Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Pen Of Strength

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This is the first of a series of posts on women writers. As a woman writer, I labor, as do most who write, to define my place in the world. Part of that journey involves finding one's truth, one's voice. After pouring over classic literature, the majority of whom are white men, I have come to the conclusion that my study has been terribly limited. This narrow focus, I believe, has filled my mind with the words of men, as beautiful and precise as they may be, they do not reflect the female sensitivities and have served to cloak my voice. The hope is this focused study of women writers will help me dig below the chatter and find a more authentic voice. I invite you to join my journey and hope you'll join the conversation.  

E. O. Hoppe/The Mansell Collection
This month I've been reading Rebecca West, a London-born journalist, reviewer, essayist and novelist. Her work spanned over almost seventy years. Of her work George Bernard Shaw said, "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely." West was already a feminist at seventeen and participated actively in the suffrage movement. By the time she reached her twenties she was writing for several well known publications, including the New Yorker.

"I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." —West

I can't help but think that this is what Shaw had in mind when he characterized her writing as "savage." Things haven't changed so much when you realize that women who express opinion or disagreement are often marginalized by others as being "bitchy" or unpleasant. 

National Portrait Gallery
In thinking about my own voice, I realize that my training to be pleasant, created a need to please those around me. If one is going to speak truth, speak from the heart, from that deepest place within oneself, wondering how a particular sentence is going to effect others can put a stranglehold on the process of writing. 

"Voice is the articulation of all perceptions in verbal expression, written or oral, including the so-called nonverbal which we want to get into writing too. Voice is the expression of the whole person, an extension of speech, an extension of the body."John Schultz via The Writer's Workout by Christina Katz

As I have been reading West, it apparent that her strongest desire was always to write so that her meaning was clear, concise and expressed to the reader her unique thought on a particular subject. 

What do you think about the effect culture has had on the female voice? Have we progressed? 

Here is a bibliography of my reading :

West, Rebecca. The Essential Rebecca West: Collected Prose. Pittsburgh: Pearhouse Press, 2010.

West, Rebecca. Family Memories. New York: Viking, 1987.

Weldon, Fay. Rebecca West. Fay Weldon. New York: Penguin Viking, 1985.

West, Rebecca. The Judge. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1922.

West, Rebecca. 1900. New York: The Viking Press, 1982.

West, Rebecca. The Birds Fall Down. New York: Viking, 1966. 


  1. It's been awhile since I've read a book by Rebecca West, but I remember enjoying one of her novels. I'm afraid I can't remember the name of it, except that it was well-written with the kind of turn-of-phrase that makes me enjoy British writing so much. I think we have progressed. It seems far more successful novelists are women than was previously the case.

  2. I agree, I think we have made progress. After reading some of her writing, though, I began wondering what she would have thought. It seems the feminist movement was derailed and young women today surprise me with how willing they are to be exploited by the media.


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