1. Education

Rebecca West Quotes

Social Critic, Public Intellectual, Feminist


Rebecca West (1892 - 1983) was the pen name of Cicely Isabel Fairfield. A feminist, social critic and public intellectual, her range of topics and genres was wide. Her son, Anthony West, was a product of her long affair with H. G. Wells.

Selected Rebecca West Quotations

• I myself have never been able to find out precisely 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.

• My work expresses an infatuation with human beings. I don’t believe that to understand is necessarily to pardon, but I feel that to understand makes one forget that one cannot pardon.

• I write books to find out about things.

• The American struggle for the vote was much more difficult than the English for the simple reason that it was much more easy.

• The man who is convinced that his mother was a fool. [about an anti-feminist]

• Motherhood is neither a duty nor a privilege, but simply the way that humanity can satisfy the desire for physical immortality and triumph over the fear of death.

• Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one's own Trojan horse.

• Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.

• It's the soul's duty to be loyal to its own desires. It must abandon itself to its master passion.

• There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are interesting monologues, that is all.

• Reason's a thing we dimly see in sleep.

• There is in every one of us an unending see-saw between the will to live and the will to die.

• There is no wider gulf in the universe than yawns between those on the hither and thither side of vital experience.

• It is always one's virtues and not one's vices that precipitate one into disaster.

• A good cause has to be careful of the company it keeps.

• Men must be capable of imagining and executing and insisting on social change if they are to reform or even maintain civilization, and capable too of furnishing the rebellion which is sometimes necessary if society is not to perish of immobility.

• Nobody likes having salt rubbed into their wounds, even if it is the salt of the earth.

• All men should have a drop of treason in their veins, if nations are not to go soft like so many sleepy pears.

• All good biography, as all good fiction, comes down to the study of original sin, of our inherent disposition to choose death when we ought to choose life.

• Journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space.

• It is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between history and the smell of a skunk.

• Before a war military science seems a real science, like astronomy; but after a war it seems more like astrology.

• Now different races and nationalities cherish different ideals of society that stink in each other's nostrils with an offensiveness beyond the power of any but the most monstrous private deed.

• Economists are like Aeolian harps, and the sounds that issue from them are determined by the winds that blow.

• Did St. Francis really preach to the birds? Whatever for? If he really liked birds he would have done better to preach to the cats.

• Humanity is never more sphinxlike than when it is expressing itself.

• A copy of the universe is not what is required of art; one of the damned things is ample.

• Any authentic work of art must start an argument between the artist and his audience.

• There is no logical reason why the camel of great art should pass through the needle of mob intelligence.

• Great music is in a sense serene; it is certain of the values it asserts.

• Fiction and poetry are the only way one can stop time and give an account of an experience and nail it down so that it lasts for ever.

• Writing has nothing to do with communication between person and person, only with communication between different parts of a person's mind.

• 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.

• God forbid that any book should be banned. The practice is as indefensible as infanticide.

• Because hypocrisy stinks in the nostrils one is likely to rate it as a more powerful agent for destruction than it is.

Margaret Thatcher's great strength seems to be the better people know her, the better they like her. But, of course, she has one great disadvantage - she is a daughter of the people and looks trim, as the daughters of the people desire to be. Shirley Williams has such an advantage over her because she's a member of the upper-middle class and can achieve that kitchen-sink-revolutionary look that one cannot get unless one has been to a really good school. [Interview, 1976]

• Mr. James Joyce is a great man who is entirely without taste.

• 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.

• All our Western thought is founded on this repulsive pretence that pain is the proper price of any good thing.

• The main difference between men and women is that men are lunatics and women are idiots.

• There is, of course, no reason for the existence of the male sex except that sometimes one needs help with moving the piano.

• He is every other inch a gentleman.

• If it be ungentlemanly to kiss and tell, it is still further from gentlemanliness to pray and tell.

• The trouble about man is twofold. He cannot learn truths which are too complicated; he forgets truths which are too simple.

• She was like the embodiment of all women who have felt an astonished protest because their children have died before them.

• There was a definite process by which one made people into friends, and it involved talking to them and listening to them for hours at a time.

• Only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.

• The memory, experiencing and re-experiencing, has such power over one's mere personal life, that one has merely lived.

• The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.

[About Rebecca West, from her son Anthony West] She regarded me as a piece of fiction -- like one of her novels - that she could edit and improve.

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2012. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Rebecca West Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/Rebecca-West-Quotes.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)

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