The Narrative Mood of Jean Rhys's <i>Quartet</i>


  • Octavio R Gonzalez Wellesley College


modernism, psychoanalytic criticism, affects, mood, narratology


This article centers on the application of dominant institutional discourses in the analysis of literary fiction, such as psychoanalysis and psychopathological categories. I take up the case of Jean Rhys and her 1929 novel, Quartet. Both author and novel have been analyzed through the concept of masochism, as creating masochistic characters or a masochistic aesthetic, in the words of one critic. But what do we mean when we so classify or "diagnose” authors of literature, or fictional characters, as in the case of Rhys’ and Quartet’s protagonist? Against this mode of reading, I argue that Rhys’ novel asks us, in various ways, to understand it on its own terms. It enjoins the reader to “understand” rather than to “classify” the famously problematic Rhys “heroine.” Ultimately, Quartet foregrounds the instability of moral and social positions, implicitly arguing against what it calls the “mania for classification” employed by the novel’s antagonists. Quartet cautions against diagnostic interpretations by dramatizing scenes of hypothetical focalization, emphasizing the modal nature of reality and providing the novel with its characteristically shadowy mood.

Author Biography

Octavio R Gonzalez, Wellesley College

Octavio R. González is Assistant Professor of English and queer studies at Wellesley College. He is currently revising his book manuscript, tentatively titled “Misfit Fictions: Intersections of Double Exile in the Twentieth Century.” An article on Christopher Isherwood, drawn from the manuscript, appears in Modern Fiction Studies (“Isherwood’s Impersonality”). Another essay, on media representations of HIV/AIDS and queer sexual risk, appears in Cultural Critique. González teaches courses in modern and contemporary queer literature, transatlantic Modernism, and the Harlem Renaissance. He is also a poet; his first collection, The Book of Ours (2009), was selected for the Letras Latinas chapbook series at the University of Notre Dame.