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I must write. If I stop writing my life will have been an abject failure. It is that already to other people. But it could be an abject failure to myself. I will not have earned death. -Jean Rhys

Brief Biography

Rhys began to write when the first of her three marriages broke up. She was in her thirties by then, and living in Paris, where she was encouraged by Ford Madox Ford, who also discovered D. H. Lawrence, to keep writing. Ford wrote an  introduction to her first book in 1927, a collection of stories called The Left Bank. This was followed by Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939). None of these books were very successful. Rhys was on hiatus and even thought to be dead until 1966 when she wrote the "prequel" to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Awards and Nominations
  • Winner of the WH Smith Literary Award in 1967, which brought Rhys to public attention after decades of obscurity.
  • Named by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.
  • Rated #94 on the list of Modern Library's 100 Best Novels
  • Winner of Cheltenham Booker Prize 2006 for year 1966.
Style

"Rhys often wrote about women-- in various stages of their lives  -- living hand to mouth in London or Paris. The women are always on the economic edge, needing money, receiving cash and clothes from men,  drinking, sitting in cafes, and  endlessly walking. The books  are very spare, stark,  unsentimental, and wonderful." -Wide Sargasso Sea. Introd. Francis Wyndham NY: Norton, 1982. Originally published in 1966

Jean's Similarities to Antoinette
  • White but not European or English
  • West Indian but not black
  • Taught the language and customs of a place she had never seen (England) while living and being shaped by the reality of the West Indies
  • A sense of belonging to the West Indies, charged with an awareness of being part of another (English) culture
  • The ambiguity of being both insider and outsider.
Interview with Jean Rhys

"Do you consider yourself a West Indian?" 
She shrugged.  "It was such a long time ago when I left."
"So you don't think of yourself as a West Indian writer?"
Again she shrugged, but said nothing. 
"What about English ?  Do you consider yourself an English writer?"
"No!  I'm not, I'm not!  I'm not even English."
"What about a French writer?"  I asked. 
Again she shrugged and said nothing. 
"You have no desire to go back to Dominca?"
"Sometimes," she said. 

David Plante.  "Jean Rhys: A Remembrance"(275-76). Gregg
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