Sunday, June 18, 2006

Diana Athill on Jean Rhys

Diana Athill on Jean Rhys:

My own experience and their evidence leave me convinced that Jean Rhys allowed no piece of writing to leave her hands until it was finished except for the very smallest details. An example of her perfectionism; some five years after the publication of Wide Sargasso Sea she said to me out of the blue: ‘There is one thing I’ve always wanted to ask you. Why did you let me publish that book?’ Here a gloss is necessary. She was a writer addressing her editor — a writer hampered by unusually beautiful manners. For ‘let me publish’ you must read ‘badger me into publishing’ — an unfair accusation as it happens. I was indignant when I asked her what on earth she meant. ‘It was not finished,’ she said coldly. She then pointed out the existence in the book of two unnecessary words. One was ‘then’, the other ‘quite’.

From the Foreword to Jean Rhys, Smile Please: an unfinished autobiography (1979).


litlove said...

I have some sympathy. When cutting academic articles, I always begin by removing my redundant 'indeed's, 'then's, and 'therefore's. I've been known to reduce the word count by hundreds this way. She must be a real pro if there were only two left!

Kate S. said...


Me too! I can edit for days and come away with only a few words changed.

Victoria said...

This made me smile. I'm a terrible re-drafter...I go at an academic piece again and again and again before I'm completely happy with it. Oftentimes I'll write a blog entry but won't read through and then a couple of days later my eyes will alight on a word out of place. Grrrrrr... :-)