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West, Rebecca.

Return of the Soldier, The.


West, Rebecca. The Return of the Soldier. With illustrations by Norman Price. New York: The Century Co., 1918.
12mo.; olive cloth; cream dust-jacket, lightly edgeworn.
First edition of West's first novel; published March 10, just after the second and final installment of its serial appearance in The Century Magazine, with three illustrations selected from the many published there; preceding the English edition by over two months: Hutchinson A.2.a. Scarce in the pictorial dust-jacket.
Dame Rebecca West (1892-1983) was born Cicely Fairfield in London. After a short and unsuccessful career as an actress, she began writing for the feminist weekly The Freewoman, adopting her pen name from the heroine of Ibsen's play Rosmersholm. In print and in discussion circles, West pushed her feminist colleagues to devote more thought to literature and philosophy. Her own first major work was a great undertaking for a girl of 24, a critical study of a contemporary giant: the master, Henry James (1916). During this period, West also began a long affair with the married H.G. Wells, with whom she had a son (Anthony West, who would also go on to a long and distinguished literary career). West's references to her own life in Return Of The Soldier spring from the habit she and Wells had of communicating with each other through their printed work. The novel, the love story of an amnesiac shell-shocked soldier, also promotes the healing powers of parenthood. George Bernard Shaw said of this novel that it was one of the best stories in English (quoted in Rebecca West: A Life, by Victoria Glendinning, NY: Knopf, 1987, p. 70).
West continued to write both fiction and non-fiction, and increasingly infused her political journalism with the voice of social reform. In 1924 she befriended and assisted Emma Goldman, and one American newspaper praised her the following year as "the personification of all the vitality, the courage, and the independence of the modern woman" (quoted in Glendinning, p. 88). After the Second World War she took up actively against anti-Semitism-though she was not Jewish, West lived and worked in Jewish communities most of her life. While she remained a life-long socialist, she worked as actively against Communism and fascism. She is perhaps best remembered for her post-War work, The Meaning Of Treason (1947), a discourse on war criminals and spies.

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