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Paris

AND THEN I WAS JEAN  |  WORDS BY GEORGIA GRIFFITHS

He renamed me, can you imagine? I came here, not my home, for the love of a man and he left me, left me labeled as wife and mother. The First One was before the move, very quick, there and then not. He would save me from the grey alleys and repeat performances. But then there I was. He paid for the procedure, even though he knew no claim. Is that too much to share? It is the truth though. I suppose he did save me from the grey alleys, but only to put me in a room with a view of them, to ease his conscience.
 

I had built myself, still Ella, after the romantic image of this city to which I came, and all for him, the Second One!
 

I am your only other, your travelling partner, the one who will escape with you.
 

But as before, there and then gone. I bore him two children, one lived. I would sit in a café, mourn my life as a showgirl and the ruin I had become, and drink from the pockets of solicitors and merchants. In those long days I would write, knowing that someone would save me.
 

Then he came, Number Three. With his name in three strong ‘I’m. Your. Man’ parts, at least he changed it himself. Something more American, or British, I don’t know, identifiable, saleable. I was your pearl. You found me and made me, you stole me doing it myself and I let you, and then you went. Two lives in this city and all at the charity of men: this is the story I will tell. Of small streets and American businessmen, lost bodies, salons, milliners, rivers, day times and empty glasses, ‘the demi-monde’ as they call it now, and women.
 

So thank you, lit city. I am leaving you behind for the mad woman in the attic. I leave you as Jean, the name he chose, and I will make that name mine. Number Four is dead, the cottage is mine, and Paris was just a story that wrote me.
 

Written after author Jean Rhys, born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams. Ella was born in Dominica in 1890, and died as Jean Rhys in 1979. She originally moved to Paris to join her husband, Belgian refugee Jean Lenglet, who worked for the French Government. They left for Vienna, returning to Paris shortly before Lenglet’s imprisonment in a French jail.  She was married three times, and was first published after an affair with novelist and editor Ford Madox Ford (born Ford Hermann Hueffer), who supported her and subsequently left her. Jean Rhys returned to Devon, England, in 1939 having lived in Paris for over fifteen years.