Jean Rhys: Voyages in the Dark

Episode 44,   Jan 15, 2023, 08:30 AM

The writer Jean Rhys is best known for Wide Sargasso Sea, her haunting prequel to Jane Eyre, yet her own life would have made for an equally compelling novel.

Miranda Seymour, author of the definitive Jean Rhys biography I Used to Live Here Once, joins the Slightly Foxed team to follow Rhys’s often rackety life and shine light on her writing. Born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams on the island of Dominica, she dreamed of being an actress. And she did play many roles over the years: raconteur, recluse, wife (three times), grieving mother, enthusiastic drinker . . . But her most important role was that of a writer.

We begin in the Caribbean with Smile Please, Rhys’s unfinished autobiography of her early years, where we meet a white creole girl who feels like an outsider. This feeling lingers, whether she is living in squalid London, on Paris’s Left Bank or in rural Devon. The women in her novels feel it too: Anna adrift in London in Voyage in the Dark, Julia leaving Paris in After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Antoinette bound for Mr Rochester’s attic in Wide Sargasso Sea. The voice of Sacha rings out in a BBC radio play of Good Morning, Midnight many years after its publication, bringing Rhys into the spotlight. Embezzlement, incarcerations, fisticuffs in the street and an unsuccessful menage à trois all trouble her at times, yet she wins over many supporters along the way, among them the writer Ford Madox Ford, the editors Francis Wyndham and Diana Athill, and her loyal friend Sonia Orwell.

Then we’re back in Paris, browsing the shelves of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, and selecting some New Year reading recommendations – post-apocalyptic science fiction by John Christopher, travels Along the Enchanted Way in Romania, and the artistic life of Alison vividly told in words and pictures by Lizzy Stewart.

Books Mentioned
We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

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Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

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