Jean Rhys and Mollie Stoner in the 1970s
|Born||24 August 1890|
Roseau, Dominica, British West Indies
|Died||14 May 1979 88) (aged|
Exeter, Devon, England
|Occupation||novelist, short story writer, essayist|
Jean Rhys, CBE ( // ; born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams (24 August 1890 – 14 May 1979), was a mid-20th-century novelist who was born and grew up in the Caribbean island of Dominica. From the age of 16, she was mainly resident in England, where she was sent for her education. She is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), written as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre . In 1978 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her writing.
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.
Dominica, officially the Commonwealth of Dominica, is an island country in the West Indies. The capital, Roseau, is located on the western side of the island. It is part of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. The island is located near Guadeloupe to the northwest and Martinique to the south-southeast. Its area is 750 km2 (290 sq mi), and the highest point is Morne Diablotins, at 1,447 m (4,747 ft) in elevation. The population was 71,293 at the 2011 census.
Wide Sargasso Sea is a 1966 novel by Dominica-born British author Jean Rhys. It is a feminist and anti-colonial response to Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre (1847), describing the background to Mr Rochester's marriage from the point-of-view of his mad wife Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress. Antoinette Cosway is Rhys' version of Brontë's devilish "madwoman in the attic". Antoinette's story is told from the time of her youth in Jamaica, to her unhappy marriage to a certain unnamed English gentleman, who renames her Bertha, declares her mad, and takes her to England. Antoinette is caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she fully belongs neither to Europe nor to Jamaica. Wide Sargasso Sea explores the power of relationships between men and women and develops postcolonial themes, such as racism, displacement, and assimilation.
Rhys was born in Roseau, the capital of Dominica, an island in the British West Indies. Her father, William Rees Williams, was a Welsh doctor and her mother, Minna Williams, née Lockhart, was a third-generation Dominican Creole of Scots ancestry. ("Creole" was broadly used in those times to refer to any person born on the island, whether they were of European or African descent, or both.) She had a brother. Her mother's family had an estate, a former plantation, on the island.
Roseau is the capital and largest city of Dominica, with a population of 14,725 as of 2011. It is a small and compact urban settlement, in the Saint George parish and surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Roseau River and Morne Bruce. Built on the site of the ancient Island Carib village of Sairi, it is the oldest and most important urban settlement on the island of Dominica.
Rhys was educated in Dominica until the age of 16, when she was sent to England to live with an aunt, as her relations with her mother were difficult. She attended the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge,where she was mocked as an outsider and for her accent. She attended two terms at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London by 1909. Her instructors despaired of her ever learning to speak "proper English" and advised her father to take her away. Unable to train as an actress and refusing to return to the Caribbean as her parents wished, Williams worked with varied success as a chorus girl, adopting the names Vivienne, Emma or Ella Gray. She toured Britain's small towns and returned to rooming or boarding houses in rundown neighborhoods of London.
The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) is a drama school in London, England that provides training for film, television and theatre. It is one of the oldest drama schools in the United Kingdom, founded in 1904 by Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
After her father died in 1910, Rhys appeared to have experimented with living as a demimondaine. She became the mistress of a wealthy stockbroker, Lancelot Grey Hugh ("Lancey") Smith. Though he was a bachelor, Smith did not offer to marry Rhys, and their affair soon ended. However, he continued to be an occasional source of financial help. Distraught by events, including a near-fatal abortion (not Smith's child), Rhys began writing and produced an early version of her novel Voyage in the Dark.In 1913 she worked for a time in London as a nude model.
Demi-monde refers to a group of people who live hedonistic lifestyles, usually in a flagrant and conspicuous manner. The term was commonly used in Europe from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, and contemporary use has an anachronistic character. Its connotations of pleasure-seeking often contrasted with wealth and ruling class behavior.
During the First World War, Rhys served as a volunteer worker in a soldiers' canteen. In 1918 she worked in a pension office.
In 1919 Rhys married Willem Johan Marie (Jean) Lenglet, a French-Dutch journalist, spy, and songwriter. He was the first of her three husbands.She and Lenglet wandered through Europe. They had two children, a son who died young and a daughter. They divorced in 1933, and her daughter lived mostly with her father.
The next year Rhys married Leslie Tilden-Smith, an English editor. In 1930 they went briefly to Dominica, the first time Rhys had returned since she had left for school. She found her family estate deteriorating and island conditions less agreeable. Her brother Oscar was living in England, and she took care of some financial affairs for him, making a settlement with an island mixed-race woman and Oscar's illegitimate children by her.
In 1937 Rhys began a friendship with novelist Eliot Bliss (who had taken her first name in honour of two authors she admired). The two women shared Caribbean backgrounds. The correspondence between them survives.
In 1939 Rhys and Tilden-Smith moved to Devon, where they lived for several years. He died in 1945. In 1947 Rhys married Max Hamer, a solicitor who was a cousin of Tilden-Smith. He was convicted of fraud and imprisoned after their marriage.He died in 1966.
In 1924 Rhys came under the influence of the English writer Ford Madox Ford. After she met Ford in Paris, Rhys wrote short stories under his patronage. Ford recognised that her experience as an exile gave Rhys a unique viewpoint, and he praised her "singular instinct for form". "Coming from the West Indies, he declared, 'with a terrifying insight and... passion for stating the case of the underdog, she has let her pen loose on the Left Banks of the Old World'."It was Ford who suggested that she change her name to Jean Rhys (from Ella Williams). At the time her husband was in jail for what Rhys described as currency irregularities.
Rhys moved in with Ford and his long-time partner, Stella Bowen. An affair with Ford ensued, which she portrayed in fictionalised form in her novel Quartet.
With Voyage in the Dark (1934) Rhys continued to portray a mistreated, rootless woman. Here her protagonist is a young chorus girl who grew up in the West Indies and feels alienated in England. In Good Morning, Midnight published in 1939, Rhys uses modified stream of consciousness to voice the experiences of an ageing woman.
In the 1940s Rhys largely withdrew from public life. From 1955 to 1960 she lived in Bude in Cornwall, where she was unhappy, calling it "Bude the Obscure", before moving to Cheriton Fitzpaine in Devon.
After a long absence from the public eye she was rediscovered by Selma Vaz Dias, who in 1949 placed an advertisement in the New Statesman asking about her whereabouts with a view to obtaining the rights to adapt her novel Good Morning Midnight for radio. Rhys responded, and thereafter developed a long-lasting and collaborative friendship with Vaz Dias, who encouraged her to start writing again. This encouragement ultimately lead to the publication in 1966 of her critically acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea . She intended it as the account of the woman whom Rochester married and kept in his attic in Jane Eyre . Begun well before she settled in Bude, the book won the prestigious WH Smith Literary Award in 1967. She returned to themes of dominance and dependence, especially in marriage, depicting the mutually painful relationship between a privileged English man and a Creole woman from Dominica made powerless on being duped and coerced by him and others. Both the man and woman enter into marriage under mistaken assumptions about the other. Her female lead marries Mr Rochester and deteriorates in England as the "madwoman in the attic". Rhys portrays this woman from quite a different perspective from that drawn in Jane Eyre. Diana Athill of the publishing house André Deutsch gambled on publishing Wide Sargasso Sea; she and the writer Francis Wyndham helped to revive interest in Rhys's work.
From 1960, and for the rest of her life, Rhys lived in Cheriton Fitzpaine, a small village in Devon that she once described as "a dull spot which even drink can't enliven much."She characteristically remained unimpressed by her belated ascent to literary fame, commenting, "It has come too late." In an interview shortly before her death she questioned whether any novelist, not least herself, could ever be happy for any length of time: "If I could choose I would rather be happy than write... if I could live my life all over again, and choose...".
Jean Rhys died in Exeter on 14 May 1979, at the age of 88, before completing her autobiography, which she had begun dictating only months earlier.In 1979 the incomplete text was published posthumously under the title Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography.
Jean Rhys was appointed a CBE in the 1978 New Year Honours. In 2012 English Heritage marked her Chelsea flat at Paulton House in Paultons Square with a blue plaque.
Rhys's collected papers and ephemera are housed in the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library.
The Sargasso Sea is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean bounded by four currents forming an ocean gyre. Unlike all other regions called seas, it has no land boundaries. It is distinguished from other parts of the Atlantic Ocean by its characteristic brown Sargassum seaweed and often calm blue water.
Nana is a novel by the French naturalist author Émile Zola. Completed in 1880, Nana is the ninth installment in the 20-volume Les Rougon-Macquart series.
A Caribbean Mystery is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 16 November 1964 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at sixteen shillings (16/-) and the US edition at $4.50. It features the detective Miss Marple.
Karina Lombard is a French-American actress and singer. She has appeared in projects such as the Showtime series The L Word, The 4400, Rescue Me, and Legends of the Fall.
Caribbean literature is the term generally accepted for the literature of the various territories of the Caribbean region. Literature in English specifically from the former British West Indies may be referred to as Anglo-Caribbean or, in historical contexts, West Indian literature, although in modern contexts the latter term is rare.
Honor Maria Ford-Smith is a Jamaican actress, playwright, scholar, and poet. The daughter of a brown Jamaican mother and an English father, Ford-Smith is sometimes described as "Jamaica white," signalling a person of mixed race who appears white.
Phyllis Byam Shand Allfrey was a West Indian writer, socialist activist, newspaper editor and politician of the island of Dominica in the Caribbean. She is best known for her first novel, The Orchid House (1953), based on her own early life, which in 1991 was turned into a Channel 4 television miniseries in the United Kingdom.
The Orchid House was a book published in 1953, and the only novel written by Dominican writer Phyllis Shand Allfrey. It is considered "a pioneering work of Caribbean literature". The Orchid House is a fictionalized account of Allfrey's early life, narrated by an old Black nurse Lally from Montserrat. It was turned into a highly acclaimed film for British television.
Jamaican literature is internationally renowned, with the island of Jamaica being the home or birthplace of many important authors. One of the most distinctive aspects of Jamaican literature is its use of the local dialect — a variation of English, the country's official language. Known to Jamaicans as "patois", and now sometimes described as "nation language", this creole has become an important element in Jamaican fiction, poetry and theater.
Wide Sargasso Sea is a 1993 Australian film directed by John Duigan and starring Karina Lombard and Nathaniel Parker. It is an adaptation of Jean Rhys's 1966 novel of the same name.
Marie-Elena John is a Caribbean writer whose first novel, Unburnable, was published in 2006.
Unburnable is a 2006 novel written by Antiguan author Marie-Elena John and published by HarperCollins/Amistad. It is John's debut novel. Part historical fiction, murder mystery, and neo-slave narrative, Unburnable is a multi-generational saga that follows the African Diaspora in the United States and the Caribbean, offering a reinterpretation of black history. John was an Africa Development specialist in New York City and Washington, D.C. prior to turning to writing.
The soucouyant or soucriant in Dominica, St. Lucian, Trinidadian, Guadeloupean folklore in Haiti, Louisiana, Grenada and elsewhere in the Caribbean or Ole-Higue in Guyana and Jamaica or Asema in Suriname), in The Bahamas it is known as Hag. It is a kind of blood-sucking hag.
Good Morning, Midnight is a 1939 modernist novel by the author Jean Rhys. Often considered a continuation of Rhys' three other early novels, Quartet (1928), After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930) and Voyage in the Dark (1934), it is experimental in design and deals with a woman's feelings of vulnerability, depression, loneliness and desperation during the years between the two World Wars. The book initially sold poorly—critics thought it well written, but too depressing—and after its publication Rhys spent a decade living in obscurity. It was not until it was adapted by Selma Vaz Dias into a radio play, first broadcast by the BBC in 1957, that Rhys was once again put into the spotlight.
Bertha Mason is a fictional character in Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel Jane Eyre. She is described as the violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester, who moved her to Thornfield Hall and locked her in a room on the third floor.
The W. H. Heinemann Award is an award established by William Heinemann who bequeathed funds to the Royal Society of Literature to establish a literary prize, given from 1945 to 2003.
Rukhsana Ahmad is a Pakistani writer of novels, short stories, poetry, plays, and a translator, who after marriage migrated to England for further studies and pursue a career in writing. She has campaigned for Asian writers, particularly women.