Petronella can be described as the archetypal Jean Rhys heroine. She navigates a position of uncertainty, living in a bedsit in Bloomsbury and working in shifting or temporary occupations, the artist's model, the chorus girl. She spends her days in aimless wandering and her nights in after hours bars and nightclubs. She fluctuates between the highs and lows of this transient lifestyle, and the financial insecurity and the tenuous identity of her status as a solitary female in the city: 'What's going to become of you, Miss Petronella Gray, living in a bed sitting room in Torrington Square, with no money, no background and no nous?'
There is something powerful and haunting about listening to this song, and it has a dark and mournful melody, particularly in the earliest versions. Lyrically poetic, it also contains a sense of its time, of the dread and uncertainty that shadowed the 1930s. The legends that have attached to the song, may also be present in each listen, and it is interesting to think about how popular songs might travel and adapt over time. Even without its notoriety, there is an atmosphere of sadness evoked by the song, and something compelling, something that is hard to shake.
The landscape leaves its marks, draws its way through my veins, like the road running through tree-lined stretches, where trees tunnel over us. This is how I remember it, etched in, and layered with buildings. The dark river, which is high at this time of year, winds through Hebden Bridge. The town is lit by lights, winter blue. In my hand a shard of ice.
After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is such a great title for a book and I am a great admirer of its first line and the exactitude in which it is framed. The first location of this book is the Quai des Grands Augustine, and the hotel in which Julia goes to stay at the end of her relationship with Mr Mackenzie. There are no hotels existing now on this part of the quay, but in her biography of Jean Rhys, Carole Angier places her in the Hotel Henri IV during 1928 when she was writing Mackenzie, located on the Rue Saint Jacques in the streets behind the left bank of the Seine.
Looking back through my points of surfacing in Quartet, a book filled with references to sites across Montmartre and Montparnasse, some of which I have visited and explored here - through streets, hotels, cafés - the different views of the city. Through these locations I have crossed into some of the imagery and ideas in the book: the bars and nightlife, the concealed and invisible populations of migrants and stateless people, the elegant façade of the grand buildings and sites of justice and respectability, the life of the back streets, their poverty and hidden places, the dark river flowing through, the city as labyrinth.
As well as the literal prison Rhys writes about in Quartet, she frequently portrays metaphorical prisons and spaces in her work. Much of her fiction creates this sense of being trapped, a claustrophobic feeling that has much to do with the spaces she encloses her protagonists in, the rooms and streets, or their lives and circumstances. The city surrounds from all sides, walls close in, and sometimes spaces appear to be shrinking, pavements and passages are narrow and enclosing. Rhys chooses these spaces deliberately as she wants to reflect in them the state of mind of her characters, and more than once she takes the image of a band of iron growing tighter, encircling the heart like a tight grip of anxiety that refuses to let go.
Train stations have a peculiar kind of atmosphere which can be an irresistible draw. They are places of waiting, of limbo, witness to the coming and going of commuters and passers-through. I still think of farewells and departures, of chance encounters and missed opportunities; an intense emotion that prevails in the air itself, as if it were still shrouded in the smoke of steam trains, and in strangers hurrying by.
On my visit, I entered the church and found myself alone. I wasn't expecting to feel the depth of emotion I felt on closing the door and standing in the interior of the church. Once inside I felt a surge of what I might describe as reverence, that made me pause and stand still. The atmosphere was dark, quiet, hushed, the sense of time standing by. Something hard to describe, a moment of breathlessness that I wanted to hold onto.
The motif of wandering, the feeling of restlessness is there in the Rodinksy book - it circles around the myth of the room and is always starting out. In the book, I like the aura of the photographs, the suppressed and concealed histories that buildings contain. It helps me to think about what is hidden and hopeless, what seems lost about my own project. How it changes and disappears before my eyes. Sinclair writes about Rachel Lichtenstein and her quest, how she is drawn to an empty space that is at once charged with energy, about what is paralyzing about her obsession, how she must 'find some resolution or lose herself forever in the attempt.'
By the water’s edge, the monument to the immigrant, looking back at the city, looking out across the wide and muddy river. Situated at the point of arrival, the old port of New Orleans, marking the point of embarkation, the journey’s end and the start of crossings and travels, hopes and dreams. A two-sided statue, a decorated figure, like those carved on a ship’s prow looks out to the water; an immigrant family look towards the city. The crescent city lies at a bend in the Mississippi River. A city haunted by its migrants, by their comings and goings, the history of these streets and those who walked them.