'The Sentinel' and the evolution of Rebecca West's early writing, 1910-1922
This thesis aims to re-examine the first decade of Rebecca West's literary and journalistic career, based on an analysis of a newly discovered novel West began writing in 1909/1910. "The Sentinel", although incomplete and unrevised, is a key text to an understanding of West's early literary and feminist apprenticeship, helping to enrich reconsiderations of West's oeuvre in recent criticism. The recovery of West's writing into a female modernist canon provides a useful starting point, although the intertextual analysis of West's fiction and non-fiction during this period will show that this kind of categorisation is an inadequate representation of the complexity of her work. The limited time-frame of this study, 1910 to 1922, magnifies West's writing processes to reveal her self-conscious negotiations as a woman writer with the ferment of ideas and changes arising during the pre-war and war period, particularly in relation to contemporary feminism and an emergent male modernist aesthetic. The first chapter is concerned with identifying, dating and examining the significance of "The Sentinel" as source material for West's later published fiction and non-fiction. Many of West's pervading interests are already evident in the novel, illustrating in retrospect how her writing was shaped by differing literary contacts, feminist affiliations, the war and personal experience. Chapters Two and Three consider the impact on West's journalism and fiction of her associations with the radical feminist journal, The Freewoman, and her introduction to avant-garde writers. West's unsuccessful attempt to rewrite "The Sentinel" as the novel, Adela, is discussed in relation to selected feminist articles and the short story, "Indissoluble Matrimony", illustrating her attempts to adapt her feminist interests to aesthetic ones. Chapter Four shows how the war provided a cutting edge and a point of definition in West's writing at this time, both in her consideration of the role of art and of the gendered structures of society. The influence of writers such as H.G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford and Henry James is discussed in relation to West's preoccupation with the role of women during the Great War. This material provides an important context for the analysis of The Return of the Soldier in Chapter Five. Chapter Six is a transitional one, describing the effect of the war and its aftermath on contemporary feminist ideology, and evaluating Rebecca West's attempt to position herself as a writer and a feminist in relation to these changes. Chapter Seven argues that The Judge (1922) offers a cumulative history of West's literary and feminist apprenticeship, at once completing the cycle begun with "The Sentinel" and initiating a different stage of writing for West during the twenties.