THE life and work of writer Jean Rhys, author of the renowned postcolonial novel “Wide Sargasso Sea”, is to be celebrated at a public event next month.

The Dominican-born novelist resided in the village of Cheriton Fitzpaine, near Crediton, for the last 20 years of her life and from there finished and published her most famous book in 1966.

Yet, to this day, her presence in the village is unheralded, with just her memorial stone in the local church standing the test of time, and barely any literature documenting her residency.

The event, being orchestrated by the University of Exeter with the local drama club, is aiming to help the village “reclaim” Rhys’s legacy and will feature readings of her work from the local theatre group, contextualised by contributions from academics.

Her biographer, Miranda Seymour, will also read from her recently published book “I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys” (William Collins, 2022).  

“In the past, Rhys’s reputation among Cheriton Fitzpaine residents suffered because of her reclusive behaviour,” says Professor Vike Martina Plock, Head of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Exeter, and co-organiser of the event.

“It is remarkable that so little survives from her time here, and it’s our hope that through this project we can help the village regain that connection to her life and work and create a cultural legacy both for visitors and future generations.”

Rhys was born in 1890 and was sent to England at the age of 16 for her education. She spent time in Cambridge and London, and later travelled around Europe with her first husband, before moving to the South West in 1939 with her second husband.

After five years in Bude, Cornwall, Rhys moved to Cheriton Fitzpaine in 1960, and it was there that she returned to the public eye as a writer, most notably with “Wild Sargasso Sea”.

Written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, “Wild Sargasso Sea” imagines the background to Mr Rochester’s marriage from the point of view of his wife, later the “madwoman in the attic”.

The book won the WH Smith Literary Award in 1967, and has grown in reputation ever since, including being named by “Time” as one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.

It was included on the “Big Jubilee Read” list of 70 books by Commonwealth authors, selected in 2022 to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

Whilst she lived as a recluse in the village of Cheriton Fitzpaine, Jean was befriended by Joan Butler, a keen member of the drama club, by the Greenslades who ran the Half Moon pub and taxi business, and by the vicar, Rev Alwynne Woodard.

To fund the community project, the team has secured a grant from the University’s Public Engagement Springboard Fund, and will work with Exeter UNESCO City of Literature and a community-owned independent bookstore to promote the event.

Plans are also underway to partner with the Crediton Area History and Museum Society to create heritage markers for the village. 

The academics, who will be joined by colleagues from the University of Liverpool on the day, hope that the event will not only revive interest in Rhys – potentially leading to some form of annual celebration – but might generate new insight into the author’s final years from people who knew her.

Dr Felicity Gee, Senior Lecturer in Modernism and World Cinema, and co-organiser, said: “Ahead of the centenary of her first book, ‘The Left Bank and Other Stories’, which was published in 1927, we are hoping this event will bring to light hitherto unknown aspects of her work. It is exciting to think that we might unearth new biographical insight into this late stage of what was a remarkable career and life.”

The event, “An Evening with Jean Rhys”, will be held in Cheriton Fitzpaine Village Hall and is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 18.

Extracts from Rhys’s work will be read by members of the current Drama club, by kind permission of the Rhys estate. 

Tickets costing £7 for the event can be obtained on Eventbrite:  or in person at The Greenhouse, Crediton, or The Community Shop, Cheriton Fitzpaine.