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“Get on or Get Out”: Failure and Negative Femininity in Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark

From: MFS Modern Fiction Studies
Volume 59, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 373-394 | 10.1353/mfs.2013.0022



This essay locates failure as a productive form of critique, linked to a feminist and anticolonialist project. Focusing on Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark and After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, I argue that Rhys’s protagonists’ failure to successfully enact prescribed gender roles is a feminist response, one articulated through a negative feminism rather than a conventional liberal feminism. Using Jack Halberstam’s notion of shadow feminism and Sianne Ngai’s noncathartic emotions, I show how Rhys exposes the need for an alternate model of white female respectability through her narratives of failure.