British novelist and short-story writer.
Jean Rhys was born in Dominica to a Welsh doctor and his Creole wife. She was educated at a convent school until she was sixteen. She then went to England to study acting and lived the kind of bohemian life that features in her short stories. The love affair that forms the starting point for After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1931) draws on her own experience at this time.
In 1919 she married her first husband, Jean Lenglet, and moved to Paris with him. She showed some of her short stories to Ford Madox Ford, who encouraged her to publish, and The Left Bank and Other Stories appeared in 1927. Her novels Voyage in the Dark (1934) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) made a considerable impact, as did some of her journalism in Paris, on account of the freedom with which she handled controversial feminist topics. In 1932 she and Lenglet were divorced, and she subsequently married again, first Leslie Tidden Smith, who died in 1945, and then Max Hamar.
At the beginning of World War II Jean Rhys stopped writing and it was not until the 1950s that she began working on another novel. This was her Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which won immense critical acclaim. Drawing on her childhood memories of the West Indies, it tells the story of Antoinette Cosway, Mr Rochester's mad wife in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. She later published two further collections of stories and left an unfinished autobiography, Smile Please, published posthumously in 1979.