Good Morning, Midnight By Jean Rhys

In 1930s Paris, where one cheap hotel room is very much like another, a young woman is teaching herself indifference. She has escaped personal tragedy and has come to France to find courage and seek independence. She tells herself to expect nothing, especially not kindness, least of all from men. Tomorrow, she resolves, she will dye her hair blonde. Good Morning, Midnight

Good


Good Morning Midnight - my first novel by Rhys - sees down on her luck Englishwoman Sasha Jansen come to Paris on borrowed money to recapture the happiness and exorcise the pain of her previous life there. The first person narrative is awash with cafes, hotel rooms, drinking, crying, sleeping, self-pity, more hotel rooms, more crying, falling for men one minute, hating them the next, being broke, feeling miserable; you get the picture: she's a bit of a wreak.

Told with a spare prose style, this reads as a work of psychological fiction, but redeems Jean Rhys' own consciousness throughout. In her life she found the simplest practicalities beyond her, and once said 'I have only ever written about myself'. It's difficult not to see Sasha as a mere self-portrait, but would be unfair to see Good Morning Midnight just as a disguised memoir, because it isn't. It's a small novel in its own brief and perfect right, depicting the emotional and sensitive nature of trying to find stability again. It could have been more depressing but the overall tone is just about right, giving a good balance of hopefulness and despair.

I had some thoughts before hand this would turn out to have a strong feminist viewpoint, and it does to some extent, only her women are more helpless and sad rather than angry or militant, and there is no poisoned chalice towards men, with her rants feeling aimed more internally. Sasha does have a saving grace though, that being humour, her willingness to see the comedy, even absurdity, in the most bitter memories and humiliating encounters, and there would be many of them.
The way Rhys goes about describing Paris is quite sinister, moving from one cheap hotel on dead-end street that backs out onto a dingy ally, to another. Sasha's encounters are told with a feeling where you never know how things will end up, any unstable predicament likely to happen at any given moment. Anything that is set in Paris immediately gets the thumbs up from me, but obviously there is more to it than just that. I found so much to love about this work; it really hit me with such intense feeling. Its prose was simple but its impact deep.

I felt much pity for Sasha, after all she goes through, and this was the defining turning point for me when it comes to female protagonists. I want more of them like Sasha. I wanted nothing more than to give Sasha a nice big bear hug. A Parisian classic. 0141183934

Today I must be careful, today I have left my armour at home.


Little by little everything turns to break her. She suffers in isolation and feels conjoined and yet detached with all that is damned and discarded and how this leads to an intensification of the loneliness she feels. Defenseless, willing to run away from this and everything, every moment of living chased and cursed by unkindness, condescension and mockery. As if everyone who is a part of this ruthless world has merged into that collective derisive laughter that is directed towards her and rings in her ears every time and everywhere she goes.

I have no pride – no pride, no name, no face. No country. I don’t belong anywhere. Too sad, too sad….


Floating from one fragment to the other, with nothing to stay on, she sheds them all off only to reveal that dry crust of loneliness. There no sense of deceptiveness about Sasha Jensen, no delusion with a kind of living which keeps back some frightful disturbance roaring underneath. Everything has been served on the surface, sparsely, cut to pieces; the sadness, the brokenness, the joylessness of life.

In the middle of the night you wake up. You start to cry. What’s happening to me? Oh, my life, oh, my youth…


It is not just the loneliness, it’s the inability to pull oneself out of it, of making nothing out of her youth, of pouring out her existence into the vapidness of the Parisian cafes, seedy hotel rooms. Of being the failed participant of her own life. Her life which is splattered on those forgetful streets, and bars where everyone is cruel, everyone disapproves. She is the witness of her dissolution. And how hard she tries to sink in her invisibility, the muteness of her self. But think how hard I try and how seldom I dare. Think and have a bit of pity. That is if you ever think you apes which I doubt.

Planning it all out. Eating. A movie. Eating again. One drink. A long walk to the hotel. Bed. Luminal. Sleep. Just sleep- no dreams.


She tries to grab some silly hope, some plan as if the fulfillment of it would mean something, would change something; a hotel room with a bath, or a dress at the store. A new hat, a new dress, new hair, a good meal; a reinvention that would not have the pieces of the past sticking on her. Something that would mean a symbolic relief from the past, the present, the sadness and the loneliness.Its all right. Tomorrow I will be pretty again. I’ll be happy again, tomorrow, tomorrow..

I want one thing and one thing only- to be left alone. No more pawings, no more prying – leave me alone..


This strong desire for isolation also comes from a hysterical nervousness and dread of unknown people and places, their hostility towards a certain kind of conspicuousness that only comes from a certain degree of wretchedness. This hostility that slits open her wounds and makes her crumble into the dampness of tears and pain.You want to know what I am afraid of? All right, I’ll tell you..I’m afraid of men - yes, I’m very much afraid of men. And I’m even more afraid of women.

What is it one looks for in others when one is that lonely? How differently and acutely observant and intuitive does that make a person? And how distrustful! She knows there is something in her that makes them see through her. Is it the sadness, the compliance, the vulnerability? It makes them so hateful, so pitiless. But there is no self-pity in Sasha Jensen, but a terrible ache, a yearning inside. It is something that can never be filled for its moment of birth is already over.

Saved, rescued, fished-up, half drowned, out of the deep, dark river, dry clothes, hair shampooed and set. Nobody would know I had ever been in it. Except, of course, that there always remains something. Yes, there always remains something....Never mind, here I am, sane and dry, with my place to hide in. What more do I want?....I'm a bit of an automaton, but sane, surely - dry, cold and sane. Now I have forgotten about dark streets, dark rivers, the pain, the struggle and the drowning....Mind you, I'm not talking about the struggle when you are strong and a good swimmer and there are willing and eager friends on the bank waiting to pull you out at the first sign of distress. I mean the real thing. You jump in with no willing and eager friends around, and when you sink you sink to the accompaniment of loud laughter.
0141183934 Emily Dickinson, poem 382.
“Good Morning—Midnight—
I'm coming Home—
Day—got tired of Me—
How could I—of Him?

Sunshine was a sweet place—
I liked to stay—
But Morn—didn't want me—now—
So—Goodnight—Day!

I can look—can't I—
When the East is Red?
The Hills—have a way—then—
That puts the Heart—abroad—

You—are not so fair—Midnight���
I chose—Day—
But—please take a little Girl—
He turned away!”


The desperation of having sunk so low to a bottomless pit where disaffection has taken over the zest for life is at the background of the syncopated rhythm of this non-story, as it is in Emily Dickinson’s poem, which gives title to this confessional novella.
Was Jean Rhys an eccentric woman, like Dickinson; a social outcast unable to accept her place in the corseted roles attached to their gender at the time?
Or was she another victim of straddling two worlds, the inner and the outer, two cultures, two expectations, hers and the other that society nursed on her since her birth?

When depression is no longer a novelty but the dominant state in which a person operates for long periods of time, there is no room for self-pity or compassion. Sasha, the protagonist of this stream of consciousness monologue, is a castaway woman. Abandoned by her lover, completely destitute and in a permanent state of intoxication, she slowly drinks herself away to utter obliteration. Present, past and uncalled memories knit a downward spiral into the recondite corners of Sasha’s subconscious that waxes and wanes into events happening in real time. A succession of casual encounters with assorted males combined with all kind of cocktails leads the reader into the depths of the resigned misery that subjugates the narrator. Rhys’ tone gradually acquires the darkness that lies in wait, ready to ambush, pushing Sasha and the reader closer to the edge of the precipice that threatens to engulf everything, all thought, all hope, but also the unfathomable sadness that corrodes from within.

Rhys’ intimate meditations on the “improbable truths” and hypocrisies of life bring about sharp observations on the dynamics among classes and the correlation between physical spaces and social decline towards the complete annulation of the self.
Paris, the city of light, goes out modestly, giving way to shabby hotel rooms and superficial descriptions of dead, empty streets where soulless people roam without direction.
Sasha’s final success relays in her bold, unafraid glance into the crudeness of her reality and in the pluck she gathers from scratch to defy life, which is about to defeat her. In the silent hollowness of her impersonal room, she promises herself that she’ll never allow anybody to look down on her. Relief might never come, but she’ll fight her own demons, holding her head up high. And only for that reason, she has my total respect. 0141183934 4.5 rating... I’m not home now - I’ll write a review tomorrow.
Great buddy read with Violet!

UPDATE:

This is my 3rd book within a couple of months - by Jean Rhys - so one can assume correct that I think Rhys was a phenomenal writer.
This is the bleakest of the 3 novels....but it’s possibly my favorite....much to reflect on.....many pages ‘to pause’: set the book down to examine the story itself and our own lives.

Since I’m having discussions with Violet through buddy reading - I don’t feel compelled to make this a lengthy review. But Violet got me going on BAD HAIR DAYS. I couldn’t NOT see the ‘word’ hair again with any neutrality - no matter what context - after Violet planted the ‘hair-seed’.

Two things stood out for me rather quickly ( besides hair, feelings of unworthiness, despair, loneliness, pain, authentic truth, and multitude of blows): I KNOW - isn’t that enough?/!
WAS......
1- The ongoing usage of the way Rhys repeated words:
back, back, back...
Sick sick sick...
Chewing, chewing, chewing...
Chlorophyll, chlorophyll, chlorophyll....
Yes, yes, yes....
Etc.
Rhys’ triple - words throughout only intensified the emotions.

2 - CRYING ....lots of crying - in public and or alone. The type of crying where one tries hard to suppress ... but those tears come anyway.
“I am talking away, quite calmly and sedately, when there it is again — tears in my eyes, tears rolling down my face. (Saved, rescued, but not quite so good as new...)”
“I’m so sorry. I’m such a fool”.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me”.
“Oh, Madame, oh, Madame,
Delmar says, why do you cry?”
“I’m such a fool. Please don’t take any notice of me. Just don’t take any notice and I’ll be all right”.
“But cry, le peintre says. Cry if you want to. Why shouldn’t you cry? You’re with friends”.
“If I could have a drink…”

Sasha often wanted to cry. She said:
“That is the only advantage women have over men - at least they can cry”.

There was another section in this book that I did a lot of thinking about. Sasha was only 25 years old - single - she saw herself too thin, dirty and haggard. Her clothes were shabby, her shoes were worn out, she had circles under her eyes and her hair was straight and lanky. She was so incredibly critical of herself. Sasha DID experience suffering from loss and tragedy .....
Her life wasn’t the life she bargained for.....
But SASHA WAS ONLY IN HER 20’s.
I put my book down to think about how life was for me when in my 20’s. They ‘were’ some of my hardest years .....I ran away for a couple of years ( Paris and London too)....’running’ is the word....There were days ... I ate large amounts of sugar - instead of real food - the way Sasha drank.
So I wanted to have a chat with Sasha ....and all young people hurting, loss, without much more than a dime to their name....
Comfort them....and tell them.....
THAT LIFE COULD GET BETTER...
I know people who killed themselves in their 20’s - even younger: heartbreaking.
I just wanted to tell Sasha to not give into the eternity of the downhill grade.

Of coarse I felt bad for Sasha....( laughed a few times at funny stories)....but I loved this woman.... The way she was and the way she wasn’t!


Thanks Violet for being my reading buddy! 0141183934 There’s a great website called The Smoking Gun which features celebrity mugshots. The celebrities are divided into categories : Hollywood (A list and B list), Music, Killers, Business, Gangsters, Sports and Television, and… Nuisances. Since they haven’t got a Writers section, Jean Rhys’ mugshots would have been a perfect fit in the Nuisances section. But if there was a writer’s section, she’d surely have come top in number of arrests. The quality of the crimes, though, was rather poor.

And alas, we don’t have the mugshots. But this will do





FIRST ARREST

Wardour Street, London, 13 June 1935. Jean and husband Leslie, both drunk, battering each other; both arrested at 4 in the morning. Spent the night in the cells; arraigned at Bow Street on a D&D. Both fined 30 shillings and sixpence, plus doctor’s fee.

SECOND ARREST

From the Beckenham Recorder, 1 April 1948:

“I lost my head and threw a brick through the window because her dog, a killer and a fighter, attacked my cat,” said Elle Gwendoline Hamer (56), a writer, of 35 Southend Road, Beckenham, accused at Bromley on Thursday, of breaking a pane of glass, value £5, belonging to Mrs Rose Hardiman, of 37 Southend Road. Hamer was bound over and ordered to pay £5 to Mrs Hardiman.

THIRD ARREST

12 April 1949 – Bromley Magistrates Court. The charge : assaulting a lodger, Mr Bezant, and the arresting officer, after a party the day before, which Mrs Hamer objected to on grounds of noise. Remanded to prison for 13 days. At the trial on 25 April she was found guilty, fined £4 (£1 for Mr Bezant and £3 for the policeman) and bound over to keep the peace for a year.

When she got home on the 25th, her tenants, Mr & Mrs Besant, were lurking in the hallway (they rented the upstairs rooms). According to Jean he said

“I see you didn’t like what happened in court today. I have got you where I want you now and I’ll get you lower still.” Jean said, according to Jean, “If you think I’m going to pay this fine, you have made a mistake. I would sooner go to prison for life.“

So wouldn’t you know it, there was another fracas.

FOURTH ARREST

Back to Bromley Magistrates Court, ten days later. Verdict : Guilty of assaulting the same person, plus his wife, plus another tenant. Case adjourned while psychiatric reports were made. Back in court on 27 June. Asked by the court if she had anything to say. Yes, she did. Remanded for another week to Holloway Prison – the big house. 4 July, back in court. They had discovered that she wasn’t insane. Sentence : two years’ probation.

Now something crazy happened. On 5th November this appeared in the New Statesman :

Jean Rhys (Mrs Tilden Smith) author of Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Good Morning Midnight, etc. Will anyone knowing the whereabouts kindly communicate with Dr H W Egli, 3 Chesterfield Gdns, NW3.

An actress, Selma vaz Dias, a Rhys fan, had adapted GMM as a radio play, and needed Jean’s permission, but everyone was telling her Jean Rhys was dead. (Jean, drunk for years, totally out of touch with literary London, almost – but not quite – forgotten.) Jean saw the ad and replied. And then, on 16 November, ANOTHER drunken row with the neighbours.

FIFTH ARREST

Jean : my bitter enemy next door is now telling everybody very loud and clear that I’m an imposter “impersonating a dead writer called Jean Rhys” – it’s a weird feeling being told you are impersonating yourself… you think : Maybe I am!

In a rage, proclaiming her innocence of the charge of impersonating Jean Rhys, she wandered back and forth in the road, stopping all the traffic. Back to Bromley Magistrates Court AGAIN…. But this time…. Charges dismissed!

That was Jean’s last brush with the law, but not her last dance with the devils in the bottles.
She missed the broadcast of Good morning Midnight. I wouldn’t like to say why.

This is my attitude to life. Please, please, monsieur et madame, mister, missus and miss. I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don’t succeed, but look how hard I try. Three hours to choose a hat; every morning an hour and a half trying to make myself look like everybody else. Every word I say has chains around its ankles; every thought I think is weighted with heavy weights…

Another Pernod, I say.


(Good Morning Midnight, p 88) 0141183934

A disaffected, thirty-something guy abandons his wife, moves to Paris and sleeps with some prostitutes. His name is Henry Miller and the book is called Tropic of Cancer.

A disaffected, thirty-something woman, after being abandoned by her husband, goes to Paris and almost sleeps with a gigolo. Her name is Jean Rhys and the book is called Good Morning, Midnight.

As near as I can figure, Miller and Rhys were in Paris at the same time. Maybe they even hung out in the same cafés and bought each other rounds of Pernod. Beyond that, you’d be hard-pressed to find two people more different. Miller looks at the world, sees himself everywhere and shouts, “Fuck, yeah.” Rhys peeks out her window, sees herself everywhere and mutters, “Meh.” Then she crawls back into bed with a bottle of gin and stares at the bugs on the wall.

I’m not convinced Henry Miller is a good role model for the thousands of middle-class boys who read him in late adolescence and are given this incredibly seductive picture of life as an endless bachelor party, with wall-to-wall pussy and intermissions of boozy philosophical chatter. It’s like learning all about girls from that disreputable uncle who used to keep back issues of Penthouse lying out in plain view and who spoke vaguely yet appealingly about Zen Buddhism. You know, the same uncle who was always hitting your parents up for “short-term loans.”

Rhys, then, is the anti-Miller. She’s a gigantic but necessary buzzkill. Where Miller is all about acquisition—of books, women, experiences—Rhys is all about loss. Her fictional alter ego is slowly losing everything: her looks, her faith in humanity, her will to live. There’s no self-pity; just the bitter resignation of someone who, out of pure disgust, has decided to drink herself to death.

Okay, so maybe Rhys isn’t such a great role model either. I could see how her world-view might have the same warping effect on a certain type of girl as Miller’s does on a certain type of boy. But I still say Good Morning, Midnight is a more grown-up book than Tropic of Cancer, just as Rhys’s Paris—glum, bitchy, lower middle-class—is less romanticized than Miller’s Brassai-esque version.

Wisdom would probably consist in finding some middle path between these two poles of egotism, but if I had to choose, I guess I’d take Rhys’s route. I mean, I have no desire to end up a depressive alcoholic in a rented room—though that’s a definite possibility at this point—but that does seem a marginally better fate than becoming a priapic fifty-year-old pontificating about Nietzsche to his cronies.

Or I could get married, move to the suburbs and avoid the whole sordid dilemma. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
0141183934 Electric stream-of-consciousness novel whose action largely takes place in the margins. Rhys is an extraordinary writer of inner-state, and she finds a surprising amount of observational humor in the struggles of her narrator, Sophia Jansen, who has returned to Paris years after a tragedy. This is one of the great novels of alcoholism that I have read, as Jansen finds both release and embarrassment in her mash-together of days. Characters, mainly men, flit in and out of this book in a daze, and though the cinema plays a major part in the action, there is frequent slippage into the past. Somehow, though the story is told in bits, we assemble a life.

Rhys has given us the best kind of unreliable narrator here, one who is unreliable even to herself, and though there's not much in terms of scene work to latch onto, the novel is very fast. I wish it had done well, and that she had continued in this vein (after the novel failed to do well, Rhys dropped out of the public eye for 20 years), because in its focus on sexuality and the mind, this should have stood as a work of modernism. Reminiscent of Alfred Hayes, who I love. 0141183934
A clear-eyed chronicle of desperation etched in diamond-hard prose.

It amazes me how any book so filled with despair could be so completely free of self-pity, and how any book consisting entirely of an inward monologue could contain such vivid realistic details and make Paris in the '30's come alive! 0141183934 [Edited, pictures added, spoilers hidden 1/22/22]

I had heard of this author from her well-known book Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel and a feminist response to Jane Eyre’s ‘crazy woman in the attic.’ Although I have not read that book I decided to give this one a try.

Wow, what a surprise! I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect such in-your-face language from a woman writer published back in 1938.

A lonely French woman in Paris wanders from dingy bar to dingy bar and from seedy hotel to seedy hotel. She’s getting a change of scenery from London where she did the same thing and had tried to drink herself to death. When she had previously come back to London from Paris, she remembers her ex- asking her “Why didn’t you drown yourself in the Seine?”



Two phrases recur almost as mantras: variations on: “I have no pride – no pride, no name, no face, no country. I don’t belong anywhere. Too sad, too sad…” and something she overheard in a bar: “Qu’est-ce qu’elle fout ici, la vielle?” Roughly: “What the hell is that old lady doing here?” I should say that those old college French courses are needed because, while you can pick up most meaning in context, there is quite a bit of French and most is not translated.

She lives a sad life. She’s young enough to still be attractive to men in bars and she lets them buy her drinks and dinners, and occasionally brings them back to her room but never has sex with them. Some of them are gigolos and most want money from her. (We don’t know the exact time frame of the story but, published in 1938, it’s probably reflecting times during the Depression.) She dresses well enough that they think she’s wealthy, but she’s not. She has a lot of experience with men like this, so whatever they say, she assumes they are lying.



In between her bar visits, she drinks in her hotel and reflects back on her life. When very young, her new husband took her to Paris with absolutely no prospect of a livelihood.



Somehow she feels she never figured out how to be like other people and how to lead a ‘normal’ life like everyone else: “Faites comme les autres – that’s been my motto all my life. Faites comme les autres, damn you… I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don’t succeed, but look how hard I try.”

She has a remarkable ability to read what people are thinking into their looks. She can go on for a few sentences about what a waiter thinks of her before a word is spoken. Unfortunately what she thinks they are thinking is always disparaging or reproachful of her. Her mental attitude is such that she is doomed from the start in just about any human interaction.

Another passage that tells us more about the terrible mental state she is in: “People talk about the happy life, but that’s the happy life when you don’t care any longer if you live or die.”

Mental illness? Depression? Alcoholism? What shelf should I put this under? Bleak? All in all, not a pretty story, but fascinating in its way, fast-paced, written in a stream-of-consciousness format. Its deep psychological insight kept my attention all the way through.



The author (1890-1979) was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica but left to go to school in England when she was 16. She had three husbands and spent much of her life wandering in the European capitals. One husband was a con-man and ended up in prison. She wrote a half-dozen novels, most of which, Wikipedia tells us (like this one), portray a mistreated, dumped, rootless woman inhabiting cheap hotels.

Top picture of Paris in the 1930's from glamourdaze.com
The Absinthe Drinkers by Edgar Degas
Photo from vintag.es
The author from repeatingislands.files.wordpress.com 0141183934 After the first week I made up my mind to kill myself- the usual whiff of chloroform. Next week, or next month, or next year I’ll kill myself……

These are words spoken with truth and clarity. They’re simple and honest. And not for a single moment in the novel did I doubt them, not for a single moment did I conceive that there could be an alternative ending. I’m not going to sugar coat it for you: this isn’t a nice novel. There is very little in the way of redemptive themes, and the motif of freedom is only fully achieved through the ultimate rejection of human happiness and interpersonal relationships.

Sasha Jensen is on a downward spiral of self-destruction. She’s been hurt to the point of no return. This isn’t a simple case of a wound that time can heal; it is a wound so deep that it will always remain open. And the narrative doesn’t reveal this straight away. Firstly, we see a glimpse of Sasha and begin to realise the maladaptive nature of her behaviour. She doesn’t physically self-harm, but on an emotional level she is destroying her soul. So in a sense her behaviour can easily be defined as self-destructive. She is drinking copious amounts of alcohol to numb the pain that is life; she has been shit on, and she just couldn’t pick herself up. Some people are stronger than others, and initially I found myself questioning Sasha’s vulnerability. However, as the novel progressed it does become clear how such a situation can be born:

“And when I say afraid- that’s just a word I use. What I really mean is I hate them. I hate their voices, I hate their eyes, I hate the way they laugh…..I hate the whole bloody business. It’s cruel, it’s idiotic, it’s unspeakably horrible. I never had the guts to kill myself or I’d have got out of it a long time ago. So much the worse for me. Let’s leave it at that.”



She is at a point where she sees no light in the hearts of men. She is a misanthrope: a hater of mankind. For her, there is nothing left to love for. She’s lost it all. She tries to relive the dream of her youth, but she doesn’t alter her behaviour; she carries on in her woe, and it is her end. It’s a miserable book, full of darkness and despair, and at the centre of it is a character not unlike people in real life. Sasha is the woman who has had her heart broken; she is the woman who loved and lost: she is the loner. And in these pages is an evocative tale of human suffering, which is the fate that befalls many of us.

Through her relationship with men, the novel explores typical gender roles. At times they are reversed. Typically speaking, literary representations of relationships tend to follow gender stereotyped behaviours. I don’t need to point them out, but in this they are subverted. And this does give Sasha some freedom, though she doesn’t fully explore it: she is far to damaged. The novel also openly discusses homosexuality, in men and women, which is ridiculously ahead of its time. The Victorians often betrayed such things, but it was cryptic and repressed: this is blatant. However, these modern themes were not enough to rejuvenate one so broken.

It seems appropriate to end with the poem for which this novel is named. It’s worth reading it alongside the novel:

Poem 425 by Emily Dickenson

Good Morning—Midnight—
I'm coming Home—
Day—got tired of Me—
How could I—of Him?

Sunshine was a sweet place—
I liked to stay—
But Morn—didn't want me—now—
So—Goodnight—Day!

I can look—can't I—
When the East is Red?
The Hills—have a way—then—
That puts the Heart—abroad—

You—are not so fair—Midnight—
I chose—Day—
But—please take a little Girl—
He turned away!

0141183934

Free download Good Morning, Midnight