Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Rebecca West, The Art of Fiction No. 65
Interviewed by Marina Warner - The Paris review
In Rebecca West’s hallway hung a drawing of her by Wyndham Lewis done in the thirties, “before the ruin,” as she put it. But her brown eyes remained brilliant and penetrating, her voice energetic, and her attention to all things acute. She was wearing a bright and patterned caftan when we first met, a loose blouse over trousers the second time. Cataracts meant she had two pairs of spectacles, on chains like necklaces; arthritis had made a stick necessary. Her hair was white and short; she wore beautiful rings. Her voice had kept some of the vowel sounds of the Edwardian period, and some of its turns of phrase: “I can’t see someone or something” meant “I can’t tolerate.” She said words of foreign derivation, like “memoirs,” with the accent of the parent language. We sat in her sitting room, a room filled with drawings and paintings with a wide bay window looking out on some of London’s tall trees. Their leaves, which were turning when we met, almost brushed against the windowpanes.
In your novel, The Fountain Overflows, you describe the poverty of the educated class very beautifully. Was that your background?
Oh, yes. I’ll tell you what the position was. We had lots of pleasant furniture that had belonged to my father’s family, none that had belonged to my mother’s family, because they didn’t die—the whole family all went on to their eighties, nineties—but we had furniture and we had masses of books, and we had a very good piano my mother played on. We were poor because my father’s father died, when he and his three brothers were schoolboys. Their mother was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and a religious fanatic with a conscience that should have been held down and, you know, been eunuchized or castrated. She refused to keep on, to accept any longer, an annuity, which she was given by the royal family. And nobody knows why she was given it, and she found out the reason and she didn’t approve of it, and she refused it, and they were poor forever after. The maddening thing was nobody ever knew why she said to Queen Victoria, “I cannot accept this allowance.” It was hard on my father, who was in the army, because you needed money to be an officer. He was a ballistics expert. He did quite well in various things. Full interview