The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys

Claudia Fitzherbert at Literary Review:

In 1974, at the age of eighty-four, Jean Rhys was asked in a television interview whether she would prefer to write or be happy were she to live her life over again. ‘Oh, happiness!’ she replied without missing a beat.

Rhys had been channelling unhappiness since the publication of her first volume of short stories in 1927. The four novels she published before the war chart journeys that go from bad to worse for heroines who end up alone in dreary hotel rooms. Ford Madox Ford, her much older mentor and unfaithful lover, said she had a ‘terrific – an almost lurid! – passion for stating the case of the underdog’ as well as a ‘singular instinct for form’. The novels are spare, witty and completely unsentimental. Her protagonists sometimes dwell on who they were or might have been if their looks hadn’t faded or their lovers had been kinder or their babies hadn’t died. Their creator never falters in her acknowledgement that they are who they’ve become.

more here.