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Jean Rhys Joy Castro One pleasure of being a reader or scholar of literature now is that theory and criticism have at last caught up with the challenging work of Jean Rhys (1890-1979). A writer of tremendous originality and wit, she explores her melancholy subjects with heartbreaking grace. Her experimental novels and short stories—baffling anoma- lies, as were most modernist innovations, when first published in the 1920s and thirties—now find themselves the objects of consid- erable critical attention, standing as they do at a crossroads of postcolonial, modernist, postmodernist, and feminist concerns. Her fiction features women who have suffered grievous losses, women without strong personal boundaries, without education, skills, income, or family—but with a keen intelligence, a skepticism about dominant social values, an ear for hypocrisy, and an eye for detail. Their narratives offer a fierce indictment of the Victorian double standard, for the complacent paters of Rhys’s novels fully expect to enjoy the perquisites of upper middle-class manhood: the pure wife from a good bourgeois family but fun on the side with pretty, purchasable girls from the lower steps of the social staircase. It is these disposable women who serve as Rhys’s protagonists. Not overfond of the socially constructed value of their virginity, they give their sexual innocence away when romance comes to call, like true modern women, like flappers. But without private incomes, without the security of marriage, they are helpless against the ex- ploitation of men and their own decreasing market value as they age. Rhys’s narrators record with bleak clarity their own decline while training the female gaze upon male characters, ruthlessly summing them up: they are fat, with little heads and beefy faces; they grow intoxicated by the sound of their own voices; they lie and condescend and fail to imagine a world outside themselves. Labeled sordid yet brilliant when her work first appeared in the 1920s, Rhys published four novels and a collection of short stories before the outbreak of World War II. These early works received enthusiastic but limited acclaim; only her third novel, Voyage in the Dark (1934), was a commercial success. After the war, troubled by alcoholism and financial difficulties, Rhys entered a hiatus from publishing and public life that lasted a quarter of a century. With her reputation all but dead—so complete was her silence that Joy Casrro | 9 former admirers supposed Rhys dead as well—her moment on the international literary scene came suddenly, precipitated by the publication of her hegemony-shattering 1966 novel Wide Sargasso ‘Sea, which famously upends Charlotte Bronté’s Jane Eyre to reveal the discourse of imperialism and patriarchal power at its core. Wildly successful, embraced by critics and readers alike, Wide Sar- gasso Sea catapulted Rhys, then seventy-six years old, into the lit- erary limelight. Made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, honored with the W. H. Smith award, she was freed at last from the poverty that had plagued her throughout her life. She began to flourish again as a writer, publishing two more collections of short fiction. In 1978, the year before she died, she was awarded Com- mander, Order of the British Empire for her contributions to litera- ture. Her career, fitful and turbulent, had spanned the most power- ful upheavals of the century. Rhys was born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in 1890 in Roseau, Dominica, where her father, a doctor, had immigrated from Wales in 1881 to marry Rhys’s mother Minna Lockhart the follow- ing year. Lockhart’s Creole family had lived in Dominica for genera- tions; her Scottish forefather had arrived and settled on a large working plantation in 1824, ten years prior to the emancipation of slaves. In 1844, angry freed blacks burned down the mansion, and a far less grand version was built in its place. This second home, where Rhys lived as a child, also burned down a few years before she revisited Dominica in 1936, She would later use the motif of the burning manor to unite the action of Wide Sargasso Sea, in which the protagonist’s destruction of Rochester’s British mansion mir- rors the burning of her childhood home by hostile freed slaves. In Dominica, Rhys’s family had black servants, whom Rhys ad- mired for their more direct, sensually engaged way of life. Anna Morgan, the white West Indian protagonist of the semi-autobio- graphical novel Voyage in the Dark, reflects, “I wanted to be black, I always wanted to be black. . . . Being black is warm and gay, being white is cold and sad” (31). While yearning for this apparent warmth, however, Rhys also feared the African-Caribbean practice of obeah, as well as the blacks’ hostility and resentment toward whites, This ambivalence toward racial divisions would infuse much of her fiction. Rhys’s early sexual experiences were traumatic. As a young ado- lescent, she was sexually abused by a trusted friend of the family, a retired military man. With her mother’s consent, she went for long walks alone with him until suspicions were roused and the connec- tion severed. Rhys’s first consensual sexual experience apparently occurred with a young man of mixed race when she was sixteen, but 10 | Review or Contemporary Fiction the families briskly separated the two, ending the romance. In 1907 Rhys, then seventeen, was sent to England, where she attended first the Pearse School for Girls, Cambridge, and then the Academy of Dramatic Art. The transition to the unfamiliar climate and people of England was difficult for Rhys; she did poorly on stage due to her West Indian accent and dialect, and her uncertain ethnicity also served to distinguish and isolate her from British so- ciety, still rigidly class-conscious. When her father died in 1910, Rhys was left without an income and began supporting herself as a chorus girl, then considered a highly disreputable profession mere steps away from prostitution. When her first affair, with a wealthy stockbroker twenty years older than herself, ended suddenly, Rhys was emotionally devastated. Her prospects dimming, she slid into the life of a demimondaine and in 1913 had a late-term abortion that nearly resulted in her death. The story of the affair and abor- tion, which she began writing compulsively upon her recovery—her first attempt at the pen—would eventually serve as the draft of Voy- age in the Dark, her third novel. Rhys would carry the painful manuscript with her in a suitcase for the next two decades before revising it for publication in 1934. Slender and beautiful, Rhys worked as a model during the war years, She met and married Jean Lenglet, the Dutch writer, journal- ist, and spy, in 1919, and together they moved to Paris. Lenglet’s shady financial dealings, however, of which Rhys remained un- aware, forced the couple to lead a peripatetic existence in the great cities of Europe—Vienna, Budapest, Paris. Their first child, a son, was born in Paris in 1919 but died in infancy. A daughter, Maryvonne, was born in 1922, though Rhys, who never fully recov- ered from severe grief and guilt about her son’s death, was unable to form a connection to the little girl. The emotions surrounding the loss of her son would later emerge in her novels: two protagonists, Julia Martin in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie and Sasha Jensen in Good Morning, Midnight, are plagued by anguished memories of sons who died in infancy. As the Lenglets’ life became increasingly tenuous—Lenglet was arrested and deported for theft in 1925— Maryvonne fell under the care of the state. She would spend much of her remaining childhood in various state institutions and foster homes. In 1924 Rhys met Ford Madox Ford in Paris. Astounded by her untutored writing talent, he appointed himself her literary mentor, introducing her to the expatriate literary community—Hemingway, Stein, Joyce—and publishing her work in his avant-garde journal, the Transatlantic Review. Ford, then in his fifties, became the lover of the beautiful young Rhys with the knowledge of his common-law Joy Castro | 11 wife Stella Bowen. Their triangle would form the focus of Rhys’s first novel, Quartet (1928), as well as of later novels by Ford and Lenglet, When the Wicked Man and Barred (both 1932). Following Lenglet’s 1925 arrest, Rhys, alone in Paris without money, family, or social position, relied on Ford for financial support and professional patronage. Her first collection of short fiction, The Left Bank and Other Stories (1927), for example, was published with his help, and includes a lengthy and generous (if somewhat self-serving) introduction by Ford. This first book offers sketches of life on the bohemian fringes of European society, frequently focus- ing on female characters who suffer, in one way or another, indigni- ties imposed by husbands or lovers. Influenced by Maupassant, Flaubert and other continental writers, the stories ring with a wit and an economy that resemble Colette’s; the subjects, moreover, are often traditionally feminine, frequently focusing on women’s cloth- ing and appearance as metaphors for female identity. Though Rhys would publish all the work that followed without Ford’s help, she was indebted to him for Left Bank. Combined with the contents of her two later volumes of short fiction, Tigers Are Better-Looking (1968) and Sleep It Off, Lady (1976), the stories from Left Bank have been reprinted and are currently available in Jean Rhys: The Col- lected Stories (1987). It was also Ford’s suggestion that she use a pseudonym, and so Ella Lenglet became Jean Rhys, a combination of her husband’s first name and a variant of her father’s name Rees. At Ford’s sug- gestion, Rhys translated Francis Carco’s novel Perversity (1928) for Covici, an American publishing house, but the publishers, thinking that Ford’s reputation would better help them sell the book, cred- ited Ford with the translation. (Rhys would also later translate and edit Barred, Lenglet’s fictional version of the Ford affair.) Her rela- tionship with Ford, beset by multiple tensions, ended badly, and fol- lowing their stormy break, Rhys dropped out of the Paris literary scene altogether. Her entire acquaintance with the Lost Generation had lasted less than three years. Attending her mother’s deathbed in London in 1927, Rhys be- came involved with Leslie Tilden Smith, a British literary agent who had been a pilot in World War I. Quiet, gentle, and educated at Oxford, Tilden Smith loved Rhys and encouraged her talent for nearly two decades. During the years of their relationship, Rhys published three novels in addition to Quartet: After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), Voyage in the Dark (1934), and Good Morning, Midnight (1939). They married in 1934, after her divorce from Lenglet became final, and together they visited Dominica in 1936, the only time Rhys would return to her birthplace. Despite Rhys’s 12 | Review or Contemporary Fiction increasing problems with alcohol dependency and the couple's fi- nancial difficulties, the marriage lasted until Tilden Smith’s death in 1945. In 1947 Rhys married Tilden Smith’s cousin, Max Hamer, a so- licitor who had his own problems with alcohol and legally suspect activities, and her life began to spiral out of control. Rhys had stopped writing after the lukewarm reception of Good Morning, Midnight, and by the time of her marriage to Hamer, all her books had fallen out of print. Made increasingly paranoid by poverty and alcoholism, Rhys provoked frequent altercations with her neigh- bors and in 1949 was arrested and incarcerated in a prison hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Released on probation, Rhys continued her destructive pattern of heavy drinking and assault, and she spent the next several years under the frequent supervision of the British justice system. When Hamer was himself arrested for lar- ceny in 1950, he and Rhys sold all their belongings to make his bail. While he spent the next two years in prison, Rhys, impoverished and alone in her sixties, drifted from one cheap lodging to another. In 1956, Rhys’s career took an abrupt turn for the better when the British Broadcasting Company aired a radio production of Good Morning, Midnight. The project had first been proposed to the BBC in 1949 by the actress Selma vaz Dias, who had advertised for Rhys in local papers and located her the same year. When the program was finally broadcast in 1956, the enthusiastic public interest in Rhys’s life and work rekindled her desire to write. She set to work on her long-contemplated project, a fictional revision of Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea, which exploded on the literary scene in 1966, restored Rhys to critical view and led to the eventual reprinting of all her previous work. Still cantankerous, still troubled by alcohol problems and paranoia, Rhys nonetheless became an overnight lit- erary celebrity. Her final two books of short stories and sketches, Tigers Are Better Looking and Sleep It Off, Lady, were published in 1968 and 1976, and, in 1974, the New York Times Book Review called her “The Best Living English Novelist.” Jean Rhys died in 1979. A short, unfinished autobiography, Smile Please, which recounts her childhood in Dominica and her early genesis as a writer, was published posthumously that year, and her selected letters were published in 1984. All of Rhys’s work is cur- rently in print, and critical interest continues to burgeon. The Mod- ern Language Association’s Bibliography, a good indicator of schol- arly interest, includes over three hundred entries concerning Rhys—more than two-thirds of which have appeared since 1985. When Rhys’s fiction first appeared, it met with critical acclaim from only a discriminating few. The advent of postcolonial theory Joy Castro | 13 and postmodernism, however, as well as the proliferation of a vari- ety of feminist theories, has greatly aided our understanding of her work and contributed to her now solid reputation. During their own time, Rhys and her modernist contemporaries—interested in vetting a society gone rotten, as they saw it, and striving to liberate sexuality and creativity from Victorian strictures—were often viewed by critics and intellectuals as morally corrupt. Joyce, Lawrence, and Faulkner were all, at one time or another, dismissed as too sexual, too violent, or too sordid by various mainstream crit- ics. Modernist experimentation with form and language, moreover, was initially seen by the literary establishment as bizarre and will- fully senseless, rather than as a profound interrogation of the possi- bilities of language. While the New Critics did a great deal in later decades to vindicate the experimentation of modernism, the writers selected for such recuperation tended to reflect the ethnic, gender, and social politics of the New Critics themselves, who were mostly privileged and educated white men. The reputations of many mod- ernist woren, such as Woolf and H. D., had to await the additional flowering of feminist scholarship in the 1970s and afterward to en- joy their own renaissance. Rhys's reputation has benefited from such recuperation, not only by feminists but by postmodern and postcolonial theorists as well. Because of her complicated and layered interrogations of class, race, colonialism, and gender, Rhys has been a difficult writer for many critics to evaluate. Her own subject position was multiply indeterminate, multiply conflicted, and her literary observations grew from her contested location in the world. As a white descen- dant of British colonists and slaveowners, she was both resented by the black population in Dominica and despised in Great Britain for her odd accent and her lack of wealth, family, or social position. As a young woman alone without skills or education in an England still controlled by Victorian moral dicta, Rhys made her way in the dis- reputable roles of chorus girl, artist’s model, and kept mistress of older, middle-class men. These experiences on the underside of soci- ety gave her an unusual viewpoint from which to counter or explode conventional narratives of imperialism, femininity, and the bour- geoisie. In some ways, the restoration of Rhys’s reputation resembles that of Herman Melville in the 1930s, when shifting aesthetic crite- ria among a critical mass of the avant-garde at last could permit general recognition of the excellence of his work. For the recupera- tion of Rhys as a major twentieth-century author, the timing of Wide Sargasso Sea’s 1966 publication could not have been more ideal. Postcolonial theorists and writers, just beginning to gain 14 | Review or ConremPorary FICTION sway in and out of the academy, eagerly welcomed Rhys’s critique of imperialist assumptions and complicated exploration of doubled marginality. Trinidadian V. S. Naipaul, for example, wrote in 1972 that the principal issue in all of Rhys’s work is the rupture of mov- ing from colony to imperialist nation, a movement to which her in- consolable protagonists can never adjust. Noting how significantly ahead of her time she was, Naipaul acknowledged that Rhys “thirty or forty years ago identified many of the themes that engage us to- day: isolation, an absence of society or community, the sense of things falling apart, dependence, loss” (58). Feminist critics, though wary of the passivity of her main characters, also embraced Rhys as a woman writer caught between the dictates of femininity and the desire to articulate her own vision. (More nuanced feminist read- ings of her work would come later.) And postmodernists, with their interest in flux, indeterminacy, multiplicity, instability, and intertextuality, found in Rhys an exemplar of their code. The surface texture of Rhys’s style is deceptively simple. Her sentences, like Hemingway’, are bare, stripped, pared down to the minimum. Like Katherine Mansfield’s, Rhys’s canvas is small, even miniature, and yet, like Mansfield’s, it renders up illuminating epiphanies. Much like Woolf’s, Rhys’s narratives care more for ex- ploring the interior lives of their characters than describing the world outside. Yet Rhys’s work, its content radically inflected by gender and class differences, stands apart from the works of these writers. Her fiction dwells on topics viewed as sordid and degrading by her largely middle-class audience. She tells stories, not of the warfront or garden parties, but of cheap hotel rooms, prison visits, and drunken violence, and she does so in ways that ask us to exam- ine our comfortable assumptions about difference. Her texts’ fre- quent ruptures and their thematic and formal complexity have con- founded critics and readers alike. Always interested in form—or “shape,” as she put it:“a novel has to have a shape, and life doesn’t have any’—Rhys explored con- sciousness through a number of structures and from a variety of angles in her five novels and three collections of short fiction (Smile Please 10). In her first two novels, Quartet and After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, she works from the third-person point of view, yet the narrative voices are so close to those of the protagonists that the line between narrator and character inevitably becomes smudged. It is as if the reticent, submissive, occasionally eruptive young women who fascinate but elude us in such Hemingway stories as “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Cat in the Rain” (1925) have somehow managed not only to become the protagonists of entire novels but also to shape the very narrative voice that tells their sto- Joy Castro | 15 ries. When the nameless young woman in “Hills Like White E]- ephants,” for example, first acquiesces to the abortion her partner wants—‘Because I don’t care about me”—and later erupts “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” we glimpse a character wavering between utter self-abnegation and barely suppressed rage (275, 277). Likewise, when the young woman (also nameless) in “Cat in the Rain” finally speaks, we learn that she has been holding back a torrent of unexpressed desires: “And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes” (170). The silver, candles, cat, and clothes are merely synecdochic stand- ins for the kind of stability and fulfillment not provided by her emo- tionally distant husband, who prefers a transient, pleasure-seeking life of brief hotel stays to anything more permanent. Caught be- tween Victorian angel/whore categories of women and the rootless freedom of an expatriate Jazz Age bohemia, these characters struggle to survive in a society dismissive of or actively hostile to their experience. Rhys’s work redefines the terms of engagement, shifting our fo- cus from the public sphere to the private while privileging the con- sciousness and experience of such women. Similar to the way in which many male modernists, such as Hemingway and cummings, question received values about political concerns, Rhys interro- gates a social structure that would categorize women according to their compliance with biased standards of sexual behavior. It is no coincidence, for example, that Anna Morgan’s reflection on moral categories in Voyage in the Dark (1934) resembles so closely the oft- quoted comment in A Farewell to Arms (1929) about the way the catastrophic devastation of World War I had undone the old catego- ries of nobility and honor. “There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity,” broods Hemingway's protagonist. “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates” (185). The lost generation faced the col- lapse of traditional standards on every front. While for many men this concerned the betrayals of the Great War, for young women alone without family or income it often meant bartered sexuality and the life of the demimonde. After her affair with Walter Jeffries begins, Anna muses, “I am bad, not good any longer, bad. That has no meaning, absolutely none. Just words. But something about the darkness of the streets has a meaning” (57). She acknowledges yet rejects the world’s definition of her behavior, recognizing that its Review of Contemporary Fiction labels are hollow distortions of her experience. Rhys’s fiction privileges the desires and perceptions of charac- ters like Anna, relocating them from margin to center, a move that critic Molly Hite sees as the fundamental achievement of Rhys’s work. In her study The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative, Hite discusses this illuminating focus on the subjectivities of characters usually objec- tified and silenced in canonical works: the chorus girl, the manne- quin, the demimondaine. Left without resources by families and so- cieties that do not value them, barred by poverty and gender from opportunities for formal education or professional achievement, such women are left to barter their bodies and souls to survive. By writing them into the primary positions in her texts and privileging their perceptions over those of the hegemonic classes, Hite argues, Rhys restructures narrative itself. Although the larger social structures that silence such women and cause their destruction are carefully limned in her work, Rhys offers little forgiveness, little redemption to her characters. We watch, hypnotized, as they make degrading choices, flare up in fruitless anger, and struggle against eroding fortunes. In spare, un- forgiving prose, Rhys portrays life on the margins from the subject position of the marginalized, demonstrating “a terrific—an almost lurid!—passion for stating the case of the underdog,” as Ford Madox Ford wrote of her in his introduction to The Left Bank (24). Rhys depicts their struggles as those of sensitive, intelligent, critical thinkers, thus altering the way readers perceive them. De- spite their varied histories of exploitation and disadvantage, Rhys’s protagonists are fierce individualists—not in their actions, which mark them as dependent and passive, but in their ways of appre- hending the world. Unflinchingly clear-eyed, recording the spiral of their own declines with a glossy, impersonal clarity, they have little respect for people who do not think for themselves. When Lois offers Marya advice about how to get on in the world in Quartet, Marya thinks furiously (but does not say), “You talk and you talk and you don’t understand. Not anything. It’s all false, all second-hand. You say what you've read and what other people tell you” (64). Such re- ceived knowledge and opinion is anathema to all of Rhys’s protago- nists. In After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, when Julia Martin visits a former lover to beg for money, he shows her some artwork he has purchased. He is “hesitating, unsure of his own opinion,” and asks Julia for hers. She answers immediately and simply that she does like the piece. But her former lover, educated, cultured, and wealthy as he is, cannot trust his own responses: Joy Castro | 17 “I wish I could get somebody who knows to tell me whether it’s any good or not,” he said, talking to himself. He was anxious because he did not want to love the wrong thing. Fancy wanting to be told what you must love! (115) The clarity and confidence possessed by Rhys’s heroines—despite the dire circumstances in which they find themselves and the nega- tive opinions others have of them—is something that remains unarticulated in the dialogue of the text: the characters, dependent on the largesse of others, think but do not voice their swift critiques, for which the narrative itself provides the only outlet. Economic vulnerability colors everything, Rhys’s characters real- ize, and moral choices are inextricably linked to the cushion of wealth. For Rhys, the symbol of the house signals the prerogative of the bourgeois, the respectable, to enjoy their comforts while exclud- ing marginal members of society. Houses are “like monsters,” thinks Sasha Jensen in Good Morning, Midnight: “If you have money and friends, houses are just houses with steps and a front-door— friendly houses where the door opens and somebody meets you, smiling.” Such a welcome is based exclusively on class, Sasha notes, for the buildings “stand back respectfully,” from the haves of this world, “waiting for the poor devil without any friends and without any money. Then they step forward, the waiting houses, to frown and crush. ... Frowning and leering and sneering, the houses, one after another. Tall cubes of darkness, with two lighted eyes at the top to sneer” (32). Despite the fact that they represent permanence, stability, and wealth, such houses are as anonymous, as conformist, as the endless succession of nearly indistinguishable rooms Rhys’s less fortunate protagonists occupy. England itself, rather than the promised land for its repatriated colonials, is described as a night- mare of conformity and monotony. “After a while I got used to En- gland and I liked it all right; I got used to everything except the cold and that the towns we went to always looked so exactly alike, You were perpetually moving to another place which was perpetually the same,” observes Anna Morgan, the chorus-girl protagonist of Voyage in the Dark (8). In Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha Jensen notes the essential similarity of the rooms such characters inhabit, even in a progression of economic decline: “A beautiful room with bath? A room with bath? A nice room? A room? .. . But never tell the truth about this business of rooms, because it would bust the roof off everything and undermine the whole social system. All rooms are the same” (38). For Rhys’s characters, the room (the hotel room, the room in the cheap pensione—but always, always, a rented room) functions as both sanctuary and prison. In Voyage in the Dark the room to which REVIEW oF ConTEMPORARY FICTION Anna escapes from Walter’s unwanted sexual attentions has “a se- cret feeling—quiet, like a place where you crouch down when you are playing hide-and-seek” (23), But once she has acceded to the af- fair, rooms are the places where she waits, where she is a kept woman in both senses of the word: well kept, well supported, but also kept, enclosed, imprisoned. In Quartet Marya returns to her room “and shut|s] the door with a feeling of relief as if she had shut out a malignant world, Her bedroom was a refuge” (34). In Rhys’s second novel, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, we learn that Julia Mar- tin is “not altogether unhappy. Locked in her room—especially when she was locked in her room—she felt safe. She read most of the time” (11). And Sasha Jensen, the protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight—and the bleakest of all Rhys’s narrators—dryly ob- serves, “A room is a place where you hide from the wolves outside and that’s all any room is” (38), The dynamic of the house and the room has as much to do with gender and sexuality as with class, for upper- and middle-class wives and daughters remain enclosed within the respectable confines of the bourgeois house, while mis- tresses are secreted in out-of-the-way hotels and boardinghouses. Either way, women are contained, enclosed, privatized. In terms of architectural space, Rhys seems to be pushing for a third term, an alternative to both the bulwarked security of the bourgeois house and the seedy instability of the room. In fact, one of her most interesting, sympathetic male characters, George Horsfield in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie—based on her second hus- band, Leslie Tilden Smith—resides in an interstitial space, some- where between house and room: “Five rooms over a stable, which had been converted into a garage” (94). He has furnished his home in a singularly compelling fashion: “Two walls of the room were cov- ered with books almost from the ceiling to the floor. It was a low- pitched room, and there was only one small window. Nevertheless, it had a pleasant and peaceful, even spacious, appearance” (168). Horsfield (his very name suggestive of an enclosure that provides safety while still permitting natural air and light) values books and ideas, just as does the protagonist Julia Martin, who keeps a vol- ume of Conrad on her nightstand. His original personality, sug- gested by his surname and the former stable over which he lives, is one of simple pastoral kindness, yet Horsfield—like the garage— has been converted by modernity. In his case, it is the experience of combat in World War I that has altered him. It is this war experi- ence that gives him a sense of connection with Julia’s personal trauma: “I know something about cracking up too. I went through the war, you know,” he tells her (152). Living in the margins himself, Horsfield is the most empathetic male character in Rhys’s oeuvre, Joy Castro | 19 and he and Julia, of all the couples who populate Rhys’s fiction, come closest to establishing a trusting relationship. Their chances are marred, however, by Julia’s self-destructive tendencies. Readers of Rhys may find troubling her female protagonists’ pas- sivity, a lack of agency that makes sympathizing with their suffer- ing difficult. When faced with poverty, emotional betrayal, and the commodification of their bodies, Rhys’s characters generally re- spond by letting themselves drift, spiraling into more and more ab- ject degradation. Their sporadic attempts at resistance are impul- sive, fueled by sudden rage, and ineffectual. Rather than persisting in efforts toward personal or social change, they surrender to the entropic disintegration of their dignity. For just this reason, many feminist critics in the 1970s found Rhys problematic. Since the critical methodology of early feminist readings focused primarily on analyses of female characters, Rhys’s passive, self-destructive heroines were rejected as offering negative role models—with the result that Rhys herself was rejected as an antifeminist writer. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their groundbreaking 1979 study, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, limn Bronté’s Bertha Mason as the howling, rage-filled alter ego of good girl Jane Eyre, yet nowhere do they mention Rhys’s own inves- tigation and radical reinterpretation of the same madwoman in Wide Sargasso Sea, published thirteen years before. Their reluc- tance to do so may have stemmed, in part, from the ambivalence with which many early feminist critics viewed Rhys. Yet condemnations of her protagonists’ lack of efficacy in the world generally fail to consider the issue of class. Even today, when the formula of race-class-gender is bandied about the academy, class is usually the last term to be considered (if considered at all). Yet readers of Rhys must take class into account, for she compli- cates her treatments of race and gender with an artful critique of social hierarchy. In this, as in so many elements of her work, Rhys was ahead of her time. More recent feminist critics have recognized the sophisticated, subtle brand of gender analysis that emerges in Rhys’s exposure and examination of legal and political systems, restricted educa- tional and career opportunities, and structures of inherited wealth that have historically privileged men and disenfranchised women. Complicating her critique of gender politics with an analysis of race, class, and colonial inequalities, Rhys follows the stories of in- dividual, generous, intelligent women through the Kafkaesque maze formed by such structures, amply demonstrating the tremen- dous waste of human potential they cause. Rather than dismissing 20 | Review or Contemporary Fiction Rhys because of her characters, feminist critics now perceive her work taking an entire culture to task. As an outcast, an outsider in terms of wealth and social class, Rhys wrote in deliberate opposition to the class assumptions that underpinned many modernist texts. One has only to think of the opening of Ford’s The Good Soldier, in which the illustrious blood- lines of the Ashburnhams and the Dowells are established, or of Jake Barnes’s bank balance of $2432.60 at the beginning of The Sun Also Rises (38), to recognize the difference between such characters and the denizens of Rhys’s fiction, who tend to beg, sell their cloth- ing, chart the progress of their hunger, and digress upon the way cheap wine on an empty stomach makes one see the world rather differently. Even Virginia Woolf, in her landmark feminist text of 1929, A Room of One’s Own, settles on the sum of five hundred pounds a year in independent income—in addition to the famous private room of the title—as a prerequisite for women’s intellectual and creative freedom. In contrast, Rhys takes care to clarify that her own characters have no such margin of comfort. In Good Morn- ing, Midnight, her novel published ten years after Woolf’s book, Sasha Jensen—the most financially independent of Rhys’s protago- nists—receives only two pounds, ten shillings a week, or roughly one hundred and thirty pounds a year. It is clear that Sasha, who is notably better off than other Rhys heroines, still exists in far more straitened circumstances than those Woolf assumed necessary for women’s artistic achievement. The room Woolf envisioned was very different from the sort Rhys’s characters inhabited. In The Good Soldier Ford’s narrator John Dowell careful delin- eates the solid background of his friends, the “quite good people” who are the text’s main characters (10). All from fine old families, Ford’s foursome travels about to spas, takes tea, watches golf, and considers itself generally “an extraordinarily safe castle. We were, if you will, one of those tall ships with the white sails, upon a blue sea, one of those things that seem the proudest and the safest of all the beautiful and safe things that God has permitted the mind of men to frame. Where better could one take refuge? Where better?” (11). Such safety, permanence, and refuge stand in strong contrast to the conditions in which Rhys’s characters struggle to stay afloat. In her own tale of an adulterous foursome, Quartet, based on her affair with Ford, Rhys distinguishes her protagonist's background as be- ing very different from that of Ford’s hero: “Marya, you must under- stand, had not been suddenly and ruthlessly transplanted from solid comfort to the hazards of Montmartre. Nothing like that. Truth to say, she was used to a lack of solidity and of fixed back- grounds’ (15). Joy Castro Rhys’s language, moreover, seems a deliberate rebuttal to the as- sumptions of Ford’s John Dowell when she describes the acquies- cence of Marya’s family in her choice to live as a chorus girl, a dis- reputable and sexually suspect role in British society: “Sometimes she would reflect that the way she had been left to all this was as- tonishing, even alarming. When she had pointed out that, without expensive preliminaries, she would be earning her own living, ev- erybody had stopped protesting and had agreed that this was a good argument. A very good argument indeed. For Marya’s relatives, though respectable people, presentable people (one might even go so far as to say quite good people), were poverty-stricken and pov- erty is the cause of many compromises” (16). Rhys’s choice of the phrase “quite good people,” the same phrase Ford uses to describe the foursome in The Good Soldier, ironizes the privileged class as- sumptions of that novel. Rhys makes clear the fact that morality is susceptible to the fluctuations of finance, and that among the lower classes, family ties may be only as dependable as bank balances: that families, faced with economic deprivation, can and do abandon their own. Anna Morgan, likewise, is viewed as a burden by her relatives in Voyage in the Dark, as is Julia Martin in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. No one will assume responsibility for these women, who are cast adrift without education or money. None of their rela- tives, struggling along in pinched circumstances themselves, reaches out a generous hand. This sense of impoverished dislocation extends to every aspect of the characters’ identity. “I have no pride—” admits Sasha Jensen, the narrator of Good Morning, Midnight, “no pride, no name, no face, no country. I don’t belong anywhere” (44). Similarly, the “ca- reer of ups and downs” of the protagonist of After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, we are told, “had rubbed most of the hall-marks off her, so that it was not easy to guess at her age, her nationality, or the social background to which she properly belonged” (14). This lack of fixed identity leaves the characters vulnerable to sexual predation in a strictly hierarchical culture. In Quartet, the fictionalized ac- count of the Ford affair, the Rhys figure is described from the Ford character’s perspective while the two are in bed together: her face seemed strange to him: the cheek-bones looked higher and more prominent, the nostrils wider, the lips thicker. A strange little Kalmuck face. He whispered: “Open your eyes, savage. Open your eyes, savage.” (131) Both repelled and sexually attracted by her difference, the Ford fig- ure cannot see her as a social equal, though the text suggests only a British background for Marya. He racializes her, turning her into 21 Review or Conremporary Fiction an exotic Other he can comfortably exploit and abandon. ‘An odd confluence of race and social class emerges in Voyage in the Dark as well. After Walter Jeffries, out of contrition for his sexual assault, sends the ill and destitute chorus girl Anna Morgan twenty-five pounds, she experiences differently her relationship to the servant class. “ ‘Will you lay a fire in my room, please?’ I said. My voice sounded round and full instead of small and thin. ‘That’s because of the money,’ I thought” (27), Yet, like the inheritors of plantation wealth in Faulkner’s novels, the West Indian Anna is plagued by the recollection of her family’s slave records. Her identi- fication is most intense when Walter visits her for sex. Memories of particular slave histories flash into her mind, connecting her own dependency on Walter with the slaveholding practices of her fore- bears: “.. . Maillotte Boyd, aged 18, mulatto, house servant. The sins of the fathers Hester said are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation—don’t talk such nonsense to the child Father said—” (53, ellipses original), Anna, aged eighteen herself, possesses an inchoate recognition of the parallels between her family’s exploitation of slaves and her own sexual commodification by upper-class men in the home country. Rhys anticipated contemporary theory in numerous ways, from her complex brand of feminist critique to her prescient postcolonialism. Her fictional response to early sexual trauma, however, may be one of the still unappreciated facets of her work. While critical interest in trauma and recovery has boomed in the past decade, there are no studies of Rhys comparable to Louise DeSalvo's 1989 Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work (though Coral Ann Howells attributes Rhys’s self-destructive behavior to her early molestation in her 1991 Jean Rhys). Yet such a comprehensive examination might do much to explain the sense of hopelessness that afflicts Rhys’s hero- ines, their abdication of responsibility for their lives, their perme- able sexual and psychological boundaries, and their preoccupation with death and suicide—all of which have been shown to be the legacy of childhood sexual abuse. Such abuse, as most people are now aware, can have severe effects on the psyche that last into adulthood. Suzette Henke describes that severity in Shattered Sub- jects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-Writing, noting that contemporary brain scan techniques demonstrate that the neuro- biological damage caused by childhood sexual abuse is comparable to that of Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (184). Exploring the link between early violation of boundaries and later self-destructive behavior in Trauma and Recovery: The After- math of Violence, Judith Herman writes, “Survivors of childhood Joy Castro | 23 abuse are far more likely to be victimized or to harm themselves than to victimize other people. . .. Survivors seem most disposed to direct their aggression at themselves” (113). The repeated victim- ization of Rhys’s women—which to readers can be baffling, since they seem more than bright enough to prevent it—as well as their alcoholic self-abuse and suicidal fantasies fall into this pattern of learned self-destructive behavior. Seen in this light, a key to the passivity of Rhys’s protagonists may reside in Anna Morgan’s reflection in Voyage in the Dark: “you don’t scream when you are frightened because you can’t and you don’t move either because you can’t” (92). Rhys’s one fictional explo- ration of her own abuse, the autobiographical short story “Good-bye Marcus, Good-bye Rose”—published in her final volume of fiction, near the very end of her life—depicts the response of the sexually molested protagonist as a similar paralysis. An adolescent girl in the charge of a trusted and respected family friend, a retired Brit- ish military man, Phoebe neither speaks nor acts. Mute, terrified, acquiescent, she simply freezes, waiting for his groping to end. As their relationship continues, she comes to regard herself as tainted, as somehow responsible, and thus not worthy of the normal roman- tic and familial life that awaits her peers and of which she herself has dreamed, “Marcus” and “Rose” are the names of children she once imagined she would have; by the narrative’s poignant end, when she sees her own future as one of inevitable sexual accessibil- ity, she bids those early dreams good-bye. Phoebe’s acceptance of responsibility and redefinition of herself as sexually corrupt seems less strange when one considers that Rhys herself came of literary age during a period when Freud’s Electra complex (his official denial of the child sexual abuse he had uncovered in his earlier work) placed responsibility for memories of childhood molestation squarely on the female child’s own fantasies. Because it insisted that such memories were fabrications born of desire, the Electra complex was perhaps even more psychologically damaging to victims of sexual abuse than society’s previous silence on such matters. Noting that the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press published English translations of Freud’s work, of which Virginia Woolf was a great admirer, DeSalvo points to Woolf’s anguish at the psychoana- lytic denial of sexual abuse as one of the causes of her self-doubt, depression, and eventual suicide. Like Woolf, Rhys had no resources at her disposal that would have permitted a self-conscious explora- tion of the ramifications of such abuse. A thorough study of this as- pect of her work remains to be done. Review or Conremporary Fiction Quartet It was a beautiful street. The street of homeless cats, she often thought. She never came into it without seeing several of them, prowling, thin vagabonds, furtive, aloof, but strangely proud. Sympathetic creatures, af- ter all. (Quartet 65) Published in 1928 in Great Britain as Postures but known most widely by the title of its 1929 American publication—also the title of the 1981 film version, adapted by James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala— Quartet concerns the fall of the young and lovely Marya Zelli, an English orphan whose extended family does not want to assume the burden of her financial well-being. The only job she finds is one with a touring company, so as a young woman she is perpetually on the move, traveling through a “vague procession of towns all exactly alike” (16). When at the age of twenty-four she meets and marries Stephan Zelli, she moves to France with him, hoping for a family, roots, only to learn that he is no more settled than she is; he “hals] lived in Montmartre for fifteen years, he [tells] her, but he hals] no intimate friends and very few acquaintances” (20). Though she suspects that he acts as the middleman for the purveyance of stolen goods, he is evasive when she questions him. As their marriage progresses, she learns that her husband is “secre- tive and a liar,” yet he is very good to her—gentle, kind, a good lover—and she loves him (22). When he abruptly moves her from country to country, for example, she accepts the sudden changes without complaint: she has learned to trust him absolutely. When he is arrested, she falls apart. Abandoned in Paris when Stephan is imprisoned, Marya has few options. Without skills or education, she sells her dresses; bereft of other assets, she knows her body is next in line for commodification. She turns instead to a British couple, an art dealer and his wife, whom she has only recently met. Significantly more well off than the Zellis and intrigued by the pretty and vulnerable young woman, the Heidlers insist that Marya stay with them until she can find substantive employment and a place to live. Having few other acquaintances, she is nonetheless reluctant to accept, for Heidler has laid his hand on her leg under the table—in his wife’s presence. Yet when Marya visits her husband in prison, he urges her to accept their hospitality, arguing that it is the only sen- sible course, and that she should do so in order to preserve his own peace of mind about her: given that she is young, pretty, alone, and destitute, he knows that she has few choices besides prostitution or being kept by a man. She is unable to convey to Stephan her qualms about the Heidlers, and when he becomes agitated, she agrees. Joy Castro | 25 Lois Heidler, a painter, asks Marya to sit for her as partial pay- ment for her lodging. Though Lois is the first to objectify openly Marya’s youthful charm and beauty, Heidler is not long in following suit. With Lois’s knowledge (and apparently repeating a pattern in which they have engaged many times with various protégées), he tries to seduce Marya. She initially rejects Heidler’s advances, but agonized over her husband’s incarceration and her own excruciat- ingly insecure position as a woman alone, she eventually acqui- esces. Their affair begins, and Marya—experiencing both terror and a sense of security in his presence—becomes emotionally attached to Heidler. The three continue living together, but Lois’s hostility builds, as does Marya’s guilt. She continues to visit her husband in prison ev- ery week, though the squalor and his increasing strangeness frighten her. Finally, the tension becomes unbearable. When they spend a weekend at a country cottage, they have a terrible drunken scene in which Marya overhears the Heidlers discussing her. She confronts them about their sordid arrangement, and Heidler ac- cuses her of only wanting money. Outraged, Marya hits him and in- sists upon leaving the next day. Heidler, unwilling to part with her, sends her to a hotel in Paris; ensconced there without any money of her own, she becomes his kept mistress. All the while, Stephan’s release date draws closer. Alone in the hotel room, her isolation relieved only by Heidler’s sexual visits or her own visits to Stephan in prison, Marya becomes more and more miserable, Her appearance begins to reflect her des- peration, and—given that her beauty has been her one asset all along—its deterioration throws her into a panic, She becomes in- creasingly dependent on her relationship with Heidler for emo- tional sustenance. When he casually informs her that he has never shared a woman and will drop her if she rejoins Stephan upon his release from prison, she capitulates without argument to his bla- tant double standard, agreeing to relinquish her husband. Yet when Stephan returns to her, she is oddly touched and made peaceful by his familiar presence. When he leaves for Amsterdam (as part of his release agreement), she turns to Heidler in despair, begging for enough money to follow her husband. But he refuses, again reluctant to relinquish control. Instead, he sends her off for a restorative holiday, providing her only enough money to pay for her lodging and board. Finally wearying of Marya’s emotionalism, he ends the affair at roughly the same time Stephan illegally returns to Paris. The final chapter of the novel is a tragedy of miscommunication. Dropped by Heidler—who tells her baldly that she makes him 26 | Review or Contemporary Fiction sick—Marya confesses everything to Stephan, who has promised to understand. The situation is too much for him, however, and he re- sponds to her admission by planning to kill Heidler. In a panic, ter- rified that he will harm Heidler or be arrested again himself, Marya threatens to turn Stephan over to the police for his illegal presence in France. He smashes her head against a table and leaves her for dead, going off with a pretty younger woman of his acquaintance who happens to be outside the building when he exits. Since he and Marya have had drinks with the young woman and her date, Stephan ironically takes on Heidler’s role, damaging—perhaps de- stroying—his wife while ignoring the younger woman’s prior rela- tionship. The least formally innovative of Rhys’s novels, the traditionally structured Quartet deftly employs symbolism and imagery. In her despair, for example, Marya is described as “very small, as small as a fly, yet so heavy, so weighted down that it was impossible to hoist herself to the next rung” (162). In this, Rhys reminds readers of Katherine Mansfield’s 1923 story “The Fly,” in which a business- man, unable to face his own grief at his son’s death in the war, tor- ments a helpless fly to death by dropping ink upon it, all the while respecting the pluck and determination of its struggle. When it dies, “such a grinding feeling of wretchedness seized him that he felt positively frightened” (348), yet he does not connect his sadism with his own emotional distress, which remains unaddressed. Just so, Rhys portrays Heidler both critically and sympathetically, as some- one who exacts a devastating toll from Marya but who himself is tormented. In the imagistic associations of Rhys’s novel, Heidler is subtly linked with the traditional tormenter of the fly, for when Marya prepares to tell her husband the truth about Heidler, she “turnis] her eyes away from him, fixing] them on a big spider mo- tionless on the dirty white wall” (178). Just before her first visit to Stephan in prison, Marya sees her room at the Heidlers for the first time. Suggesting the similarly en- trapped positions of both Marya and Stephan, Rhys describes it as cramped and austere, nearly cell-like: “ ‘Come up and see your room,’ Lois suggested, and Marya followed her up a narrow stair- case to a little room which smelt clean and cold. Striped grey and green curtains hung straightly over the long windows” (54). Even the curtains, with their institutional colors and long stripes, recall the bars of a prison. Significant, too, given their lack of social and familial connections, is the fact that the Zellis’ last evening together occurs in someone else’s borrowed flat. The owner, a photographer, enlarges photographs for a living, and the walls are covered with portraits. Marya and Stephan dine with these “huge photographs Joy Castro | 27 star[ing] down at them with glassy eyes” (178). They are not sur- rounded by portraits of their own family members, but by the im- ages of meaningless strangers. Marya, who is truthful, empathetic, and morally sensitive, is variously labeled by the other characters as naive, overly virtuous, and foolish. Eventually, she is crushed by their actions. But never is she less than clear-sighted about her social situation. Monsieur Bernadet, a minor character, chats with Marya at a bar, observing, “People are vache, people play dirty tricks for no reason at all. That’s life.” “Perhaps it makes them feel warm and comfortable,” suggested Marya. a7) Moreover, she does not go down without a fight. When Heidler ac- cuses her of wanting merely money, she flies at him in a rage. “She jumped forward and hit him as hard as she could,” Rhys writes (103). While her attack makes an impression on the Heidlers, it does nothing to damage Heidler physically. Ironically, then, Rhys’s language in the description of Stephan’s attack on Marya in the fi- nal chapter is strikingly similar: “He caught her by the shoulders and swung her sideways with all his force” (185). Marya swings at Heidler “as hard as she could,” while Stephan swings Marya “with all his force”: the crucial difference, of course, is that he has far more force than Marya does, and that her slender fragility renders her more physically vulnerable than does Heidler’s well-fed bulk. Against such an opponent, Marya’s fury is insignificant, effecting no real change, while Stephan’s is capable of murder. Still, the simi- larity in the language also suggests Rhys’s unsentimental, unspar- ing view of her protagonist’s behavior. Marya may be caught in a terrible and difficult situation, but the novel’s description holds her accountable for her choices. Her death—or what seems to be her death—is nothing less, however, than a tragedy: a tragedy of se- verely limited choices, predatory individuals, and misplaced trust, of a protagonist disadvantaged in both class and gendered terms, struggling to survive in a hostile environment. Like Fitzgerald’s Daisy and Tom Buchanan, the Heidlers have the financial wherewithal to escape the consequences of their be- havior. Myrtle, Tom Buchanan’s married, lower-class lover in The Great Gaisby, is simply a casualty, an unfortunate by-product who, because of her sexual transgression and degraded class status, in- spires little sympathy from onlookers. One of the marvels of Rhys’s vision is that Marya, a potential Myrtle-figure, is shown to have a fully functioning consciousness. She is revealed as being not a coarse bit of flesh but a sensitive, intelligent, complex individual; 28 | Review or Conremporary Fiction her tragic fall is the central concern of the novel. This placement of a conventionally minor character at the center of the text is what scholar Molly Hite sees as the most important achievement of Rhys’s work. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie There was a vase of flame-coloured tulips in the hall—surely the most graceful of flowers. Some thrust their heads forward like snakes, and some were very erect, stiff, virginal, rather prim. Some were dying, with curved grace in their death. (After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie 116) Rhys’s second novel, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), explores more deeply the ramifications of familial estrangement, and also begins—albeit obliquely—to raise the issue of non-British, non-Eu- ropean origins. The protagonist, Julia Martin, is a vulnerable dreamer, a thirty-six-year-old kept woman whose looks are rapidly fading. Informed by a lawyer's letter that her allowance will cease, Julia confronts her former lover, Mr. Mackenzie, in a Paris restau- rant. Rhys limns the situation as one controlled by male money and power, a complex shared and understood by Mr. Mackenzie, his law- yer, and the headwaiter, who notices Julia’s approach and is in- stantly ready to collude with Mackenzie in having her removed. But Julia, with no protective male to avenge her honor, avenges her own. Despite the inequalities of class and power between them, she slaps Mackenzie's face with her glove and walks out, throwing down the gauntlet with a certain gallant grace. Unbeknownst to her, her performance attracts the interest of an onlooker, George Horsfield, who pursues her into the street. A Brit- ish citizen, Horsfield encourages her to visit him in England, and— her ties to anyone in Paris having abruptly lapsed—she agrees. Her motives, however, are twofold, for England is her home. She returns to the bedside of her paralyzed mother, who can no longer recognize anyone or communicate, and who is cared for by Julia’s younger sis- ter, the bitter and dutiful Norah. Prior to Norah’s birth, their mother had functioned for Julia as “the warm centre of the world,” but afterward, she became someone cold, someone who, because she was worried, slapped you for no reason that you knew. So there were times when you were afraid of her; other times when you disliked her. Then you stopped being afraid or disliking. You simply became indiffer- ent and tolerant and rather sentimental, because after all she was your mother. (106-07) Joy Castro | 29 Despite having detached emotionally at an early age, Julia still re- tains a profound attachment to her mother and craves her warmth and approval. The sickbed vigil gives her the opportunity to reflect upon the possible causes of her mother’s emotional coldness, includ- ing the havoc wrought by transplantation from the lush warmth of Brazil, her childhood home, to England—a trauma that, resembling Rhys’s own, also tentatively prefigures that of Anna Morgan in her next novel, Voyage in the Dark, and of Antoinette Cosway in Wide Sargasso Sea. This relocation, though a generation removed from the protagonist in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, is still figured as a profoundly significant factor in her emotional life. The rivalry between the sisters is pronounced. Julia’s bitterness toward Norah has its roots in the ancient history of their childhood, when Norab’s arrival meant their mother’s withdrawal, while Norah, who has sacrificed her youth and potential in order to care for their mother, is bitter, envious, and hostile toward Julia, whose available sexuality and love of material luxury she derides. Julia also meets with derision from her respectable uncle, who makes it abundantly clear that no financial help will be forthcoming from him. When the family tensions explode at the mother’s funeral, Norah and Julia confront their rage at each other—Julia’s at Norah for representing the self-serving hypocrisy of all judgmental, re- spectable people, and Norah’s at Julia for escaping her own cramped fate as a woman without money or prospects, saddled with the care of an elderly parent. Even their mother seems to recognize the difference between the two sisters: when she briefly recognizes Julia, she murmurs “orange-trees,” a reminder of her own youth in Brazil, of warmth and sensual pleasure. When she is able to recog- nize Norah for a moment, she mutters “Dobbin,” a work horse. Norah has to face the crushing realization that, despite her many sacrifices, her mother sees her as fit for no more than the job. Rhys’s employment of the third-person omniscient point of view permits a sympathetic exploration of Norah’s struggle: “Everybody always said to her: ‘You're wonderful, Norah, you're wonderful. I don’t know how you do it, It was a sort of drug, that universal, that unvarying admiration—the feeling that one was doing what one ought to do, the approval of God and man. It made you feel protected and safe, as if something very powerful were fighting on your side” (104). Yet this inner assurance of rectitude fails to provide solace or any kind of practical assistance. “Everybody had said, ‘You're wonderful, Norah.’ But they did not help. They just stood around watching her youth die, and her beauty die, and her soft heart grow hard and bit- ter. They sat there and said, ‘You're wonderful, Norah.’ Beasts. . .. Devils. . . .” (104). The language of Norah’s internal monologue is Review OF CONTEMPORARY FICTION uncannily similar to that of Julia’s outburst after the funeral: “People are beasts, such mean beasts,” she cries angrily (135). The sisters, in their embattled stance toward a society that has little room for them, resemble each other more than they know. Yet their fury, taken out on each other, destroys the relationship, and when they part, it is unlikely that they will ever meet again. Rhys’s juxta- position of the sisters suggests that, without money and connec- tions, whether a woman behaves herself does not matter. Whether she polices her sexuality and accepts her filial duties or runs off to enjoy herself, she is damned either way. In After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, male and female characters come closer to a sense of understanding and rapprochement (one might say détente) than anywhere else in the Rhys canon. Yet even here, the characters’ attempts to “only connect,” in E. M. Forster's famous phrase, are not successful: Julia ultimately embarrasses and horrifies Horsfield with her apparent irrationality. When he touches her in the dark hallway of her rooming-house, she screams, bringing out the residents, who turn on lights, exposing his illicit visit to her room. “I thought it was—someone dead,” she later tries to explain, “catching hold of my hand” (165); her mother has just died—an event she does not disclose to Horsfield. It is not only his embarrassment at being caught transgressing social boundaries but also a sudden revulsion at having to merge his fate with that of a woman with such powerful needs, such blatant deficits, that moves him to end their connection. Julia, sensing his change of heart, leaves for Paris alone. The whole visit—the two separate nar- rative strands of her daylight visits to her mother’s sickbed, death- bed, and funeral, and her nighttime romance with Horsfield, which progress entirely independently of one another—takes only ten days. Rejected by both her family and her lover, Julia returns to Paris, a broken version of the woman at the novel’s beginning. By novel’s end, when she once again encounters Mr. Mackenzie in a restaurant, she begs quickly and without apparent shame, all gal- lantry gone. Her fall, significantly, is described as a turn from em- pathy to dispassion: She saw a thin man, so thin that he was like a clothed skeleton, droop- ing in a doorway. And the horses, standing like statues of patient misery. She felt no pity at all. It used to be as if someone had put out a hand and touched her heart when she saw things like that, but now she felt nothing. Now she felt in- different and cold, like a stone. ... And it was funny to end like that—where most sensible people start, indifferent and without any pity at all. Just saying: “It’s nothing to do with me. I've got my own troubles. It’s nothing to do with me.” (188) Joy Castro | 31 For Rhys, sensitive people are the battered mute animals of an un- gentle world. Sensible people, practical people, are ranged against the sufferers in a hostile battle of indifference. Julia’s tragedy is not that she is broke or that she has been rejected. It is that she has come full circle—she has started as a compassionate person and ended as an indifferent one. Here as elsewhere, empathy and ten- derness stand as the highest values in Rhys’s work. The complex form of the novel anticipates in some ways that of Wide Sargasso Sea, particularly in the fact that its tripartite struc- ture is dominated by a long middle section. The first and last parts, which function as bookends to part 2, are both set in Paris, Julia Martin’s home. In each, she encounters Mr. Mackenzie, but with quite different results. Part 2—which, at over a hundred pages, comprises the bulk of the novel—is set in London. In this middle section two separate narratives run concurrently but do not inter- sect: Julia’s visits to her mother and sister are never mentioned to George Horsfield, and vice versa. She keeps the familial and roman- tic aspects of her life carefully distinct. In part 3, three chapters to- tal only twelve pages, and their accelerating pace signals a rapid breakdown. In the final chapter, just three swift pages long, we see Julia intrude upon Mr. Mackenzie at his table, just as she accosts him in the early pages of the novel. Here, however, her behavior is quite the opposite. Rather than the defiant grace of their earlier exchange, she exhibits only a flat exhaustion, a willingness to play her role as beggar. The accelerated pace of the scene resonates with Mackenzie’s assessment of Julia's sudden decline: “Women go phut quite suddenly, he thought” (191). When she asks him for a loan without apparent embarrassment, he cheats her, giving her a fifth of what she requests while asserting that he has given her more than she asked. In a sad, ironic echo of her former gallantry, she does not even count the bills, placing them in her purse without looking. Only white space separates this scene from the brief paragraph that closes the novel: “The street was cool and full of grey shadows. Lights were beginning to come out in the cafés. It was the hour be- tween dog and wolf, as they say” (191). Julia’s final interview with Mr. Mackenzie, then, is marked by the narrative as the turning point of her life, her transition between existing, however tenu- ously, as a member of the human community and resigning herself to life as a loner, forever lurking in the darkness for what suste- nance she can scavenge. Review or Contemporary Fiction Voyage in the Dark ‘There was a glass door behind the sofa. You could see into a small, unfur- nished room, and then another glass door led into the walled-in garden. The tree by the back wall was lopped so that it looked like a man with stumps instead of arms and legs. The washing hung limp, without mov- ing, in the grey-yellow light. (Voyage in the Dark 9) Voyage in the Dark (1984), which grew from the notebooks Rhys filled after her failed affair and her abortion in the 1910s, is consid- ered her finest work after Wide Sargasso Sea. The novel is a tightly structured first-person account of a young chorus girl’s downward spiral into prostitution. Bright and unrelenting, Anna Morgan's critical vision does little to save her from her demise as an un- wanted member of a coldly hierarchical society. Helpless against her lack of money, family, and education, Anna survives on her beauty and sexual availability, not realizing that her price slides downward each time her purity is compromised. Eighteen years old and sexually innocent when the novel begins, Anna hails from the West Indies: she has moved with her step- mother to England after her father’s death. Rejected by her step- mother, alone and without skills or funds, she works as a chorus girl to survive. Though in actuality she lacks sexual experience, Anna is perceived by men as easy game because of her profession. She is pursued by a wealthy businessman, Walter Jeffries, whom she ini- tially resists. Eventually—ill and in a precarious financial situa- tion—she responds to his advances, and he keeps her as his mis- tress. When he grows tired of her, he cuts off the relationship and pays her a severance sum. Distraught, she drifts into one liaison after another, gradually accelerating the pace until she is simply prostituting herself. When she finds herself pregnant, she begs Walter for money, which she uses for an illegal abortion. Afterward, she returns to her rented room, where she begins to hemorrhage. The novel’s finale—a harrowing scene in which Anna flashes back to her West Indian girlhood and yearns for oblivion—originally closed with her death, but Rhys was pushed by her publisher to change the conclusion to one less morbid. As a result, the novel ends with the cynical promise that Anna will be “[rleady to start all over again in no time,” according to the doctor who attends her (187). The original, more disturbing ending has since been published in The Gender of Modernism (1990). One of the most fruitful centers of inquiry in recent modernist studies has been the issue of time. Turning their attention away from social realism and toward the inner life, modernist writers ex- perimented with narrative techniques that would portray more ac- Joy Castro | 33 curately the subjective experience of time’s passage: the perception of time in the mind of the individual, rather than time as charted on the calendar or clock. From Woolf’s moments of being to Joyce’s epiphanies to Proust’s reveries, innovative modernist depictions of time reveled in the expansion and compression of narrative. In Voy- age in the Dark, Rhys both exploits structure to express time and makes explicit mention of time in her text. Numerous references to clocks and to time occur throughout the novel: stopped clocks, tick- ing clocks, time running out, keeping time—even a lark, at one point, “risles] jerkily, as if it went by clockwork, as if someone were winding it up and stopping every now and again” (78). This notion of clock time as controlled by a human hand—during a period when the continued function of clocks and watches required perpetual winding—is an important one. Not merely time but also the issue of control is at stake—the sense that someone else is deciding the schedule, calling the shots. The lark itself does not determine, in Anna’s perception, how it rises into the air; the “someone” who winds it does. Likewise, Anna herself, insignificant and vulnerable, is pushed hither and thither by the demands of those with greater power. Time is only one part of a larger picture concerning freedom and autonomy. It is, in fact, at the moment when Anna reads a jingle about time, late in the novel, that she finally rejects public definitions—or, as she sees them, distortions—of time. “The past is dear,/The future clear,/And, best of all, the present,” reads the little advertising rhyme on the tin of biscuits. For Anna, whose memories are confus- ing and lonely, whose future course is increasingly uncertain, and whose present is staggeringly painful—far, indeed, from “best of all,”—the jingle’s chipper assertion flies in the face of all her experi- ence. The discrepancy between official narrative and private experi- ence is unbearable. She begins her own passive rebellion against the dictates of public time the next morning, by refusing to “get up when the alarm went” (149). Her rejection of clock time signals for readers the beginning of a steeper angle in her decline. She can ig- nore time and, with it, the dictates of organized society, but ulti- mately at her own expense. Without emotional and economic safety nets, the novel argues, to reject society’s definitions is to self-de- struct. In Voyage in the Dark Rhys also explores her interest in textuality. Anna absorbs her understanding of British society from a variety of print and visual sources, from romantic novels to adver- tising jingles, from banal commercial art to the decadent erotic prints of Aubrey Beardsley to the Cries of London, a set of twenty- five prints published in 1913 that feature London street vendors 34 | Review or Contemporary Fiction and describe their distinctive cries. The play on “Cries” suggests the anguish that accompanies Anna’s reluctant marketing of her own wares. Like the biscuit jingle that disputes Anna’s experience of time, a newspaper ad reads, “What is Purity? For Thirty-Five Years the Answer has been Bourne’s Cocoa,” mocking her own status as a sexual commodity (58). Major plot points in the novel hinge on pri- vate letters, which are quoted in part or in full: the letter from Anna’s West Indian uncle rejecting financial responsibility for her care, the letter that terminates her relationship with Walter, and Walter's romantic letters that she is asked to return when the affair ends lest they incriminate him later. These texts created by Rhys work together with common cultural texts in a rich interplay throughout the novel. Moreover, the novel itself serves as a reply to another literary text: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Rhys was quite familiar with the work of Conrad, who was Ford Madox Ford’s close friend; her protagonist in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie keeps a copy of Almayer’s Folly on her nightstand. A rebuttal of imperialist assumptions, Voyage in the Dark is distinctly the story of a colonialist returned to the home country, in contrast to the sojourn Conrad’s Marlowe makes in the so-called primitive wilds of Africa. ‘The center of empire, not some outflung province, is the darkness through which Anna Morgan travels. The first-person narrative, told from Anna’s point of view, drifts between the present and various events in her recent and distant past. Only sometimes are these flashbacks marked by white space or the use of italics. This effect of blurred time, mixed with odd jumps in continuity, leaves the reader disoriented, much like Anna, transplanted to an incomprehensible setting against her will. The novel's structure contributes, too, to the sense that time has leaped the bounds of control. Part 1, which chronicles Anna’s relationship with Walter Jeffries and concludes with their breakup, is nearly a hundred pages long, whereas parts 2 and 3 are each less than half that length, and part 4, the devastating climax, is a mere five pages long. The prose itself becomes increasingly disorienting, disjointed, as the novel unwinds, and Anna’s hallucinations during the after- math of her abortion are harrowingly recorded in the final section. Faced with unbearable pain both physical and psychological, Anna retreats into her West Indian childhood while the unmoved doctor, “like a machine that was working smoothly,” ridicules her plight (187). The contrast between the victims of society and its relentless, brutal successes would form the focal point of Rhys’s next novel. Joy Castro | 35 Good Morning, Midnight ‘Yes, I am sad, sad as a circus-lioness, sad as an eagle without wings, sad as a violin with only one string and that one broken, sad as a woman who is growing old. (Good Morning, Midnight 45) Good Morning, Midnight, published in 1939, also depicts the fall of a woman from the first-person point of view. Set in Paris rather than England and focusing on the plight of an older woman past the peak of her beauty, Good Morning, Midnight slides back and forth between the present—the terrifying descent toward fascism and war—and the past. Its protagonist, Sasha Jensen, is sliding into a middle age of despair and desperation. Given some money by a gen- erous friend, she leaves off trying to drink herself to death and moves to Paris, her favorite city. Yet her experiences there form a string of humiliations and rejections. She is no longer young; she is no longer beautiful. The men she meets do not desire her, and the larger world is darkening with the threat of fascism. The novel de- scribes her attempts to put her life back together, but her success is contingent on finding love and respect from others. Unable to do so, her disaster echoes that of a whole society. In the final scene, a ghastly parody of Molly Bloom’s affirming monologue in Ulysses, she takes to her bed a death-figure and is the passive recipient of his undesired sexuality: “Then I put my arms round him and pull him down on to the bed, saying: ‘Yes—yes—yes. . . ’” (190, ellipses original). Through its focus on the personal fortunes of a single indi- vidual, Good Morning, Midnight also provides a prescient critique of the growing European fascism; critic Helen Carr predicts that it will eventually be seen as “one of the great anti-fascist novels of the thirties” (20). Its protagonist Sasha Jensen is one of the outcasts, unable to fit into a society that requires of its members utter confor- mity: a hard, attractive, competent surface that, in Rhys’s works, provides only a superficial mask of the inhumanity beneath. Sasha recalls her youth as a shopgirl in a Parisian house of haute couture, where she is sent on errands she cannot comprehend be- cause of her employer’s mispronunciation; her trek through the warren of corridors and rooms reads like a scene from Kafka: “After this it becomes a nightmare. I walk up stairs, past doors, along pas- sages—all different, all exactly alike. There is something very ur- gent that I must do. But I don’t meet a soul and all the doors are shut” (26). When she is let go for “imbecility” (too intimidated to mention the mispronunciation), her interior monologue directed to- ward her employer, the aptly named Mr. Blank, reveals the terror of failure in an economy predicated upon inequality: ReEviEW oF CONTEMPORARY Fiction That’s my market value, for I am an inefficient member of Society, slow in the uptake, uncertain, slightly damaged in the fray, there’s no denying it. So you have the right to pay me four hundred franes a month, to lodge me in a small, dark room, to clothe me shabbily, to harass me with worry and monotony and unsatisfied longings till you get me to the point when I blush at a look, ery at a word. We can’t all be happy, we can’t all be rich, we can’t all be lucky—and it would be so much less fun if we were. Isn't it so, Mr Blank? There must be the dark background to show up the bright colours. Some must cry so that the others may be able to laugh the more heartily. (29) Sasha, like Rhys heroines across the board, is quick to align her- self with the failures, yet she acquiesces more deeply in her own destruction. Despite the compromising and degrading situations they are forced to negotiate, most of Rhys’s characters are remark- ably able to maintain the differentiation between their integrity and self-worth and their difficult lives. We see this distinction in Quartet, for instance, when Heidler, confessing his own self-loath- ing, predicts that Marya, too, will hate herself eventually and asks if she ever does. “ ‘No, answered Marya reflectively. ‘I’m not sick of myself. I’m rather sick of my sort of life’ ” (66). When characters sur- render the differentiation between their self-concept and the lives they lead, as Sasha does in Good Morning, Midnight, the results are nightmarish. In this four-part novel Rhys uses compression to magnify intense emotion. In part 1, seven longer sections deal with Sasha’s settling down in Paris, finding a room, and meeting people. Her flashback to the birth of her son and his death in infancy, however, is only four pages long. Striking in its brevity, it glances at and then away from an event so painful that the first-person narrator cannot bear to look steadily upon it. The narrative shifts away from the death and into the next section, which details the success of Sasha’s tricky dye job. The concision of this three-page section gives rise to questions as to why such compression would be necessary. After all, the dye- ing of her hair appears to be, not a trauma, but only one step in a process of transformation—new clothes, new hats, and so on—that Sasha undertakes to revitalize herself (from the outside in, as it were). The significance of the dye job’s success, however, can be seen as a complete erasure of Sasha’s personality when read in light of an earlier passage, for when Sasha first contemplates coloring her hair, she describes it as an obliteration of self: “Shall I have it red? Shall I have it black? Now, black—that would be startling. Shall I have it blond cendré? But blond cendré, madame, is the most diffi- cult of colours. It is very very rarely, madame, that hair can be suc- cessfully dyed blond cendré. It’s even harder on the hair than dyeing Joy Castro | 37 it platinum blonde. First it must be bleached, that is to say, its own colour must be taken out of it—and then it must be dyed, that is to say, another colour must be imposed on it, (Educated hair. ... And then, what?)” (52). In the guise of a woman concerned with her ap- pearance, Rhys provides a metaphor for a system that would erase difference, removing people’s own “colour” and layering some un- natural attribute over the remaining raw material. In contrast to earlier Rhys heroines who cling to their fierce if ineffectual resis- tance, Sasha asks to be altered in this way. The difficult blond cendré is a success, suggesting her final relinquishment of indi- vidual vision, of the ability to perceive (if not control) her own life in an original way. The compression of the chapter, then, stems from what can be seen as a distressing obliteration of individuality. With the exceptions of these two sections, the majority of the novel uses longer chapters. Only part 3, which returns to the past— to Sasha’s early marriage and pregnancy and, again, to the death of her son—employs such concision: sixteen sections are wedged into just thirty-three pages of text. The effect is like that of a zoetrope flickering or of early film’s hurried, jerky movements. The scenes jolt by, some as brief as four lines long, as if the narrator can bear no more than a glimpse of each. Part 4 returns to the present and, for the most part, to a more leisurely narrative pace. Only in its final four-page section, the novel’s horrifying climax, does Rhys employ the compressed inten- sity of part 3. Sasha, rejecting and rejected by a man she could love, willingly receives her tormentor, a hostile, frightening man from the next room, in a sexual embrace. Her acquiescence is presaged by a waking nightmare that reads like a premonition of fascism: “All that is left in the world is an enormous machine, made of white steel. It has innumerable flexible arms, made of steel.” Equipped with lights and eyes at the end of each arm, it waves them “to an accompaniment of music and of song. Like this: ‘Hotcha—hotcha— hotcha. . ..” And I know the music; I can sing the song. . ..” (187, el lipses original). Omnipotent with its many arms, able to see and il- Iuminate everything, the machine-monster’s true terror resides in Sasha’s perception that she, too, has the capability to follow along, to “sing the song” it dictates. Due to Rhys’s careful control of the narrative pace, the contrast between Sasha Jensen’s static, hopeless present and her painful, elusive past—and the horrific future, which comes to her unbidden in hallucinatory flashes—is palpable: we experience time as she does. This oscillation between a slowed, monotonous present and an accelerated past and future results, for the reader, in the sensation that time itself is expanding and contracting. Here, as in Voyage in Revirw oF CONTEMPORARY FicTION the Dark, the text’s very structure serves to question the viability of public time—the time of the clock and the calendar—for the expres- sion of private realities. Largely misunderstood and rejected when it appeared on the eve of World War II, Good Morning, Midnight would be Rhys’s last foray into the public world for a quarter of a century. Wide Sargasso Sea Iam wearing a long dress and thin slippers, so I walk with difficulty, fol- lowing the man who is with me and holding up the skirt of my dress. It is white and beautiful and I don’t wish to get it soiled. I follow him, sick with fear but I make no effort to save myself; if anyone were to try to save me, I would refuse. This must happen. (Wide Sargasso Sea 59-60) Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Rhys’s last novel, both restored her repu- tation to critical view and marked her as one of the major writers of the twentieth century. Set in the 1830s, it functions as a disruptive prequel to the British classic Jane Eyre. In Charlotte Bronté’s novel, the good Jane’s marital fortunes are jeopardized by the mad- woman in the attic: the long-concealed existence of Rochester's first wife. Only after this wife, known as Bertha Mason, sets the manor aflame, destroying herself (and blinding Rochester) in the process, can Jane and Rochester wed. The mad wife herself is described by Bronté as a disgusting, inarticulate creature. In her radical revision Rhys again moves a marginal character to the center of her narrative. We begin with the West Indian child- hood of the “madwoman,” who, as the narrator of the first and final sections of Wide Sargasso Sea, is given a voice at last. Moreover, as we quickly learn, she is not mad at all, but instead beautiful, sen- sual, and profoundly connected to her lush island birthplace. Her emotional state, however, is a vulnerable one, for she has experi- enced the violence incited by emancipation—her home has been burned down, her brother killed, and her mother driven into a cata- tonic state by the losses. Placed in a convent for years, the young woman emerges only by virtue of an arranged marriage. Eager for love and attachment, she tries to please the man who comes from England (for the sake of her fortune) to marry her and with whom she innocently falls in love. In doing so, she concedes too much of her emotional independence. Rochester—rigid, rule-bound, re- pressed—is unnerved by his young wife’s emotional honesty and open sexuality, as well as by the disturbingly fecund tropical world that is her home. Home, too, to former African-Caribbean slaves and their unfamiliar rituals, such as obeah, the island teems with threats to Rochester's rational ego. Joy Castro | 39 Shortly after their marriage, during a period of sexual bliss in which Rochester becomes besotted with his wife, he receives two letters from a man claiming to be her older half-brother. Asserting that promiscuity and insanity run rampant in the family, the letters warn Rochester against his new young wife, hinting that there may even be a taint of black blood in her heritage. Feeling duped and angry, Rochester becomes suspicious not only of his wife but also of his own deepening attachment to her, the power of which frightens him. Troubled by doubts as to her racial and sexual purity and faced with the potential disintegration of his Cartesian views of world and self, Rochester reacts by crushing these threats as embodied in the person of his wife, renaming her, taking her away to his home- land, and imprisoning her in the house that, as patriarch on his own turf, he rules without question. He torments and rejects her, yet will not let her go. The novel depicts her as finally driven mad by Roch- ester, her spirit broken by his need to define her. Names and the power to name hold crucial importance in Wide Sargasso Sea. In Rhys’s novel the madwoman’s name is not Bertha Mason. Rather, the protagonist Antoinette Cosway takes her first name from her own mother, whose family has lived in the islands for generations; her surname is her deceased father’s. Yet when the relationship between the newly married couple deteriorates, Roch- ester takes to calling his wife Bertha Mason. In this, the novel points to his colonizing impulse, the exaggerated sense of entitle- ment that permits him to reassert control by renaming the Other. Arrogantly playing Adam in an Eden that is not his, he substitutes “Bertha” for “Antoinette,” her mother’s name, and “Mason,” the name of her stepfather, for “Cosway,” thus interrupting both matrilinearity and patrilinearity. Robbing her of hereditary iden- tity, he symbolically renders her as isolated and vulnerable as she literally becomes when he forces her to relocate from her island home to his. This erasure of her identity is depicted as a psychologi- cal violation, one of the acts that leads to her breakdown. In an in- triguing exertion of her prerogative as author, however, Rhys de- ploys a measure of comeuppance. In choosing character names for her text, she deprives her antagonist of the signifier altogether, for—though we know from intertextual context that the narrator of the middle section must be Rochester—Wide Sargasso Sea never refers to him by name. Over the course of her career, Rhys’s novels shifted focus from British and European settings and characters to an increasingly direct engagement with West Indian concerns. At the same time, her choice of narrative strategies charts a trajectory from objectiv- ity to interiority. Thus, the novels progress from narratives told 40 | Review or Contemporary Fiction from the third-person point of view that omit reference to non-Euro- pean origins almost entirely (Quartet and After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie) to first-person accounts that may explore a Caribbean background, though still staging the action in British and Euro- pean cities (Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight), as if moving closer and closer to the issues that occupied Rhys most deeply. In Wide Sargasso Sea Rhys moves a step further on this con- tinuum, making her most powerful statement on both counts. The novel’s primary setting is West Indian: the return to England is de- picted as a tragedy, a failure, Moreover, Rhys explores not only the consciousness of her protagonist, narrating Antoinette’s sections from the first-person point of view, but also that of the antagonist, interrupting Antoinette’s narrative with one voiced by Rochester himself. Rhys thus lets her readers inhabit the mind of the opposi- tion. Rather than merely condemning his destructive course, she explores the psychological factors that make his choices inevitable. Overwhelmed, for example, by the physical beauty of his surround- ings and by the islanders’ open expression of feeling, Rochester re- flects, “How old was I when I learned to hide what I felt? A very small boy. Six, five, even earlier. It was necessary, I was told, and that view I have always accepted. If these mountains challenge me, or Baptiste’s face, or Antoinette’s eyes, they are mistaken, melodra- matic, unreal (England must be quite unreal and like a dream she said)” (103). The novel reveals the masters of empire, then, as emo- tionally impoverished, unable to contend with a reality larger, more sensual, more honest than the rigid hierarchy they have con- structed. Yet Rochester is a sympathetic, complex character. In the passage above, for example, his wife’s opposing view rubs against his consciousness, contained and controlled textually within paren- theses but nonetheless present in his awareness. Neither a fool nor a villain, Rochester simply cannot cope with his long-repressed emotions—or with those who have never had to squelch their feel- ings as he has. He responds by violently suppressing all that threat- ens him. Rhys uses the novel, moreover, to reflect upon the complicated social location of deposed colonials such as Antoinette. No longer members of the ruling class, yet culturally distinct from their soci- ety of origin, they are cut adrift between places and peoples, con- tending on the one hand with the hatred of the decolonized popula- tion and on the other with the derision of their rigidly socially stratified compatriots back home. Explaining to Rochester how the colonials are viewed by the African-Caribbean former slaves and their descendents, Antoinette describes being caught between two worlds, one which views her as a parasite—a “white cockroach” Joy Castro | 41 preying on African-Caribbeans—and another which sees her as for- ever degraded by her association with a so-called primitive society: “And Pve heard English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all” (102). Rhys limns the result of such dislocation as confusion and despair. The novel's tripartite structure is subtle, complex, and elegant, evidencing again what Ford Madox Ford early recognized as Rhys’s “singular instinct for form” (The Left Bank 24). The first book, nar- rated by Antoinette, is roughly sixty pages long and divided into two marked, unnumbered sections. The first of these, longer by half, chronicles the troubled lot of the Cosway family after the death of Antoinette’s father. Her mother, alone on an estate with two small children after the passage of the Emancipation Act, faces the in- creasing hostility of the black population, a hostility that escalates into violence. The mother’s horse, her only means of transportation, is found poisoned to death, and Antoinette meets with rejection and violence at the hands of her best friend Tia, an African-Caribbean girl. After her mother marries Richard Mason (in what is clearly a move of economic desperation), angry former slaves set fire to the estate. Here the section breaks. The second part, significantly shorter, describes what Antoinette learns when, six weeks after the fire, she finally recovers: that her younger brother has died in the conflagration and that her mother has gone mad and been put away. When Antoinette is taken to visit her, her mother’s welcome veers from an initial fierce embrace to a brutal and incomprehensible re- jection. Antoinette is placed by Mason in a convent, a safe “refuge” whose thick walls and careful rules contrast sharply with the lush garden of the family estate, “large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible—the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild” (19). Mason, who has managed to escape the fire unscathed and is absent from Jamaica for months at a time, intimates on his final visit that the end of her time in the convent is near, that she is a grown woman now. He gives her no clear information, but she is assailed by a sense of impending loss. The brevity of the section suggests truncation, lost possibility. Book 2 contains Rochester's narrative, which at over a hundred pages clearly dominates the novel. It describes his initial vulner- ability when, ill upon arrival in the islands, he marries Antoinette. Retreating to a small estate (part of Antoinette’s inheritance) to consummate the marriage, his love and desire for her increase even as the threat posed by his strange surroundings intensifies. When the accusatory letters arrive, he rationalizes his increasingly cruel behavior. The section ends as the couple leaves for England. 42 Review or Contemporary Fiction Rochester's section is penetrated in the middle by a twelve-page section narrated again by Antoinette. Unlike the obviously marked shifts in narrative point of view that occur at the major divisions between the novel’s three books, this switch occurs at a minor sec- tion break and is nowhere formally emphasized. Rather, this intru- sion of Antoinette’s voice—and her oppositional version of events— is so subtly insinuated into Rochester's story that the reader must check twice to be sure the narrator has changed. Antoinette’s inserted narrative contains elements of a powerful antipatriarchal argument articulated by key female characters. Distraught due to her husband’s increasing suspicion and coldness, Antoinette goes alone to the house of Christophine, the family’s long-time servant, to seek obeah magic that will win back his love. When Christophine instead advises that Antoinette simply leave him, the young woman replies, “But I cannot go. He is my husband after all.” Antoinette voices the stance of traditional wifely loyalty as well as tacitly acknowledges that, having legally relinquished her fortune upon marriage to Rochester, she has no means of finan- cial support without him. Christophine spits in contempt. “All women, all colours, nothing but fools,” she states. “Three children I have. One living in this world, each one a different father, but no husband, I thank my God. I keep my money. I don’t give it to no worthless man” (109-10). Proud, haughty, and independent, with a grown son who adores her, Christophine has successfully stepped outside the marital economy. It is an example that Antoinette, to her own destruction, will not follow. Wedged within the story of Antoinette’s interview with Christophine is a flashback to a time before her marriage, when she overhears a conversation between her Aunt Cora and her stepfather’s son (also named Richard Mason). This stepbrother, who is completing the marriage arrangements for Antoinette that his father had initiated, protests to her aunt that no legal protections, no financial settlements, need to be made for Antoinette before her marriage: that Rochester, as “an honourable gentleman,” is thus completely trustworthy. But Aunt Cora will have none of it. When Richard claims affectedly, “I would trust him with my life,” she fires back, “You are trusting him with her life, not yours,” condemning with one blow the unlimited power a husband had over his wife within the legal structure of the period, the carelessness with which men signed away their female relatives, and the ultimate hollow- ness of a “trust” between gentlemen that cost the gentlemen them- selves nothing (114, 115). This indictment of men’s collusive power over women recalls Rhys’s depiction of the Mr. Mackenzie-lawyer- headwaiter coalition in her earlier novel—indeed, of the male-con- Joy Castro | 43 trolled combination of money and power that determines the fate of individual women throughout her oeuvre. Though Antoinette takes no action to defy Rochester’s power, the defiant ideas expressed by Christophine and Aunt Cora in her section overturn the institution of wifely loyalty, the notion of the gentleman, and the practice of English law that gave control of women’s property to their hus- bands. Embedded in the heart of Rochester's narrative, Antoinette’s section functions as a subversion from within, working against the larger structure that contains it, interpenetrating and undercut- ting Rochester's version of events. At the very core of his story, then, lies buried its own undoing, but this insurgent message is smoth- ered by the remaining sections of his narrative, which recast Antoinette’s behavior—from his point of view—as insidious, worthy of only containment and punishment. Book 3 of the novel, only fourteen pages long, is narrated mostly by Antoinette, but it begins with a brief, italicized narrative that focuses on Grace Poole, Bertha Mason’s guard and caretaker in the original Jane Eyre. Unnumbered years have passed since the end of the second book. Grace, along with the other female staff at the manor, has agreed to keep the secret of the madwoman in exchange for the solid protection the house affords, the safety of “the thick walls, keeping away all the things that you have fought till you can fight no more. Yes, maybe that’s why we all stay—” (178). Represent- ing Grace Poole and the other women in Mr. Rochester’s employ as exhausted by confrontation with a hostile outside world, Rhys sug- gests a connection between their embattled positions and that of Antoinette, for we recall the thick walls of the convent where she lived as a child, as well as the fact that she now spends her life con- cealed in a locked wing of the manor. Due to the fact that only white space denotes section breaks, rather than the marked divisions that separate sections in the novel’s first two books, this final component of the narrative is marked by a structural fluidity, a nearly seamless shifting from brief section to brief section. The lack of greater formal separation between Grace’s and Antoinette’s sections underscores our sense that their silenced, powerless positions are not so very different, while the fluid, dreamlike effect throughout the third book echoes Antoinette’s dream. The six remaining sections of book 3 (together identical in length to Antoinette’s inserted narrative in book two) are narrated by the woman now known only as Bertha Mason. She reflects upon the extreme estrangement caused by her years in captivity and then falls asleep, dreaming of the final conflagration that will (as we know only from Jane Eyre) destroy Rochester's manor. The novel Review or CONTEMPORARY FicTION ends as Antoinette, waking, steals the sleeping Grace’s keys and sets off down the corridor, a candle in her hand. Antoinette’s dream of burning down the house in this last section of the final book re- calls for readers the first section of the first book, in which a similar devastation engulfs her childhood home at the hands of the angry freed blacks, Rhys thus provides a strong sense of formal closure for the novel while making a powerful statement about the slavelike status of women within nineteenth-century British patriarchal structures. Mirroring and illuminating content at every step of the novel’s progress, Rhys’s structural innovations comprise a formal tour de force. This novel, her finest achievement, resulted in wide acclaim for Rhys, the publication of two final volumes of short fiction, the restoration to print of her older work, and numerous awards for lit- erary achievement. Its popularity has continued to grow: a film ver- sion was produced in 1993, and the novel has been widely influen- tial in feminist, postcolonial, and—due particularly to its intertextuality—postmodern circles. While Wide Sargasso Sea is Rhys’s novel most often considered in concert with another work of literature, her other narratives also respond to classic texts. Quartet reworks, to some extent, the adul- terous plot of the privileged foursome of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, and Voyage in the Dark reverses the trajectory of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, chronicling the tragic fall of an inno- cent who has moved from colonized territory into the heart of En- gland. These class-conscious, postcolonial counternarratives were published too quickly upon the heels of the texts they critique (which were themselves critiques of modern society) for the reading public to absorb the impact of Rhys’s arguments. Yet her sophisti- cated, postmodern contribution to the ongoing conversation of lit- erature promises to fascinate critics and readers of our own genera- tion. Blending formal innovation, tonal grace, and a penetrating critique of received social structures, the work of Jean Rhys offers pleasures both subtle and deep. WORKS CITED Alvarez, Alfred. “The Best Living English Novelist.” New York Times Book Review 17 March 1974: 6-7. Carr, Helen. Jean Rhys. Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996. DeSalvo, Louise. Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work. New York: Ballantine, 1989. Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. 1929. New York: Scribner, Joy Castro | 45 1995. ——. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 1966. . The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1926. Henke, Suzette. Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-Writing. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998. Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence. New York: Basic Books, 1992. Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989. Howells, Coral Ann. Jean Rhys. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991. Mansfield, Katherine. Stories. Ed. Jeffrey Meyers. New York: Vin- tage, 1991. Naipaul, V. S. “Without a Dog’s Chance.” Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys. Ed. Pierette Frickey. Washington: Three Continents, 1990. 54-58. Rhys, Jean. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. London: Jonathan Cape, 1931; New York: Knopf, 1931. ——. The Collected Short Stories. New York: Norton, 1987. . Good Morning, Midnight. London: Constable, 1939; New York: Harper & Row, 1970. . The Left Bank and Other Stories. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927; New York: Harper, 1927. . Quartet. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1929 (originally pub- lished as Postures. London: Chatto & Windus, 1928). . Smile Please. London: Andre Deutsch, 1979; New York: Harper & Row, 1980. . Voyage in the Dark. London: Constable, 1934; New York: Mor- row, 1935. . “Voyage in the Dark: Part IV (Original Version).” The Gender of Modernism. Ed. Bonnie Kime Scott. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990, 381-89. . Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Andre Deutsch, 1966; New York: Norton, 1967. A Jean Rhys Checklist The Left Bank and Other Stories. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927; New York: Harper, 1927. Quartet. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1929 (originally published as Postures. London: Chatto & Windus, 1928). After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. London: Jonathan Cape, 1931; New York: Knopf, 1931. Voyage in the Dark, London: Constable, 1934; New York: Morrow, 1935. Good Morning, Midnight. London: Constable, 1939; New York: Harper & Row, 1970. Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Andre Deutsch, 1966; New York: Norton, 1967. Tigers Are Better-Looking. London: Andre Deutsch, 1968; New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Sleep It Off, Lady. London: Andre Deutsch, 1976; New York: Harper & Row, 1976. Smile Please, London: Andre Deutsch, 1979; New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Letters 1931-1966. Ed. Francis Wyndham and Diana Melly. London: Andre Deutsch, 1984. The Collected Short Stories. New York: Norton, 1987.