Just finished Victoria Glendinning's biography of the extraordinary Dame Rebecca West,
novelist, reporter, political thinker, and feminist. She started off as an enfant terrible in the London literary scene, lived and wrote and bore a child and kept writing, and grew into a difficult, brilliant, highly successful old woman. Born in 1892, she lived until 1983, and she was vigorous until a few months before the end.
"Vigorous" is a good word for Dame Rebecca. So is "snarky." She defended DH Lawrence's nude paintings against charges of obscenity, but also said, "Mr. Lawrence has very pink friends." My kind of writer!
I was very impressed with her magnum opus, the vast and richly detailed Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which recounted her journeys in Yugoslavia, the ethnic tensions there, and so much more. I read it a few years ago and want to reread it. I'm looking forward to reading her letters, her novels, and her reviews. Any recommendations as to where I should start first?
Some of her great quotations:
Because hypocrisy stinks in the nostrils one is likely to rate it as a more powerful agent for destruction than it is.
Did St. Francis preach to the birds? Whatever for? If he really liked birds he would have done better to preach to the cats.
If it be ungentlemanly to kiss and tell, it is still further from gentlemanliness to pray and tell.
Everyone realizes that one can believe little of what people say about each other. But it is not so widely realized that even less can one trust what people say about themselves.
I wonder if we are all wrong about each other, if we are just composing unwritten novels about the people we meet?
There is one common condition for the lot of women in Western civilization and all other civilizations that we know about for certain, and that is, woman as a sex is disliked and persecuted, while as an individual she is liked, loved, and even, with reasonable luck, sometimes worshipped.
The general tendency to be censorious of the vices to which one has not been tempted.
The trouble about man is twofold. He cannot learn truths which are too complicated; he forgets truths which are too simple.
It is always one's virtues and not one's vices that precipitate one into disaster.
A strong hatred is the best lamp to bear in our hands as we go over the dark places of life, cutting away the dead things men tell us to revere.
There is, of course, no reason for the existence of the male sex except that sometimes one needs help with moving the piano.
There is no logical reason why the camel of great art should pass through the needle of mob intelligence.
It is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between history and the smell of skunk.
It is the soul's duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master passion.
Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.
Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one's own Trojan horse.
Nobody likes having salt rubbed into their wounds, even if it is the salt of the earth.
The main difference between men and women is that men are lunatics and women are idiots.
That certain women were ready to sell themselves caused no excessive disgust in Isabelle. It was inevitable that a number of both men and women should compromise the institution of marriage by marrying for money, and once that happened there could be no question of impressing on the toughly logical female mind the unique vileness of prostitution. She had sometimes wondered, too, whether the contempt men felt for women who market their favors did not in part proceed from from the sense of grievance eternally felt by buyers against vendors.
I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.
There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all.
I do not myself find it agreeable to be 90, and I cannot imagine why it should seem so to other people. It is not that you have any fears about your own death, it is that your upholstery is already dead around you.