chapter  7
10 Pages

‘A Savage from the Cannibal islands’: Jean Rhys and London


Jean Rhys’s representations of urban landscapes have long been identified as a key aspect of her modernism. Her portraits of the cafés, bedsits, hotels and streets of London and Paris make her an important writer of the geography of modernity, particularly in its feminist articulation. Recently, critics have foregrounded another important aspect of her work and life, namely her Creole identity (see Gregg, Hulme, O’Connor). Rarely, however, are these two aspects brought together – the focus is on Rhys as a Creole in the West Indies – so that the effects of her colonial identity on her experience and representations of London, heart of empire, are too often overlooked.1 Rhys’s depictions of London are preoccupied with the signs and manifestations of modernity – consumer culture, the cinema, the alienated streetwalker – but again this modernity is rarely considered in a colonial context. The unease with which Rhys and her protagonists (most notably Anna Morgan in Voyage in the Dark, Selina Davis in ‘Let Them Call it Jazz’, and ‘West Indies’ in ‘Overture and Beginners Please’) experience London’s streets is about the discomfort not just of the single woman, but of the single colonial woman, who occupies a doubly transgressive position in the metropole.