Jean Rhys and Reading the Fiction of Failure

The fiction of Jean Rhys is a good setting to locate a critique of the present-day liberal feminist project, which is so deeply enmeshed in models of positive thinking, that all space for failure is eliminated.

In recent decades, considerable debate around the hegemony of the male-dominated, Eurocentric canon in English literature has led to a revaluation of what is deemed “literary greatness.” With the rise of theory and its various approaches—Marxist, feminist, postcolonial and postmodern—there is greater debate around the politics of inclusion, representation, and visibility within literature. Writers record experiences of racial, sexual, social, and economic marginality in postcolonial novels, poetry, drama, and short fiction. Women writers of the postcolonial regions are especially significant as they attempt to articulate concerns of race and class that are specific to them. Ama Ata Aidoo and Grace Ogot from Africa, Anita Desai and Bapsi Sidhwa from Asia, Margaret Atwood from Canada and Jean Rhys, Jean D’Costa and Sylvia Wynter from the Caribbean are only a few names in the long list of women writers penning experiences of disenfranchisement and oppression.

This essay turns its attention to the works of Jean Rhys because they offer an interesting intersection of three strands of debate—one concerning race and the postcolonial, another about modernism and language, and a third that assesses gender and sexuality. Furthermore, unlike many postcolonial novels that express a sense of nostalgia for their homeland, Rhys had no such intimate associations with the Caribbean whilst she struggled to start a career in England.

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Updated On : 14th Oct, 2019

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