Good Morning Midnight. Jean Rhys. Title Allusion. The novel's title is derived from a poem by the American poet Emily Dickinson: 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 –
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The novel's title is derived from a poem by the American poet Emily Dickinson:
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 good night, Day!
After the publication of Good Morning, Midnight in 1939, and the outbreak of World War II, she ceased to write.
Over the next 25 years Rhys was widowed, upped her booze intake to a bottle of whisky a day, remarried, moved to a moldy rooming house in south London, brawled with the neighbors, was arrested for assault and sent to Holloway Prison for a week (an experience she put into an astonishingly moving story called ‘Let Them Call it Jazz’), and disappeared to rural Cornwall.
In 1949, the actress Selma Vaz Dias placed an advertisement for information concerning her whereabouts in order to obtain permission to adapt Good Morning, Midnight for a BBC radio play, but it was not until 1957 that this project came to fruition. Literary London again took note. Word came out, via Vaz Dias, that Rhys was working on a new novel.
Old habits die hard, and her paranoia, insecurities and drinking were trusted sanctuaries she had no intention of emerging from. She died, aged 88, in 1979
Jean Rhys has an affinity for mercurial heroines; her famed novel Wide Sargasso Sea gave a voice and a history to Mrs. Rochester, the "mad" first wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.
In Good Morning, Midnight, she explores a more claustrophobic kind of exile in Sasha Jensen, who has been sent back to Paris at the behest (and expense) of a friend as an alternative to her alcoholic amnesia in London.
Jean Rhys is an extremely precise and careful writer who gives the impression, through the voices of her characters, of haphazard and ragged patterns of thought. Her style is marked with ellipses and dashes, with sentences and paragraphs trailing off or ending abruptly.
Sasha wanders through Paris, the site of the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her child, trying halfheartedly to reestablish a life.
Sasha's past, with its memories of extreme poverty, love, and betrayal, threads its way through her present (she studiously avoids, then drunkenly confronts, certain cafés, neighborhoods, bit characters from her previous life in Paris).
Sasha is an intelligent, sharp-witted character. Her sarcasm is acerbic, her perceptiveness is incisive, and she remains lucid and even amusing during her most anxious episodes.
Sasha's concise mental commentary, reveals exacting portraits of the other characters -- a painter, a pair of Russians, the owner of a dress shop -- who are fascinating in their own right.
One of the strongest impressions the reader takes from Sasha's reflections is a feeling of great solitude, a mind jolting around in its own skull.
Sasha is both trivial and fatalistic; because she cares deeply about nothing, because she can become almost paralyzed with anxiety at social contact, she creates a localized power over her immediate surroundings and a frenetic and unstable control over her life.
Physical spaces are a recurring presence in the book -- rooms, streets, bars, restaurants; Sasha seems to see external places as both interchangeable and animated:
"'Quite like old times,' the room says. 'Yes? No?'"
Rhys is adept at a haunting blend of detail and abstraction, and the rooms of London and Paris, the past and the future, create a sense of inevitability -- of the absence of free will -- that characterizes most of Sasha's obsessions.