Jean Rhys

Voyage In The Dark

No one writes outsiders like Jean Rhys. Her stories centre on the other woman, the peripheral character – the frustratingly passive protagonist. Between 1928 and 1939, she published a quartet of short novels from the vantage point of four such characters, all of whom regularly wander in and out of urban cinemas. For Rhys, cinema was a useful staging ground for depicting the experience of being inside/outside, performing belonging while feeling utterly alienated in the unsympathetic cityscapes her novels depict. In the dream-like Voyage in the Dark, for example, Rhys takes us into the grimy fleapits of pre-war London. Seated in a seedy Camden theatre, immigrant chorus girl Anna Morgan and her friend watch Three-Fingered Kate, a popular real-life British crime serial from the early 1910s. As Anna’s companion berates the actor playing Kate for being a ‘foreigner’ each dismissive remark reinforces Anna’s own sense of displacement, while Rhys’s ingenuous choice of serial reflects the repetitive cycles in which all her heroines find themselves: doomed to repeat their mistakes and remain outsiders. — Lisa Stead

This piece first appeared in the August 2018 edition of Sight and Sound. To subscribe to the magazine click here.

First published 1934 by Constable. Extract from Andre Deutsch 1967 edition.

Read an excerpt from Voyage In The Dark