The First Mrs Rochester is a witty and sometimes gritty depiction of the author Jean Rhys, and the inspiration for her acclaimed novel, The Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys was thought to be dead until she was discovered by an actress hoping to revive her career. When Selma Vaz Dias found Rhys in her home in Beckenham, South London, she found the author down on her luck, yet still to write her masterpiece. It is an unlikely meeting of two witty and determined older women, both of whom share the anxiety of cultural displacement.
The First Mrs Rochester evinces the wit, ambivalence, and depth of character of Jean Rhys. We are all foreigners.
This year’s Spoken Word performance focuses on the director’s journey, telling an intimate story in finding common ground with Rhys and Bronte.
I’m finding things and I’m asking questions. I can’t know everything. I challenge anyone to know everything. In many ways, we can only know ourselves, but only if we are at liberty to do so. That is how I begin my journey – through empathy while exposing the cruel and ignorant side of privilege. I am interested in women. In the disenfranchisement or subjugation of cultural identity, how it affects people. I am interested in author Jean Rhys as she floats in all the unjust in-betweens in conceiving her novel. She is Bertha, she is Antoinette. All these women peer at themselves in a fractured mirror, half-stripped of identity, responding in any manner they can. I call this window into Willy’s play, A Branch of Frangipani.Stephanie Vlahos