Nottingham biographer Miranda Seymour on the incredible life of Jean Rhys

Writer, literary critic and owner of Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire, Miranda Seymour has become particularly known for her work as a literary biographer, with earlier work such as Mary Shelley, In the wake of Byron and Henry James and his literary circle.

Now the author is preparing to publish his new biography I Used to Live Here, The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys. After the life of the novelist Jean Rhys, Seymour focuses his biography on the Caribbean island of Dominica where the subject spent seventeen years of his life, and which influenced his seminal novel. Wide Sargasso Sea the postcolonial prequel to At Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyer.

Traveling to the Caribbean was an essential part of Seymour’s writing process. “One of the great pleasures of writing this book was traveling to Dominica. I am the first biographer who visited,” says Miranda. “It is the most extraordinary island. Not like you would imagine the Caribbean at all, no sandy beaches and cocktails, but rather living volcanoes and mountains dividing huge ravines. There are a lot of hurricanes and they wash away the bridges leaving people stranded.

The island, which Seymour describes as “quite beautiful and completely unspoilt”, helped the biographer better understand Jean. “I was very lucky because I knew a wonderful woman called Polly Patullo who worked 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 extraordinary lady from the village to sing all the Creole songs that Jean Rhys knew.

I always like to write about strong women who have been undervalued or misread

So why choose Jean Rhys as the subject? “I always like to write about strong women who have 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 of her novels were victims, but she herself was incredibly tough, I’ve never met anyone with survivability like her.

While writing the biography, Seymour found herself feeling close to Rhys, whom she admires both as a literary figure and as a person. “The truth is, as a biographer, I choose people who appeal to me. It’s probably because I see myself in them, and it’s that aspect of them that I’m going to connect too.

Telling the story of an author who survived extreme poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction, and an avalanche of romantic and sexual turmoil, Miranda Seymour portrays an independent and elusive woman who is “powerful, cultured, self-deprecating, egocentric”. , 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 released on Thursday, May 12, 2022 and can be pre-ordered from Amazon here.

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