The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Jean Rhys’

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.
Read More »

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


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 »


Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, 1927–2013

April 3, 2013 | by

ruth-prawer-jhabvalaIt was announced this morning that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died today at her home in Manhattan, at the age of eighty-five. Jhabvala is best known as an award-winning screenwriter for Merchant Ivory Productions. Together, with the late producer Ismail Merchant and the director James Ivory, she helped make twenty-two films. Perhaps, like me, you have watched her adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View dozens of times, which garnered her an Academy Award for screenwriting in 1986. Or perhaps you, too, lusted after a Kelly bag after watching her adaptation of Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce. Over the course of three decades, she helped project the stories of writers such as Forster, Henry James, Evan S. Connell, Jean Rhys, and others onto the screen. Often, though not always, these films captured a lost era. One where women were chaperoned to Italy, where a stolen kiss on a hilltop could cause scandal, where class was never directly discussed, and fortune was hunted like prey. And today we must mourn the loss of a kind of filmmaking that took care to not appear superficial in obsessing over the past. (Much as Merchant Ivory always got the look right, one never said that the best part of the movie was the costumes. Look, for example, at Hollywood’s latest adaptation of Anna Karenina.) As Jhabvala explained to Philip Horne around 2001: “The main purpose is that I have such a good time. I mean, think of all that marvelous material. Just think of spending all that time in The Golden Bowl and the other James and Forster books we have done. But especially Henry James because he has such marvelous characters and he has such strong dramatic scenes. You just put your hand in and pull them out.”

This is because Jhabvala read as a writer. Despite—or perhaps because of—her many successes, she called herself a novelist first and foremost. And with reason. Heat and Dust was awarded the Booker Prize in 1975. She was given a MacArthur in 1984, and her short stories were published in The New Yorker throughout her career. “I was never interested in adapting classics at all,” she told Horne. “I’d written four novels. I was never interested in film. Never. I never even thought of it. I never thought of it until Merchant and Ivory came to India and filmed one of my books—they said: ‘Why don’t you write the screenplay?’ I said I’d never written a screenplay and I hadn’t seen many films because I was in India by that time and hadn’t really had any opportunity to see new films or art films or classic films or anything. So they said, ‘Well, try. We haven’t made a feature film before.’ So that was really my introduction into film.”

Thessaly La Force is a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and coauthor of My Ideal Bookshelf.



Street Haunting with Jean Rhys

March 12, 2013 | by


Illustration credit Joanna Walsh.

The author Jean Rhys had trouble finishing her stories. Rhys told her editor and friend Diana Athill that “ending a novel based on things that had really happened ... was difficult because a novel must have shape, and real life usually has none.” In Rhys’s later years, spent struggling with her autobiography and idly drinking in her Devonshire bungalow, her memory was faulty. The problem wasn’t just that she couldn’t remember; Rhys told Athill that she sometimes felt “more like a pen being used than like a person using a pen,” a startling insight that perhaps led Athill to write, in the foreword to Rhys’s unfinished autobiography, Smile Please, published posthumously in 1979, that her friend had “used up” her life in fiction.

Wide Sargasso Sea (1967) was Rhys’s final book, the one that made her famous late—“too late,” she said. Set in the early nineteenth century, Wide Sargasso Sea was Rhys’s great historical vendetta, in which she furnished a life for the West Indian “madwoman” Charlotte Brontë dismissed to Rochester’s attic in Jane Eyre. I began where Rhys ended, reading her last novel at sixteen in an English class at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, England, a few doors away from the Perse School for Girls, the posh private school Rhys had attended on moving to England from Dominica in 1907. Jean and I went to school on the same street a hundred years apart, sixteen-year-old sisters in the same place at a different time. Cambridge had changed, but Jean stayed with me. Neither of us liked school, and we both knew what it was like to be derided by a Perse girl; Jean for her Creole accent, and I for being a Hills Road student (in keeping with informal tradition, our schools maintain an absurd rivalry). Read More »


Heroine Worship: Talking with Kate Zambreno

October 22, 2012 | by

Kate Zambreno’s first book, O Fallen Angel, won Chiasmus Press’s “Undoing the Novel” First Book Contest, and her second book, Green Girl, was a finalist for the Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. So it should come as no surprise that her provocative new work, Heroines, published by Semiotext(e)’s Active Agents imprint next month, challenges easy categorization, this time by poetically swerving in and out of memoir, diary, fiction, literary history, criticism, and theory. With equal parts unabashed pathos and exceptional intelligence, Heroines foregrounds female subjectivity to produce an impressive and original work that examines the suppression of various female modernists in relation to Zambreno’s own complicated position as a writer and a wife. It concludes by bringing the problems of the modernists into conversation with the contemporary by offering a timely consideration of the role of the Internet and blogs in creating a community for women writers.

What was it about the modernist wives that first interested you?

I think I came to the wives through an initial discovery of more neglected modernist women writers—Olive Moore, Anna Kavan, Jane Bowles, maybe I’d add Jean Rhys to that list. I was living in London working in a bookshop and not doing much in terms of trying to write a novel, so I pitched to Chad Post at Dalkey that I write an essay on Kavan. And because I had nothing else to do, I sat in the British Library and read everything by her. And started reading all these other experimental women writers, like Elizabeth Smart—not the Mormon abductee, but the one obsessed with the poet George Barker, an obsession she documents in the amazing By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Not a modernist, I know, but I sat at the British Library and read the communal notebook she kept with Barker and thought about Vivien(ne)’s hand on “The Waste Land” manuscript. I began to be really interested in ideas of literary collaboration.

Read More »