London gets two new blue plaques later today. Fittingly, so close to International Women's Day, they're commemorating the lives of two of the 20th century's great women writers.
The plaque to the Caribbean-born writer Jean Rhys (1890-1979) will be unveiled by her granddaughter at Paultons House, Paultons Square in Chelsea at about 3.30pm this afternoon. A second plaque, this one to the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), will be installed today at 2 Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park.
Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in Dominica, the daughter of William Williams, a Welsh physician and Minna, a white Creole of Scottish descent. Schooled at Cambridge, Rhys retained her Caribbean accent despite numerous elocution lessons at the Academy of Dramatic Art, and it seemed she'd never really belong in cold, grey England. "Jean Rhys" was one of the stage names she used during her career as a chorus girl: she later adopted it as her nom de plume. Rhys lived at Flat 22 in Paultons House from 1936 to 1938, moving in just a year after it was built. It was here that she wrote Good Morning, Midnight (published in 1939), now considered one of her finest works. Apparently she wrote "not at her desk, but in the mornings while still in bed, which was strewn with papers." We like the sound of that.
Elizabeth Bowen was from Dublin, but by 1921 had been introduced to London literary circles by novelist Rose Macaulay, after writing a number of short stories. In 1935, Bowen moved to London with her husband, who had secured a job at the BBC. At their grand house in Regent's Park, Bowen entertained the literary elite of the day, and wrote her two finest novels: The Death of the Heart (1938) and The Heat of the Day (1949).
Blue Plaque Pub Quiz Facts
- The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for 140 years
- The scheme was founded by the Royal Society of Arts in 1866
- The first plaque was to the poet, Lord Byron in 1867
- They used to be various colours — blue, brown, terracotta: the blue was standardised in 1940
- The blue plaque scheme was taken on by English Heritage in 1986
- Want to put up a commemorative plaque? Here's all you need to know: www.english-heritage.org.uk/plaquesguidance
Photo by Helen Duffett via the Londonist flickrpool