Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Confetti - Your Future

Nottingham Biographer Miranda Seymour on the Incredible Life of Jean Rhys

3 May 22 words: Lizzy O'Riordan

Born on the Caribbean Island of Dominica, Jean Rhys is most well known for her seminal novel Wide Sargasso Sea, the postcolonial feminist prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. 

A misunderstood and enigmatic woman, Rhys caught to attention of biographer Miranda Seymour who travelled to Dominica to learn more about her life. We catch up with Seymour in anticipation of her new book I Used To Live Here Once, The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys...

Writer, literary critic and owner of Nottinghamshire’s Thrumpton Hall, Miranda Seymour has become especially well-known for her work as a literary biographer, with previous work including Mary Shelley, In Byron’s Wake and Henry James and his Literary Circle

Now the author is getting ready to release her newest biography I Used To Live Here Once, The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys. Following the life of novelist Jean Rhys, Seymour focuses her biography on the Caribbean Island of Dominica where the subject spent seventeen years of her life, and which influenced her seminal novel Wide Sargasso Sea - the postcolonial prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. 

Travelling to the Caribbean was a pivotal part of Seymour’s writing process. “One of the great treats of writing this book was actually getting to go out to Dominica. I’m the first biographer who has visited,” Miranda says. “It’s the most extraordinary island. Not like how you would imagine the Caribbean at all, no sandy beaches and cocktails, but instead live volcanoes and mountains dividing huge ravines. There are many hurricanes and they sweep away the bridges, leaving people marooned.”

The island, which Seymour describes as “utterly beautiful and completely unspoilt”, helped the biographer understand Jean more deeply. “I was very lucky because I knew a wonderful woman called Polly Patullo who used to work for The Observer and who lives in Dominica, so she was able to show me where to go, introduce me to people and even get an amazing lady in the village to sing to me all the Creole songs that Jean Rhys knew.” 

I always like writing about strong women who have either been undervalued or misread

So, why choose Jean Rhys as a subject? “I always like writing about strong women who have either been undervalued or misread,” Miranda tells me. “In the case of Jean Rhys, I thought it was really important to correct the view that she was a victim. The heroines in her novels were victims, but she herself was incredibly tough, I’ve never come across anyone with a capacity for survival like her.” 

Through writing the biography, Seymour found herself feeling close to Rhys, whom she admires both as a literary figure and a person. “The truth of it is that, as a biographer, I pick people I feel drawn to. It’s probably because I see myself in them, and it’s that aspect of them which I will connect too.”

Telling the story of an author who survived extreme poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, and an onslaught of romantic and sexual turmoil, Miranda Seymour paints the portrait of an independent and elusive woman who is “powerful, cultured, self-mocking, self-absorbed, unpredictable and often darkly funny”.  

Described by Dame Eileen Atkins as “A vivid, detailed and immensely readable biography”, I Used To Live Here Once will be published on Thursday 12 May, 2022 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon here. 

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now

You might like this too...

Metronome - Suntou Susso

You might like this too...