Jean Rhys and drunken consciousness (1929–​1939)
in The Existential drinker
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Jean Rhys published four novels which have female protagonists who all drink at levels beyond those regarded as socially acceptable: Quartet (1929), After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934), Good Morning, Midnight (1939). These four novels present the reader with a complex of self, consciousness, and modernity, inflected by an argument that women are forced to live differently in the world from men, and therefore experience and understand the world differently from men. One of the major achievements of the novels is the way in which they render the various states of consciousness of the female protagonist in the modern capitalist world, and this chapter considers the way in which Rhys integrates questions of gender, consciousness, modernity, alcohol, and the self. Rhys’s protagonists choose their orientations as a way to define their selves and to define what is true in and about the world they inhabit. The modernist focus on alcoholic consciousness ensures a form of self-validation against a patriarchal and increasingly rationalistic society. This chapter also considers Rhys’s presentation of consciousness alongside our contemporary understanding.

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