‘Sleep It Off Lady’ by Jean Rhys

As with Sylvia Plath, it is a mistake to muddle the life and the work. Why is it that we repeatedly fail to see that creative women are just that – creators? Rhys may have struggled in almost every aspect of her life. Yet her writing exhibits formidable control. This story may draw on the isolation she experienced while living in Devon, but it also takes inspiration from Saki’s short story ‘Sredni Vashtar’. The result is a kind of noir whodunit that has affinities with ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. Is Miss Verney herself responsible for her troubles? It is the fault of the villagers with their blend of hostility and indifference? Or do the problems spring from Miss Verney’s shed and its terrible inhabitant?

First published in The New Review. Collected in Sleep it Off Lady, Penguin, 1979

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