Publication Date

April 2016


Stephanie Weiner, Sally Bachner




English (United States)


This thesis analyzes representations of women and madness in Jean Rhys’s fiction. I explore the interplay between psychology, in particular the clinical understanding of abnormal psychological types, gender, and language. I address how language constitutes self-knowledge and self-expression for the heroines in Rhys’s novels who find it difficult to survive in modern (early and mid-twentieth century) European society. I establish a historical framework for this literary analysis by offering a critical overview of European-American Psychiatric development from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In this overview, I interrogate the role of language in diagnosing and expressing medicalized psychological states, in particular in the case of female-identified patients. In her fiction, Rhys portrays the violent enactment of erotic and imperial power through language. Stylistically, Rhys reworks conventional language, playing with ellipses and repetition and destabilizing the point of view of the narrative. I explore the ways in which Rhys represents the psychological experience- the “madness”- which imperial or patriarchal power structures produce. Her fiction provides a literary site for a feminist, post-colonial interrogation of western historical psychiatric practices.



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