The surest shibboleth of the committed ideologue is a willingness to praise bad art. This willingness, of course, is frequently the product of necessity. Most of today’s feminist writers, for instance, are literary sloganeers whose artistic seriousness is fatally undermined by their enthusiastic adherence to a political agenda. Those women writers who deserve to be taken seriously, on the other hand, are often politically indifferent at best, hopeless heretics at worst. To be sure, some of them have lived private lives which recall the more extravagant pages of a Mary McCarthy novel. But one is hard-pressed to come up with a woman writer of indisputable significance who has devoted anything like a substantial part of her professional energies to the feminist cause.

Enter Rebecca West. Widely praised as the greatest journalist of her time, her involvement in the English feminist movement during...


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