Jean Rhys's Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole

Jean Rhys's Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole

Jean Rhys's Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole

Jean Rhys's Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole


As the foremost white West Indian writer of this century and author of the widely acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (1890-1979) has attracted much critical attention, most often from the perspective of gender analysis. Veronica Gregg extends our critical appreciation of Rhys by analyzing the complex relationship between Rhys's identity and the structures of her fiction, and she reveals the ways in which this relationship is connected to the history of British colonization of the West Indies.

Gregg focuses on Rhys as a writer a Creole woman analyzing the question of identity through literary investigations of race, gender, and colonialism. Arguing that history itself can be a site where different narratives collide and compete, she explores Rhys's rewriting of the historical discourses of the West Indies and of European canonical texts, such as Rhys's treatment of Jane Eyre in Wide Sargasso Sea. Gregg's analysis also reveals the precision with which Rhys crafted her work and her preoccupation with writing as performance.


Some of the key terms that are used in this book have somewhat different connotations in United States, as opposed to British or Caribbean English usage. I wish to briefly clarify these. The term Creole, to refer to a person, is a descendant of European settlers born or living for an extended period in the West Indies or Central or South America. Metropolitan, metropole, metropolis, in the specific context of colonialism, refer to the colonizing European powers, the "mother countries" as distinct from the colonies or the so-called periphery. The racial typology "black" as used by Jean Rhys herself and many pre-twentieth-century writers on the West Indies refers to people of predominantly or exclusively African ancestry. People of mixed race (black and white) are sometimes referred to as "coloureds" or "mulattoes." This distinction is crucial.

The list of people who deserve my gratitude is a long one. I should like to acknowledge in particular the support extended to me, especially during some difficult periods, by my thesis supervisor at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England, C. L. Innes. My senior colleagues at the University of Michigan also offered invaluable assistance and support. Early versions of some chapters were read and commented on by Ross Chambers, the Marvin Felheim Distinguished University Professor of French and Comparative Literature, and by Simon Gikandi of the English Department. My former chair, Robert Weisbuch, gave me tremendous support. My Caribbean women colleagues, Natasha Barnes, Cecelia Green, and Verene Shepherd, shared with unbounded generosity the fruits of their own research, for which I am deeply grateful.

I also wish to thank the editor-in-chief of the University of North Carolina Press, Barbara Hanrahan, for her kindness, patience, and support.

I follow in the footsteps of many West Indian scholars, writers, and professors whose pioneering endeavors encouraged and created a space for my own. Among these I must single out the work of Sylvia Wynter. The moral and intellectual example of her body of work has been a major in-

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