” At the door she turned round and said, ‘I don’t want no tarts in my house, so now you know.’
I didn’t answer. My heart was beating like hell. I lay down and started thinking about the time when I was ill in Newcastle, and the room I had there, and that story about the walls of a room getting smaller and smaller until they crush you to death. The Iron Shroud, it was called. It wasn’t Poe’s story; it was more frightening than that. “I believe this damned room’s getting smaller and smaller,’ I thought. And about the rows of houses outside, gimcrack, rotten-looking, and all exactly alike.”Is that Jean Rhys or is it Anna Morgan?
Anna Morgan aka Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams aka Jean Rhys is working as a chorus girl, barely making ends meet. She is recently from the West Indies and adjusting to the cold of London has been difficult for her. She is often sick and when not sick, she is pale, cold and clammy to the touch. Despite these traits that might give suitors pause, she is rather attractive with doe-eyes, youth (eighteen), and an innocence (virginity) that men vy to possess. She meets Walter aka Lancelot Grey Hugh ("Lancey") Smith and even though their first meeting is rather unsuccessful he does send her some money, more money than she has ever seen, and the bartering for her charms begins.
The reason for the series of “as known as” is that it is impossible to separate Ella/Jean’s life from the life of Anna Morgan because the events of this book are more autobiography than they are fiction. It seems that Lancey did get to the burgeoning writer. Like Anna she falls in love, but to the guy she is never more than a mistress. She is a mere entertainment until some of the bloom has come off the rose then he is off to seduce and conquer yet another young heart. Why buy the tavern when you can just buy a beer when you’re thirsty?”Sometimes the earth trembles; sometimes you can feel it breathe. The colours are red, purple, blue, gold, all shades of green. The colours here are black, brown, grey, dim-green, pale blue, the white of people’s faces--like woodlice.”
Anna does miss the colors of her homeland. The warmth, the tanned faces, the vibrancy that does not readily show itself in London. ”Everything was always so exactly alike--that was what I could never get used to. And the cold; and the houses all exactly alike, and the streets going north, south, east, west, all exactly alike.”
As I previously mentioned she is a virgin and wears it on her cloak like a Scarlet V. The chorus-girls, could be thought of as friends, but really were mere acquaintances, used it as a point of ridicule not unlike the same joshing that people take today. She even at more than one point insists she is not, but the V burns brighter the more she protests. Now I recently read that women of various religious affiliations are having their hymens surgically replaced as a way of achieving "innocence" once again, offering a second virginity to be sacrificed on an altar bed with a future husband. Wives are having them replaced as surprise wedding anniversary presents. Innocence can not be re-achieved, certainly not with some tawdry plastic surgery. Innocence must reside in the “soul” not with some youthful physical manifestation. Although for me innocence is something I jettisoned as quickly as possible as knowledge has proved to be much more useful. I do wish that we didn’t feel the pressure to lose our “innocence” as rarely does it live up to expectations and can never be, despite the best efforts of plastic surgeons, found again.
I do take issue with men like Walter and Lancey who prey on young women and believe that they are purchasing their charms at a fair market value. Both men to assuage their guilt, believing that they are men of honor despite the circumstances in which they leave the young women, continue to lend monetary support long after the affair has been concluded. When Anna/Jean both become pregnant by other men after they have been thrown aside Walter/Lancey do lend money and sympathy because both are much easier to give than responsibility.”It was one of those days when you can see the ghosts of all the other lovely days. You drink a bit and watch the ghosts of all the lovely days that have ever been from behind a glass.”
This is my first foray with Jean Rhys, but will certainly not be my last. Writing this novel, I hope, was a cathartic experience for her. Next up will be Quartet
where she exposes her torrid (here is hoping) affair with [a:Ford Madox Ford|1209|Ford Madox Ford|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1230325664p2/1209.jpg]. The writing is like a pretty girl weeping as she snaps celery (crisp) with her pearl white teeth while daydreaming of roast beef (best with a glass of full bodied red wine), and even though the plot is a well worn path for literature, her wordplay does provide moments of sparkling observation that shows promise for her future novels.