yet read anything by Rebecca West, and I came away from this biography wanting to put that right.


message 49: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1525 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Jan C wrote: "I take it that the book improves."

I was weary of this biography well before the end. That probably says more about my level of interest in Rebecca West than the quality of this deta..."


We had a group read of hers - The Return of the Soldier. It wasn't too bad. I've picked up a few on kindle, probably mostly non-fiction works, when they have been on sale.


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