JEAN RHYS by Carole Angier


Life and Work
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 This detailed study of the author of Quartet and Wide Sargasso Sea seems not so much a biography as a collection of annotated note cards and unedited lecture notes. Rhys, born in 1890 in Dominica, the West Indies, had a Welsh father and a mother who was a Dominican Creole. The Creole influence would pervade her life and writing. At the age of 17, Rhys left Dominica to go to England, where she tried several careers--actor, chorus girl, artist's model--before she started to write. Her familiarity with the seedy side of London life is evident in her novels, many of which have the repeated theme of the helpless female, victimized by her dependence on a man for support and protection. Rhys had numerous love affairs throughout her long life; even at age 80, she enjoyed flirting with critic Alfred Alvarez, whose article about her in The New York Times Book Review on March 17, 1974, ``The Best Living English Novelist,'' made Rhys, briefly, a best seller. After several early novels such as After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931) and Voyage in the Dark (1935), she stopped writing. Then she published Wide Sargasso Sea (1967), her story of the first marriage of Mr. Rochester of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Many of Rhys's novels have autobiographical origins, and Angier, an English writer and teacher, seems determined to connect every inhalation in Rhys's life with an exhalation in one of her novels. Thus, the reader stumbles through explanatory parentheses (as many as six a page), interspersed with speculative phrases (``I think''; ``Did she know? I doubt very much''; ``Would she have? Surely not''). Perhaps Angier's exhaustive but unsorted research will be of value to some future biographer who will do justice to Rhys, a fine writer.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-316-04263-3
Page count: 776pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991


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