The Blue Hour: A Portrait of Jean Rhys, By Lilian Pizzichini
Sunday 09 May 2010
Jean Rhys's favourite perfume was named L'Heure Bleue, and this melancholic scent featured in her first novel, Quartet, worn by a brave young female, the heroine breathing in the scent, hoping that she can absorb some of her rival's self-possession. This atmospheric biography captures not only the scents, but also the textures and colours that filled the complex life of the novelist.
In her author's note, Lilian Pizzichini describes her gratitude to Carole Angier's 1991 biography, Jean Rhys: Life and Work, but explains that in The Blue Hour, she takes a different approach. Whereas Angier finally diagnosed Rhys as a "borderline personality", Pizzichini argues that Rhys was an unconventional woman tormented by her inability to conform. Rather than judge her, Pizzichini presents the facts gleaned from Rhys's writing to create an impression of what it might have been like to live that life.
Born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in 1890 in Dominica, Rhys was the descendant on her mother's side of a wealthy slave owner. Named after her two dead sisters, she felt like the ghost of those babies, and the pale, timid, languid child, known then as "Gwennie", felt like an outsider in her own family. Even as she made the long journey across the Sargasso Sea to Europe, she remained haunted by a sense of loss.
Rhys's earliest memory was of her mother bending over her crib, but this closeness was soon lost, and their ruptured mother-daughter relationship is well explored in this book as the root of the loneliness of both girl and woman.
Pizzichini conjures a childhood of fear (not only of lizards and cockroaches, but of abandonment) and an adulthood of failed marriages and books until her late triumph. And Pizzichini's greatest achievement is turning us from the problematic life to the powerful literature.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut