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The Narrative Mood of Jean Rhys's Quartet

Octavio R Gonzalez


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.


modernism, psychoanalytic criticism, affects, mood, narratology

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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