Jean Rhys Reading Week

GMM with JeanPlease see Posts and comments below

for my Review of Good Morning Midnight

Have a look at my essay on its own page, “Zombi Chic.”

In my essay I discuss all the novels in the light of Rhys’s background in the Caribbean and the uses she makes of it in creating her protagonists. Zombies, Obeah magic, tropical colours and atmosphere, people and places all influence the state of mind of each woman until the awful but triumphant finality of Wide Sargasso Sea. I welcome comments.

Jean Rhys Reading Week, Sept. 12-18, 2016, was organized by JacquiWine

https://jacquiwine.wordpress.com/

and Eric Anderson http://lonesomereader.com/

Many thanks to them for this wonderful opportunity to discuss the works of Jean Rhys.

 

 

Jean Rhys was great modernist writer of the 20th century, whose work might have been forgotten after the Second World War but for the accidental rediscovery that led to her finishing her startling late masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea. That novel, alone of her work, is an important addition to any reader’s library. The early novels, Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight, offer a sometimes difficult challenge, but are well worth the effort.

jean rhys young

Jean on extreme right
Jean on extreme right

Image result for jean rhys

 

 

 

 

 

POSTS and COMMENTS

A Round Up of Reviews and Comments on Good Morning, Midnight

The range of opinions went from boredom to touching personal reflections. Good Morning, Midnight can be difficult to come to terms with, especially since Sasha Jansen seems, from the beginning, to be on an emotional downward slope.

Eric Anderson at  http://lonesomereader.com has a very good review of GMM.

He makes several cogent points on different facets of Sasha’s  self-identity with telling quotes:

it isn’t my face, this tortured and tormented mask. I can take it off whenever I like and hang it up on a nail. Or shall I place on it a tall hat with a green feather, hang a veil on the lot, and walk about the dark streets so merrily?”

And so we come to Sasha’s ‘wry’ ‘cruel’ sense of humour. Eric says there is a sense of ‘liberation’ in the sly mockery. It provides some relief to know that she has the ability to laugh through the sadness—at herself and her circumstances.

Eric lists Sasha’s bizarre experience in the dress shop with Mr. Blank as being humorous but, while ridiculous on the surface, it’s horrifying to me. I feel Sasha’s approaching nervous breakdown that leaves her worshipping the wonderful dress that she can’t have. Her boring but safe job is lost because of her and her boss’s fear of committing a faux pas. And, she is back on the street.

“It’s not that these things happen or even that one survives them, but what makes life strange is that they are forgotten. Even the one moment that you thought was your eternity fades out and is forgotten and dies. This is what makes life so droll – the way you forget, and every day is a new day, and there’s hope for everybody, hooray…”

Eric also has an interesting interview with Jessica Harrison, Senior Commissioning Editor for Penguin Classics.

https://jacquiwine.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/

Jacqui interviewed author and editor AndyMiller. His appreciation of JeanRhys offers some profound  insight.

“For me it’s Good Morning, Midnight (GMM), that’s my favourite of Jean Rhys’s books. Actually it’s become one of my favourite novels by anyone. It seems to me like the culmination of the sequence, of the character’s unhappy destiny. And you can open it at almost any page and find something astonishing and beautiful.”

“So it’s that mixture of resignation and defiance, the bravery of it and that sense of always being the outsider, those are the things I find incredibly seductive (and that is the word.)”

“ . . .she’s also in exile from society in all sorts of ways: the single woman growing older who has been forced at times to turn to prostitution; the alcoholic, which we know she was. And she’s always dispossessed and has little or no money. So she has this incredible empathy for people who don’t fit, . . .”

“For me it’s Good Morning, Midnight (GMM), that’s my favourite of Jean Rhys’s books. Actually it’s become one of my favourite novels by anyone. It seems to me like the culmination of the sequence, of the character’s unhappy destiny. And you can open it at almost any page and find something astonishing and beautiful.”

————————————

Rhy’s dark sense of humour is perhaps intimidating for a lot of readers—Should I laugh? It can be mixed with tragic experiences so that it’s hard to tell which is intended. There weren’t many comments about it but one saw the importance of humour.

hastanton September 16, 2016 at 8:39 am

“I completely agree about the humour which is often not mentioned at all. What I have found so incredibly clever about this is the way she uses humour to lull the reader into a false sense of security …..a fatal body blow is normally delivered pretty soon thereafter . I think this is particularly so in GMM which I think is an extremely accomplished piece of work ….v near perfect!”

There were quite a lot of comments from people (myself included) who related to Sasha’s anxiety and fear of people.

Heaven Ali Review of GMM

“Good Morning, Midnight hasn’t very much in the way of plot, but it doesn’t really require one. Rhys’s portrayal of desolation is tinged with dark humour, but it is the hopelessness which remains. Sasha is one of the faceless members of society that those whose lives are going well don’t really notice, she exists only on the edges.”

Medium.com Reading GMM and Rhys for  the First  Time

Karen Corday relates her personal connection to GMM:

“I fell in love with the book . . .  I was drawn in by Jean Rhys’s writing; it mesmerized and soothed me in spite of Sasha’s social anxiety, in part because I suffer from social anxiety myself. Good Morning, Midnight was probably the my first experience with a book that spent so much time and detail discussing what it’s like to live with this kind of anxiety.”

Jean Rhys Reading Week has been a joy to be connected with. Rhys is a favourite writer of mine and I have feared that her work would be forgotten again, as her early novels were forgotten after the war. Obviously, there are still readers who see the rightness of her position among the classics.


A Nice Sane Fortnight Review of Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight is the last in the series of novels (as I see it) having, essentially, the same woman protagonist, who ages through Rhys’s four early works. These modern women cannot cope with the expectations of modernity. They live marginal lives in unhealthy surroundings, depending mostly on men for money and occasional luxury. As long as they keep their looks and dress fairly well they can go from one kind/unkind stranger to another, always afraid of utter poverty and having to rely on her own resources, which are few.  In this final early novel, the woman, now Sasha Jansen, is fortyish, unattractive as a mistress and has come to Paris from London, having been given enough money by a woman friend to spend two weeks recovering her physical and mental health. In London, she had been living on a small stipend from an inheritance—enough to drink herself to death, she figures, while in a deep state of depression.

In Paris she settles into a routine of walking, window shopping and drinking. There is never a suggestion of leaving this Left Bank neighbourhood.

“I have been here five days. I have decided on a place to eat in at midday, a place to eat in at night, a place to have my drink in after dinner. I have arranged my little life.”

Not that she hasn’t been drinking with her meals—alcohol is never out of the picture.

Being vulnerable still to the approaches of men in the street, she meets some odd types whose purposes are unclear but who are even poorer than she—no buyers of sexual favours here. She finds it amusing to talk and drink with them, up to the point where they can’t afford more drinks and she (being a lady) isn’t allowed to pay. The Russian (if he is Russian) introduces her to a painter who interests her; she buys one of his paintings, then he disappears.

Sasha’s present time is interrupted by many sad memories, including the various bad jobs she attempted, marriage in Holland to the mysterious, penniless Enno, the birth and death of a baby that, had he lived, might have changed her life (Rhys shows here her ability to express profound emotion in a few words); Enno leaving her because he cannot bear his wife’s sadness; an attempt at suicide by drowning in the Seine.

After giving birth, she was wrapped in bandages to remove stretch marks:

“When she takes them off there is not one line, not one wrinkle, not one crease.

And five weeks afterwards there I am, with not one line, not one wrinkle, not one crease.

And there he is, lying with a ticket tied round his wrist because he died in a hospital. And there I am looking down at him, without one line, without one wrinkle, without one crease . . . .”

Following this harrowing memory we return to the present adventure of having her hair coloured “a very good blond cendré” and the dilemma of choosing a new hat—three hours in the same shop obsessively trying one after another, seeking perfection but finding only the acceptable one. These seeming trivialities are vitally important to Sasha—keeping up appearances gives her safety from hateful stares and sneers. With the money she has, she buys these superficial things to keep herself alive, yet she is always on the brink of deciding whether it’s worth the trouble to go on living.

In the meantime, she is plagued by the presence of a repulsive man who inhabits the hotel room next to hers. His ghastly, ghostly presence is reason enough to move to another hotel but Sasha cannot be bothered, or prefers to outface him, defeat his weird arrogance.

One of her followers is René, an attractive young man with a shady past and ambitions to be a gigolo. He believes Sasha to be rich because of the old fur coat she wears. A mutual attraction develops, though Sasha cannot trust him. René’s insistence on a sexual relationship becomes an emotional trial for Sasha, who can no longer trust her feelings for any person. Her damaged, indecisive mind fears desire for love and sex. That lack of ability to give or accept love drives René away and leads to the novel’s tragic end.

In Good Morning, Midnight the Rhys woman is worn out at last, the masks of her life slip away . . . educated, middle class youth; chorus girl; chic bohemian; wife; grieving mother; passive, needy sex worker (mistress, grue); near suicide; fashionable mannequin; proper shop woman, frequenter of cheap cafés . . . they have all rotted away and fallen, to reveal the unbearably human face. She has lost the mask of despising other human beings.

An ironic borrowing from James Joyce’s landmark of modernism Ulysses:

and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.

ends this final story of the modern woman and, while not giving away the ending entirely, Sasha comes to a crushing realisation—that this is the end of desire for anything better than the worst.

He doesn’t say anything. Thank God, he doesn’t say anything. I look straight into his eyes and despise another poor devil of a human being for the last time. For the last time . . . last time

. . . . Then I put my arms around him and pull him down on to the bed, saying:

“Yes–yes–yes . . .”

It seems impossible, after Good Morning, Midnight, that any further novels of these modern women could have been written. Wide Sargasso Sea takes us back to their origin in the West Indies from which they are taken across the ocean to England, where they are not wanted.

Margaret

Thank you for such a thoughtful review, Margaret. It does sound like the culmination of the sequence of her early novels. I find your first quote incredibly sad, especially the use of the word “little” as it serves to emphasis the narrowness of Sasha’s life…

Thank you, Jacqueline. Yes, Sasha does try to keep her world as narrow and little as possible because at least she knows it (better the devil…) and how to deal with it. I find the memory of “not one crease” crushing, with its unemotional tone expressing by repetition the emotion she masks.

 

Thank you for this thought-provoking review. It’s been many years since I’ve read anything by Jean Rhys and never Good Morning, Midnight but now I will.

 

Thank you, Mrs. Smith. It’s a desperately sad story mixed with absurd humour but necessary for ending the novel sequence.

 

Something to think about (I think)

Rhys and James Joyce both end novels with the word ‘yes,’ Joyce, famously, Ulysses and Rhys (somewhat obscurely)  Good Morning, Midnight. Joyce has Molly Bloom recalling the time before her marriage:

“and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.”

An avowal of life and loving and, presumably, acceptance of a marriage proposal. But, Sasha Jansen (GMM), at the end of desire for life or love, chooses to let herself agree to be used by the ghastly man in the room next to hers, in the cheap hotel where she stays:

“I look straight into his eyes and despise another poor devil of a human being for the last time. For the last time . . . . Then I put my arms around him and pull him down on to the bed, saying: “Yes–yes–yes . . .”

Her obsessive idea of having a kind of moral duty (the ideal of chic) to align herself with the hopeless bohemian poor against bourgeois respectability (despite her desire for luxury) feeds her depression. At the lowest point of her self-hating life, she sinks to the depths of her philosophy. To despise this fellow “poor devil” would be dishonest, would not be chic.

Two modernist writers with opposite points of view.

How interesting. I have always felt rather daunted by the prospect of reading Joyce (and Ulysses in particular). Judging by your quote, the rhythm seems to be an important component of his prose style. Would that be fair to say?

Ulysses can be a struggle to read but is worth it in the end. Apparently, Rhys read it or at least the last section. Rhythm is extremely important in Joyce. He was a lover of music and, along with his Irish intonations, his stream of consciousness prose can sing. His book of poems Chamber Music has been set to music. One section of Ulysses I found impossible to read for meaning so just skimmed the ‘stream’ of words until it stopped and went back to the story. Rhys went in the other direction, of course, cutting sentences to the bone to express emotion starkly, yet there is an inner rhythm.
Thanks for the comment. Replying puts me in the mood for writing.

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