Non-Fiction:

I Used to Live Here Once

An intimate, revealing and profoundly moving biography of the extraordinary writer Jean Rhys, acclaimed author of Wide Sargasso Sea.

I Used to Live Here Once After a huge early success, Jean Rhys vanished from view for quarter of a century. She was rediscovered in the 70s becoming world famous in her eighties and taken to the heart of ‘cool’ London with drugs, sex and rock and roll going on all around her. She died in 1979 but has again become a cult figure as the strongly themed subjects of her novels speak to our times and quotes from her books are regularly posted on twitter.

 An obsessive and troubled genius, Jean Rhys is one of the most compelling and unnerving writers of the twentieth century. Memories of a conflicted Caribbean childhood haunt the four fictions that Rhys wrote during her extraordinary years as an exile in 1920s Paris and later in England. Rhys’s experiences of heartbreak, poverty, notoriety, breakdowns and even imprisonment all became grist for her writing, forming an iconic ‘Rhys woman’ whose personality – vulnerable, witty, watchful and angry – was often mistaken, and still is, for a self-portrait.

Many details of Rhys’s life emerge from her memoir, Smile Please and the stories she wrote throughout her long and challenging career. But it’s a shock to discover that no biographer – until now – has researched the crucial seventeen years that Rhys spent living on the remote Caribbean island of Dominica; the island which haunted Rhys’s mind and her work for the rest of her life.

What people are saying about the book

I Used to Live Here OnceLuminous and penetrating, Seymour’s biography reveals a proud and fiercely independent artist, one who experienced tragedy and extreme poverty, alcohol and drug dependency, romantic and sexual turmoil – and yet was never a victim. I Used to Live Here Once enables one of our most excitingly intuitive biographers to uncover the hidden truth about a fascinatingly elusive woman. The figure who emerges for Seymour is powerful, cultured, self-mocking, self-absorbed, unpredictable and often darkly funny. Persuasive, surprising and compassionate, this unforgettable biography brings Jean Rhys to life as never before.

Buy I Used to Live Here Once HERE.

‘Enthralling.... Seymour powerfully evokes the world from which Rhys never really escaped, one of prejudice, abuse, and abuse’s shamefaced offspring, complicity.’
James Wood, The New Yorker

‘Illuminating and meticulously researched.... Reveals how her subject’s tumultuous life informed her brilliant art.’
Malcolm Forbes, Wall Street Journal

‘Revelatory ... based on newfound documents that shed light on the elusive Dominica-born British novelist’s ‘extraordinary and often reckless life.’
New York Times

‘The best biographies marry the talents of a perceptive biographer and a complicated subject. In Miranda Seymour’s new biography of British writer Jean Rhys, readers will find a perfect match.’
Mary Ann Gwinn, Minneapolis Star Tribune

‘Seymour meticulously stitches Rhys’s stories to events in her life, while scrupulously maintaining the distinction Rhys herself insisted on: the women who people her fiction are not self-portraits.’
Madison Smartt Bell, American Scholar

‘A first-class life and a rollicking read. Seymour skilfully interweaves the autobiographical stories and novels with the people and fortunes in Rhys’s crazily adventurous life.... The result is close to a masterpiece.’
John Walsh, Sunday Times (UK)

‘Seymour’s investigations into Rhys are inseparable from her sensitive close readings of the novels. She is shrewd and careful.... [A] compelling biography.’
Amber Medland, Times Literary Supplement

‘An eloquent defence of the biographer’s art in a clear-eyed yet sympathetic portrait of the extraordinary life of a complicated, not always likeable, woman.... Seymour is clearly a Rhys aficionada, albeit a subtle one, fully cognisant of the failings of the woman. [The] greatest service a literary biographer can perform is to send the reader back to her subject’s work with fresh insight, renewed pleasure and enhanced admiration. This, Seymour achieves magnificently.’
Annalena McAfee, Financial Times

‘Slyly compelling.... The narrative has the tension of a thriller.... However precarious her existence, as she appears in this biography Rhys always maintains an obscure dominion, if not over herself, then over other people. Her intransigence, capriciousness and abiding selfishness may not be pretty, but it’s these qualities that kept her going against all the odds.’
Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

‘Miranda Seymour has written a compelling and stylish new biography of Jean Rhys, whose life and work have often been cast in melancholic shadow. Seymour adds color and complexity to Rhys’s story, and suggests the haunting influence of her early years on the Caribbean island of Dominica. This is a fresh, empathetic portrait of an iconic and unconventional woman writer whose searing novels of trauma, race, gender, and exile were ahead of their time.’
Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

‘The multiple guises and conflicting personae of Jean Rhys―reckless and reclusive, captivating and appalling―demand a particularly agile biographer. Miranda Seymour is ideally suited to the task. An empathetic but unsparing critic, a tenacious and resourceful researcher, and a historian of literary cultures with a novelist’s sense of the evocative detail, she has produced an enthralling biography of a haunting―and maddening―modern writer.’
Elaine Showalter, Professor of English, Emeritus, Princeton University

‘It’s a high-wire act to hold so witty and eloquent a balance between this writer’s recklessness and diligence. The honesty too is appealing, the acknowledgement of dark places no one can fully visit.’
Lyndall Gordon, author of Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World

‘Brilliantly written, compulsively readable, and insightful, Miranda Seymour’s biography does full justice to a remarkable and complex life.’
Pat Barker, author of The Women of Troy and The Silence of the Girls

‘One of Miranda Seymour’s finest biographies, this is an utterly riveting voyage into a writer’s mind. You can almost feel Jean Rhys breathing in the room, and what a ferociously complicated woman she was! I was spellbound from start to finish.’
Deborah Moggach, author of These Foolish Things and Tulip Fever

‘Compelling.... An elegant work that provides readers with a better understanding of a beloved author’s life.’
Kirkus, starred review

‘Stellar.... Seymour chronicles the heroic generosity of Rhys’ friends and family, the devastating criticism that kept Rhys from publishing her work for nearly 30 years, and her late-in-life fame, sensitively portraying Rhys in all her fury and brilliance.’
Booklist, starred review

‘Since Jean Rhys’s death 42 years ago our obsession with her life and work ... has only grown.... Now it is Miranda Seymour’s turn to re-tell the story, with informative new material on her early life in the Caribbean, and a more generous tone than some of her predecessors.... Perhaps it’s that ghostly opacity that makes her such an intriguing subject―a writer on whom we can project our own fears and desires.’
Sameer Rahim, The Telegraph

‘An exhaustive, definitive ride around both the idea and the reality of Jean Rhys.... Authoritatively woven together, Seymour addresses a writer and woman who is at once self-absorbed and thoughtful, sardonic and sensitive, harnessing an independence that was created and sustained by circumstance, and deftly draws out the wildness of Rhys that threatened to break as well as make her. This is also a love letter to the different ways that writers work, and how they are not always disciples of discipline, how sometimes great work comes piecemeal and from the messy brutality of living. While Rhys herself wrote that she ‘would never really belong anywhere’, somehow, Seymour has brought her home.’
Siobhán Kane, Irish Times

‘One of the many strengths of this biography is that Seymour is aware of the danger of the too-easy read-across from fiction to life, while being alive to the hidden truths of literary archaeology.... A gem of literary biography.’
Alan Judd, The Oldie

‘Brilliantly written, compulsively readable and insightful, Miranda Seymour’s biography does full justice to a remarkable and complex life’
Pat Barker, author of The Silence of the Girls

‘A very impressive piece of work. A long and tangled life most authoritatively pieced together. I was completely absorbed’
Michael Frayn, author of Noises Off

‘As always, I admire the empathic intelligence of Miranda Seymour’s approach to challenging or misunderstood subjects and in the extreme case of Jean Rhys, her warmth for a writer so difficult, wilful and self-absorbed. It’s a high-wire act to hold so witty and eloquent a balance between this writer’s recklessness and diligence. The honesty too is appealing, the acknowledgment of dark places no one can fully visit. I especially enjoyed the opening, the exotic setting of Dominica leading into the life of an expatriate who felt a stranger everywhere, and also the nuanced portrait of the aged celebrity in the pink: her cosmetics and décor both absurd and incorrigible’
Lyndall Gordon, author of Outsiders

‘Your biography vitalises Jean Rhys, VITALISES her, for which BRAVISSIMA! It will be wonderfully received, and it will be seen as definitive. And you HAVE put her in the world ... I lived in for fifty years, so I have a very personal appreciation of your book’
David Plante, author of Difficult Women

‘A masterpiece. It is so perceptive, so well-written, with an extraordinary eye for detail and an exceptional understanding both of period and location. And perhaps her greatest achievement is the sympathy and understanding she shows for her subject, who was clearly in many respects a monster of a woman. I cannot tell you how much I admire and enjoyed this book’
Selina Hastings, author of Sybille Bedford and The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham

‘Absolute gold. A beautiful and fascinating in-depth study of how a writer works, how books emerge from a life, from messy emotions, a Caribbean island and a uniquely sensitive imagination’
Ruth Padel, author of Daughters of The Labyrinth

‘Miranda Seymour’s illuminating and brilliant book shows how Jean’s life – and especially the island of Dominica – informed her genius. It goes a long way towards making the reader understand, forgive and even applaud her rage – more, it explains why so many of us loved Jean, and her books’
Diana Melly, author of Take a Girl Like Me

‘A vivid, detailed and immensely readable biography … Having played Jean Rhys myself but sadly never met her, Miranda Seymour has brought her brilliantly to life’
Dame Eileen Atkins

‘One of Miranda Seymour's finest biographies, this is an utterly riveting voyage into a writer's mind. You can almost feel Jean Rhys breathing in the room, and what a ferociously complicated woman she was! I was spellbound from start to finish’
Deborah Moggach, author of The Carer and The Black Dress

‘The multiple guises and conflicting personae of Jean Rhys – reckless and reclusive, captivating and appalling – demand a particularly agile biographer. Miranda Seymour is ideally suited to the task. An empathetic but unsparing critic, a tenacious and resourceful researcher, and a historian of literary cultures with a novelist’s sense of the evocative detail, she has produced an enthralling biography of a haunting – and maddening – modern writer’
Elaine Showalter, Professor Emerita of English, Princeton University, and author of A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing

‘Miranda Seymour has written a compelling and stylish new biography of Jean Rhys, whose life and work have often been cast in melancholic shadow. Seymour adds color and complexity to Rhys’s story, and suggests the haunting influence of her early years on the Caribbean island of Dominica. This is a fresh, empathetic portrait of an iconic and unconventional woman writer whose searing novels of trauma, race, gender, and exile were ahead of their time’
Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath




Click here to listen to a riveting interview with Miranda on R4’s Open Book

‘A clear-eyed yet sympathetic portrait of the extraordinary life of a complicated…woman… the greatest service a literary biographer can perform is to send the reader back to a subject’s work with fresh insight, renewed pleasure and enhanced admiration. This, Seymour achieves magnificently’
Financial Times

‘Compelling…some readers will relish it when Rhys is in Paris, hanging out with notable bohemians…But it’s when she is old and ‘potty’ and half-cut that is Seymour’s triumph…the narrative has the tension of a thriller’
The Observer

Link to full 'The Guardian' review
Link to 'The Guardian' column
The Guardian

‘A gem of literary biography’
The Oldie

‘An exhaustive, definitive ride around both the idea and reality of Jean Rhys… authoritatively woven together Seymour address a writer and woman who is at once self-absorbed and thoughtful, sardonic and sensitive …and deftly draws out the wildness of Rhys that threatened to break as well as make her’
Link to full 'The Irish Times' review
The Irish Times

‘The superb achievement of MirandaSeymour’s painstaking and compassionate new biography is to dispel forever the idea that Rhys was simply a naïve chronicler of her own experiences… in terms of sheer technique, she was a virtuoso’
The Spectator

‘This is a first-class life and a rollicking read. Seymour skilfully interweaves the autobiographical stories and novel with the people and fortunes in Rhys’s crazily adventurous life…The result is close to a masterpiece’
Link to full 'Sunday Times' review
Sunday Times

‘Intimate and insightful…Seymour… is a bewitching writer… Rhys was capricious, impossible, spoilt and self-critical… She was brilliant company and a terrible burden…Seymour gives us Rhys in all her glory’
Link to full 'The Times' review
The Times

‘Since Jean Rhys’s death 42 years ago our obsession with her life…has only grown…MirandaSeymour re-tells the story with informative new material on her early life in the Caribbean and a more generous tone than some of her predecessors…perhaps it’s that ghostly opacity that makes her such an intriguing subject – a writer on whom we can project our own fears and desires’
Link to full 'The Daily Telegraph' review
The Daily Telegraph

Buy I Used to Live Here Once HERE.