19 August 2008

Excerpts from Jean Rhys' Letters on WSS

Here are some excerpts from a few letters written by Jean Rhys and addressed to her editors. They should give you an idea of her writing process, and also her ideas about language.

March 3, 1964
"I feel that I've just about exhausted everybody's patience with delays and alterations, but, as I told Miss Athill I've always known that this book must be done as well as I could - (no margin of error) or it would be unconvincing. I reckon that I've spent about two and a half years on it. Working steadily I mean. Stopping so often was just bad luck ..." (Wyndham and Melly, 253).

March 27, 1964
"But have finally settled on Rio. It would be so lovely not understanding what anybody said - and I haven't a word of Portuguese. I've always wondered why people want to - so much better not. Very peaceful, I think." (256). (regarding a trip)

"I'm not mad keen on the title but all the others I think of like 'Solitaire' which is the French for our Mountain Whistler, or 'Before the Break of Day' or 'Speak for me' aren't attractive or they are 'used' or have the wrong number of letters (very superstitious about that)." (257). (regarding the title of the book, which at that time, was not yet Wide Sargasso Sea)

April 14, 1964
"Now about the book - I was rather down with this and that, so flew to writing poems. This I've always done (aged 12 or 10 when I started)" (261).
She wrote four, but one of them helped her finish the book. She included it in her letter after a long explanation. Here is the poem:

Obeah Night

A night I seldom remember
(If it can be helped)
The night I saw Love's dark face
Was Love's dark face
"And cruel as he is"? I've never known that
I've tried my best you may be certain (whoever asks)
My human best

If the next morning as I looked at what I'd done
(He was watching us mockingly, used to these games)
If I'd stared back at him
If I'd said
"I was a god myself last night
I've tamed and changed a wild girl"
Or taken my hurt darling in my arms
(Conquered at last. And silent. Mine)

Perhaps Love would have smiled then
Shown us the way
Across that sea. They say it's strewn with wrecks
And weed-infested
Few dare it, fewer still escape
But we, led by smiling Love
We could have sailed
Reached a safe harbour
Found a sweet, brief heaven
Lived our short lives

But I was both sick and sad
(Night always ends)
She was a stranger
Wearing the mask of pain
Bearing the marks of pain -
I turned away - Traitor
Too sane to face my madness (or despair)
Far, far too cold and sane

Then Love, relenting
Sent clouds and soft rain
Sent sun, light and shadow
To show me again
Her young face waiting
Waiting for comfort and a gentler lover?
(You'll not find him)
A kinder loving? Love is not kind
I would not look at her
(Once is enough)
Over my dead love
Over a sleeping girl
I drew a sheet
Cover the stains of tears
Cover the marks of blood
(You can say nothing
That I have not said a thousand times and one
Excepting this - That night was Something Else
I was Angry Love Himself
Blind fierce avenging Love - no other that night)

"It's too strong for Beke"
The black woman said
Love, hate, or jealousy
Which had she seen?
She knew well - the Devil!
- What it could mean

How can I forget you Antoinette
When the spring is here?
Where did you hide yourself

After that shameless, shameful night?
And why come back? Hating and hated?
Was it Love, Fear, Hoping?
Or (as always) Pain?
(Did you come back I wonder
Did I ever see you again?)

No. I'll lock that door
Forget it. -
The motto was "Locked Hearts I open
I have the heavy key"
Written in black letters
Under a Royal Palm Tree
On a slave owner's gravestone
"Look! And look again, hypocrite" he says
"Before you judge me"

I'm no damn slave owner
I have no slave
Didn't she (forgiven) betray me
Once more - and then again
Unrepentant - laughing?
I can soon show her
Who hates the best
Always she answers me
I will hate last

Lost, lovely Antoinette
How can I forget you
When the spring comes?
(Spring is cold and furtive here
There's a different rain)
Where did you hide yourself
After the obeah nights?
(What did you send instead?
Hating and hated?)
Where did you go?
I'll never see you now
I'll never know
For you left me - my truest Love
Long ago

Edward Rochester or Raworth
Written in Spring 1842

April 28, 1964
"I have tried to show this man being magicked by the place which is (or was) a lovely, lost and magic place but, if you understand, a violent place. (Perhaps there is violence in all magic and all beauty - but there - very strong) magicked by the girl - the two are mixed up perhaps to bewildered English gent, Mr R, certain that she's hiding something from him. And of course she is. Her mad mother. (Not mad perhaps at all) So you see - when he gets this letter all blows sky high. And so - I've fixed up the letter, written in his interview with Daniel whom Mr R detests but believes. (Why) I could guess that too I think - because he wants to - that's why .... The slant has been altered. It is not so tame - that's all. Additions do it .... The love drink on Obeah Night merely releases all the misery, jealousy and ferocity that has been piling up in Mr R for so long. He pretends to think he's been poisoned - that's only to pile up (again) everything he can against her and so excuse his cruelty. He justifies it that way. (It's often done). I do not think that it justifies him at all. I do think it explains him a bit" (269).

Wyndham, Francis, and Diana Melly, eds. The Letters of Jean Rhys. New York: Viking Penguin
Inc., 1984.

No comments: