After a far too long hiatus I am back. I’ll just say life. It reminds me of a postcard I received as a child, from a dear older friend of the family who we always call auntie Gladys. The postcard was from Wales and called the Ups and Downs. Little caricature type people going up and down the mountains of Wales; which made me think of life, the ups and downs. But I digress.
I have been reading, I never stop reading. I rush into my local library and usually go no further than the newly published book section right at the front; which is were I picked up ‘The Blue Hour.’ I can’t say that I knew who Jean Rhys was until it mentioned in the fly leaf that she had written ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, not that I knew what it was about but the title rang a bell.
I don’t know about you but I like to read biographies, and this one proved to be quite interesting, evoking a whole era. Rhys was born in 1890 in the island of Dominica, I thought I knew all the Caribbean islands, but I kept thinking of the Dominican Republic; which I knew could not be right, so I looked it up on the map. I have to visualize geographic place and time in history. Rhys father was a Welsh physician and her mother of Creole-Scottish descent.
Her childhood was isolated, living on a small island of lush green tropical foliage, humming background of insects and bursting strong colours. At seventeen as was the done thing for families of her socio-economic background, she was sent to England for finishing-off, this would have been around 1907. To a small girls boarding school in Cambridge. Can you imagine the contrast. I don’t think she ever felt warm again, cast across the Sargasso Sea to grey, rainy England. She lasted about a year, flung herself into the London chorus line show girl and making money as an artists’ model. From where fate led her to married men and what they could give her. Betrayed by love, she falls into marriage and life in the Paris of the 1920s. Sinking deeper and deeper into her drinking and paranoia, burying one child and abandoning another, her therapy seems to be her writing. Her life is written into a series of novels. It’s as if she can totally recall whole scenes and conversations that happened to her and put them right down in the sentences of a book
Rhys had two more failed marriages and an affair with Madox Ford; during this time she wrote five novels. Her affair with Ford ended, but through him she was able to secure an introduction to his publisher in 1927. Who published her first collection of short stories. The trajectory of her life rose and fell into obscurity, living in a boarding house in Cornwall. Then in 1957 the BBC aired a presentation of her 1939 Novel, ‘Good Morning, Midnight.’ Most people had forgotten her and even wondered that she was alive.
In 1978 she received the CBE, a year before she died. Rhys said that this had all come too late in her life.
Although she looked backed on her childhood with clouded, rose coloured glasses, you feel that it was her life here where the root was of her despair and aspirations, never fitting in, always on the periphery looking in. Just her heritage of knowing she was part Creole, gave her discomfort. I think that this is hard to understand in Europe, but if one has ever been down to the southern states of the USA, you will have somewhat of an understanding of what even a taint of Creole means. Even the definition of Creole is ambiguous, there are soo many definitions. In Rhys’s case it was very distant, a great, great grandmother from Cuba on her mother’s Scottish side. Take this along with the sugar plantations, slavery and superstitious customs, of black magic. Along with black nanny’s who terrorized her with voodoo like haunting, and a long term abuse from an elderly man. One might see why her life never came to be what she longed for.
It seemed she longed for money and the perceived security that money brings, along with love and being looked after, but always sabotaged it, by her shadier longings for all the things that would destroy that. She never found the Lord to marry while working in the chorus line, although two of her chorus line companions did, both becoming Lady so-and so. Her looks left her as she aged, but she still found two men to marry and put up with her extreme mood swings, bordering on manic. Rhys was right the CBE came too late to make the difference she would have revelled in when younger.
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is based on Bertha Rochester’s life, of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, fame. In fact she had in mind to write this book for decades before she actually did. Rhys knew what life was like being brought up on a Caribbean Island, visiting her grandfather’s sugar plantation, and she wove this into her story of how Bertha Rochester came to be locked up as a madwoman.
I do want to read some of her books. But I feel that they will be dark. The Blue Hour is well written. The title refers to twilight time of day in Paris, that Rhys referred to and the French called L’heure Bleue or The Blue Hour