The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

I Used to Live Here Once
The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys
by Miranda Seymour
28 Jun 2022
448 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Genre: Biography/Memoir
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An intimate, profoundly moving biography of Jean Rhys, acclaimed author of Wide Sargasso Sea.

Jean Rhys is one of the most compelling writers of the twentieth century. Memories of her Caribbean girlhood haunt the four short and piercingly brilliant novels that Rhys wrote during her extraordinary years as an exile in 1920s Paris and later in England, a body of fiction―above all, the extraordinary Wide Sargasso Sea―that has a passionate following today. And yet her own colorful life, including her early years on the Caribbean island of Dominica, remains too little explored, until now.

In I Used to Live Here Once, Miranda Seymour sheds new light on the artist whose proud and fiercely solitary life profoundly informed her writing. Rhys experienced tragedy and extreme poverty, alcohol and drug dependency, romantic and sexual turmoil, all of which contributed to the "Rhys woman" of her oeuvre. Today, readers still intuitively relate to her unforgettable characters, vulnerable, watchful, and often alarmingly disaster-prone outsiders; women with a different way of moving through the world. And yet, while her works often contain autobiographical material, Rhys herself was never a victim. The figure who emerges for Seymour is cultured, self-mocking, unpredictable―and shockingly contemporary.

Based on new research in the Caribbean, a wealth of never-before-seen papers, journals, letters, and photographs, and interviews with those who knew Rhys, I Used to Live Here Once is a luminous and penetrating portrait of a fascinatingly elusive artist.

8 pages of photographs

"A fresh biography of the enigmatic British novelist...Piecing together the puzzle of her subject's life, veteran novelist and biographer Seymour takes readers on a wild and satisfying ride...An elegant work that provides readers with a better understanding of a beloved author's life." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] fastidious biography...This captivating study is well worth a look for fans and scholars." - Publishers Weekly

"A deeply researched and insightful exploration of one of the 20th century's lesser known authors." - Library Journal

"Miranda Seymour has written a compelling and stylish new biography of Jean Rhys, whose life and work have often been cast in melancholic shadow. Seymour adds color and complexity to Rhys's story, and suggests the haunting influence of her early years on the Caribbean island of Dominica. This is a fresh, empathetic portrait of an iconic and unconventional woman writer whose searing novels of trauma, race, gender, and exile were ahead of their time." - Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

"The multiple guises and conflicting personae of Jean Rhys―reckless and reclusive, captivating and appalling―demand a particularly agile biographer. Miranda Seymour is ideally suited to the task. An empathetic but unsparing critic, a tenacious and resourceful researcher, and a historian of literary cultures with a novelist's sense of the evocative detail, she has produced an enthralling biography of a haunting―and maddening―modern writer." - Elaine Showalter, Professor of English, Emeritus, Princeton University

"Brilliantly written, compulsively readable, and insightful, Miranda Seymour's biography does full justice to a remarkable and complex life." - Pat Barker, author of The Women of Troy and The Silence of the Girls

Miranda Seymour's previous books include Thrumpton Hall, A Memoir of Life in My Father's House (NYTBR Editor's Choice, winner of the 2008 PEN/Ackerley Award); Mary Shelley, Robert Graves: Life on the Edge; and Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale. She lives in England.

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