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Rhys, Jean

life marya born sea

(Caribbean/British, 1890–1979)

Jean Rhys was born to a Creole mother and a Welsh-born doctor on the island of Dominica. This inheritance gave her the sense of being a permanent outsider and led her to partially identify with the internally divided, black community of her childhood. Her early novel, and perhaps the best work to start with, is Quartet (1928) which describes how Marya Zelli, attractive and vulnerable, meets and marries an older Polish man. When he is arrested, Marya drifts around Paris to be taken up by an English couple. Marya is a jazz-age flapper poisoned by the exigencies of life itself. Rhys once said ‘I only ever write about myself’, and two other novels of this period, Good Morning, Midnight (1939), and Voyage in the Dark (1934), both deal with disorientation and dispossession of women. In the first, the heroine reviews her life from the safety of retreating to Paris. In the latter, the 19-year-old Anna Morgan leaves Dominica and tries to come to terms with her life in England. Rhys's most famous novel is Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a retelling of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre from the perspective of Rochester's first wife, Bertha. Rhys's Bertha becomes the focus of unbearable cultural tensions and the book is therefore a critique of the way colonialism devastates the values and traditions of the cultures it invades. Wide Sargasso Sea is compelling and deeply moving.

Jamaica Kincaid, Anita Desai.

See CARIBBEAN  LM

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