Making connections… Three white women writers of Dominica – Jean Rhys, now the subject of a new and much acclaimed biography by Miranda Seymour, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, writer and politician, and Elma Napier, also writer, politician and early environmentalist. Here, superimposed on the elegant cover of the Rhys biography are the covers of books by Allfrey (The Orchid House, her one semi-autobiographical novel) and Napier (Black and White Sands, her memoir of life in Dominica), both published by Papillote Press.
All three women knew each… Allfrey and Napier knew each other in Dominica although it doesn’t appear that they were close; this may be explained through geography in that Allfrey lived outside Roseau and Napier in Calibishie; it is also true that when Napier arrived in Dominica, Allfrey was in England. There are interesting mentions of both Allfrey and Napier in the Rhys biography, which, for the first time, explores the importance of Dominica in both Rhys’ life and writing. Rhys and Allfrey were friends when they were in London although Rhys was not best pleased when Allfrey casually remarked that “Smith” was a common name – at the time Rhys was Mrs Tilden-Smith; later Allfrey sent Rhys copies of the Dominica Star, the paper she edited, to remind Rhys of home. Rhys and Napier had only one – and somewhat frosty – meeting, in Dominica, in 1936, when Rhys and her husband, the very same Mr Tilden-Smith, a London publishers’ editor, took tea on the veranda with Napier at Pointe Baptiste. Rhys was sidelined – not to her pleasure – while Napier talked to Rhys’ husband about getting her novel published.
While Rhys has rightly been regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, both Allfrey and Napier deserve recognition for their contribution to Dominica’s literary history. Read them here, see below: