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The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  261 ratings  ·  51 reviews
A groundbreaking biography of a psychologically traumatized novelist who forever changed the way we look at women in fiction.

Jean Rhys (1890–1979) is best known for her 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea. A prequel to Jane Eyre, Rhys’s revolutionary work reimagined the story of Bertha Rochester—the misunderstood “madwoman in the attic” who was driven to insanity by cruelties be
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 26th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company
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James Barker

It's not always possible to feel you would like Jean Rhys as a person when you read the highly autobiographical content of her extraordinary, slender novels. There is a callousness to her, an element of self pity, a morose side to her personality. I read this biography to see if her life justifies the negativity that seemed to cloak her.

The problem is it's not the best written biography… Pizzichini refers so often to Rhys' own (unfinished) account of her life, 'Smile Please,' that half way throu
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an exceptionally powerful biography. Having read most of Rhys's novels, I now have a clearer sense of how they connect to her life. Rhys did not set out to be a writer but appears to have been encouraged by Ford Madox Ford, whom she credits with being one of the most important influences in her life. And what a tormented life it was. It's almost as if Rhys was determined to remain unhappy. Of course, her alcoholism was a serious factor and one that was never fully addressed in her life. ...more
C.S. Burrough
May 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful friend overseas bought and posted this book to me, unaware of my having read it twice – once after buying it before giving it away, the second on loan from my library. Without hesitation on rereading the life of my favourite author, I became immersed a third time.

Lilian Pizzichini draws much from Carole Angier's Jean Rhys: Life and Work (1990), producing a more condensed product. Her other main primary source is Rhys' Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography (1979).

This piece focu
Joan Colby
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
A combination of a difficult personality, dismal situations, disappointing relationships plus alcoholism resulted in Rhys sad lifestyle. Growing up in the West Indian isle of Dominica, she was disdained by her mother and felt like an outsider in her family. Sent to school in England, she also failed to fit in. She embarked on a career as a chorus girl which prompted her lifelong attraction to sugar daddies; older distinguished men who could support her, but never satisfied her need to be loved. ...more
Sep 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
This literary biography left me wanting to reread Rhys’ “After Leaving Mr. McKenzie” while being steadily annoyed by the author’s many far reaching presumptions of how and why Rhys thought and felt. For example, this sentence asserting why Rhys did not write any books for an extended period after a minor court appearance: “The sneer behind the smile; the thought that everyone was laughing at her – Max and his phantom (or were they?) women, the lofty, disdainful neighbours, the stern police, the ...more
May 28, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Carole Angier's earlier biography seemed definitive to many. This is a much shorter book, more of an interpretative biography and an introduction to Jean Rhys. Whereas Angier often seemed judgemental - and with such a destructive, fragmented subject, it's hard not to be - Pizzichini seeks to understand Jean's thoughts and feelings. At times she is insightful but there are a lot of suppositions. But it's still an interesting read, because Rhys was a brilliant writer and lived her life on the edge ...more
Laurie Notaro
Jun 25, 2012 rated it liked it
So torn about this book. While the story was fascinating and a page-turner, I absolutely had nothing but disdain for Jean Rhys. I have known too many people like her who destroy other people's lives to feel any sympathy for her whatsoever. And that was unsettling--reading this book also made me feel a little insane because my reaction was so strong to Rhys. I detested her. Her writing seems to be her only redeeming quality, because she was horrid. Her life was difficult because she made it that ...more
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jean Rhys' volatility and private battle with madness seems to have been overshadowed by her famous depiction of 'the madwoman in the attic' who took on Rhys' tortured emotional existence and allowed its author to hide behind the white hot trail she blazed. Jean Rhys lived what can only be described as an exhausting life. Her success seems to have barely touched her; her stories and novels wrenched out of a deeply broken place inside of her that was ruled by alcohol and internal violence that se ...more
Kathleen Jones
Jean Rhys was a complex character who behaved appallingly throughout her life, but her friends forgave her because - when she was young - she was both beautiful and gifted, and - when she was old - she was vulnerable and gifted. She abandoned her baby daughter, beat up her husband, and assaulted her neighbours. She drank heavily, suffered from depression and had a total inability to look after herself, or do anything to help herself - what a friend described as 'fatal passivity'. Yet she wrote t ...more
Nina-Marie Gardner
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Meh. A great book as a 'soft' introduction to the genius that was Jean Rhys- I would highly recommend to Jean Rhys naifs.

But die-hards and those who can handle a more harrowing read should go with Jean Rhys: Letters 1931-1966 for a truer & more comprehensive picture of her life & who she was. I mean, the Letters are in her own words, ya know? (I blogged in more detail about the Letters here:
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I had trouble getting into the book -- I think because I thought I needed to keep track of who all of the people were. Once I figured out that the trick was to just keep reading, I really got into it. What a fascinating, tragic, genius life she led. Pizzichini did a great job, when referring to a person, in identifying them... such as her cousin Lily, etc. I have ordered Wide Sargasso Sea, because I wan't to read Rhys works.
Jan 13, 2013 rated it liked it
"literary biography". telling that of 75 reviews, 30 people felt compelled to add a comment.

does it work? yes.

is it fantastic? well...

Pizzichini relives Jean Rhys' life through a semi-literary "reimagining," where she speculates on the internal life of Rhys rather than writes strict biography.

interesting concept; i'm glad it read it; does not become a "great" work
Jun 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Gorgeously poetic portrayal of this writer's life; Rhys had the kind of tortured and tragic but darkly glamourous and eventful life that makes for serious personal unhappiness, but fabulous biography reading.
I borrowed this a little early from the library in anticipation of a book club read during the summer. I must admit that I have been a little disappointed thus far with the books of Rhys' which I have read, but I was still interested to learn about the woman herself. There is certainly quite a lot of depth within The Blue Hour, which details where and how Rhys lived over the course of her life. She had a sad existence in many ways, with her first child dying in infancy, mental health problems, a ...more
Terry Pitts
Aug 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
As someone who greatly admires her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, I wanted to get a sense of Jean Rhys before reading some of her other novels. Pizzichini provides a readable, non-scholarly overview of her life and her writing, neither of which needs to be described in any detail here. Pizzichini's biography is apparently pretty lightweight in comparison with Carole Angier's earlier, more comprehensive life of Rhys. But I didn't mind this breezier and much shorter version, which will give any reader a ...more
Jarvis K Kelahan
I haven't read any of Jean Rhys' novels and after reading this biography I am not keen on picking them up. It seems like she was insufferable, lacking respect for anyone or anything, taking advantage of benevolent people around her. I think I would be very repelled by Jean if I ever had a chance to meet her. In my opinion, her somewhat complicated and unhappy childhood cannot justify her often horrible behavior. While her work does focus on important issues like lower rungs of society, abortion, ...more
Ghost of the Library
Wide Sargasso Sea remains to this wide one my all time favorite books, safely ensconced in the top 10 since reading it 20 years ago....but of its author I knew very little, well almost nothing actually.
Its not always a good idea to know the human behind your favorite book/character, it can disappoint you and at times shock you, however when it comes to Jean Rhys I have zero regrets in reading this!
Jane Eyre may be a literary masterpiece but contrary to most, I was first drawn to Bertha Mason as
Shaun Rylands
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Finished reading The Blue Hour by Lilian Pizzichini: a biography of Jean Rhys, one of my favourite writers. We have faith in the poison - we know how to offer up our life, day after day, entire.
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
beautiful beautiful story of her mysterious and sad life ,and yet she wrote her heartfelt stories ,with braveness even when leaning happily of men she found along the way- well done
Lore Carrillo
Jun 28, 2012 rated it liked it
The Blue Hour is beautifully written and completely engaging. I finished it in two days because I simply couldn't put it down. I kept reading and reading hoping at some point I would come to understand if not like or identify with Jean Rhys. It never happened. This woman is the picture of a plethora of mental illness. Rather than making her sympathetic, her demeanor and her abhorrent behavior made me absolutely detest her. Her childhood was rife with emotional and physical abuse, yes. But at som ...more
Dr T
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been a fan of Jean Rhys' work for many years and anticipated a fresh biography with eagerness.

However, this one disappointed me. I think the simplistic style of the biographer detracted from the marvel that was Jean Rhys. I can see that the author has attempted to replicate a biography similar to that of Julia Briggs' masterpiece on Woolf; using the works to construct the life. However, it falls flat.

This biography turns every fiction of Rhys' into slightly distorted autobiography. It l

(view spoiler)
James Haliburton
Concise biography by a writer obviously as protective of her subject as anyone is who has been captivated by Rhys' writing and the bleak struggle of her life as depicted in her letters and incomplete autobiography. Interesting here is the focus on the childhood psychological scars that go some way to explaining Rhys' apparent self-destructive relationship with the rest of mankind. Interesting, too, is focus on happier times that Rhys herself preferred to ignore. Rhys is presented as a character ...more
May 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Jean Rhys was an interesting character, and a very thoughtful writer -- she worked incredibly hard, in general and in ensuring that her prose was absolutely clean, to the point that she would only write using single-syllable words. Her relationships, especially with Ford Madox Ford, were pretty depressing. This bio certainly focuses on a fascinating writer, but the writing... weel, it doesn't compare favorably with Rhys's.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, writers, 2011
An engrossing, haunting read that would have earned more stars--if it had been on the fiction shelf. While I suspect Pizzichini's assumptions and insertions are correct, I can't tolerate it when biography writers repeatedly assume the feelings, thoughts, and inner monologues of their subjects. Source it, or leave it out. If the author had written this as a novel based on the life of Jean Rhys, that would have been considerably for the better.
May 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
This was ok, but definitely not great. I felt like most of the author's research came from reading the novels of Jean Rhys. While admittedly autobiographical, I don't think that they should be quoted (unattributedly) as descriptions of exactly what she was feeling or thinking at any time in her life. An interesting life, not very interestingly told.
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This started out strong, and I had lots of sympathy for the young Jean Rhys, but watching her take advantage of others over and over throughout her life (with a marked lack of gratitude on her part) lost its charm. It seemed to me that after her difficult adolescence, she stalled and did not grow emotionally for the rest of her life, which did not make for ideal biography reading.
Somehow Pizzichini has made reading what SHOULD have been a fascinating story a chore. The books first half drags and is so full of references to Rhys' autobiography Smile Please I wondered why I was wasting my time with this book instead of that. I soldiered on and things did get better but not enough to have earned three stars.
Dec 06, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011, biography, library
imaginative in the worst possible sense - this book looks on the outside like biography but is in fact a fanciful reconstruction of rhys' life and emotions. the author inserts FAR too many of her own opinions and feelings into scenes, often in patently offensive fashion. i cannot recommend that anyone pick this up and wish i hadn't.
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