Jean Rhys, Paul Theroux, and the Imperial Road

By O'Connor, Teresa F. | Twentieth Century Literature, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

Jean Rhys, Paul Theroux, and the Imperial Road

O'Connor, Teresa F., Twentieth Century Literature

Toward the end of her life Jean Rhys offered many of the private papers and manuscripts still in her possession for sale through the booksellers Bertram Rota, Ltd. Their catalogue listed an unpublished story, "The Imperial Road," with the notation: "Miss Rhys has stated that her publishers declined to include this story in Sleep It Off, Lady, considering it to be too anti-negro in tone" (7). The story was never published and its major components never appeared in any of Rhys's other work.(1) Though I was familiar with the manuscript, two stories in Paul Theroux's collection World's End spurred my interest in a closer reading of Rhys's unpublished one.

World's End contains two consecutive and connected pieces: the first, "Zombies," is clearly a portrait of the elderly Jean Rhys and refers to the reasons why "The Imperial Road" was not published. Theroux's second story, "The Imperial Ice House," renders a variant of Rhys's "The Imperial Road," thereby tendering a further subtextual comment on its rejection by her publishers.

In "Zombies" Miss Bristow, an aged writer originally from the island of "Isabella," lives in exile in England. She is courted by the literati who have recently rediscovered her and her work after a long disappearance. ("She knew the talk that people believed she had been dead for years. . . . She could not remember when people had listened to her so keenly. She began to write again" |27~.) "Zombies" is related from the point of view of Miss Bristow, a fragile and fearful alcoholic. From her profession and history to her posture and presence, Miss Bristow immediately calls to mind Jean Rhys.

At a party Miss Bristow meets Philippa, a young editor from Howlett's, her publishing house. Philippa, who is "bright and dull" and who never fully understands Miss Bristow's sarcasm and irony, is anxious to please the now famous writer and to do well at the publishing house. Toward the end of the story, it is Philippa's job to report to Miss Bristow that Howlett's will not publish "the icehouse story" in Miss Bristow's forthcoming collection. As Philippa haltingly tells her this, Miss Bristow reflects on the volume as "an old woman's book, rather a monochrome, all memory, without adornment or invention" (36)--a suitable description of Sleep It Off, Lady, Rhys's last book of fiction. Though Philippa tells Miss Bristow that the story is "easily one of the best-written things" she's done, she finally agrees with her superiors, who will not publish it because "It's anti-Negro."

I had no doubt that Miss Bristow and her story were based on Jean Rhys and her experience with the publication history of "The Imperial Road." It also seemed likely that there might be a connection, in either style or content, between the second Theroux story, "The Imperial Ice House," and Rhys's unpublished one. Certainly their titles were similar. A comparison of the Rhys manuscript and Theroux's story suggest no strong stylistic relationship but there certainly are thematic connections.

"The Imperial Ice House" is about a white newcomer to a Caribbean Island who, unaccustomed to the realities of life there, decides one day to haul a cart containing a large block of ice back to his plantation using the labor of three of his black workers. The ice melts; the cart, under its great burden, begins to break; the horse resists; and the black workers, first cajoled and then threatened by the planter finally, under the hot sun, on the lonely difficult road to the plantation, murder the planter with the icepick.

I was curious to know whether Theroux had ever seen Rhys's story or whether Rhys had seen Theroux's. And, even if Rhys was not aware of Theroux's reference to her and her work, I was interested in the underlying significance of this literary alliance, particularly because Jean Rhys, as a person and as a writer, seems to have attracted other writers who use elements of her personality and history as the bases for characters in their own fiction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Jean Rhys, Paul Theroux, and the Imperial Road


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.