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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Good Morning Midnight (1939) by Jean Rhys

Book Review
Good Morning Midnight (1939)
by Jean Rhys

  "As depressing as a Jean Rhys novel" should be a metaphor. Like the other Rhys title that has shown up during the 1001 Books project (Quartet (1929)), Good Morning Midnight is about a woman at loose ends.  Rhys' train wreck protagonists are half proto feminist icons and half Edwardian "fallen woman" existing in the grey area between mistress and prostitute.  In fact, they had a phrase for it "demi monde."  Quartet was explicitly a roman a clef (thinly veiled fictional account of biographical material) about her lengthy affair with Modernist Author and Editor Ford Madox Ford.  

  Neither Good Morning Midnight or Quartet are explicitly biographical, but it's hard not connect the dots.  Quartet is a portrait of the author as a young woman, and Good Morning Midnight is a portrait of that same woman as a drunken, suicidal, penniless wreck, shifting between horrific flashbacks involving a life on the margins and an equally horrific present, where she aimlessly wanders the streets or Paris, spending a monthly stipend left by an unnamed benefactor from her past- enough to survive but not enough to live.

  The end of Quartet involves her being raped- or maybe it's just an attempted rape- and robbed by a gigolo.  Good Morning Midnight is sad in a thoroughly modern way.  The great sadness and loneliness at the heart of the "liberation" brought by modernism to men and women around the globe is itself one of the great themes of 20th century literature, and Rhys is one of the earliest practitioners of the sad science of individualism.

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