Justice. I’ve heard that word. I tried it out. I wrote it down. I wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice.

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

The Palais de Justice is located on the Quai des Orfèvres on the  Île de la Cité  by the river Seine. Stretching out along the river bank, it dominates the scenery, grand and forbidding. It is one of the oldest official buildings in Paris, a site of great historic events, and revolution; the palace of justice, a monument to justice and injustice, looking out across Paris.

Shining gates, ascending flights of steps. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité in golden letters; Tribunal de Police in black. As it were, a vision of heaven and the Judgement. 

Jean Rhys, Quartet

After Stephan’s arrest Marya goes to the Palais de Justice to try and find some information on where he has been taken. Marya finds it a baffling place of endless corridors and staircases where she waits for hours. According to the visitors bureau of Paris, inside the building contains some 24km of corridors, 7,000 doors and more than 3,150 windows.

Questions of justice, morality and money recur in Rhys’s books – the concerns of the respectable society she critiques. In his introduction to her first collection of stories in 1927, Ford Maddox Ford sought to introduce her work, describing how ‘with a terrifying insight and a terrific – an almost lurid! – passion for stating the case of the underdog, she has let her pen loose on the Left Banks of the Old World… with a bias of admiration for its midinettes and of sympathy for its law-breakers.’

Justice: Humbug it all was. The rotten things that people did. The mean things they got away with – smirking. Nobody caring a bit. The mean things they got away with – sailed away with – smirking. Nobody caring a bit. Didn’t she know something about that? Didn’t she, though! But, of course, anything to do with money was swooped on and punished ferociously. ‘Humbug!’ she said aloud.

Jean Rhys, Quartet

In After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Julia’s hotel is located on the Quai des Grands Augustins, and overlooks the Palace of Justice: ‘She lay down on the bed, lit a cigarette and watched the lights coming out in the Palais de Justice across the river like cold, accusing, jaundiced eyes.’ Good Morning Midnight, features the Gray’s Inn Road, with its historic connections to the law, as the site for Sasha’s room of no return: ‘that was the end of me, the real end. Two-pound-ten every Tuesday and a room off the Gray’s Inn Road.’

It was lying on the table, and right across the room I thought, ‘Who on earth’s that from?’ because of the handwriting. […]

To get money through a lawyer, stating please acknowledge receipt and oblige, was a very different matter. […] It was completely illogical, but I had never in my life felt more hurt or more angry.

Jean Rhys, Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography

Rhys often describes a particular moment in her books, in which her heroines receive money or a weekly allowance from a solicitor; something that happened at the end of her first love affair. The receipt of the letter, a cheque in the post, is a bitter moment: the unfamiliar writing and the shock of the impersonal, the realization that this is the way things are done.

Rhys writes how she ‘got quite used to changing that cheque, because got can get used to anything. You think: I’ll never do that; and you find yourself doing it.’

Surely even she must see that she was trying to make a tragedy out of a situation that was fundamentally comical. The discarded mistress – the faithful lawyer defending the honour of the client. […]

As far as he could make out she had a fixed idea that her affair with him and her encounter with Maitre Legros had been the turning point in her life. They had destroyed some necessary illusions about herself which had enabled her to live her curious existence with a certain amount of courage and audacity. […]

And then she had written to the lawyer and asked for the allowance to be sent to her. And after that something had gone kaput in her, and she would never be any good any more – never, any more.

Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s