Dan Sandman

50: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

In Books, Fiction on 11/12/2015 at 12:00 pm

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean RhysJean Rhys was a modernist writer who is most famous for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a book that changed the way that people think about Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1947). Before Rhys became a writer she spent some time wandering the hotels of Paris, whilst scraping an unglamorous living where she could. In a confessional style, Good Morning Midnight (1939) works from Rhys’s autobiographical experiences.

Sophia (or is it Sasha – Rhys and naming!) Jansen searches for peace at the bottom of a bottle; but the bottle only numbs Jansen’s pain, as she runs away from having to deal with the root of her trauma. As the narrative moves through a series of unhelpful sexual relationships, as the protagonist drinks herself to a potential death, we are only ever given hints of what this trauma might be. The lack of detailed background information is both a strength and a weakness of the writing: on the one hand, the writer’s modernist style allows us to focus on the thoughts of one character; on the other hand, we are left searching for clues to what might have happened before these thoughts became fiction. Although this allows us to inhabit the conciousness of a fictionalised human being, it does not offer any comfortable resolution at the end of the story. Our only option, if we do indeed wish to imagine a back-story, is to create one from our own reading of the text.

My reading will be different from your reading, which in turn will be different from the readings of anyone else who comes across the text Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys in any form (e.g. book / radio play / newspaper review). This potentially confusing idea also applies to the characters inside the story and to the writer of the text herself, both of whom we are left to analyse and discuss. I might say, for example, that the protagonist Sophia Jansen is obviously an alcoholic, and then come to the conclusion that the modernist writer Jean Rhys was also an alcoholic because of x / y / z. But Sophia Jansen never states that she is an alcoholic during her narrative, and Jean Rhys may not have thought that she had a serious drink problem. To use the often stated lawyer analogy: I might find evidence for the prosecution, and you might find evidence for the defence. We then might hire a jury to decide whose view is the most valid, taking a democratic vote based on the evidence presented by all readers (e.g. me, you, Jansen, Rhys) across all interpreted sources (e.g. novel, website, newspaper, autobiography). Finally, despite our endeavours, we still would not have the comfortable resolution of which so many seek at the end of the story.

It is what it is.


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