Rhys on changing a novel’s “morbid” ending

Survivor “memoirs” have flooded the literary market in recent years, but publishers’ aversion to tragic endings is not altogether new. Here’s some background on Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark, published in 1934:

[The novel] reworks the familiar Rhysian plot of a destitute, powerless chorus girl, abandoned by lovers and left alone and pregnant…. Rhys’s publishers insisted she change the “morbid” ending in which Anna died. In a June 1934 letter printed in Francis Wyndham and Diana Melly’s collection of Rhys’s correspondence, Rhys confided: “I minded more than I would have believed possible. . . . I suppose I shall have to give in and cut the book and I’m afraid it will make it meaningless. The worst is that it is precisely the last part which I am most certain of that will have to be mutilated.” She was haunted by this revision for more than thirty years.

(Contemporary Authors Online, 2004.)

More on Rhys:

  • She viewed writing as “‘a way of getting rid of something, something unpleasant especially’ and saw herself as ‘a pen . . . nothing but a pen’ through which a story told itself: ‘I think and think for a sentence, and every sentence I think for is wrong, I know it. Then, all at once, the illuminating sentence comes to me. Everything clicks into place.'” (From the same Contemporary Authors profile.)


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