Department

English

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-2018

Abstract

This article evaluates the application of dominant institutional discourses, such as psychoanalysis, in the interpretation of literary fiction. 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. But what do we mean when we 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, suggesting a mode that I call immanent reading. 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. Mood is a term drawn from Gérard Genette, which describes how certain narrative choices and devices (or mode) compose a discursive narrative atmosphere (or mood). This project suggests the untapped potential of narratology for analyzing affect in fictional narrative.

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Final published version can be found at:

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/686336

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