Taking her name from one of Henrik Ibsen's strong-minded women, Rebecca West was a politically and socially active feminist all her long life. She had an intense 10-year affair with H.G. Wells, with whom she had a son. A brilliant and versatile novelist, critic, essayist, and political commentator, West's greatest literary achievement is perhaps her travel diary, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia (1942). Five years in the writing, it is the story of an Easter trip that she and her husband, British banker Henry Maxwell Andrews (whom she had married in 1930), made through Yugoslavia in 1937. A historical narrative with excellent reporting, it is essentially an analysis of Western culture. During World War II, she superintended British broadcast talks to Yugoslavia. Her remarkable reports of the treason trials of Lord Haw and John Amery appeared first in the New Yorker and are included with other stories about traitors in The Meaning of Treason (1947), which was expanded to deal with traitors and defectors since World War II as The New Meaning of Treason (1964). The Birds Fall Down (1966), which was a bestseller, is the story of a young Englishwoman caught in the grip of Russian terrorists. From a true story told to her more than half a century ago by the sister of Ford Madox Ford (who had heard it from her Russian husband), West "created a rich and instructive spy thriller, which contains an immense amount of brilliantly distributed information about the ideologies of the time, the rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church, the conflicts of customs, belief, and temperament between Russians and Western Europeans, the techniques of espionage and counter-espionage, and the life of exiles in Paris" (New Yorker). Unlike that of her more famous contemporaries, her fiction is stylistically and structurally conventional, but it effectively details the evolution of daily life amid the backdrop of such historical disasters as the world wars. Her critical works include Arnold Bennett Himself, Henry James (1916), Strange Necessity: Essays and Reviews, and The Court and the Castle (1957), a study of political and religious ideas in imaginative literature. In 1949, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Andrea Barrett was born on July 17, 1965. She has taught in the M.F.A. program for writers at Warren Wilson College, and has been a visiting writer at several other colleges and universities, as well as teaching frequently at conferences such as the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Barrett was also a juror for the 1998 O. Henry awards for short stories. Barrett received the Distinguished Story Citation from Best American Short Stories in 1995 for The Littoral Zone and the National Book Award in 1996 for the short story collection Ship Fever and Other Stories. She is a recipient of a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. Scientific discovery is a theme in several of Barrett's short stories, as well as in her 1998 novel The Voyage of the Narwhal. However, another type of discovery often takes place as her characters struggle to overcome unhappiness by coming to a better understanding of themselves and of life in general. Her other novels include Lucid Stars, Secret Harmonies, The Middle Kingdom, and The Forms of Water. Barrett also contributes short fiction to periodicals such as Mademoiselle and Prairie Schooner. Andrea Barrett resides in Rochester, New York.