From her balcony in the Hotel de l’Univers, Marya’s view is elevated. She can look over the rooftops and down to the Place Blanche and beyond, across the rooftops of the city. She can watch the lights coming out and the movement of the streets below. The hill of Montmartre provides a vantage point. This perspective reflects the sense of Montmartre as distinct, set apart from Paris, its history and status.
This is the first of Rhys's Paris hotels and I have chosen my location well. I am staying on Rue Constance, on the next street along from Rue Cauchois; both streets are just off Rue Lepic. The streets join together and I can walk around the corner into Rue Cauchois.The hotel of the universe is inhabited by people of many different nationalities, reflecting the area's status as a place of arrival. It was a part of the city Rhys explored when she first lived in Paris, and she is able to draw on this area in writing Quartet.
My project is concerned with how Rhys uses place and the topography of her streets and rooms to address and reflect the interior feeling and state of mind of her protagonists. When Stephan is arrested suddenly, the landscape of Paris reflects Marya’s lost and uncertain status. The city streets appear labyrinthine, the mist, rain and reflections of light and dark, play into her sense of finding herself alone in the city, unsure of where to turn. The city streets become a place where it might be possible to vanish without a trace, to fade into the background along with the invisible and unknown. This accords with the status of refugees as invisible, often falling outside historical accounts of nation-states, and the stateless as undocumented, anonymous and absent from history.
I have been dreaming I am in New York. Looking out across the harbour to where the bridge begins and ends. With a paperback of poems to carry as I walk, walk across thee. Waiting for the sun to set, I follow the steps upwards to the bridge where time spans like birds in flight.
From the window, glimpses, snapshots, fleeting: time passing like something remembered you can touch. Travel makes you a stranger everywhere continually seeking for and casting off the sense of home. From the window impossibly long trails of freight cars. I picture the track that runs behind us, spooling away endlessly, lost into distance. The forlorn sound of the train, the sound for which the word was made, stretching outwards for-lorn.
My starting point is to try and locate Café Lavenue. I have found a photograph, by chance, which suggests that it lay on a corner, an intersection somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse. The photograph shows where the street meets or is crossed by another street, and that there is a metro station in front. Lavenue looks to occupy the building, in typically grand Parisian style. I have a hunch that I may be able to locate the intersection and that the building itself may be unchanged.
On the screen a pretty girl was pointing a revolver at a group of guests. They backed away with their arms held high above their heads and expressions of terror on their faces. The pretty girl’s lips moved. The fat hostess unclasped the necklace of huge pearls and fell, fainting, into the arms of a footman. The pretty girl, holding the revolver so that the audience could see that two of her fingers were missing, walked backwards towards the door. Her lips moved again. You could see what she was saying. ‘Keep ‘em up....’
I am following through connections on the books Rhys reads and admires, and this has led me to Escapade, which seems to be one of the few books by Evelyn Scott I have been able to track down. Rhys also mentions the book in her letters. In reading Escapade, I’ve been thinking about Evelyn Scott and her relation to Rhys. They were contemporaries, and admirers of each other’s work. They share a clarity of expression and perception that makes their writing feel modern and ahead of its time. This is about an experimental style but in both I detect also the expression of a state of mind, of a certain experience of life or philosophy, and a tendency to radical acts and ideas.
Following Anna's journey in Voyage in the Dark, I have walked to different points in Bloomsbury, Kings Cross, Camden Town, Chalk Farm, Fitzrovia, Soho, Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Mayfair, Bayswater and Notting Hill. Anna's London is one which can feel confined and yet she is on the fringes of some interesting cultural sites: its theatres, music halls, cinemas and nightclubs.
I have been imagining the places in Jean Rhys's quartet of urban novels of the 1920's and 1930's as points of surfacing and disappearance. Mapping out the locations in the books as a journey through London and Paris. As I walk, I absorb myself in the books, thinking in tangents and asides; seeking out reflections on significant themes and passages, recurrent symbols and ideas. As points of departure from which to write, I cover these distances just to reach a state of mind.