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Posts Tagged ‘Jean Rhys’

Inside the Volcano

September 16, 2016 | by

volcano

“Ash had fallen. Perhaps it had fallen the night before or perhaps it was still falling. I can only remember in patches.”

In 1976, three years before she died, Jean Rhys published “Heat,” an autobiographical story about the 1902 eruption of Martinique’s Mount Pelée volcano, which destroyed Saint-Pierre, then the largest city on the island. Some thirty to forty thousand people died; Rhys, who grew up nearby on Dominica, would have been eleven at the time.

Some said the disaster was divine retribution for Saint-Pierre’s moral depravity; not only was the city a haven for loose women, it had a theater and even an opera. But in the immediate aftermath, an air of grave concern fell over the region. “Nobody talked in the street, nobody talked while we ate, or hardly at all,” Rhys writes in “Heat”: “They all thought our volcano was going up.” The night after the eruption, the narrator’s mother points out the black clouds hovering over Martinique. “You will never see anything like this in your life again,” she says. When the narrator’s friends offer her a bottle of ash, she refuses to touch it. Read More »

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

September 2, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago.

Admiralty House, Bermuda.

Drawing of a house in the West Indies.

In the summer of 1986, I finished secondary school, and that autumn I enrolled in a secretarial course in Cork City. It was a course of a kind that I suspect no longer exists, with bookkeeping exercises involving sheets of carbon paper, classes in shorthand, typing learned on manual typewriters. I have a hazy recollection of being instructed in how to walk properly, and of someone who ran a modeling agency coming to talk to us. The talk was of little interest to me, perhaps because my modeling prospects were precisely zero. My secretarial prospects, unfortunately, were not much better, something that didn’t go unnoticed by the tiny, fierce woman tasked with teaching us. Still, I remember fondly the sweeps and curves and wriggles of Gregg shorthand as we practiced giving shape to language. Words like get or racket with their piglet-style tails, or yell and yam and Yale with their resemblance to mutant tadpoles. We took words apart and mined them for sound, converted that sound into something close to art. Read More »

Jean Rhys Speaks

August 24, 2016 | by

Jean Rhys was born in Dominica, an island among the British West Indies. Though she spent most of her life in England, her time in the Caribbean left her with a distinctive, lilting accent. It sounds beautiful to me, but in 1909 it got her kicked out of the Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where she was supposedly “slow to improve” it. In this minute-long clip, she dispenses some dour wisdom about writing and happiness. (The rumors are true: they’re inversely related.) If you don’t have a pair of headphones handy—or if you’re just paralyzed with fear at the thought of hearing a deceased person’s voice—here’s a rough transcript: Read More »

Travel Souvenirs: An Interview with Joanna Walsh

September 22, 2015 | by

Joanna Walsh

Joanna Walsh’s writing enacts what Chris Kraus has called a literal vertigo—the feeling that if I fall I will fall not toward the earth but into space—by probing the spaces between things.” Walsh, a British writer and illustrator, is fascinated by liminal spaces, especially in the many varieties encountered by tourists. She’s sometimes known by her French nom de guerre, Badaude, loosely translated as “gawk,” and suggesting the perambulatory figure of the flaneuse. Her work trades on the literary genres of the miniatureshort stories, essays, even postcardsreminiscent of Marcel Schwob, Clarice Lispector, Roland Barthes, and Lydia Davis. Her 2014 Twitter initiative @read_women is an archival who’s who of modern female writers, extolling in its tweets the distaff works of everyone from Leonora Carrington to Elena Ferrante.  Aside from her abundant online presence,Walsh’s prolific output includes three new books: Hotel, Vertigo, and Grow a Pair: 9½ Fairytales About Sex, all of which run from the bantam lengths of fifty-five to 170 pages.

Among her seemingly disparate subjects are hotel architecture and etiquette, sexual politics in twentieth-century psychoanalysis, the perils of family vacations, the fantasias of cinema, and fables of transgendered witches. In Walsh’s feminist cosmogony, all are brought to bear as inscrutable souvenirs of the everyday mundane. She elucidates the slippery, gendered in-betweenness of everyday ritual in a manner reminiscent of Derrida’s disquisition on the chora—that most mysterious and mundane of spaces, not unlike the anonymous corridor of a hotel.

I reached Walsh, appropriately enough, at a hotel in Mexico. She and I shared a lively discussion about hotel culture and theory, travel fantasies, and the contemporary potential of fairy tales.
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The “Romance” of Travel

August 25, 2015 | by

Joseph Roth’s hotel years.

The Grand Hotel des Bains, where Thomas Mann wrote Death in Venice.

“I am a hotel citizen,” Joseph Roth declared in one of the newspaper dispatches anthologized in The Hotel Years: Wanderings in Europe Between the Wars, “a hotel patriot.” It’s easy to see why: Red Joseph was nothing if not a cosmopolitan humanist, and the hotel was his natural habitat. “The guests come from all over the world,” he explains:

Continents and seas, islands, peninsulas and ships, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists are all represented in this hotel. The cashier adds, subtracts, counts and cheats in many languages, and changes every currency. Freed from the constriction of patriotism, from the blinkers of national feeling, slightly on holiday from the rigidity of love of land, people seem to come together here and at least appear to be what they should always be: children of the world.

 Read More »

Notes from a Bookshop: Late Summer, or Summer Is a Kind of Island

August 28, 2013 | by

DeLillo

3. Arcana

Of one order are the mysteries of light
and of another are those of fantasy
Rider Tarot Deck instructions

—Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda

A good friend came to visit this spring, and a few times during her stay, she pulled a book off the shelves, either from Moody Road Studios or at my home, shuffled the pages under her thumb, and stuck a finger on a line like an arrow hitting a bull’s-eye. Then she’d read the single line aloud, a kind of party trick.

This would typically happen when we’d be in the middle of a conversation, talking about some big questions that we were swirling at the time, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I, will-this-work-or-not, should-I-take-this-chance kind of conversations that tend to occur after some Southern Comfort on a patio. She used whatever book was in her hand as a literary tarot, and believed the line would tell us all we needed to know. Usually, bizarrely, it worked.

I tried this on my own, but it fell flat. After the house was asleep, I would pose a question in my head and stalk a book, pull it from the stack before it could resist, flip open its pages and point hungrily at it, waiting for its answer. Each time, the result was tinny, hard-pressed, wanting. It reminded me of late nights with my Ouija board as a kid, waiting desperately for something to speak to me when I was really just waiting for my own voice.

People ask a lot of their books. They want them to be amazing, they want them to be cheap, they want them the moment they walk through my door. I often feel like a kind of carnival showman, flashing bright colors in front of the customer, hoping something catches their eye. People’s personal restrictions always amaze me. “I don’t read books with dogs in them.” “I don’t like to have to think too hard.” “I can’t buy books with white covers.” Really? Read More »

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