He became obsessed with the Norwegian ballerina Gerd Larsen and he would refuse to travel with West but wanted to return to London to be with Larsen. West initially considered this to be purely her husband's infatuation, but she came to think that Larsen was driven by money. At her husband's funeral she had the upsetting problem of Larsen's request to be amongst the mourners, even though she had only known him for 18 months. After she was widowed, she moved to London, where she bought a spacious apartment overlooking Hyde Park.
Unfortunately, it was next door to the Iranian embassy. During the May incident , West, then 87, had to be evacuated. She also spent time with scholars such as Jane Marcus and Bonnie Kime Scott, who began to chronicle her feminist career and varied work. The last work published in her lifetime was At the same time, West worked on sequels to her autobiographically inspired novel The Fountain Overflows ; although she had written the equivalent of two more novels for the planned trilogy, she was never satisfied with the sequels and did not publish them.
She also tinkered at great length with an autobiography, without coming to closure, and she started scores of stories without finishing them. Unfinished works from her early period, notably Sunflower and The Sentinel were also published after her death, so that her oeuvre was augmented by about one third by posthumous publications. West's relationship with her son, Anthony West , was not a happy one. The rancor between them came to a head when Anthony, himself a gifted writer, his father's biographer H. Wells: Aspects of a Life  , and a novelist, published Heritage , a fictionalized autobiography.
West never forgave her son for depicting in Heritage the relationship between an illegitimate son and his two world-famous, unmarried parents, and for portraying the mother in unflattering terms. Essentially, she felt Anthony was airing in public his accusations against her as a bad mother, which stemmed partly from the fact that she had made a fiction of his provenance.
She had asked him to call her Auntie, and his father Wellsie, until he was about four or five. He also felt she had made a habit of leaving him in institutions in his early years while she developed her career in the United States. West countered by claiming that she spent as much time with him as any child could reasonably hope to spend with a mother who was a professional. She was exasperated at his focus on her parenting, when he did not accuse his father of abandonment, even though Wells had been even more absent during Anthony's youth.
Anthony, in fact, idolized Wells. The depiction of West's alter ego in Heritage as a deceitful, unloving actress West had trained as an actress in her youth and poor caregiver so wounded West that she broke off relations with her son and threatened to sue any publisher who would bring out Heritage in England. She successfully suppressed an English edition of the novel, which was only published there after her death, in Although there were temporary rapprochements between her and Anthony, a state of alienation persisted between them, causing West grief until her dying hour.
She fretted about her son's absence from her deathbed, but when asked whether he should be sent for, answered: "perhaps not, if he hates me so much". West suffered from failing eyesight and high blood pressure in the late s, and she became increasingly frail.
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Her last months were mostly spent in bed, sometimes delirious, sometimes lucid, and she complained that she was dying too slowly. West grew up in a home filled with discussions of world affairs. Her father was a journalist who often involved himself in controversial issues. He brought home Russian revolutionaries and other political activists, and their debates helped to form West's sensibility, which took shape in novels such as The Birds Fall Down , set in pre-revolution Russia.
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It would seem that her father's ironic, sceptical temper so penetrated her sensibility that she could not regard any body of ideas as other than a starting point for argument. Although she was a militant feminist and active suffragette, and published a perceptive and admiring profile of Emmeline Pankhurst , West also criticized the tactics of Pankhurst's daughter, Christabel , and the sometimes doctrinaire aspects of the Pankhursts' Women's Social and Political Union WSPU. The first major test of West's political outlook was the Bolshevik Revolution.
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Many on the left saw it as the beginning of a new, better world, and the end of the crimes of capitalism. West regarded herself as a member of the left, having attending Fabian socialist summer schools as a girl. But to West, both the Revolution and the revolutionaries were suspect. Even before the Bolsheviks took power in October , West expressed her doubts that events in Russia could serve as a model for socialists in Britain or anywhere else.
West paid a heavy price for her cool reaction to the Russian Revolution; her positions increasingly isolated her. When Emma Goldman visited Britain in after seeing Bolshevik violence firsthand, West was exasperated that British intellectuals ignored Goldman's testimony and her warning against Bolshevik tyranny. For all her censures of Communism, however, West was hardly an uncritical supporter of the Western democracies.
Thus in —, she excoriated the U. A staunch anti-Fascist , West attacked both the Conservative governments of her own country for appeasing Adolf Hitler and her colleagues on the left for their pacifism.
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Neither side, in her view, understood the evil Nazism posed. Unlike many on the left, she also distrusted Joseph Stalin. To West, Stalin had a criminal mentality that Communism facilitated. She expressed her feelings and opinions on the Allies' switch in Yugoslavia by writing the satirical short story titled "Madame Sara's Magic Crystal", but decided not to publish it upon discussion with Orme Sargent , Assistant Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office. It is not surprising in the context that West reacted to U.
Senator Joseph McCarthy differently from her colleagues. They saw a demagogue terrorizing liberals and leftists with baseless accusations of Communist conspiracy. West saw an oaf blundering into the minefield of Communist subversion. For her, McCarthy was right to pursue Communists with fervor, even if his methods were roughshod, though her mild reaction to McCarthy provoked powerful revulsion among those on the left and dismay even among anti-Communist liberals. She refused, however, to amend her views.
Although West's anti-Communism earned the high regard of conservatives, she never considered herself one of them.
In postwar Britain, West voted Labour and welcomed the Labour landslide of But she spoke out against domination of the Labour Party by British trade unions, and thought left-wing politicians such as Michael Foot unimpressive. She had mixed feelings about the Callaghan government. West admired Margaret Thatcher , not for Thatcher's policies, but for Thatcher's achievement in rising to the top of a male-dominated sphere.
In the end, West's anti-Communism remained the centerpiece of her politics because she so consistently challenged the Communists as legitimate foes of the status quo in capitalist countries.
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In West's view, Communism, like fascism, was merely a form of authoritarianism. Communists were under party discipline and therefore could never speak for themselves. And West was a supreme example of an intellectual who spoke for herself, no matter how her comments might injure her. Indeed, few writers explicitly acknowledged how much West's embrace of unpopular positions hurt her on the left.
A whole generation of writers abandoned West and refused to read her, as Doris Lessing suggested. West's parents had her baptised into the Church of England two months after birth  and she considered herself a Christian, though an unconventional believer. At times, she found God to be wicked; at other times she considered Him merely ineffectual and defeated. In she expressed the unorthodox belief that "Christianity must be regarded not as a final revelation but as a phase of revelation.
Her contribution to Virginia Woolf 's Hogarth Letters Series, Letter to a Grandfather , is a declaration of "my faith, which seems to some unfaith"  disguised as philosophical fiction. Written in the midst of the Great Depression, Letter to a Grandfather traces the progressive degeneration of the notion of Providence through the ages, concluding skeptically that "the redemptive power of divine grace no longer seemed credible, nor very respectable in the arbitrary performance that was claimed for it.
She wrote:. This monstrous theory supposes that God was angry with man for his sins and that He wanted to punish him for these, not in any way that might lead to his reformation, but simply by inflicting pain on him; and that He allowed Christ to suffer this pain instead of man and thereafter was willing on certain terms to treat man as if he had not committed these sins.
This theory flouts reason at all points, for it is not possible that a just God should forgive people who are wicked because another person who was good endured agony by being nailed to a cross. World War II shocked her into a more conventional belief: "I believe if people are looking for the truth, the truth of the Christian religion will come out and meet them.
But West's attempt was short-lived, and she confessed to a friend: "I could not go on with being a Catholic I don't want, I can't bear to, become a Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh , and I cannot believe that I am required to pay such a price for salvation. West's fluctuating attitude towards Christianity was offset by a more constant form of belief. She was informally a Manichaean all her life. In accordance with this Manichaean skepticism, West wrote in a draft of her own memoirs: "I had almost no possibility of holding faith of any religious kind except a belief in a wholly and finally defeated God, a hypothesis which I now accept but tried for a long time to reject, I could not face it.
Manichaean also was her lifelong struggle with the very question of how to deal with dualisms. At times she appears to favor the merging of opposites, for which Byzantium served as a model: "church and state, love and violence, life and death, were to be fused again as in Byzantium.