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I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys

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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.

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