Born Cicily Isabel Fairfax in 1892, Rebecca West was a writer, literary critic, and journalist, named “indisputably the world’s number one woman writer” by Time magazine in 1947. Both a CBE and DBE, West died in 1983 and is buried in Brookwood Cemetery.
Cicily took the pseudonym “Rebecca West” from the rebellious young heroine in “Rosmersholm” by Henrik Ibsen – and a very appropriate name it came to be. West lived a life of rebellion and independent thought, both in her writing and her love life.
Trained as an actress, West was a lifelong feminist and socialist, and wrote for publications including The Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, and The New Republic. She covered the Nuremberg Trials for The New Yorker, and reported on the apartheid in South Africa for The Sunday Times. Her most well-known book is “The Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”, written about her impressions of Yugoslavia just before WWII.
West had several high-profile affairs including Charlie Chaplin, Lord Beaverbrook, and most notably HG Wells. Despite him already being married and a twenty-year age gap, they became lovers in 1913 and had a child together in 1914 making West a single mother – quite a scandal at the time. They remained friends until Wells’ death in 1946. West herself didn’t marry until 1930, and sadly the marriage wasn’t a very happy one.
Age didn’t slow her down. West continued to cultivate a wide circle of famous friends, including Martha Gellhorn, Doris Lessing, Frankie Howerd, and Warren Beatty. And life found her even when she tried to stay still. After being widowed, West bought an apartment overlooking Hyde Park – right next door to the Iranian embassy. During the May 1980 incident, the 87-year-old writer had to be evacuated.
If you want to find her grave, you’ll need to go to section 81 in Brookwood (and if you want a full post about the cemetery you’ll find that over here). Locating the headstone exactly proved a little tricky, as it’s on the inside of the section and hidden under a tree.
If it wasn’t for the “notable grave” marker, you’d probably miss it. I had to do a bit of a scramble to get close enough to take any photos, but I’m glad I did. I’m not overly familiar with her work but she seems to have been a remarkable woman, determined to live as she wanted, regardless of the outcome.
As a side note, Brookwood is an interesting place in general (well I think so), so I’d suggest everyone explore it, at least once. And whilst you’re there, drop by and find the formidable presence of Dame Rebecca West as well.
What do you think? Have you ever visited this grave or Brookwood? Please share in the comments.