Rebecca West's previously unknown novel, The Sentinel (1909-1911), discovered by Kathryn Laing, is published here for the first time. Written when West was in her late teens, it predates her earliest known published work of fiction, The Return of the Soldier, by almost ten years and foreshadows the author's prolific and often embattled career as a novelist, front-line journalist, dedicated feminist and political commentator engaged with the major cultural and political debates of the twentieth century. The Sentinel displays the same confidence and verve that characterize West's later work. Drawing on her own involvement in the suffragette movement, West traces her heroine Adela's sexual and political awakening during a crucial period in feminist and literary history. The descriptions of riots, the hunger strike and force feeding in prison are among the most compelling of their time. In her scholarly annotated edition of The Sentinel, Dr Laing demonstrates why this forceful work offers a privileged insight into West's emergence as a major literary figure. Its publication marks the centenary of the suffragette movement in 2003.
Kathryn Laing teaches for the Open University in Ireland and the National University of Ireland, Galway. She has published on Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust and Angela Carter.
‘It is the least surprising thing in the world that Rebecca West should have begun a novel when she was 17, and that parts of it should be very good. She was only 18, after all, when her stinging reviews first appeared in The Freewoman and The Clarion, and caused sleepy Fabian giants to sit up and take notice of this fiercely intelligent Edinburgh schoolgirl juggling axes in the air... Richly rewarding.’ — Claudia FitzHerbert, Daily Telegraph 1 February, 2003, 5
‘Quite a coup... West's urgent descriptions of events and characterisations of key figures, from politicians to the Pankhursts, can hardly be bettered. But this is more of a social history than it might first appear, thanks to the journalistic observations woven into her storytelling. Her description of the Daily Mail as 'the encyclopaedia of vulgarity' retains a certain resonance today.’ — Harriet Griffey, Financial Times 22 February, 2003, 4
‘An astonishing piece of juvenilia... It is easy to recognise the real women who belonged to the militant Women's Social and Political Union: Mary Gawthorpe, Emily Davidson, Dora Marsden, Emmeline Pankhurst. The rise of the New Woman writing of the 1890s and suffragette fiction of the early twentieth century challenged strict definitions of feminine experience only to replace them with equally rigid rules governing women's social and political roles. West questions such demarcations. Her women long for motherhood and some of the most important suffragists are men. The novel's message is that love is not only more important than political power, it is the source of such power in the modern world and the modern novel.’ — Rosalind Porter, Times Literary Supplement 28 February, 2003, 24
‘Here is an emerging and well-read mind confronting public and private matters... Laing's scholarly introduction is a rich tool for reading this novel. Though unsophisticated and fragmentary as a novel, The Sentinel is nevertheless a richly worked resource; a readable and fascinating historical document that brings much of the time and its author to life.’ — Antonia Byatt, Times Higher Education Supplement 18 April, 2003, 28
‘Not only the publication of The Sentinel, but the way it has been published, may represent a tidal change in the way its author's work is now received... Fascinating to readers interested in the development of West as a woman, because it is obsessively concerned not only with feminist politics but with sexuality, and with the compelling beauty of certain girls and women, pored over in erotic detail... The most striking passages, which foreshadow the vivid reportage of her maturity, are the accounts of suffragette marches, protests and riots... Carries in it the seeds of almost everything that was to preoocupy West throughout her writing life. Laing's treatment of The Sentinel may complete the transition of her fiction, and of her work as a whole, out of the overcrowded 20th-century mainstream and into the canon.’ — Victoria Glendinning, The Guardian 20 December, 2003, G2
Laing, Kathryn (ed.), The Sentinel: An Incomplete Early Novel by Rebecca West (Cambridge: Legenda, 2002)
First footnote reference:35The Sentinel: An Incomplete Early Novel by Rebecca West, ed. by Kathryn Laing (Cambridge: Legenda, 2002), p. 21.