#ReadingRhys – a round-up and a few closing thoughts

Well, what a busy week it’s been for #ReadingRhys! When I canvassed interest in the concept of a Jean Rhys Reading Week earlier this year, I had no idea that it would gather quite so much momentum in such a short space of time. It’s been truly wonderful to see the level of interest in reading Rhys’ work both amongst new readers and those already familiar with her unique style.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Eric at Lonesome Reader for being such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable co-host for the week – his insights into Jean Rhys and her work have been truly enlightening. Thanks also to Poppy at poppy peacock pens and Margaret at New Edition for taking a lead in reviewing and contributing to the discussions on a few of Rhys’ books as part of the week. Do visit their blogs if you haven’t done so already as they’re definitely worth a look. Thanks to Andy Miller (author of The Year of Reading Dangerously and co-host of the Backlisted podcast) for kindly speaking to me about Rhys – I couldn’t have wished for a more enthusiastic advocate of her work. Finally, and most importantly, a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who has participated in the Reading Week, either by posting a review, sharing thoughts via Twitter, contributing to the discussions on blogs, GoodReads or social media, or simply by reading one of her books – the level of engagement has been terrific. Just for a bit of fun, I’ve collated together a selection of tweets from the week, mainly pictures, quotes and responses from various readers – you can view them here via Storify.

JeanRhysReadingWeek banner

By way of a wrap-up, here’s a list of all the new reviews/articles posted as part of the JR Reading Week – if I’ve missed any posts, do let me know in the comments and I’ll add a link. Plenty to explore here, so do take a look if you’re interested. (I haven’t collated links to the various archive reviews as I fear this would take me until Christmas!)

The Left Bank and Other Stories – 1927

Quartet (originally published as Postures) – 1928

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie 1930

Voyage in the Dark – 1934

Good Morning, Midnight – 1939

Wide Sargasso Sea – 1966

Tigers Are Better-Looking – 1968 

Sleep It Off, Lady – 1976

Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography – 1979

Jean Rhys: Letters 1931-66 – 1984

Other posts

A number of things struck me during the week, especially in relation to After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and the short stories, my main areas of focus for the event. Firstly, Rhys’ wonderful use of imagery as a way of creating mood and emotion. Several people commented on this during the week, and it was interesting to see the following passage cropping up more than once in reviews of Mr Mackenzie:

But really she hated the picture. It shared, with the colour of the plush sofa, a certain depressing quality. The picture and the sofa were linked in her mind. The picture was the more alarming in its perversion and the sofa the more dismal. The picture stood for the idea, the spirit, and the sofa stood for the act.

Secondly, there is Rhys’ ability to create and convey character. Much has been said about Julia Martin, a figure who elicited mixed opinions among the various readers of this book. While some people saw her as vulnerable women with limited options in life, others viewed her as rather feckless and self-centred – a woman with a strong sense of entitlement for want of a better phrase. To me she seems like a woman deserving of our understanding and compassion, another of Rhys’ women trapped by circumstances and the cruelty of life. I particularly liked Grant’s comments on Julia. Here’s a brief passage from his review.

Julia leads a precarious existence from man to man. Rhys brilliantly exposes her inner anxieties via outer discomforts – tiredness, cold. More than once she is described as a ghost. (Grant on After Leaving Mr Mackenzie)

While it is natural to view Rhys’ fiction as bleak and melancholy, a number of people picked up on the undercurrent of wry humour in her work, not just in the novels, but in the stories too. Staying with Rhys’ short fiction, other readers highlighted some of the parallels between these pieces and certain elements of the writer’s own life. In some ways, her stories read like little vignettes, dealing as they do with the marginalisation of women and the perpetual fragility of lives lived on the edge. As Marina put it, where Rhys succeeds so brilliantly is in her ability to take a certain experience from her own world and heighten it, “polishing it until it catches the light of universality.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons why her work remains so relevant today; the emotions are timeless. All the elements of Rhys’ fiction are here in miniature: the feeling of being the perpetual outsider; the fear of poverty and the constant scrabble for money; the importance of clothes in these women’s lives; the near constant dependence on men. There are many more.

Finally, I couldn’t finish without mentioning a few of the descriptions of Rhys’ work which stayed with me throughout the week. A couple of people quite rightly described Rhys as a poet, someone who gave a voice to the sole woman, the lonely outsider whose very existence hangs by a thread. All three succeeded in capturing something of the essence of this unique writer.

Jean Rhys’ writing represents the poetry of the downtrodden and vanquished, who nevertheless display an obstinate pride from time to time and an occasional wild streak, like the black cat in the story ‘Kikimora’. (Marina on Smile Please & Sleep It Off, Lady)

Rhys is the poet of hypocrisy and unspoken disapproval. (Max on Voyage in the Dark)

Here is the world of the dispossessed, the powerless, the damaged and those who damage. (Ali on Good Morning Midnight)

Eric, Poppy and Margaret have also posted few closing thoughts on Rhys’ other works as part of their wrap-ups for the week, so please do take a look at their blogs. (Note: Poppy’s summary to follow.)

All that remains is for us to reveal the winner of our prize for making a significant contribution to the week. We’re delighted to announce that the winner is Dorian of the Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau blog for his brilliant post on Teaching Rhys. Congratulations Dorian – a special bundle of Rhys’ books will be on its way to you shortly. Many thanks to Penguin for their generosity and support of the reading week – it is very much appreciated.

28 thoughts on “#ReadingRhys – a round-up and a few closing thoughts

  1. MarinaSofia

    It’s been an inspirational week and I’m so glad to see Jean Rhys getting the attention and close reading that she deserves. Thank you and Eric so much for getting this off the ground, and I’m only sorry that I was too busy to be more involved! I’m off to read all the articles/reviews that I may have missed. Oh, and I’ll post up very shortly a picture on Twitter of the books I bought as a result of this – they just arrived today.

    Reply
  2. Abby K

    What a great list! Like Ali said, it’s amazing to see how many of us got involved with Rhys Week and I hope it’s inspired others to read her novels in the future. Thanks for including my Quartet post, but overall thanks for running such a successful and enjoyable reading week.

    Reply
  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings

    I’m so happy that this event was such a success! Even though I didn’t participate, it was very interesting to read the different reviews and opinions that caught my eye during the week. Now I have more links to browse. Thank you and Eric for all of your hard work.

    Reply
  4. lonesomereadereric

    Thanks again for inviting me to team up with you, Jacqui. It’s been a lot of fun!
    Those quotes do wonderfully summarize the essence of Rhys.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You’re very welcome, Eric. It’s been such a rewarding project in many respects. Thanks so much for all your hard work and enthusiasm. As you say, it’s been a lot of fun — I think we may have started something here…

      Reply
  5. banff1972

    Thank you so much for the kind words about my piece–and for the books! The doubles will go to students, who I know will be glad to have them.

    I also want to than you & Eric both for the hard work you put in to make this event such a success. This was by far the best organized and most lively such group I’ve been involved with.

    As a teacher, I particularly admire the cumulative/reflective posts you each wrote, drawing strands together, reminding us of everyone’s contributions, etc. Those kinds of things aren’t easy to do!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You are most welcome, Dorian. It’s a truly excellent piece, and I would encourage everyone to read it – thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us.

      Enjoy the books. It’s great to hear that any duplicates will find deserving homes, hopefully introducing a new wave to readers to Rhys’ work in the process. That sounds just perfect.

      And many thanks for your kind words about the event and our wrap-up posts — I’m glad you found them worthwhile. Now for a little quiet time while I chill out for a few days… :-)

      Reply
  6. Naomi

    Even though I didn’t end up posting my own review, I’ve had lots of fun reading others and following along. One thing I know for sure from this is that I’ll be reading more of her. This was such a great (and successful) event!

    Reply
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  8. JacquiWine Post author

    Many thanks for all your lovely comments. I’m glad to hear that you found it enjoyable and interesting. It’s been a lot of fun hosting this over the past week. Once again, thank you for all your contributions and comments on Jean Rhys – we couldn’t have done this without you! Hopefully between us we’ve inspired a few more readers to explore her work in the future.

    Reply
  9. Emma

    What a great event this week has been.
    I’ve been observing from the sidelines but I’ll definitely read one of her 1930s novels. Perhaps I’ll get hooked and read them all!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s been fascinating to see the various perspectives on some of her novels, especially Voyage in the Dark (which I read earlier this year) – everyone seems to have found something different in it! I’m sure you’ll like her early novels. I still need to read her first one, Quartet (or ‘Postures’ as it was called on its release.) One for the future, I think.

      Reply
  10. 1streading

    What a great response you’ve had. Also some really interesting thoughts here – I very much enjoyed being able to write my own reviews and then read a number of others, each one adding to my understanding of the work. And I couldn’t agree more with your choice of winner!

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys | Abby King

  12. JacquiWine Post author

    Glad you enjoyed it, Grant – and thanks for dropping the heavy hints in the first place, you really started something there!

    Yes, it was fascinating to see the discussions unfold as the week progressed, especially on Voyage in the Dark where everyone seemed to have something new or different to add to the debate.

    I love Dorian’s piece, it’s the sharing of the personal that makes it so enlightening.

    Reply
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  14. ms. arachne

    Thanks for posting all those links. I can’t wait to finally catch up with everyone else’s reviews now that I’ve finally finished mine.

    Reply
  15. anna amundsen

    I am so late with this comment…
    It’s been a truly wonderful experience. Many thanks, again, for organizing the event.
    I learned a lot about Rhys, I grew an interest in her work and, what is especially important to me, I finally managed to dedicate as much time I felt necessary to reading and reflecting on a single book. (It would have been even better if I had time to properly write about it, but one can’t have it all, I guess.. Maybe next time.)

    Best,
    Anna

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, you’re very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it, And no need to apologise — comments are always welcome at any time. I learned so much too, especially by reading other people’s perspectives on her fiction. It’s so easy to get locked into your own view of a novel, so a huge part of the value of an event like this stemmed from the exchange of responses and insights between different readers. Thanks for participating.

      Reply
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