Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Prior to her writing of Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys published four books—a volume of short stories, The Left Bank and Other Stories (1927), and three novels, Postures (1928; published in the United States as Quartet, 1929), After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), and Voyage in the Dark (1934). After the publication of Good Morning, Midnight, twenty-seven years elapsed before her next novel, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), an imaginative re-creation of the life of Rochester’s mad wife, based on characters created by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre (1847). Critics often say that the female protagonists in Rhys’s previous novels culminate in Good Morning, Midnight. If so, then Sasha represents the essence of a typical Rhys protagonist: a woman afraid, lonely, poor, whose life patterns are worked out in seedy hotels and bars and transitory affairs with men in a patriarchal society whose boundaries are defined by male values and class consciousness.
Sasha Jansen was married once to a charming but unemployed man named Enno (an anagram for “none”?). Enno is sure that money will turn up some way or another if he and Sasha are married and are living in Paris. He insists that Sasha leave all the worrying to him, and so, the world becomes now for Sasha, one big beautiful romance from which only lifelong happiness can result. Enno, however, does not find work and cannot find money. Poverty is not what Sasha bargained for: “I didn’t think it would be like this— shabby clothes, worn-out shoes, circles under your eyes, your hair getting straight and lanky, the way people look at you.... I didn’t think it would be like this.”
Then, after accusing Sasha of not knowing how to love, Enno leaves for three days; at this time, she becomes sure that she is pregnant. On the fourth day, he is back and she believes she loves him even more deeply. Life is not a fairy tale, however, especially for young women without monetary means to care for themselves. After the birth and death of an infant son, Enno leaves again, as Sasha really always knew he would. At this point, her life begins to go to pieces.
She returns to London, where a small annuity keeps her from starving and provides a series of rooms in which she lives. She spends her time trying to drink herself to death, a condition Sasha likens to drowning in a large, dark river. Then, a friend rescues her by providing some extra money for a trip to Paris, which is to be an attempt at rejuvenation.
Paris, however, is too painful. There, Sasha’s life exists in two separate worlds on two different time...
(The entire section is 1094 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Good Morning, Midnight tells the story of a middle-aged woman’s return to Paris. Sasha Jensen was there first in the 1920’s, as a newlywed with little money. In October, 1938, after several years in England and no longer married, she returns and confronts her past. The familiar streets, shops, hotels, and cafés all haunt her. They remind her she is no longer young, and they tempt her with new adventures.
The novel’s four-part structure reflects Sasha’s state of mind. The story begins and ends in her room in a cheap hotel. “Quite like old times,’ the room says, Yes? No?’” When she ventures out, she avoids certain cafés, but does not feel much better in others. She thinks everyone is staring at and talking about her. She often breaks down and cries. The past overwhelms her, and the present does little to calm her. Her reliance on alcohol only makes things worse.
In the second part, she has an encouraging triumph. She accompanies a Russian man to the studio of a painter. Though she cries in their presence, they are kind and sympathetic. She buys a painting of a banjo player with a sad expression sitting on a curb. Her exultation fades when she returns to her room, and, despite her best resolves, dwells upon the past. “It’s all the rooms I’ve ever slept in, all the streets I’ve ever walked in. Now the whole thing moves in an ordered, undulating procession past my eyes. Rooms, streets, streets, rooms.”...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Davidson, Arnold E. Jean Rhys, 1985.
Gardiner, Judith Kegan. Good Morning, Midnight: Good Night, Modernism, 1984.
Naipaul, V. S. “Without a Dog’s Chance.” New York Review of Books, May 18, 1972, 29-31.
Rhys, Jean. The Letters of Jean Rhys, 1984.
Rose, Phyllis. Writing of Women: Essays in a Renaissance. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1985.
Staley, Thomas F. Jean Rhys: A Critical Study, 1979.
Wolfe, Peter. Jean Rhys, 1980.
Wyndham, Francis, and Diana Melly, eds. Jean Rhys: Letters 1931-66. London: Andre Deutsch, 1984.