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Abstract

“I remember the Riot as if it were yesterday. I must have been about twelve,” Jean Rhys writes in the vignette “Black/White” in Smile Please: An Unfinishing Autobiography. The experience, she suggests, was a rite of passage for her. Veronica Marie Gregg, working from historical accounts of Dominica available to her, reads Rhys’s account of the “riot” as an invention consistent with a wider “strategy” of Rhys’s: “suppressing names, distorting ‘facts,’ and misremembering dates.” Drawing on the work of Michel Beaujoir in Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait, she suggests that Rhys’s memory of a riot is manufactured from the “contested topoi” of her plantocratic culture and racial stereotyping of a black Other. While there is work of historical repression and distortion taking place in the account Rhys offers, the event represented as a riot in Smile Please is historical. Rhys’s representation of a riot in “Black/White” routes us back to both her 1927 story “Again the Antilles” and local newspaper coverage of historical events in 1898. By attending to the detail of and occlusions in Rhys’s inscription of the violence we may also restore a fuller history of the imposition of Crown Colony rule in Dominica in 1898 than that in official records and of the contemporary contest over the stakes of documenting it.

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