‘Till September Petronella’ by Jean Rhys

When I go for a drink by myself, something I enjoy, I always entertain the fancy for at least a few minutes that I am a woman in a Jean Rhys story. Living in a Bloomsbury bed-sit perhaps, or soon to be chucked out of my lodgings in Paris. I’m an ex-chorus girl. My friend was killed by her gigolo lover. I’m tired of men and being poor and lonely. Can I have another drink? In this particular story Petronella Gray recounts a series of encounters with not very satisfactory men, the last of whom was nothing more substantial than someone in the front row at the theatre when she was on stage and forgot her lines. An endearing, funny heroine, Petronella too knows what it is to be immersed in the world of a story, in her case French or German or Hungarian romantic novels: “[you] go about in a dream for weeks afterwards, for months afterwards – perhaps all your life, who knows? – surrounded by those six hundred and fifty pages, the houses, the streets, the snow, the river, the roses, the girls… the old wicked, hard-hearted women and the old sad women, the waltz music, everything.”

First published in The London Magazine, January 1960 and available online here. Collected in Tigers are Better-Looking, Andre Deutsch, 1968 and The Collected Short Stories, Penguin Classics, 1987