Jean Rhys, Letter - Patricia Cleveland-Peck on the novels of Jean Rhys - Slightly Foxed Issue 4

Voyage in the Dark

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An Edwardian villa in Brighton, 1957
It is cold and chaotic because we have only just moved in. Home from school, I go into my bedroom, turn on my little white portable radio and flop down on my bed. The date must be 10 or 11 May, for that is when Jean Rhys’s play based on her novel Good Morning, Midnight was first broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. I have never heard of Jean Rhys but, as I listen to the play, I become involved. I feel instant kinship with the protagonist, which is odd because she is a sad, rather desperate, ageing woman alone in Paris and I am a lively, gregarious schoolgirl. I decide that what this writer has captured so brilliantly is mood. The play evokes a sort of melancholy which I recognize as existing in everyone to a greater or lesser degree. GMM becomes a shorthand symbol in my diary not only for this mood but also for the ability to express it. I have wanted to be a writer since the age of 10: now I am determined. I try in vain to find out more about the writer of the play and discover a story in a very old Penguin New Writing. Then someone tells me she is dead.

Good Morning, Midnight is in fact the fourth in a series of novels that draw largely on Jean Rhys’s own life. Sasha Jansen is a lonely, ageing alcoholic who, at the instigation of a worried friend, goes to spend a recuperative fortnight in Paris, where she had lived during her brief marriage. Now she wanders the streets, ‘remembering this, remembering that’. She has been so damaged by men that when happiness is within her grasp she is unable to prevent herself seeking revenge with a futile gesture of self-destruction.

Charing Cross Road, London, 1967
I am now a young woman. I have been living it up in Paris. I still intend to write, but life is full of fun and no GMM symbol has appeared in my diary for a long time. Today I am wearing a new suit, pale grey and beautifully cut. I feel happy to b

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About the contributor

Patricia Cleveland-Peck did end up as a professional writer and is the author of children’s books, adult non-fiction books and two radio plays. Her first stage play was performed at York in May 2004.

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