Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The West, R. mss., 1907-1984, consist primarily of letters from author Rebecca West, 1892-1983, to members of her family, particularly her two sisters. Born December 21, 1892 in Westbourne Park, London, Dame Rebecca was the youngest of three children, all girls. Christened Cicely [subsequently spelled Cicily] Isabel Fairfield, she demonstrated an early aptitude for writing but was determined to be an actress. After studying at the Royal Academy of Art she worked on stage for about a year, and in 1911 began writing for the feminist magazine Freewoman. In order to save her family embarrassment regarding this latter employment she adopted as a pseudonym the name of one of the roles she portrayed on stage, that of the rebellious heroine in Ibsen's Rosmersholm: Rebecca West. West met H.G. Wells in 1912 and bore his son, Anthony Panther West in August 1914. She remained one of Wells's mistresses for ten years. She continued to write both fiction and non-fiction: short stories, novels, feminist and socialist essays, biography and literary criticism. West married a banker, Henry Maxwell Andrews in 1930, was made Commander of the British Empire in 1949, and Dame Commander in 1959. She died in London on the morning of March 15, 1983.

This collection of letters spans about eight decades of West's life and is arranged alphabetically by recipient. The very earliest few to her sister Letitia, although undated, almost certainly were written before 1900. The major recipients are her mother, Isabella Campbell (Mackenzie) Fairfield (1854-1921); her oldest sister, Dr. Letitia Denny Fairfield (1885-1978); her other sister, Winifred Alice (Fairfield) Macleod, (1887-1960); and her niece, Alison Flora (Macleod) Selford (b.1920). There is also a folder of letters from West to other members of the family--brother-in-law, nephews, grand nieces, etc., and one of copies of letters from niece Alison to her aunt Rebecca. West mainly discusses family matters, but sometimes includes commentary on politics, history, social issues, aspects of her work, and notable personalities. A file of miscellaneous correspondence involves non-family members and family members writing to each other exclusive of West. A file of miscellaneous items that includes a poem by Cicily Isabel Fairfield and an undated, torn photograph of two young women, and another one of newspaper clippings complete the collection.

Purchase. Sotheby's, Sale. London, England. 1997


All of this material was previously in the possession of Dame Rebecca's niece, Alison Selford. Many of the letters have dates or date periods written across the top of the first page, sometimes in pencil, often in red, green or blue ink. Unless content or some conflicting biographical information determined otherwise, the letters have been placed as of the supplied dates. If a variant date or period has been determined in the course of cataloging the collection, then the letter was placed in that location and the date indicated in pencil within square brackets at the top of each page. Many of the date annotations include the word "postmark" or "postmarked." There were, however, no envelopes with the collection when acquired by the Lilly Library, hence there is no present documentation for those statements.

  • Box 1:
    • folder 1: Letters, 1920-1921, from Rebecca West to her mother, Isabella Campbell (Mackenzie) Fairfield.
    • folder 2-10: Letters and postcards, 1907-1977, from Rebecca West to her sister, Dr. Letitia Denny Fairfield.
  • Box 2:
    • folders 1-5: Letters, 1915-1959, from Rebecca West to her sister, Winifred Alice (Fairfield) Macleod
    • folders 6-9: Letters, 1936-1983, from Rebecca West to her niece, Alison Flora (Macleod) Selford
    • folder 10: Letters, 1930s-1969, from Rebecca West to other members of her family (brother-in-law, nephews, grand nieces, etc.)
    • folder 11: Selford, Alison Flora (Macleod) to her aunt, "Cissie," 1961-1981 (carbon copies)
    • folder 12: Miscellaneous correspondence, 1923-1984 (includes a few from West to other people)
    • folder 13: Miscellaneous items: a poem: "The Call by Pan" by Cicily Isabel Fairfield [Rebecca West] (T.D.S.); a Fairfield family tree and "The Mackenzie tree," both in West's hand; "EXTRACT from The Third Volume of the HISTORY OF THE TIMES, pp.237-38"; and an undated, torn photograph of two unidentified young women
    • folder 14: Newspaper clippings: letter to the editor by Cicily Isabel Fairfield [R. West], Oct. 16, 1907; two letters to the editor by Anthony West, undated and Apr. 30, 1984; "extracted from the History of Mr. Wells by Michael Foot,... and Rebecca West, A Saga of the Century, by Carl Rollyson," Oct. 28, 1995

Collection size: 530 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.