Wells and Women

In response to:

Sons and Lovers from the December 6, 1984 issue

To the Editors:

Brigid Brophy raises some interesting questions in her recent review of Anthony West’s H.G. Wells [NYR, December 6, 1984]. Among those she puts directly, she asks if anyone addressed Rebecca West by her legal name, Cicily. I think we can fairly say that one couple did. In Julia Namier’s life of her husband, the great historian Sir Lewis Namier (Oxford University Press, 1971) she tells (p. 324) his reaction to reading a gift copy of The Fountain Overflows sometime in 1959. “Cicily understands about horses!” This is the exact opposite of a name dropping story, as the two pages of commentary around the quotation show. Rebecca West’s name just appears in Lady Namier’s account for sake of precision about something that might otherwise seem quite murky.

Of course Namier’s use of the name (if he said it; if Lady Namier neither misremembered nor fabricated) does not prove that the Namiers addressed her thus. Perhaps they used “Cicily” as an in joke. Somehow I don’t find this makes sense. My wife and I might (though in fact we don’t) privately call a past president of these United States “James.” I cannot see people with the Namiers’ formal, eastern European, old fashioned manners engaging in this sort of whimsy. Allegedly Rebecca West was their friend; why, then, use a name for her which she did not use? Or why should a Zionist like Namier choose not to call someone by a Hebrew and Scriptural name?

Robert L. Patterson

Castleton State College

Castleton, Vermont