Ella Gwendolen Rhys (rees)Williams was born in Roseau, Dominica, the West Indies, on August 24, 1894 (some authorities say 1890 because Rhys was not always truthful about her age); she was one of five children born to Dr. William Rhys, a Welsh doctor trained in London, and Minna Lockhart Williams, a third-generation Dominican Creole. Despite being one of five children, she spent a rather lonely childhood, according to her book Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography (1979). She attended school at The Convent, Roseau. At the Catholic convent school, Rhys experienced what she described in Smile Please as a “religious fit.” She was fascinated by the rituals of Catholicism and wished for a while to convert from Anglicanism. Another appeal of Catholicism was the integration of blacks and whites in the church service. Her attraction to the rituals of Catholicism and the island magic of the blacks is reflected in her work.
In 1910, she emigrated to England to study acting for one term at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After leaving drama school, she toured England as a chorus girl in a musical comedy during World War I. In 1919, she married Jean Lenglet, a French Dutch songwriter and journalist, and went to live on the European continent. Her daughter Maryvonne was born in Brussels in 1922. In 1927 she divorced Lenglet and returned to England. In 1936, Rhys and Leslie Tilden-Smith visited Dominica, the only time she returned to her homeland. She married Tilden-Smith, a publisher’s reader, in 1938, and the couple settled in Cornwall, England....
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