Good Morning, Midnight Summary
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys explores the thoughts, feelings, struggles, and pain of a woman exploring Paris as well as her own soul. Sasha Jansen is a middle-aged English woman who comes to Paris in 1938 after a long absence. She had visited the streets and shops of Paris before, as a much younger married woman. She now sets about to confront her thoughts and feelings of the past that have haunted her since she left the beloved city.
The novel begins with Jansen at what appears to be the lowest point in her life. Struggling with depression, she looks for hope in some of the old locations that once brought her such happiness. She also looks for solace in alcohol, but it does little to comfort her. She desperately struggles to find something she could consider a victory in her life.
Jansen later encounters a cathartic experience when reflecting on a painting featuring a sad-looking banjo player. Although her spirits have been lifted by pleasant encounters with strangers, the past speaks to her in the form of the painting, and is she compelled to see the familiar sights of Paris as merely forms rather than experiences filled with life and joy.
The novel then takes the reader through a deeper reflection of Sasha Jansen’s past. She thinks of her husband and the joy they shared despite their relative poverty. In an effort to relive those days and cast aside considerations of her age and present circumstances, Jansen sets out to live as a young woman again despite her initial hesitation. Sadly, her initial hesitation seems to have been right. An apparently innocent romantic encounter with a young gigolo turns threatening, and she is forced to justify her own initial concerns. Jansen finds it impossible to return to the happiness of the past, but she strangely finds value in the struggle, and more importantly, she finds herself.
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...
(The entire section is 1,980 words.)