Duties Owed to God

  • Harold Orel
Part of the Studies in 20th Century Literature book series (STCL)


The luminous respect which Rebecca West pays to ideas has been an attractive element in her writings from the very beginning. It is difficult to remain unchallenged (or unamused) by her unorthodox perceptions, as when she identifies an economist as the modern counterpart of a fortune-teller or prophet, and an expert in psychological theory as the exorcist of our time. A clue to the unity which connects her diverse writings over a period of six decades exists in the oddity of her willingness to write, in the early 1930s, a monograph on one of the great Church Fathers, St Augustine, for a series of biographies sponsored by D. Appleton and Company in the United States. The Appleton Biographies included a number of studies by professional writers who proved to be good hands at publisher-inspired assignments: André Maurois on Voltaire, John Buchan on Julius Caesar, Laurence Binyon on Akbar, Sacheverell Sitwell on Mozart, Mona Wilson on Queen Elizabeth, A. E. Taylor on Socrates, Stephen Leacock on Mark Twain, Compton Mackenzie on Prince Charlie, and Arthur Bryant on Macaulay. Rebecca West has always enjoyed being in good company — the list is creditable, and the Appleton Biographies are worth reading to this day — but, more important, nothing in her previous feminist polemics, in The Return of the Soldier or The Judge (the former a recognisable ‘woman’s view’ of the First World War, the latter a strained application of Freudian insights to a mother’s relationship to two sons, argued at the expense of whatever charm and interest the characterisation of the heroine possessed before abstract formula took over), or in her reviews and literary letters, seemed to have pointed the way to this particular turn in her career.


Moral Courage Literary Achievement Professional Writer Religious Atmosphere Divine Perfection 


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  1. 26.
    This I Believe: The Living Philosophies of One Hundred Thoughtful Men and Women in All Walks of Life — As Written for and with a Foreword by Edward R. Murrow, ed. Edward P. Morgan (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952) p. 187. [Hereafter abbreviated as TIB.] Google Scholar

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© Harold Orel 1986

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  • Harold Orel

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