Jean Rhys (Women Writers) by Sylvie Maurel is one of those academic explorations of an artist’s body of work and, since I recently read through Jean Rhys: The Complete Novels, it only made sense that I should read a book in which a discussion of her work would be presented.
The book is organized by the order in which Rhys published her novels and this affords an opportunity to see how she, as an author, progressed from third person point-of-view to first person. I had noted in reading the collection of these novels that I felt her first person narratives were stronger but the editor of the collection chose to organize them not in order of publication but in a more “logical” order, having the protagonists move from the young woman to middle aged with Rhys’s most lauded novel put at the end.
I had hoped to read more of a comparison/contrast exploration of the characters and themes between each novel and while Maurel does occasionally touch on these things, she never delves into them. Rather, she focuses on each piece separately barely looking at the body of work in toto. Because the characters themselves are never discussed in relationship to one another, how one reflects certain qualities of another or how one advances emotionally away from the rest, the over all text lacked a certain literary cohesion that I typically expect from a single person volume. Had this been an anthology of essays about Rhys’s work with a variety of different contributing perspectives, I would not have sought for more relationship throughout.
Nevertheless, for anyone who is interested in Rhys’s novels and would like to see one woman’s interpretation of the relevance found within her writing, this is not a bad choice. Not brilliant or necessary to appreciate Rhys’s works but an intriguing peek into one woman’s psyche. Although I confess it left me feeling I understood more about Maurel after reading her thoughts on Rhys than I did about Rhys’s writing. And perhaps that is the inevitable flaw in reading a book like this. While some insight into the artist’s efforts may be gleaned, more often than not it is the critic’s efforts that ultimately shine forth.