I Used To Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys

Norton. Jun. 2022. 416p. ISBN 9781324006121. $32.50. LIT
Jean Rhys is best known as the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, a 1966 prequel of sorts to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, in which Rhys used her deep knowledge of Caribbean life and culture to create a backstory for the “madwoman” in the attic, Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Bertha. Seymour (Mary Shelley) shares her prodigious research into the writing of Wide Sargasso Sea, along with Rhys’s other novels and short stories, as she explores Rhys’s eventful and chaotic life. Rhys was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, where she lived for her first 16 years before moving to England. Failing as an actress, Rhys turned to writing, where she had some success but remained relatively unknown for many years until her works began to be adapted for radio. Beyond her literary career, Rhys’s life was also punctuated by heavy drinking, periodic mental breakdowns, many marriages, and heavy reliance on friends and family for financial support. Following a strict chronological approach to Rhys’s life, Seymour effectively connects events in Rhys’s life with the plots and characters of her novels and short stories.
VERDICT A deeply researched and insightful exploration of one of the 20th century’s lesser known authors.
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