Jean Rhys's affair with Ford Madox Ford, and its effects on her marriage to Jean Lenglet as well as on Ford's relationship with Stella Bowen, have been variously cataloged by each of this foursome:

  • In Quartet aka Postures (1928), Rhys depicted Ford and Bowen as Hugh and Lois Heidler; Stephan Zelli is Lenglet, and Rhys herself is the protagonist, Marya Zelli.
  • Ford followed soon after with When the Wicked Man (1931), portraying Rhys as Lola Porter, a drunken journalist who takes advantage of the generosity of Joseph Notterdam (Ford) and his wife Elspeth (Bowen).
  • Lenglet wrote an autobiographical novel, called variously In de Strik, Barred, and Sous les Verrous, published 1932 in Dutch and English, and 1933 in French.
  • Finally, Bowen's 1941 autobiography, Drawn from Life, provides her take on the affair.

Rhys herself translated the manuscript of Sous les Verrous into English. In his article "Jean Rhys and the Dutch Connection" (Journal of Modern Literature vol. 11, no. 1, 1984, pp. 159–173), Martien Kappers-Den Hollander has pointed out that Rhys made several changes: for example, cutting out all references to the character representing Bowen and softening the portrayal of her own counterpart. Lenglet in turn used the English translation as the basis for his Dutch translation. The French version, however, used his original manuscript. So by comparing the French original to the English translation, and by considering the changes Rhys made, we can gauge Rhys's reaction to Lenglet's portrayal of the affair.

Rhys refused to read Bowen's Drawn from Life, on the very sensible grounds that "I was quite certain that Stella's opinion of me wouldn't be pleasant to read". This is mentioned in another article by Hollander, "Measure for Measure: Quartet and When the Wicked Man" (Jean Rhys Review, vol. 2, no. 2, 1998, pp. 2–16). In the footnotes to this second article, Hollander says that Rhys eventually did read Arthur Mizener's biography of Ford, The Saddest Story (London: The Bodley Head, 1971), which draws upon Stella's account of the affair. Rhys was predictably upset at how Bowen depicted her.

I have been unable, however, to find any evidence either way whether Rhys ever read When the Wicked Man. Do we know whether Rhys ever read Ford's novel and recognized herself in it? If so, what was her reaction to this fictionalized representation?


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.