Jean Rhys Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his introduction to The Left Bank by Jean Rhys (rees), Ford Madox Ford captured the essence of all Rhys’s work when he wrote that she had a “passion for stating the case of the underdog.” Rhys was born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams in Roseau, in the West Indies, on August 24, 1894. Rhys’s mother, Minna Lockhart, was a white West Indian whose grandfather had been a Dominican slaveholder. Rhys’s empathy for outcasts appears to have originated in her childhood. First, the young Rhys was aware of the tense relationship between blacks and whites in Dominica and of the disesteemed position that her great-grandfather had held. Her complicated feelings about her own relationships with blacks resulted in the creation of fictional relationships such as that between Anna and her black nurse, Francine, in Voyage in the Dark. Second, like Julie in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, Rhys believed that her mother preferred Rhys’s younger sister. She remembered her father, a doctor, however, as acting caring toward her. Another event which had a tragic effect upon Rhys was her molestation as a young girl, an episode which she fictionalized in the short story “Good-bye Marcus, Good-bye Rose.” Finally, even though her family was Anglican, Rhys was also influenced by Catholicism, as she was sent to a convent for schooling.{$S[A]Williams, Ella Gwendolen Rees;Rhys, Jean}

In 1907 Rhys left Dominica for England and eventually became a chorus girl. She stopped acting when she had her first love affair. Devastated when the relationship ended, Rhys found solace in keeping a diary, which later became the basis for Voyage in the Dark. In 1919 she married Jean Lenglet, a Dutch-French journalist, and they moved to Paris. In 1923 Rhys met writer and editor Ford Madox Ford, who created her pen name, Jean Rhys. Rhys’s first published story, “Vienne,” appeared in Ford’s magazine, The Transatlantic Review, in December, 1924. Meanwhile, Rhys’s husband was convicted of illegal entry into France, and during his imprisonment, Rhys became Ford’s lover. When her affair with Ford ended, Rhys began the novel Postures, a fictionalized account of her relationship with Ford. This first novel, published in 1928, is viewed by many critics as Rhys’s most unsuccessful work because she failed to achieve authorial objectivity. Rhys returned to...

(The entire section is 974 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams on August 24, 1894, in Roseau, Dominica Island, in the West Indies. Her father was a Welsh doctor, and her mother a white Creole (a native West Indian of European ancestry). In 1910, she was sent to England to live with an aunt in Cambridge, and she later studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. When her father died, she was forced to make her living as a chorus girl in touring musical companies. In 1919, she married a French-Dutch poet and journalist and went to live on the Continent, where the couple led a bohemian life. The marriage ended in divorce in 1927. In 1938, she married again and settled in Cornwall, England. Following her second husband’s death in 1945, she married for the third time in 1946. Her literary career flourished moderately in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, but she disappeared entirely from the literary scene during World War II and did not reappear until 1958, when the BBC adapted Good Morning, Midnight for radio. Encouraged by the new interest in her work, she began writing again, and her reputation was still growing at her death in 1979, at the age of eighty-four.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams in the West Indies on the island of Dominica in 1894, the daughter of a Welsh father and a part-Creole mother. English society classified her as “colored.” Her childhood associates were often Creole, and she was surrounded by ideas peculiar to their culture, such as voodoo and witchcraft. At the same time, she attended a convent school and seriously considered the life of a nun. The colonial mentality was strong in Dominica, and the “proper” role for a well-bred young woman was sharply defined: passive, obedient, submissive.

In 1910, Rhys left Dominica and went to live in Cambridge, England, with her aunt, Clarice Rhys Williams. After a short term in a local school, she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Her father died soon after she arrived in England, and she found herself short of money. The transition from the West Indies to England must have been extremely painful for the sixteen-year-old girl: the climate harsh, the people cold, the social and economic situation threatening. Those who knew her as a young woman testified that she was strikingly beautiful. After a term at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she toured as a minor actor or chorus girl with provincial theater troupes and did modeling. A young woman alone under these circumstances would have seen at first hand how male dominance and financial control in British society combined to exploit the female. Many of Rhys’s stories and novels reflect scenes from her career on the stage, and most of them hinge on the theme of male exploitation of women through...

(The entire section is 658 words.)