‘Love was a terrible thing. You poisoned it and stabbed at it and knocked it down into the mud – well down – and it got up and staggered on, bleeding and muddy and awful. Like – like Rasputin. Marya began to laugh.’

– Jean Rhys, Quartet

‘I’ve been wasting my life,’ she thought. ‘How have I stood it for so long?’ And her longing for joy, for any joy, for any pleasure was a mad thing in her heart. It was sharp like pain and she clenched her teeth. It was like some splendid caged animal roused and fighting to get out. It was an unborn child jumping, leaping, kicking at her side.’

– Jean Rhys, Quartet

‘She spent the foggy day in endless, aimless walking, for it seemed to her that if she moved quickly enough she would escape the fear that hunted her. It was a vague and shadowy fear of something cruel and stupid that had caught her and would never let her go. She had always known that it was there – hidden under the more or less pleasant surface of things. Always. Ever since she was a child.

You could argue about hunger or cold or loneliness, but with that fear you couldn’t argue. It went too deep. You were too mysteriously sure of its terror. You could only walk very fast and try to leave it behind you.’

– Jean Rhys, Quartet

‘The Place Blanche, Paris. Life itself. One realized all sorts of things. The value of an illusion, for instance, and that the shadow can be more important than the substance. All sorts of things.’

– Jean Rhys, Quartet

‘She felt that her marriage, though risky, had been a success. And that was that. Her life swayed regularly, even monotonously, between two extremes, avoiding the soul-destroying middle. Sometimes they had a good deal of money and immediately spent it. Sometimes they had almost none at all and then they would skip a meal and drink iced white wine on their balcony instead.’

– Jean Rhys, Quartet

‘It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known. It was almost like being born again. The colours were different, the smells different, the feeling things gave you right down inside yourself was different. Not just the difference between heat, cold; light, darkness; purple, grey. But a difference in the way I was frightened and the way I was happy. I didn’t like England at first. I couldn’t get used to the cold.’

– Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark

‘For God knows, if there’s one hypocrisy I loathe more than another, it’s the fiction of the ‘good’ woman and the ‘bad’ one.’

– Jean Rhys, Vienne

‘The trees got thicker and everything was utterly silent. If I’d been alone I should have been afraid, for I think trees get strange at night, don’t you? I love them – but they’re strange. I’m sure they are more alive than people imagine…’

– Jean Rhys, The Blue Bird

‘A lady – some words have a long, thin neck that you’d like to strangle.’

– Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark

‘After a while I crossed out everything and began again, writing very quickly, like you do when you write: ‘You can’t possibly do this you simply don’t know what you’re doing if I were a dog you wouldn’t do this I love you I love you I love you but you’re just a god-damned rotter…’

– Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark

‘It was pretty awful being in London without any money. Drabness swallowed you up, very quickly.’

– Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie

‘It was the darkness that got you. It was heavy darkness, greasy and compelling. It made walls around you, and shut you in so that you felt you could not breathe. You wanted to beat at the darkness and shriek to be let out. And after a while you got used to it. Of course. And then you stopped believing that there was anything else anywhere.’

– Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie

‘This was the affair which had ended quietly and decently, without fuss or scenes or hysteria. When you were nineteen, and it was the first time you had been let down, you did not make scenes. You felt as if your back was broken, as if you would never move again. But you did not make a scene. That started later on, when the same thing had happened five or six times over, and you were supposed to be getting used to it.’

– Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie

‘She was a shadow, kept alive by a flame of hatred for somebody who had long ago forgotten all about her.’

– Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie