24 August 1890|
Roseau, Dominica, British West Indies
|Died||14 May 1979
Exeter, Devon, England
|Occupation||Novelist, short story writer, essayist|
|Spouse(s)||Jean Lenglet (1919–1933)
Leslie Tilden-Smith (1934–1945)
Max Hamer (1947–1966)
|Children||A son and a daughter by Lenglet|
Jean Rhys (pron.: //), CBE (24 August 1890 – 14 May 1979), born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams, was a mid-20th-century novelist from Dominica. Educated from the age of 16 in Great Britain, she is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), written as a "prequel" to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Early life 
Rhys was educated at the Convent School and moved to England when she was sixteen, sent there to live with her aunt Clarice. She attended the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, where she was mocked because of her accent and as an outsider. She also spent two terms at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London in 1909. The instructors at RADA despaired of Rhys being able to speak what they considered "proper English" and advised her father to take her away. Unable to train as an actress and refusing to return to the Caribbean as her parents wished, she worked with varied success as a chorus girl, adopting the names Vivienne, Emma or Ella Gray.
After her father died in 1910, Rhys drifted into the demimonde. Having fallen in love with a wealthy stockbroker, Lancelot Grey Hugh ("Lancey") Smith (1870–1941), she became his mistress. Although Smith was a bachelor, he did not offer to marry Rhys and their affair ended within two years. He continued to be an occasional source of financial help. Distraught both by the end of the affair and by the experience of a near-fatal abortion (not Smith's child), Rhys began writing an account which became the basis of her novel Voyage In The Dark. In need of money, in 1913 she posed nude for an artist in Britain, probably Dublin-born William Orpen.
During World War I, Rhys served as a volunteer worker in a soldiers' canteen. In 1918 she worked in a pension office.
Marriage and family 
In 1919 Rhys married the French-Dutch journalist, spy and songwriter Willem Johan Marie (Jean) Lenglet, the first of her three husbands. She lived with him from 1920; they wandered through Europe, living mainly in London, Paris and Vienna. They had two children, a son who died young and a daughter. They divorced in 1933.
The next year she married Leslie Tilden-Smith, an editor. They moved to Devon in 1939, where she lived for many years. He died in 1945.
Two years later, in 1947 Rhys married Max Hamer, a solicitor and cousin to Tilden-Smith. He spent much of their marriage in jail having been convicted of fraud. He died in 1966.
Writing career 
In 1924 Rhys's work was introduced to the English writer Ford Madox Ford. They met in Paris, and Rhys thereafter wrote short stories under his patronage. Ford praised her "singular instinct for form" and recognised that her status as an exile gave her a unique viewpoint. "Coming from the West Indies, he declared, ‘with a terrifying insight and … passion for stating the case of the underdog, she has let her pen loose on the Left Banks of the Old World'." It was Ford who suggested that she change her name from Ella Williams to Jean Rhys. At that time her husband was in jail for eight months for what Rhys described as currency irregularities. Rhys moved in with Ford and his longtime partner, Stella Bowen. An affair with Ford quickly ensued, which, in fictionalised form, she later portrayed in her novel Quartet.
In Voyage in the Dark, published in 1934, she continued to portray the mistreated, rootless woman, in the shape of a young chorus girl who has grown up in the West Indies and now finds herself in England. In Good Morning, Midnight, published in 1939, Rhys used a modified stream of consciousness technique to portray the experiences of an aging woman.
In the 1940s, Rhys all but disappeared from public view, and lived from 1955 to 1960 in Bude in Cornwall (where she was unhappy, calling it 'Bude the Obscure'), before moving to Landboat Bungalows, Cheriton Fitzpaine, in Devon. After her absence from the public eye, she published Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966, after many years spent perfecting it. The book (begun while she was in Bude) won the prestigious WH Smith Literary Award the following year. Rhys returned again to themes of dominance and dependence, through the relationship between a self-assured European man and a powerless woman. Diana Athill of publishing house André Deutsch chose to publish Wide Sargasso Sea, and, together with the writer Francis Wyndham, she helped revive widespread interest in Rhys's work.
Later years 
Rhys remained characteristically unimpressed by her sudden, belated ascent to literary fame, commenting, 'It has come too late'. In a brief interview shortly before her death, Rhys questioned whether any novelist, not least herself, could ever be happy for any length of time. She said that: "If I could choose I would rather be happy than write.... If I could live my life all over again, and choose...". She died in Exeter on 14 May 1979 before completing her autobiography. In 1979, the incomplete text appeared posthumously under the title Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography.
Selected bibliography 
- The Left Bank and Other Stories, 1927
- Postures, 1928 (released as Quartet, 1929)
- After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, 1931
- Voyage in the Dark, 1934
- Good Morning, Midnight, 1939
- The Day They Burnt the Books, 1960
- Wide Sargasso Sea, 1966
- Tigers Are Better-Looking: With a Selection from 'The Left Bank' , 1968
- Penguin Modern Stories 1, 1969 (with others)
- My Day: Three Pieces, 1975
- Sleep It Off Lady, 1976
- Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography, 1979
- Jean Rhys Letters 1931–1966, 1984
- Early Novels, 1984
- The Complete Novels, 1985
- Tales of the Wide Caribbean, 1985
- The Collected Short Stories, 1987
- Let Them Call it Jazz
Rhys's collected papers and ephemera are housed in the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library.
- Modjeska, Drusilla (1999). Stravinsky's Lunch. Sydney: Picador. ISBN 0-330-36259-3.
- Carr, Helen (2004). "Williams, Ella Gwendoline Rees (1890–1979)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
- "Kent: From Maidstone Prison to the Wide Sargasso Sea!", Reading Detectives.
- Owen, Katie, "Introduction", Quartet, Penguin Modern Classics edition, Penguin, 2000, p. vi. ISBN 978-0-141-18392-3
- Anonymous preliminary page in Jean Rhys, Quartet, Penguin: 2000, ISBN 978-0-141-18392-3
- In Their Own Words: British Novelists. Ep. 1: Among the Ruins (1919–1939). British Broadcasting Company (2010).
- "RHYS, JEAN (1880-1979)". English Heritage. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
Further reading 
- Cheryl M. L. Dash, "Jean Rhys", in Bruce King, ed., West Indian Literature, Macmillan, 1979, pp. 196–209.
- Joseph, Margaret Paul, Caliban in Exile: The Outsider in Caribbean Fiction, Greenwood Press, 1992.
- Elizabeth Vreeland (Fall 1979). "Jean Rhys, The Art of Fiction No. 64". The Paris Review.
- Literary Encyclopedia biography
- Jean Rhys Biography page
- Jean Rhys bio, with particular reference to her time in Dominica
- "Jean Rhys Archive", University of Tulsa McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives