Wide Sargasso Sea: Biography

The novelist Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in Dominica, West Indies, in 1890. In 1907, she moved to England and attended school in Cambridge. After studying drama, she had a number of jobs including working as an artist’s model and chorus girl.She was encouraged by Ford Madox Ford to write while living in Paris in her thirties. The Left Bank and Other Stories (1927) was her first main publication, and for which he wrote the preface. Her other works include Voyage in the Dark (1934) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939). After the war, little was known of her and she dropped out of the public gaze. With Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), however, she made an extraordinary comeback. This won the Royal Society of Literature Award and the W.H. Smith Award.  Rhys is commonly regarded as a writer before her time, given the only relatively recently accepted areas of interest such as women’s sexuality and threatened subjectivity that appear in her fiction. She was awarded a CBE in 1978 and died in England in 1979. Her autobiography, Smile Please, was published after her death (also in 1979).