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West, Rebecca.

LETTERS: Correspondence with Marshall Best.

Letter(s)

Rebecca West - Marshall Best Correspondence
1935-1968
West, Rebecca. Correspondence with Marshall Best. 1935-1968.
A collection of 36 letters from Rebecca West to her editor Marshall Best, broken down as follows: 3 autograph letters, 1 autograph note, 27 typed letters, 2 telegrams, and 3 Xeroxes of typed letters; together with 1 telegram and 11 carbon copies of Best's replies. Some of the earliest letters in the collection (1935-1958) are from West to publisher Harold Guinzberg, who was her contact at Viking before Best, and are broken down as follows: 2 autograph letters, and 8 typed letters; and 9 carbon copies of letters from Guinzberg to West. A few of the later letters by West are addressed to other recipients: 2 typed letters to Guinzberg's son and successor, Tom, with a telegram and carbon letter from him; and an angry letter to the editor of The New York Tribune after they published a negative review of The New Meaning of Treason. Approximately one-third of the typed letters from West include autograph emendations and postscripts.
The letters from West, most of which are on her Ibstone House stationary, vary in tone from professional to extremely personal; clearly, West, Guinzberg, and Best were friends outside of their business relationship. The first letter to Best was written while West was working on her Opera in Greenville piece for The New Yorker. In the letter, dated June 10, 1947, West addresses him formally as "Mr. Best" as opposed to the salutation of "My dear Marshall" that appears in later letters. West seems very agitated in the letter and describes a stressful situation that impeded her work:
I am sorry that I am realising the worst fears of you and Mr. Guinzberg and Mr. Huebach and leaving you an uncompleted typescript. An incredible thing happened, and I suppose I should have stood up to it but did not. I came back from Greenville and did my revision with Ross [Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker] and found myself very tired but writing well…I suddenly had walk in on me a good soul called Esther Gould, whom I believe to be a friend or acquaintance of your wife. I like here [sic] very much but had not seen her for seventeen years, though we have sometimes corresponded. She walked in on Friday morning and announced she had come from Chicago to spend the weekend with me. I simply could not take it…on realising that she meant to stay with me continually till Monday afternoon when she was due to go back to Chicago I simply collapsed…and plunged into the helplessness of a nervous breakdown.
This letter is only one example of many in which West apologizes for not meeting a deadline for health-related reasons. On numerous occasions, West reports that she is suffering from migraines, fatigue, and "calamitous illness."
The most interesting correspondence concerns, of course, West's writing projects. Knowing that Guinzberg and Best would be a sympathetic audience, West frequently vents about her critics. In an undated letter, most likely written circa 1957, she writes:
I am bored by the reviews I get from America, because they are only interested in the characters' morals if they are favourable, and if they are not favourable they chide me for failing to adhere to a vague standard of modernity. But I told my story in the form I did because the traditional novel form is admirably adapted to telling that kind of story. If I couldn't have told the story without swinging from the chandelier I would have swung from the chandelier. I shall get filthy notices here, my name is mud, nobody is rightly in literary circles unless they are homosexual.
West was often dissatisfied with how she was profiled in the media and thought too much attention was paid to her sex. In a letter dated June 12, 1996, West complains that the tone of the recent article by Gwenda David was "too woman's magazine." The letter reads in part:
I am sick of having my country house and my farming dished up as if they were all that enjoyable and my essential job. After all I did write Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, I did write fairly well about Western Germany after the war, I am a feature writer for The Sunday Telegraph…I am a person of serious interests, I think I should be sold as such. I have said this gently to Gwenda, but I fear she was a little offended. Oh, what the hell. Life is AWFUL.
There are several letters received and written by Best and Guinzberg concerning a dispute with Roy Campbell, whom West identified as a fascist in the first edition of The Meaning of Treason: 1 typed letter from Henry Regnery, 1 autograph letter from Campbell to "the Manager of the Viking Press," 1 copy of a typed letter from Guinzberg to Campbell, 1 typed letter from the law firm Rubenstein, Nash, & Co. to Guinzberg and 1 carbon copy of Guinzberg's reply; and 3 internal Viking memorandum notes, one with West's retraction, which was published in the London Times Literary Supplement, affixed. West's opinion on the scandal is best summed up by her comments in a letter dated September 5, 1956: "May both Mr. Regnery and Mr. Campbell rot in hell as soon as possible…how the wild asses of the world make holes in one's time."
West's trademark dry humor permeates her writing; she jokes in a letter dated December 30, 1964, "God doesn't love women writers. But I've had good reviews from his creatures, I must say." The letters also reveal West's acute sense of both her literary allies and enemies. Anticipating another wave of critical backlash for a new edition of her 1928 collection of essays, A Strange Necessity, West writes in a letter dated April 29, 1966:
This is an extremely controversial book. It was passionately resented by James Joyce, perhaps because he couldn't bear any criticism at all…there is a hostile reference to me in Finnegan's Wake and I have been the victim of countless attacks by Joyceists, including a really unpleasant campaign by Carlos Williams. Actually the book is a paean of praise to Ulysses as a novel of character…
The last letters in the collection are among the longest, and the content is mostly personal; West writes about her husband's deteriorating health. In a moving letter dated November 3, 1968, she describes Henry's final days:
The disease was cerebral arteriosclerosis, accelerated by the collapse of the kidneys. The odd thing was that a week after it had declared itself it began to race. In the last eight days he has passed through phases that should take years. He became less and less human, losing his power to speak, but he became more and more himself, more like the man I had married, before his disease distorted him. I don't see how this can be but it was.
After West's death in 1983, Best played a crucial role in gathering material for Rebecca West: A Celebration, an anthology spanning her entire career. Included here are a roughly one dozen typed letters and Xeroxes exchanged between Best, fellow Viking editor Barbara Burn, and "C.C" at the Oxford University Press regarding content for the book.
Also included are West-related letters received by Best: 1 autograph letter from West's husband Henry Andrews; 2 typed letters from Time and Life editor Max Gissen and 1 carbon copy of a letter from Gissen to West; 2 typed letters from literary critic Gwenda David; 1 typed letter listing errors in West's revised New Meaning of Treason from Gilbert Highet; 1 copy of a typed letter to West from literary agent A.D. Peters and a typed copy of West's response.
With a substantial amount of West ephemera and published typescript material:
  • Approximately twenty typescript reviews of West's work and articles written about her from publications including The Boston Globe, The London Observer, Saturday Review (cover), Harper's Magazine, Time Magazine (cover), and The New York Times.
  • Several newspaper clippings of articles by West published in The New York Herald Tribune and The Sunday Telegraph
  • West's Presidential Address on the future of literature delivered for the English Association in 1969, in string-tied wrappers
  • 8 typescript leaves of an introduction to the never-published Portable Rebecca West
  • 2 typescript leaves with the editor's summary, publicity and dust-jacket design suggestions for The Bird Falls Down
  • West's serial articles Annals of Crime and A Reporter at Large, excerpted from The New Yorker
  • Typed press release issued by Viking Press about The New Meaning of Treason
  • Rebecca West: A Celebration original dust-jacket and typescript draft with autograph emendations of publisher's note
  • Cousin Rosamond original dust-jacket
  • 2 Opera in Greenville stapled wrappers, reprinted from The New Yorker
  • Book-of-the-Month Club preview of The New Meaning of Treason
  • Xerox of West's obituary which ran in The New York Times
  • 3 typescript leaves of an introduction to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which West sent to Best with the first round of proofs
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