Overview: Jean Rhys, CBE, was a mid-20th-century novelist who was born and grew up in the Caribbean island of Dominica. From the age of 16, she was mainly resident in England, where she was sent for her education. She is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), written as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Omnibus containing Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, Good Morning, Midnight and Wide Sargasso Sea.

 

The Complete Novels by Jean Rhys Book Chapter One

 

I t  was  as  if a  curtain had  fallen,  hiding everything I had ever known. It was almost like being born again. The colours were different, the  smells different, the  feeling things gave you  right down inside yourself was  different. Not just  the  difference be­tween heat, cold; light, darkness; purple, grey.  But a difference in the way  I was frightened and the way  I was happy.  I didn't like England  at first.  I  couldn't get  used to  the  cold.  Sometimes I would shut my  eyes and pretend that the heat of the fire,  or the bed-clothes drawn up round me, was sun-heat; or I would pretend I was standing outside the house at home, looking down Market Street to the Bay. When there was a breeze the sea was millions of spangles; and on still days it was purple as Tyre and Sidon. Mar­ket Street smelt of the wind, but the narrow street smelt of niggers and wood-smoke and salt fishcakes fried in lard. (When the black women sell fishcakes on the savannah they carry them in trays on their heads. They call out, 'Salt fishcakes, all sweet an' charmin', all sweet an' charmin'.') It was funny, but that was what I thought about more than anything else - the smell of the streets and the smells offrangipani and lime juice and cinnamon and cloves, and sweets made of ginger and  syrup,  and  incense after funerals or Corpus Christi processions, and the patients standing outside the surgery next door, and the smell of the sea-breeze and the cliff er­ent smell of the land-breeze. Sometimes it was as if I were back there and as if England were a dream.  At other times England was the real thing and out there was the dream,  but I could  never fit them together. After a while I got used to England and I liked it all right; I got used to everything except the cold and that the towns we went to always looked so exactly alike.  You were perpetually moving to another place which was perpetually the same.  There was always a little grey street leading to the stage-door of the theatre and another little grey street where  your lodgings  were, and rows of little houses with chimneys like the fu nnels of dummy steamers and 3
JEAN RHYS smoke the same colour as the sky; and a  grey stone promenade running hard, naked and straight by the side of the grey-brown or grey-green sea;  or a Corporation Street or High  Street or  Duke Street or  Lord  Street where you walked about  and  looked at the shops. Southsea, this place was. We had good rooms. The landlady had said, 'No, I don't let to professionals.' But she didn't bang the door in our faces, and after Maudie had talked for a while, making her voice sound as ladylike as possible, she had said, 'Well, I might make an exception for this time.' Then the second day we were there she made a row because we both got up late and Maudie came downstairs in her nightgown and a torn kimono. 'Showing yourself at  my  sitting-room window 'alf naked like that,' the landlady said. 'And at three o'clock in the afternoon too. Getting my house a bad name.' 'It's all right, Ma,' Maudie said. 'I'm going up to get dressed in a minute. I had a shocking headache this morning.' 'Well,  I won't 'ave it,'  the  landlady said.  'When you come downstairs for your dinner you've got to be decent. Not in your nightclothes.' She slammed the door. 'I ask you,' Maudie said, 'I ask you. That old goat's starting to get on my nerves. I'll tell her off if she says another word to me.' 'Don't take any notice of her,' I said. I was lying on  the sofa, reading Nana. It  was a paper-covered book with a coloured picture of a stout, dark woman brandishing a wine-glass. She was sitting on the knee of a bald-headed man in evening dress. T'he print was very small, and the endless procession of words gave me a curious feeling - sad, excited and frightened. It wasn't what 1 was reading, it was the look of the dark, blurred words going on endlessly that gave me that feeling. There was a glass door behind the sofa. You could see into a small, unfurnished room, and then another glass door led into the walled-in garden. The tree by the back wall was lopped so that it looked like  a  man with stumps instead of  arms and legs. The washing hung limp, without moving, in the grey-yellow light. 'I'll get dressed,' Maudie said, 'and then we'd better go out and get some air. We'll go to the theatre and see if there are any letters. That's a dirty book, isn't it?' 'Bits of it are all right,' I said. Maudie said, 'I know; it's about a tart. I think it's disgusting. I 4
VOYAGE IN THE DARK bet you a man writing a book about a tart tells a lot of lies one way and another. Besides,  all books are  like that -just somebody stuffing you up.' Maudie was tall and thin, and her nose made a straight line with her fo rehead.  She had pale yellow hair and a  very white, smooth skin. When she smiled a  tooth was missing on one side. She was twenty-e ight years old and all sorts of things had happened to her. She used to tell me about them when we came back from the theat�e at night. 'You've only got to learn how to swank a bit, then you're all right,'  she would say.  Lying in bed with her, her hair in two long yellow plaits on either side of her long white fa ce. 'Swank's  the word,'  she would  say. There  were no letters fo r  us  at the theatre. Maudie  said she knew a shop where I could get  a pair of stockings I wanted.  'The street just before you get on to the front,' she said. Somebody was playing the piano in one of the houses we passed - a tinkling sound like water running. I began to walk very slowly because I wanted to listen. But it got fa rther and fa rther away and then I couldn't hear it any more . 'Gone fo r ever,' I thought. There was  a tight  fe eling  in  my throat  as  if I wanted to cry. 'There's one thing about you,'  Maudie said.  'You always look ladylike.' 'Oh God,' I said,  'who wants to look ladylike?' We walked on. 'Don't look round,' Maudie said.  'Two men are fo llowing us. I think they' re try ing to get  off with us.' The two men went past and walked ahead very slowly. One of them had his hands in his pockets; I liked the way he walked.  It was the other one, the taller one, who looked back and smiled. Maudie giggled. 'Good afternoon,'  he said.  'Are you going fo r a walk? Nice day, isn't  it? Very  warm fo r October. ' 'Yes, we' re taking the air,'  Maudie said.  'Not all of it, of course.' Everybody laughed. We paired off.  Maudie went on ahead with the tall man. The other looked at me sideways once or twice -very quickly up and down,  in that way they have -and then asked where  we were  going. 'I was going to this  shop to buy a  pair of stockings,' I said. They all came into the shop with me. I said I wanted two pairs -lisle thread _-with clocks up the sides -and took a  long time 5
JEAN RHYS choosing them. The man I had been walking with offered to pay for them and I  let him. When we got outside Maudie said,  'Gone quite chilly, hasn't it? Why don't you two come back to our rooms and have some tea? We live quite near by.' The tall man seemed rather anxious to get away, but the other one said they would like to; and they bought two bottles of port and some cakes on the way back. We had no latch-key.  I thought the landlady would be sure to be rude when she  let us in. However, when she opened the door she only glared,  without speaking. The fire was laid in the sitting-room.  Maudie put a match to it and lit the gas. On the mantelpiece two bronze horses pawed the air with  their front legs  on either side of a  big, dark clock.  Blue plates hung round the walls at regular intervals. 'Make yourselves at home, you blokes,' Maudie said.  'And allow me to introduce Miss Anna Morgan  and Miss Maudie Beardon, now appearing in The Blue Waltz. What about opening the port? I'll get  you a corkscrew, Mr What's-your- name.  What is your name,  by the way?' The tall man didn't answer. He stared over her shoulder, his eyes round and opaque. The other one coughed. Maudie  said in cockney,  'I was speaking to you, 'Orace.  You 'eard.  You ain't  got clorf ears. I  asked what your name was. ' 'Jones,' the tall man said.  'J ones is  my name.' 'Go  on,'  Maudie  said. He looked  annoyed. 'That's rather fu nny,' the other one said,  starting to laugh. 'What's  fu nny?' I  said. 'You see, Jones is his name. ' 'Oh .. '.>' I "d ,  is it. sa1 . He stopped laughing. 'And my name's Jeffries. ' 'Is  it  really?' I  said.  'J effries,  is it?' 'J ones and Jeffries,' Maudie said.  'That's not hard to remember.' I hated them both. You pick up people and then they are rude to you.  This business of picking up people  and  then they always imagine they  can be rude to you. But when I had had a glass of port I began to laugh too and after that I  couldn't   stop. I  watched myself in the glass over the mantelpiece,  laughing. 'How old are you?' Mr Jeffries said. 'I'm eighteen. Did  you think I  was older?' 6
VOYAGE IN THE DARK 'No,'  he said.  'On the contrary.' Mr Jones said, 'He knew you'd be either eighteen or twenty-two. You girls only have two ages. You' re eighteen and so of course your friend's twenty-two.  Of course .' 'You're  one of those clever people,, aren't  you?' Maudie  said , sticking her chin out. She always did that when she was vexed. 'You know everything.' 'Well, I am eighteen,' I said.  'I can show you my birth certificate if you like. ' 'No, my dear child, no. That would be excessive,' Mr Jones sa id . He brought the bottle  of port over and filled my glass again. When he touched  my hand he pretended to shiver. He said,  'Oh God,  cold as ice.  Cold and rather clammy.' 'She's  always cold,' Maudie said.  'She can't  help it. She was born in a hot place.  She was born in the West Indies or somewhere , weren't you, kid? The girls call her the Hottentot. Isn't it a shame?' 'Why the Hottentot?' Mr Jeffries said.  'I hope you call  them something worse back. ' He spoke very quickly,  but with each  word  separated from the other. He didn't look at my breasts or my legs, as they usually do. Not that I saw.  He looked straight at me and listened to everything I  said with a  polite and attentive expression, and then he looked away and smiled  as if he had sized me up. He asked how long I had been in England, and I told him, 'Two years,' and then we talked about the tour. The company was going on to Brighton, then Eastbo urne, and then we finished in London. 'London?' Mr Jones said,  lifting his  eyebrows. 'Well,  Holloway. Holloway's London, isn't  it?' 'Of course it is,' Mr Jeffries said. 'That's  enough  about the show,'  Maudie said.  She still looked vexed.  'Tell us about yourselves fo r a change. Tell us how old you are  and what you do fo r a living. Just fo r a change.' Mr Jeffries said,  'I work in the City. I  work very hard.' 'You mean somebody else works hard fo r  you,' Maudie said. 'And what does Daniel-in-the-lions' -den do? But it's no use asking him. He won't tell us. Cheer up, Daniel, d'you know the one about the snake-charmer?' 'No, I  don't  think I  know that one,'  Mr Jones  said stiffiy. Maudie told the one about the snake-charmer. They didn't laugh much, and then Mr Jones coughed and said they had to go. 'I wish we could  have seen your show tonight,'  Mr Jeffries said , 'but I'm afraid it's  not possible. We must meet again when you 7
JEAN RHYS come up to London; yes, certainly we must meet again.' 'Perhaps you would dine with me one evening, Miss Morgan,' he said. 'Will you give me an address that'll find you, so that we can fix it up?' I  said, 'We'll be  at  Holloway in  a  fortnight, but  this  is  my permanent address.' I  wrote down: Miss Anna Morgan, cl o Mrs Hester Morgan, 118, Fellside Road, Ilkley, Yorks. 'Is that your mother?' 'No, Hester's my stepmother.' 'We must fix it up,' he said. 'I shall look forward to it.' We  went out  into the  street to  say  good-bye to  them. I  was thinking it was funny I could giggle like that because in my heart I was always sad, with the same sort of hurt that the cold gave me in my chest. We  went back into the  sitting-room. We  heard the  landlady coming along the passage outside. 'She's going to make another row,' Maudie said. We listened. But she passed the door without coming in. Maudie said, 'What I'd  like  to  know is  this: why they think they've got the right to insult you for nothing at all? That's what I'd like to know.' I got very close to the fire. I was thinking, 'It's October. Winter's . ' coming. 'You got off with your bloke,' Maudie said. 'Mine was a bit of no good. Did you hear what he said about my being twenty-two and sort of sneering?' 'I didn't like either of them,' I said. 'You gave your address pretty quick, though,' Maudie said. 'And quite right too. You go out with him if he asks you. Those men have money; you can tell that in a minute, can't you? Anybody can. Men who have  money and men who haven't are perfectly different. 'I've never seen anybody shiver like you do,' she said. 'It's awful. Do you do it on purpose or what? Get on the sofa and I'll put my big coat over you if you like.' The coat had a warm animal smell and a cheap scent smell. 'Viv gave me that coat,' Maudie said. 'He's like that. He doesn't give much but what he gives is good stuff, not shoddy.' 8
VOYAGE IN THE DARK 'Like a Jew,'  I said.  'Is  he a Jew?' 'Of course he isn't. I  told you.' She went on talking about the man who gave her the coat. His name was Vivian Roberts and she had been in love with him fo r a long time.  She still saw him when she was up in London between tours, but only  very occasionally.  She said she was sure  he was breaking it off, but doing it gradually because he was cautious and he did  everything gradually. She went on talking about him. I  didn't listen. Thinking how cold the street would be outside and the dressing­room cold too, and that my place was by the door in the draught. It always was. A damned shame. And about Laurie Gaynor, who was dressing next me that week. The virgin, she calls me, or sometimes the silly cow. ('Can't  you manage  to keep the door shut, Virgin, you silly cow?')  But I like her better than any of the others. She's a fine girl. She's the only one I  really like.  And the cold nights; and the way my collar-bones stick out in my first-act dress.  There's something you can buy that makes your neck fa t. Venus Carnis. 'No fa scination without curves. Ladies, realize your charms. ' But it costs three guineas and where can I get three guineas? And the cold nights, the damned cold nights. Lying between 15° 10' and 15° 40' N. and 61° 14' and 61° 30' W. 'A goodly island and something highland,  but all overgrown with woods,'  that book said. And all crumpled into hills and mountains as you would crumple  a piece of paper in your hand -rounded green hills  and sharply-cut mountains. A curtain fe ll and then I  was here . .  .  . This is England Hester said and I  watched it  through  the train-window divided into squares like pocket-handkerchiefs; a small tidy look it  had everywhere fe nced off from everywhere else -what are  those  things  -those  are  haystacks -  oh are  those haystacks -  I had read about England ever since I  could read -smaller meaner everything  is never  mind -this is London -hundreds thousands of white people white people rushing along and the dark houses all alike frowning down one after the other all alike all stuck together -the streets like smooth shut-in ravines and the dark houses frowning down -oh I'm not going to like this place I'm not going to like this place I'm not going to like this place -you'll get used to it Hester kept saying I expect you fe el like a fish out of water but you'll soon ge t used to it -now don't  look like Dying Dick and Solemn Davy as your poor fa ther used to say you'll get used to it .  · .. 9
JEAN RHYS Maudie said, 'Let's finish the port.' She poured out two glasses and we drank slowly. She watched herself in the mirror. 'I'm getting lines under my eyes, aren't I?' I said, 'I've got a cousin out home, quite a kid. And she's never seen snow and she's awfully curious about it. She keeps writing and asking me to tell her what it's like. I wanted to see snow, too. That was one of the things I was longing to see.' 'Well,' Maudie said, 'you've seen it  now, haven't you? How much do you suppose our bill's going to be this week?' 'About fifteen bob, I suppose.' We reckoned up. I had saved six pounds and Hester had promised to send me five pounds for Christmas, or earlier if I wanted it. So I had decided to find a cheap room somewhere instead of going to the chorus-girls' hostel in Maple Street. A ghastly place, that was. 'Only three more weeks of  this  damned tour, T.G.,'  Maudie said. 'It's no life, not in winter it isn't.' When we were coming home from the theatre that night it began to rain and in Brighton it rained all the time. We got to Holloway and it was winter and the dark streets round the theatre made me think of murders. I gave Maudie the letter to read and she said, 'I told you so. I told you he  had money. That's an  awfully swanky club. The four swankiest clubs in London are ... ' All the girls started arguing about which was the swankiest club in London. I wrote and said I couldn't dine with him on Monday, because I had a  previous engagement. ('Always say you  have a  previous engagement.')  But  I  said I  could on  Wednesday, the l 7th of November, and I gave him the address of the room I had taken in Judd Street. Laurie Gaynor said, 'Tell him to borrow the club tin-opener. Say "P.S. Don't forget the tin-opener".' 'Oh, leave her alone,' Maudie said. 'That's all  right,' Laurie said. 'I'm not  troubling her. I'm teaching her etiquette.' 'She knows I'm a good old cow,' Laurie said. 'A lot better than most of the other old cows. Aren't I, what's-your-name -Anna?' 1  0