'Yes, it can be sad, the sun in the afternoon': Kristevan Depression in Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 11,032 words

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[(essay date spring 2009) In the essay below, Czarnecki identifies Sasha Jansen, the heroine of Jean Rhys's novel Good Morning, Midnight, as a victim of Kristevan female depression, a condition that develops when the woman mourns into adulthood for the unbroken maternal bond, the semiotic chora, and fails to fully cross over into the order of the symbolic. The critic uses Kristeva's Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia to explain the aberrant behavior and nonsensical language of Jansen.]

The heroines of Jean Rhys's four modernist novels have fascinated and disturbed readers for decades. With their ruined families, rootlessness, (pseudo-) prostitution and deep unhappiness, these troubled and troubling women draw us into their lives even while at times we can hardly bear to read of them. Particular controversy surrounds Sasha Jansen of Good Morning, Midnight (1939), whose problematic language and actions render her perhaps the greatest conundrum among Rhys's women. Julia Kristeva's Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (1987) allows for a fuller understanding of Sasha, as Rhys and Kristeva highlight throughout their work the paradoxes of human behavior, the experiences of women trying and often failing to forge and articulate an identity. Exploring the manifold interconnections among language, womanhood and psyches under pressure, Kristeva provides fresh insights into Rhys's female avant-garde. In Black Sun, Kristeva maintains that the root of women's depression lies in thwarted mourning for the lost maternal, a clinging to the maternal and the semiotic chora, the space of the womb where identity and threats to identity do not yet exist. Refusing to relinquish the maternal prohibits full emergence into the symbolic--into language, culture and society. Reading Good Morning, Midnight alongside Black Sun, we see Sasha's silences and expressiveness, her self-destructiveness and moments of hope not as irrational vacillations but as symptoms of Kristevan depression.

From its opening page, Good Morning, Midnight promises a heroine not unlike her predecessors in Quartet (1928), After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), and Voyage in the Dark (1934), although she differs from them in maintaining a running conversation with a knowing and satirical inner-self. "Quite like old times," she imagines her hotel room saying to her as she confronts its dismal décor, so like the rooms of her past. Above all, her inner voice warns her never to get her hopes up, never to expect anything better than her demoralizing life. "But careful, careful! Don't get excited," says the voice upon her arrival in Paris, where she has come at a friend's suggestion for a two-week reprieve from her desolate life in London. Sasha's sojourn is meant to be a new beginning, a transformation carefully planned. And yet: "You know what happens when you get excited and exalted, don't you? ... Yes ... And then, you know how you collapse like a pricked balloon, don't you? Having no staying power ... Yes, exactly," Sasha responds in a catechism repeated at intervals in the novel (GMM 351, original ellipses).1 She cries often, sleeps half the day, drinks to excess and hides when feeling threatened. Sasha suffers from depression,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100114934