Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jane Eyre in Devon

More syncronicity and again in all those funny quirks in life who should pop up but Jean Rhys, I find myself thinking of her links with Devon and picking up the Sunday paper there's her name staring up at me; there's a new drama apparently of Wide Sargasso Sea. Jean Rhys. Why am I thinking of her? Well, remembering my own A level years and how in my late sixties Grammar school there were mutterings amongst the English teachers and one or two of the boarding staff about a "famous writer who's written something special ... you know she lives up the road, in the next village". Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea had been published two years before, in 1966 and was just coming out in paperback. Added to the gossip there were remarks about the writer's legendary reclusiveness and age. Coming fairly shortly on top of Plath's demise - what 5 years earlier and her special link with our home town and how the ramifications of her death were still circulating among many local people - a sixties teenager might be forgiven for thinking that Devon held special significance for women writers; a shrine for them maybe? And for a continual fascination with the links between these two writers. Albeit there was a major difference between the two authors: one was poet, the other novelist; yet in so many respects they had so many apparent similarities. Plath and Rhys are - with the obvious exception of Agatha Christie - the most famous C20 women writers linked with Devon. Their lives in the county overlapped: Rhys moved into her cottage bought for her by her brother in Cheriton Fitzpaine, in 1960, the Hughes moved to North Tawton in 1961 (for sure Rhys must have known about Plath after all the traumas of her suicide; not sure re vice-versa); both lived - in terms of as the crow flies - about 12 miles from one another; both were expatriate; both have been associated with one or more of the Bronte writers. However - although when Plath first moved to the small market town she apparently was blissfully happy - Devon eventually became the site of the instigation of her fated doom; whereas Rhys was thought by some to be dead when she was actually buried away in a mid-Devon village and only too alive - in the heart of her inner writing-life  and carried away in the depths of the exotic novel, which was eventually to give her the status of writer of high repute.