Allfrey, Phyllis Shand (1915–1986)

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Allfrey, Phyllis Shand (1915–1986)

Dominican author and politician. Born Phyllis Byam Shand in Dominica, West Indies, on October 24, 1915; died in Dominica in 1986; daughter of Francis Byam Berkeley Shand and Elfreda (Nicholls) Shand; married Robert Allfrey; children: five, including Philip and Josephine Allfrey (d. 1977); three of her children were adopted.

Selected works:

In Circles (1940); Palm and Oak (1950); The Orchid House (1953); Contrasts (1955); Palm and Oak II (1974).

Phyllis Shand, the second of four daughters born to Francis and Elfreda Shand, was a descendent of early settlers who formed Dominica's white ruling class. Nevertheless, the family had fallen in financial standing. Though Francis Shand later became crown attorney of Dominica, in the early years the family was fortunate to have a large home that Elfreda had inherited. There, Phyllis and her sisters, Celia, Marion, and Rosalind, were educated by a series of tutors, including their mother's sister, Aunt Mags, and an Anglican rector. Phyllis often wrote plays that she and her sisters performed, and she sold her first story at age 13.

When Phyllis was 17, she studied and traveled in England, France, Belgium and Germany, finally returning to London, where her sister Celia had settled and married. There Phyllis met and married Robert Allfrey, her brother-in-law's younger sibling. The couple moved briefly to America and lived in New York State, where daughter Josephine and son Philip were born, until the Depression made it impossible for them to stay. Returning to England, Allfrey went to work as a secretary for novelist and historian Naomi Mitchison . Mitchison introduced Allfrey to several politicians, and Allfrey subsequently worked for the Parliamentary Committee for West Indian Affairs. She also joined the Labour Party and the Fabian Society.

Allfrey's publishing career began in England. She produced two volumes of poetry and, in 1953, her first novel, The Orchid House, which was based on her childhood home. The novel made her homesick and, in 1954, the Allfreys returned to Dominica. That same year, Allfrey founded the Labour Party to help tropical fruit workers command fair pay. In 1958, she was elected minister for labour and social affairs. The family moved to Trinidad during this tenure but returned to Dominica in 1962 when the federal government faltered. She assumed an editorial position at the Dominican Herald and with her husband founded and edited the Dominican Star in 1965. The Allfreys also expanded their family with three adopted children.

The late 1970s held serious misfortune. In April of 1977, her daughter Josephine was killed in Botswana, and Allfrey in her grief abandoned her novel in progress, In the Cabinet. In 1979, Hurricane David badly damaged the Allfrey home and ruined many of their possessions, including her books and manuscripts. Later that year, Allfrey's long-time friend, correspondent, and countrywoman, author Jean Rhys , died. Financially devastated, the Allfreys had to give up the Star in 1982. At the time of her death in 1986, In the Cabinet lay unfinished.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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Allfrey, Phyllis Shand (1915–1986)

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