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Rhys, Jean

ELAINE SAVORY


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Jean Rhys wrote five novels and many short stories, beginning her career at the height of early modernism. Each of her texts is finely crafted down to the punctuation, and though she was once separately categorized as a modernist (in the European sense), a Caribbean writer, and a woman writer, it is now generally realized that her extraordinary skill at fiction reflects all these identities. Her life spanned the turn of the century, World Wars I and II, the Depression, the ending of the British Empire, significant immigration from former colonies into Britain, feminism, the US Civil Rights movement, and Black Power. In her fiction, she used many of these as contexts for individual experience, and mined her own experience (colonial Caribbean origin, gender, decades of poverty and struggle). She was born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams in Dominica, in the Caribbean, in 1890, though she lied about her age to early critics, subtracting four years. Her father was Welsh, a doctor who took a colonial position in Dominica and married into a prominent family that had belonged to the planter-slave-owning oligarchy. She was always an outsider. She resented being the fairest among her siblings and that Gwendolen means white in Welsh. She was raised white, Anglican, and English speaking in a culture where the majority were of African descent, spoke French Creole, and were Catholic. There was a ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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