Tribute to be unveiled at writer’s former home
A plaque honouring an eminent 20th century writer is to be unveiled at a University institute based in the author’s childhood home
The memorial at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) is a tribute to the acclaimed novelist, literary critic and journalist Dame Rebecca West.
The plaque is one of six commemorating prominent women to be announced by Historic Environment Scotland to coincide with Women’s History Month in March.
An unveiling ceremony will be held during Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. It will feature a reading of West’s work and a walking tour of locations that inspired her writing.
IASH will also host events in 2022 to mark the centenary of publication of West’s second novel, The Judge, which is set in a thinly-disguised version of Hope Park Square, IASH’s current premises.
During her own lifetime, West’s novels drew much less attention than her social and cultural writings.
Her reports on the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, first published in The New Yorker magazine in 1946, were widely acclaimed.
We are delighted to mark IASH’s 50th anniversary by celebrating our link with one of the 20th century’s great authors. Rebecca West’s partner, H.G. Wells, has been honoured with several plaques, but this is the first to commemorate her. In her masterpiece Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, she writes of showing ‘the past side by side with the present it created’. We hope that this plaque brings her past and our present together just as she would wish.
By the end of her life, West’s literary reputation had risen considerably.
On hearing of her death in 1983, The New Yorker’s editor-in-chief William Shawn described West as “one of the giants who will have a lasting place in English literature”.
No one in the 20th century, said Shawn, had written more dazzling prose, or displayed more wit.
Born Cicily Isabel Fairfield in London in 1892, West moved to 2 Hope Park Square in Edinburgh with her Scottish mother and sisters in 1902. She lived there for about a year before moving to nearby Buccleuch Place.
Her memories of poverty in the area strongly informed her portrayal of tenement life that featured in The Judge.
The unveiling in August will be attended by Edinburgh Principal Peter Mathieson, guests from the Rebecca West Society and some of the writer’s descendants.
Also attending will be Dr Alex Thomson, Head of English Literature at Edinburgh – whose research interests include 20th century Scottish literature – and IASH Director Professor Steve Yearley.
IASH was established in 1969 to promote interdisciplinary research in the arts, humanities and social sciences at the University of Edinburgh.
By the following year, IASH had begun to host visitors and more than 1,300 researchers and creative practitioners from around the world have since undertaken IASH Fellowships.
Celebrated in her lifetime for her pioneering journalism, criticism, fiction and travel-writing, Rebecca West continues to exert a fascination on readers seeking to understand the 20th century: her work teaches us about how writers can respond in times of social and political turbulence. Drawing on critical years in her early life, her novel The Judge connects this international writer to the streets around the University of Edinburgh.
Rebecca West image by Madame Yévonde / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons.