Jean Rhys (rēs), pseud. of Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams, 1894–1979, English novelist, b. Dominica. Her novels written in the 1930s mercilessly exploit her own emotional life, depicting pretty, no-longer-young women who find themselves down and out in large European cities. Without work or funds, her characters must depend on men, chance encounters, or former lovers, for money to buy a hotel room, a drink, a pair of gloves. Rhys's vision is uncompromising and her literary style is spare. These early works include Quartet (1929), After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), and Good Morning, Midnight (1938). After a long retirement she published her masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which drew equally on her own Caribbean childhood and on a reimagining of Charlotte Brönte's Jane Eyre from the perspective of Rochester's mad West Indian wife. It was followed by three short-story collections and Smile Please (1979), the first volume of an autobiography.
See biographies by C. Angier (1990) and L. Pizzichini (2009); F. Wyndham and D. Melly, ed., The Letters of Jean Rhys (1984); studies by T. Staley (1979), P. Wolfe (1980), D. Plante (1983), T. F. O'Connor (1986), N. R. Harrison (1988), M. L. Emery (1990), P. M. Frickey, ed. (1990), P. Le Gallez (1990), C. A. and D. Malcolm (1996), S. Sternlicht (1997), S. Maurel (1998), E. Savory (1998), S. Thomas (1999), C. Dell'Amico (2005), A. B. Simpson (2005), and C. Maslen (2009).