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.
Atget’s project to photograph a disappearing Paris, places him in the tradition of street photography and the flâneur, observing the city, preserving and capturing its details and subjects. His photographs capture a moment contained within the spaces of a Paris in flux. They capture the transitory, fleeting glimpses of courtyards, streets, shop windows, interiors and reflections.
It is at this time of day that the city begins to reveal itself. When street lamps are lit, exposing walls and the narrow passageways between buildings. The lights illuminate brightly so that the wall seems cast in yellow stone, and the shadows of overlooked corners steal away to find new hiding places.
The book captures the movement, the drift and passing of Wanda's life, directionless, without future, a wanderer. Reflected in its style, the book leaves a mystery at its heart, unanswered questions; the invisible and unaligned.
I am walking through central London thinking about clothes. The territory of the flâneuse, stopping to look at the window displays and the passers-by; catching a glimpse of reflections, the light and the shadow. Clothes in Rhys are connected to her use of literary devices such as mirrors and doubles, to her interest in subjectivity and existential uncertainty, and to status and political positioning. Encoded within Rhys's city novels are the subtle linkages of economy and sexual encounters, as well as contemporary anxiety around women in public spaces.
I wondered if it might be possible to tell a story through those songs alone, the sounds of the streets, and the popular music Rhys and her protagonists listen to. [...] a trail of itinerant city life winds its way through the books; the presence of transient figures who drift in and out of the narrative, like music from the streets drifting in through windows, troubles the already tenuous identities of Rhys protagonists and their uncertain status.
Leduc's attentiveness to her marginal subject, and the way she writes about the city reverberate with me. Like the transient figures in Jean Rhys's novels, she exists in the same fine line between inside and outside; and occupies the city as another layer of its movement. She exists side by side with the residents of the city, the passersby; and yet is so invisible. They only see her when she reaches out her hand to beg...
‘All this passport business is only because it’s wartime,’ I said. ‘They’ll stop it as soon as the war’s over.’ He smiled a little and said, ‘Perhaps, perhaps.’