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ELT 44 : 3 2001 (Lee's protégé and lover)—performed her extraordinary sexualised gallery tours. In these essays new, vivid areas of women's aestheticist discourse are touched upon. If there is a weakness in the collection it is that this investigation of the wider cultural meanings of women's involvement in the movement is not pushed further—for a book which sets out its stall linking aestheticism and commodity culture, its content remains, on the whole, resolutely "literary." The political valency of the movement is also uncertainly assessed. Shying away from the polemics of New Womanhood , these aesthetes seemed content to maintain social defences in tact rather than develop a new politics. Anstruther-Thomson's eroticised gallery tours were, it seems, for social equals only, and her groups of East End factory girls just got straight education, but a fuller consideration of the relationship of aestheticism to political radicalism and reaction in the period would have been welcome. Similarly, how far the shifts in sexual and cultural sensibilities described here entered mass commodity culture is only hinted at now and again in the discussion of the démocratisation of the colours of fashion and in the popularity of Hope's erotic lyrics as parlour songs. There is nothing here on popular magazines or domestic furnishings or music halls, those crucial spaces of interaction between the aesthete and developing mass culture where Vesta Tilley played out her complex cross-dressings of class and gender, and the progress of New Womanhood was charted with outraged fascination. Such topics might have stretched the margins further of an otherwise innovative and valuable collection of essays. Simon Featherstone Anglia Polytechnic University Letters of Rebecca West Selected Letters of Rebecca West. Bonnie Kime Scott, ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. xxxi + 479 pp. $35.00 IN HIS PREFACE to Stanislaus Joyce's My Brother's Keeper, T. S. Eliot remarked that "Curiosity about the private life of a public man may be of three kinds: the useful, the harmless, and the impertinent." Selected Letters of Rebecca West—edited, annotated, and introduced by Bonnie Kime Scott—seems at various times to appeal to each of the three kinds of curiosity. There is always something a little impertinent about reading somebody else's mail; yet most letters, even those of famous writers, harmlessly report the unremarkable rhythms and blips of 374 BOOK REVIEWS daily life; still, these same letters, especially when combined with more substantive ones, acquire a cumulative usefulness when they provide unmediated access to the life and mind of a writer as distinguished as Dame Rebecca West. Since West would make few scholars' short lists of greatest twentiethcentury writers, one must ask for whom—besides those with a particular interest in West herself—will a volume of her letters be useful? West, who found contentment from knowing that much of her correspondence would be available at Yale University, provided the most probable answer when she stated that her letters "contain a great deal of material which will be and already is of some interest to literary historians." Although a first-rate writer in her own right, West is also known for the people whom she knew—especially H. G. Wells—and the era of history that she lived through and chronicled. As Professor Scott notes in her introduction , the range of subjects West was familiar with and "addresses" in her letters is extensive, reading like a précis of the twentieth century: "She addressed Fabian socialism, the suffrage movement, the domestic side of two world wars, women's entry into the scientific and literary professions , the emergence of literary modernism out of Edwardian realism , America in the Roaring Twenties, the rise and trials of fascism, the plight of refugees, communism, cold war espionage, lynching trials, apartheid, and second-wave feminism." Thus, whatever one makes of West's literary achievement, much can be said for Scott's claim that to read West's letters is "to receive an education in the culture of the twentieth century." Although letters can reveal a great deal about the subjects they address , they can tell us even more, especially when read in bulk, about the temperament, character, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 374-377
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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