Good Morning, Midnight

by

Jean Rhys

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Good Morning, Midnight Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jean Rhys

Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams was born in 1890 to a Welsh doctor and a Creole woman of Scots ancestry on the Caribbean island of Dominica (then a British colony). At sixteen she was sent to England, where she studied to be an actress. Williams was ostracized for her Caribbean heritage and accent—she was eventually taken out of school because her instructors deemed her unable to rid herself of the West Indies accent that would prevent her from gaining significant stage roles. She then lived in Britain for nearly a decade, surviving on small acting roles and chorus parts. After having a near-fatal abortion paid for by a former lover, Williams began to write. In 1924, in the midst of a tumultuous marriage, Williams made the acquaintance of the acclaimed English novelist Ford Madox Ford. Ford took her in as both a protégé and mistress, suggesting that she change her name to Jean Rhys and eventually facilitating the publication of her work, which often dealt with her own experiences of alienation as a woman at the hands of unjust lovers and an exclusionary society. The three major novels that Rhys produced during the 1930s—After Leaving Mr. MackenzieVoyage in the Dark, and Good Morning, Midnight—were met with mixed critical success. It wasn’t until 1966 (after several decades of anonymity marked by two more marriages and an increasingly serious alcohol problem) that Rhys published Wide Sargasso Sea and rocketed to literary fame. Wide Sargasso Sea remains her most acclaimed work, having garnered her several major literary awards and a place in the canon of postcolonial literature in English. Rhys died in 1979, in Exeter, U.K.
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Historical Context of Good Morning, Midnight

Rhys belonged to what’s now known as the Lost Generation, which was made up of people who came into adulthood during World War I. The name itself acknowledges that this generation didn’t have a clear trajectory after the war, as many of its members seemed like they were wandering through life without a sense of purpose. The vast majority of the young men in this generation were called to the frontlines of the war, so it’s no surprise that many of them returned to everyday life saddled with harrowing trauma—trauma that made it hard for them to simply slip back into their previous lives. What’s more, the war made it possible for women to enter the workforce, marking a significant shift in the overall structure of society and the working world, though many women left their jobs after the war was over—yet another thing that possibly created a vacuum of purpose. The generation’s name reflects society’s overall disdain for their directionless way of moving through life, but many artists liked the idea of their own untethered societal position. The expatriate author Gertrude Stein (who was a little older than people in the Lost Generation) is credited with coining the term, and Ernest Hemingway popularized it by quoting Stein in the epigraph of his novel The Sun Also Rises: “You are all a lost generation.” By printing this in his book, Hemingway effectively embraced the name and the general implication that younger adults in the years after World War I were headed in uncharted directions.

Other Books Related to Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, Midnight belongs to a rich literary tradition of semi-autobiographical novels written about Paris in the first half of the 20th century. The most famous of these works were written by expatriates from either the United States or England. Ernest Hemingway, for instance, wrote multiple books about life in Paris, including The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast—in fact, A Moveable Feast even relates an encounter with an important British author living in Paris named Ford Madox Ford. Ford took Jean Rhys (and a number of other promising writers) under his wing when she was in Paris at the beginning of her career. In general, the literature that emerged from Paris between World War I and World War II was characterized by a searching, melancholy attitude and featured protagonists trying to address their troubles by drinking heavily and wandering from bar to bar. In this sense, Good Morning, Midnight is something of a precursor to books like James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, which was published in 1956 and continued the modernist tradition of exploring identity, sexuality, and loneliness in the context of post-war Paris. Rhys would go on to write Wide Sargasso Sea, an important postcolonial novel with feminist themes—themes that are arguably present in Good Morning, Midnight.
Key Facts about Good Morning, Midnight
  • Full Title: Good Morning, Midnight
  • When Published: 1939
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Modernist, Post-War, Expatriate
  • Setting: Paris in the 1930s
  • Climax: René pins Sasha on the bed and attempts to rape her but then stops when she tells him he can take her money.
  • Antagonist: Memory and sadness
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for Good Morning, Midnight

Comeback. After the commercial failure of Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys completely withdrew from the public and stopped publishing books. Ten years after the novel’s publication, the actress Selma Vaz Dias took out advertisements in newspapers in an attempt to track Rhys down because she wanted to buy the rights to Good Morning, Midnight. Rhys eagerly accepted, and Dias adapted it into a radio play. More importantly, she encouraged Rhys to keep writing, ultimately resulting in Rhys’s most famous novel, Wide Sargasso Sea.