The Worlding of Jean Rhys

The Worlding of Jean Rhys

The Worlding of Jean Rhys

The Worlding of Jean Rhys

Synopsis

Best known as the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys continues to draw growing amounts of popular and scholarly attention. This book explores Rhys's sense of world, the cross-cultural and the international in her novels, stories, and autobiographical writing. The volume situates Rhys's writing in relation to the Dominican cultural production with which she was familiar, to Rhys's family's history on the island, and to European ethnographic discourses about white creole people. Special attention is given to the political and ethical locations of Rhys's authorial and narrative voices with respect to discourses of empire, gender, sex, race, class, ethnicity, and desire. The book demonstrates that an historical reading of Rhys's work poses questions for a number of current theoretical approaches.

Excerpt

"[T]o a certain extent, [Jean] Rhys functions as the archetypal post-colonial woman writer," comments Denise de Caires Narain in a review of Motherlands, a collection of scholarly essays on Black Women's Writing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia, in which Rhys "is discussed in detail in three of the essays and is cited extensively in other essays and in the introduction" (113). Rhys, a white Creole, a racial category with a specific historical provenance, was born Ella Gwendolen (or Gwendoline) Rees Williams in 1890 in Dominica (Wai'tukubuli, "tall is her body," in Carib), an island then a tropical colony of Britain, part of the Leeward Islands Federation. She was educated there at the Convent of the Faithful Virgin in Roseau, her birthplace, and sent to England in 1907 to continue her studies at the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge and very briefly at the Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In 1909, George Bancroft the academy's administrator, advised her father that her (Caribbean) accent needed to be "conquer[ed]," "overcome," for her to make a success of her training and a stage career (qtd. in Angier 49). Apart from one short return visit to Dominica in 1936, Rhys would live the rest of her long life--she died in 1979--as an expatriate, in a usually "cold, dreary and beastly" England (Rhys, Letters 247), and, during her marriage to Jean Lenglet, in continental Europe from 1919 to 1928. Rhys's Creole mother, Minna, was from the formerly slaveowning Lockhart family, holders of Geneva estate, described mordantly in the Dominican press in 1886 as "decayed" ([Davies], "Their Photographs" [2]). Her father, William Rees Williams, was a government medical officer, a Welsh settler. In a 1959 letter to Francis Wyndham, Rhys wrote, "As far as I know I am white--but I have no country really now" (Letters 172). Recently Helen Carr has suggested that "'homelessness' is the terrain of Rhys's fiction," "dealing as it does with those who belong nowhere, between cultures, between histories" (xiv).

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