Jean Rhys is, of course, best known for Wide Sargasso Sea, her imagining of the life of Mrs. Rochester, the “madwoman in the attic” in Jane Eyre. She was born on the island of Dominica in the British West Indies, and it was not until she wrote a book set in the Caribbean that she gained renown as a writer.
Because of problems with her mother, Jean was sent to England when she was 16 to live with an aunt. In a girls school there, she faced bullying because she was such an outsider. She wanted to become an actress and joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but was unable to get parts because of her accent and ended up as a chorus girl. For a while she adopted a bohemian life, becoming the mistress of a wealthy man and working as a nude model. Distraught after an abortion, she wrote her first book, Voyage in the Dark.
Rhys’s writing career gained traction after she met the writer Ford Madox Ford, who recognized that she had an unusual viewpoint. She wrote mostly works about mistreated women using a modified stream of consciousness technique.
In the 1940’s Rhys disappeared from public life for some years, taking up residence in Cornwall and writing nothing. She finally published Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966. This book earned a prestigious literary award and much acclaim. In 1978, she received the Order of the British Empire.
Most popular work: Wide Sargasso Sea
Other works: The Left Bank and Other Stories; After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie; Good Morning , Midnight; Voyage in the Dark; Sleep It Off, Lady