Jean Rhys impeccable Voyage in the Dark chronicles such a descent, or tragic voyage, through the rise and fall of Anna Morgans love affair with a wealthy Englishman. Anna, coming from the West Indies and working as a chorus girl across Englandmuch like Rhys herself, whose own experiences illuminate this emotionally charged novelhas her beautiful and youthful innocents trampled upon by the misogynistic society of men who willfully takes advantage of her to fulfill their carnal lusts. Through her elegantly executed juxtaposition of England and the West Indies, as well as gender relations, Rhys creates a cutting compounded metaphor of English imperialism and misogyny that exposes the hardships a poor, young woman must face in a society that views them as nothing but material goods to be plundered and discarded while they struggle to etch out their own identity. Childhood is looked at as simplistic and preferable to the hardships and cruelty of adulthood, the years when family are loving caregivers that in adulthood turn their backs on account of money, where mistakes are easily corrected and forgiven, and when the world seems a ripe fruit to be picked, tasted and enjoyed. England is the bitterness of reality, where love is fleeting or false and the sweetness of life is either rotten or far beyond reach, where Anna must come to grips that she is of the lower class, the ones without the money, the ones with beastly lives. The cold grey streets of England are where Anna must face the grim realities of gender roles in a prejudiced, misogynistic society where there are those who have and those who need and grieve. Anna is surrounded by women with ideas of how a woman should behave, most of them involving methods to woo a man into marriage or at least becoming a kept mistress, viewing men as their Caribbean sun to keep them warm into their twilight years. Anna must face a world in England where love is false, where everything is cold, and where any hope of the opposite, anything that would fulfill her desires for her past, is merely a façade. She, as a woman in English society, is much like the black population kept as chattel back home; Annas former home being an English colony viewed more as a financial tally on account books than a place full of people living, breathing and dreaming. How can Anna carry on and carve her place in the world, create her own identity, in a world set on viewing her as a commodity? Voyage in the Dark was a fantastic and emotionally stimulating introduction into the works of the fabulous Jean Rhys, and author I have every intention of pursuing until Ive drunk every last word.
Jean Rhys, rediscovered treasure, gives us depression in all its gruesome splendor in "Voyage in the Dark." The hapless victim of said undiagnosed malady goes a 'lil bonkers living out her reclusive/bohemian lifestyle in dreary London of olde. Rhys' literary voice is so authentic and compelling.
Men would enter her life though, and they have money, she loves the affection and indulgences they provide, and she actually feels something that has been missing for what seems like an eternity: happiness. There is also a theme that cropped up in her other novel After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (which I read prior to this, and preferred if I'm honest) that being her female protagonist having difficult relationships with men, and becoming financially and emotionally dependent upon them while sinking further into a black hole of existence. Although Rhys shows a brutal honesty with Anna's thoughts and conflicted feelings about love, parts of the narrative just didn't work as well for me as Mr. Mackenzie or Good Morning, Midnight. I liked this novel more, not for Anna's relationships with men, but for the time she spent with other women.
If you could step outside yourself and put your hands to fit with your other hand on the glass like in one of those movies of a prison visit. I know it has a reputation of being all too sad and here I am feeling that it was a sad like it is hidden at the bottom of a well. I didn't even want to dive into the book and save Anna like I usually do. That's what a broken heart looks like. That's what the dark feels like when you go there. I wanted to be outside and not think about who could be in those happy pictures too. It's the kind of sad feeling that you can know how it sucked in in the first place. Like you could know what thoughts burned those brains and there's nothing lonely about it. A moth flew into my face and I hit at it and killed it." I've got the big book of "The complete novels" of Jean Rhys. Some how that feeling stuck with me more than the book and it worked well as a memory when reading 'Voyage'. (I'm going to read the others in my big Jean Rhys book.)
Is that Jean Rhys or is it Anna Morgan? Despite these traits that might give suitors pause, she is rather attractive with doe-eyes, youth (eighteen), and an innocence (virginity) that men vy to possess. The colours here are black, brown, grey, dim-green, pale blue, the white of peoples faces--like woodlice.Anna does miss the colors of her homeland. Now I recently read that women of various religious affiliations are having their hymens surgically replaced as a way of achieving "innocence" once again, offering a second virginity to be sacrificed on an altar bed with a future husband. I do wish that we didnt feel the pressure to lose our innocence as rarely does it live up to expectations and can never be, despite the best efforts of plastic surgeons, found again. I do take issue with men like Walter and Lancey who prey on young women and believe that they are purchasing their charms at a fair market value. When Anna/Jean both become (view spoiler)pregnant by other men after they have been thrown aside Walter/Lancey do lend money and sympathy because both are much easier to give than responsibility.
Many other books set in this period feature chorus girls, but usually in a peripheral way that makes their lives seem exotic and exciting, until they settle down to conventional respectability, quietly disappear, or, less often, meet a tragic end. Anna performs on stage, lives on her own, has relationships with men - and yet she is also very naive: she needs the support (partly, but not not only, financial) of others, but some of those people take advantage of her (women as well as men). Early on, Anna seems to have a very negative impression of (all) men: one eyed her up "in that way they have" and "he didn't look at my breasts or my legs as they usually do", but the story progresses, her thoughts on men are replaced by introspection and memories of home. And when you'd had a drink you know it was the best way to live in the world, because anything might happen." That sounds like hollow happiness to me. Anna agonises over the fact that "everything makes you want pretty clothes like hell", and sees people looking at the latest fashions, "Their eyes were fixed on the future, 'If I could buy this, then of course I'd be quite different.'" She realises that once you have a taste for such things, you have a taste for such things - and it changes your outlook, behaviour, and even your voice. SENSES and SENSUALITY Many passages are a riot for the senses, invoking the colours, smells, sights, shapes and sounds of the West Indies ("The light is gold and when you shut your eyes you see fire-colour"), and comparing them with the dull uniformity of London, where "The colours here are black, brown, grey, dim-green, pale blue, the white of people's faces". Back home, "How sad the sun can be, especially in the afternoon, but in a different way from the sadness of a cold places... For example, her first impression of London is barely punctuated: "hundreds of thousands of white people white people sic rushing along and all the dark houses all alike frowning down one after the other all alike all stuck together - the streets like smooth shut-in ravines and the dark houses frowning down - oh I'm not going to like this place." The dreamier sections, especially towards the end, and coupled with a few mentions of ghosts, border on the hallucinogenic, and made me think of Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea aka Bertha in Jane Eyre QUOTES * "In my heart I was always sad, with the same sort of hurt that the cold gave me in the chest." * "The sort of music that you always know what's going to come next, that you can listen to ahead." * "When I remember living whit her it was like looking at an old photograph of myself and thinking 'What on earth's that got to do with me?'." * A rich man's house was "dark and quiet and not friendly to me. It was a ritual." * "The shadows of the leaves on the wall were moving quickly, like the patterns the sun makes on water." * At a funeral, "The candles crying way tears... From behind a glass." * "His voice was kind, but the look in his eyes was like a high, smooth, unclimbable wall.
Ive also read that this was your favorite. We all have our favorites, dont we Jean? (Oh yes Jean, I know all about your daddy issues.) Who can fault her for how things ended up? Heres what I know about Anna (heres what I know about you, Jean): she was just a child; she was lonely; she had needs: the need to be loved, the need to be heard, the need to be accepted... Thats a big one, isnt it Jean? And we get glimpses of that, dont we Jean?
I failed to understand Anna Morgan at first. And she is living a life that already looks like a sunken ship, just moments after it sailed. To understand Anna I had to know where she came from. I had to know her innocence, her fragility, her heartbreak, and her past which keeps simmering through the dreamy film of the present like an explosion of melted hues, and warmth, and smell of the Caribbean. Anna doesnt like England, cannot get used to the cold, she misses home. Anna is white, and Francine cannot like her. Men like Walter, Carl like young looking women. Nineteen is a great age. Youth and beauty and can be bartered and bought by these older men who infantilize these women. Women like Anna can never be assimilated in the prescribed dictates of domestic respectability. Even in the conversations between Walter and Anna there is no genuine interest in her memories, her inner life that she desires to share. And the desire to hold on to these men with superficial appearances, I was so nervous about how I looked that three quarters of me was in prison... Maudie advises Anna to get most out of these men and not care a damn. And the bonds formed among the women are much more interesting and symptomatic of their dependence on men, the hypocritical morals of the society. There is also the desire to trust and find dependence among each other which is at times overpowered by the fear of societal rejection. But when she drops her guard, those become moments of total risk, irretrievable damageof those states of innocence when lust is mistaken for love, when one fails to adjust in a world where love can be a traded item that loses its sheen with time.
I am not sure why reading Jean Rhys Voyage in the Dark reminded me of one of my favourite novels, Somerset Maughams Of Human Bondage. Maybe because both main characters Philip in Of Human Bondage and Anna in Voyage in the Dark are somehow outsiders who struggle to find meaning in their lives. We are wholly inside Anna: inside her feelings, her sensations, her memories; inside the vivid and sinister images that fill her mind writes Carole Angier in her introduction to this Penguin Modern Classics Edition. Nevertheless, I could feel Jean Rhys artistic talent emerging, and I therefore look forward to reading some of her later works, especially the critically acclaimed Wide Sargasso Sea. Whether it goes on to become one of my favourite novels, as was the case with Somerset Maughams Of Human Bondage, remains to be seen.
Her experience of a patriarchal society and feelings of displacement during this period would form some of the most important themes in her work.