BBC Radio 4 has just aired an interview with Mary Stephenson, a typist (now a writer herself) to whom Jean dictated her unfinished autobiography, Smile Please. In 1978, just months before Rhys’ death, Stephenson answered an ad for a typist and was sent to No. Landboat Bungalows, in the Devonshire village of Cheriton Fitzpaine. Her new employer was Jean Rhys, who at 87, had decided to writer her autobiography. Mary, then in her early 30s, found Rhys to be “by turns, charming, infuriating and embittered; sometimes her memories would light her up, sometimes they would fire her anger.” For a year, Stephenson came to the cottage at 2pm, twice a week, to take dictation and says that the two of them “got on well.”
Stephenson left her job when the first volume of the autobiography, Smile Please, was nearly finished. She was seven months pregnant and Rhys had only four months to live. The interview includes comments on Jean’s life by her editor Diana Athill and her friend Diana Melly and excerpts from Jean’s work read by Merelina Kendall.
The announcement of the interview can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2009/may/14/radio-pick-guardian
BBC4 often makes programs available on their website, but unfortunately, this one is not available when I checked today. If you follow this link (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00k9h9m) you may be able to access the program through their BBC iPlayer. The Program was titled Jean and aired on May 14 2009 at 11:30am.