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The Age of Outrage
Scandal and Rebellion Against Literary Order

(Out)Rage Against The Machine: ‘Parasexuality’ and Subversion in Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark

(Out)Rage Against The Machine: « parasexualité » et subversion dans Voyage in the Dark de Jean Rhys
Catherine Rovera


Par le biais de son héroïne, une chorus-girl de dix-neuf ans qui sombre peu à peu dans la prostitution et manque de perdre la vie à la suite d'un avortement clandestin, le troisième roman de Jean Rhys aborde un thème éminemment subversif en son temps. Et son traitement ne l'est pas moins. Nous nous proposons d'examiner ici certaines des stratégies utilisées par l'auteur dans son roman, afin de le rendre recevable aux yeux du grand public sans pour autant céder totalement à la pression de l'éditeur, qui exigea que le dernier chapitre fût expurgé. En sus des nombreuses allusions à Nana de Zola qui affleurent à la surface du texte, nous mettrons l'accent plus particulièrement sur l'utilisation par Rhys de la « parasexualité », une technique importée du music-hall qui n'est rien de moins qu'un subterfuge pour déjouer la censure. La présente étude tentera de révéler les liens inextricables qui, dans le contexte de la vague hygiéniste lancée vers la fin de l'époque victorienne, se font jour entre sexualité, music-hall et censure, à la lumière du manuscrit original du dernier chapitre du roman.

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Notes de l’auteur

Extracts from Jean Rhys's works (both published and unpublished) are quoted here with the kind permission of Jean Rhys Ltd and Dr Ellen Ruth Moerman. No part of any of the quotations from Jean Rhys may be reproduced without prior written permission from Jean Rhys Ltd. All works by Jean Rhys (published or unpublished) are still protected by copyright.

Texte intégral

1When Voyage in the Dark came out in 1934, Sylvia Lynd, a literary reviewer for the News Chronicle, praised the style but dismissed the subject matter as ‘less of a novelty now’, writing Rhys off as an avant-garde novelist on the grounds that ‘a post-Joyce world is no longer shockable’. Significantly, her article was entitled ‘Tales of Long Ago in New Novels’.

  • 1 The title of this paper is a playful allusion to the American rap metal band and lead singer Zack d (...)

2While it is true that the figure of the fallen woman was hardly new at the time and Rhys’s depiction of sexuality was not as stark as that of other fellow modernists, by using Joyce as a benchmark Ms Lynd tends to play down the subversive nature of a text which was undoubtedly breaking new ground as well as breaking a taboo through the use of some disturbing material—so much so that Rhys came under pressure from her publisher to rewrite the last chapter and change the ending. Indeed, as the first-person account of her breakdown by a nineteen-year-old chorus-girl going downhill in Edwardian England, Jean Rhys’s third novel brings to the fore certain themes which sounded quite risqué back in the early thirties, namely deflowering and a botched abortion. Besides, beyond the overarching themes of sexuality and the loss of innocence, and behind the main character’s quiet acceptance of things as they are, the writer’s Rage Against The Machine1 is brewing, or even seething.

3The purpose of this paper is to look more closely at some of the strategies used by Rhys in order to make her novel acceptable to a wide and would-be respectable readership without giving in too much to the publisher, particularly in the last chapter—a Modernist montage which had to be sanitised or, according to Rhys, ‘mutilated’ (Rhys 1985, 25) prior to its publication. Rhys ostensibly uses intertextual references to Zola’s novel Nana in order to revisit and debunk the mythology of the fallen woman, with an ironic twist. But what is more elusive and subversive is her use of ‘parasexuality’, a technique borrowed from the music-hall, as a tool to launch an onslaught against bourgeois ideology, as well as a trick to playfully question or evade moral censorship. The poetics of subversion in Jean Rhys’s third novel will thus be explored in the light of both its cultural subtext and the unabridged version of ‘Part IV’, which is held in the McFarlin Library, at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma (Jean Rhys Collection [I] 5:13).

‘J’accuse…!’: The Fallen Woman Revisited

4The protagonist, Anna Morgan, is a displaced West Indian girl of Creole descent. The trauma of having been forcefully removed from her native island (presumably Dominica) by her stepmother is compounded by the bleak career opportunities she is faced with in England. When the novel opens, she is part of the chorus in a touring musical, but the odds are stacked against her from the outset, because of her undecidable—hence dubious—status both as a colonial and a chorus-girl. Ironically, Anna’s nickname ‘the Hottentot’—which is used playfully by her fellow gaiety girls—encapsulates her status as a morally loose character, even though she is obviously miscast as an object of sexual curiosity and desire. There is some dramatic irony here as the Hottentot, otherwise known as the Black Venus, was uprooted from her native land and brought to England by boat. She was then turned into a freak and forced to parade at music-hall venues, her misshapen buttocks and protruding genitals being passed around as a commodity, and she ended up in Parisian brothels. Her life story foreshadows Anna’s fateful journey to England and what Rhys described as her ‘downward career’ (Rhys 1985, 24).

5Moreover, the Hottentot acts as a link between Anna and Zola’s eponymous heroine, the overwhelmingly sensual Nana, who first appears in a show called La Blonde Vénus. And indeed, the literary paradigm of the chorus-girl as a sexually deviant character finds its roots in Zola’s novel, in which the stage and the demi-monde constantly overlap. Likewise, in Edwardian Britain, the professional stage appears as a promiscuous place in the public eye and there is, in Rhys’s third novel, a thin line between the chorus-girl and the courtesan. The former is often labelled a ‘tart’ or a ‘professional’—a word with a double meaning—not least because, as historian Peter Bailey suggests, ‘the circumstances of her work—on show, nocturnal, co-sexual—echoed those of the prostitute’ (Bailey 184).

6The parallel between the two heroines could not have been made more explicit, as Anna is reading Nana at the beginning of the novel. But hers is an ominous reading that makes her at once ‘sad, excited and frightened’ (9), as if she gets an inkling of what the future holds in store for her. At the end of a long passage devoted to Constance Estate, the West Indian property that belonged to Anna’s dead mother, another thinly disguised allusion to Zola’s eponymous heroine conveys a palpable sense of tragedy. Indeed, as she is riding her horse, Anna has the uncanny vision of ‘the woman with yaws’, whose face has been ‘eaten away’ (130) by a tropical infection of the skin. The woman's frightful, frozen grin echoes Nana on her deathbed with her face disfigured by smallpox: ‘Toute une croûte rougeâtre partait d'une joue, envahissait la bouche, qu'elle tirait dans un rire abominable’ (Zola 467). Besides, at the very end of the novel, the depiction of Anna’s miscarriage with the West Indian Carnival in the background is an ironic reminder of Nana’s body falling into decay while the Second Empire is drawing to a close and the Franco-Prussian war breaking out. Thus, throughout the novel but especially in the last chapter, the ghost of Nana hangs over Anna Morgan and offers an ironic counterpoint to the plight of the Rhys heroine.

  • 2 For a thorough analysis of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869, see Prostitution an (...)

7Were it not for the reversal in Rhys’s handling of the themes of defilement and contamination, one might think that Anna and Nana are of the same ilk. But whereas Zola draws an overly explicit parallel between his morally corrupt heroine and the collapse of the Second-Empire, in Voyage in the Dark England’s obsession with moral purity is portrayed as some kind of mass neurosis which, in turn, contaminates Anna Morgan. The most striking example is the advertising slogan that becomes ingrained in the heroine’s inner thoughts: ‘What is Purity? For Thirty-five Years the Answer has been Bourne’s Cocoa’ (50–51). This is one of many allusions to the Social Purity Crusades that swept Britain in the second half of the 19th century, in the wake of the Contagious Diseases Acts enacted to fight against venereal diseases.2

8Through the example of the ‘Abbé Sebastian’s Pills’ (143), that is to say patent medicine ingested by the heroine to avoid pregnancy, Rhys specifically condemns the pernicious rhetoric of purity workers and the use of scaremongering to crack down on what they regarded as unnatural (in this case out-of-wedlock intercourse). Anna’s overriding fear of begetting a monster, a freak, reveals what Thomas Richards rightfully calls the ‘full-scale invasion of selfhood by commodity culture’ (Richards 195). But more generally, it reflects the intrusion of the private sphere by self-righteous public discourse: such hints sound like an indictment of Victorian and Edwardian moral standards.

9However, Rhys’s pointed references to Zola are deeply ambivalent. On the surface, they are meant to reveal the sharp contrast that arises between the two heroines—and beyond, the treatment of their predicament by the two writers. And indeed, Voyage in the Dark is a far cry from a cautionary tale, a morality play à la Zola, as Rhys’s stance is non-judgmental and her novel a first-person account which elicits sympathy from the reader. Moreover, Nana is portrayed as both a temptress and an avenger—a man-eater, no less: ‘Les besoins croissants de son luxe enrageaient ses appétits, elle nettoyait un homme d'un coup de dent’ (Zola 431). Greed is her undoing, whereas Anna Morgan’s downfall appears to be the result of social and economic forces beyond her control. But at the same time, Nana is not just meant to act as a foil to the Rhys heroine. The reference to Zola is also a tool for Rhys to question Victorian moral standards and expose some crude misconceptions about what constituted obscenity or decorum. Indeed, Nana was banned in the United Kingdom in 1888 as part of the crackdown on demoralizing literature, not least because of its raw depiction of the bourgeoisie indulging in dubious pleasures.

10In her novel, Rhys thus challenges the theory that books with explicit sexual content may impair young women’s moral development. When Nana is branded as a ‘dirty book’ (9) by Anna’s friend, it sounds like an ironic rebuttal as Maudie feigns outrage, but she is outraged not so much by the subject matter as by what most books make of it, starting with Zola’s: ‘I bet you a man writing a book about a tart tells a lot of lies one way and another. Besides, all books are like that—just somebody stuffing you up’ (9). The first ‘lie’ is the framing of virginity as ‘the only thing that matters’ (32) by the main male character, Walter Jeffries. In the extension of his introduction to the authorized 1929 Paris edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence, himself a banned author, wrote something along the same lines, about virginity being a mere social construct: ‘All this talk of young girls and virginity, like a blank white sheet on which nothing is written, is pure nonsense. A young girl and a young boy is a tormented tangle, a seething confusion of sexual feelings and sexual thoughts which only the years will disentangle’ (Lawrence 227).

  • 3 On stage as well as in print, adultery and abortion were prohibited, alongside religious topics, an (...)
  • 4 Dagmar Kift offers valuable insight into music-hall culture and class-consciousness. According to h (...)

11The conflation of the chorus-girl and the prostitute may also explain why, from the mid-19th century onwards, music-hall, just like prostitution and pornography, became a target of the Social Purity Crusades.3 Music-hall was an institution which was particularly exposed, as it stood for a hedonistic working-class culture which was poles apart from that of middle-class reformers advocating hard work and abstinence. The main concern of those public morality crusaders was to raise the moral tone of the nation, therefore they wanted to elevate an institution which was regarded by some as a hotbed of subversion and depravation.4 In this context, ‘parasexuality’ developed both as a reaction against this obnoxious public discourse and as a trick to evade moral censorship, in more elusive—and thus more subversive—ways than irony.

‘Parasexuality’ as a Narrative Trick

12‘Parasexuality’ is a concept coined by historian Peter Bailey to refer to a technique that was a quintessential element of Victorian and Edwardian music-hall, whereby sexuality, which was anathema to bourgeois ideology and its mainstream ideal of respectability, sneaks back in through the back door ‘in a manageable form’ (Bailey 183). Bailey thus defines ‘parasexuality’ as ‘a new form of open yet licit sexuality’, that is to say a sexuality that is ‘deployed but contained, carefully channelled rather than fully discharged’ (Bailey 151).

13Significantly, what used to distinguish a music-hall act from a so-called ‘legitimate’ theatrical performance was the close bond, the intimacy that built up between the performer and the audience, as the latter were often invited to peep through the performer’s persona and get a glimpse of his/her personality, through the use of direct address for instance. As Bailey put it, ‘[i]n the music hall, the shifts in and out of role and self, artifice and autobiography allowed the audience to see, as it were, the joins in the performance’ (Bailey 132). In this context, ‘parasexuality’ relied first and foremost on ‘knowingness’, that is to say a decodable symbolic system—allusions, intonations, gestures, glances—that the artist aimed at the audience in a subtle yet understandable way, through ‘oblique but knowing conspiracies of meaning’ (Bailey 142). And it was those ‘unscripted exchanges across the footlights that caused the most anxiety’ (Bailey 141) as they could easily slip out of control.

14In Voyage in the Dark, the character who embodies ‘parasexuality’ is Anna’s best friend, Laurie Gaynor. As both a Gaiety Girl and a ‘tart’ who enjoys and overplays her role, she is the ultimate figure of emancipation from the suffocating straitjacket of conventions. She might even be called a flapper, before the term actually existed. She is witty and uses innuendo or double entendre to a nicety, in a provocative as well as a thought-provoking manner. Thus, when Anna is about to meet Walter for their first evening together, Laurie says to her: ‘Tell him to borrow the club tin-opener’ (17), alluding to the fact that Anna is still a virgin. Everything Laurie says is fraught with double meaning and sounds like a catchphrase or a cue from a musical comedy. This is especially true of the charade she keeps repeating, which resembles a catchy chorus: ‘When you start thinking about things the answer’s a lemon’ (100). If the slang term ‘lemon’ was often used to refer to ‘the derisive reply to a query’, here it is more likely a riddle with sexual overtones, as it could also refer to a ‘smutty story’ (Partridge 10).

15Moreover, the dialectics of confidence and reticence also partakes of the parasexual technique. Anna’s deflowering literally takes place between the lines, in a blank space. It is only mentioned subsequently and even then, demoted as a topic of gossip: ‘I thought that it had been just like the girls said, except that I hadn’t known it would hurt so much’ (33). By contrast, there is the confessional mode of Anna’s unsent letters to Walter, which are a substitute for her would-be diary. Thus, the narrative itself is halfway between a chronicle and a confession, not least because it was inspired by the writer’s early autobiographical notebooks. But what is even more compelling is the fact that the novel obliquely reflects on its own creative process and the circumstances in which it was written. There is, for instance, a skilful mise en abyme when Anna is crossing out everything she has written. And indeed, the fear of being censored by the market (that is to say by publishers as well as circulating libraries) did to a certain extent influence the ending of the book.

  • 5 Rhys suffered both negative reviews and library censorship. For instance, her first novel (Postures(...)

16For much of the 19th century, the circulating libraries and their subscribers dominated the production and distribution of new novels in England, imposing a strict code of middle-class values on both authors and publishers, and their prominent influence continued well into the 20th century. If Rhys’s books were never banned by the authorities, some were barred from circulating libraries.5 And even though Voyage in the Dark was written at a time when the Social Purity movement was losing ground, the novel put Rhys in a double bind. The manuscript was rejected by her former publishers who found it ‘gloomy’—as Rhys later recalled in an autobiographical short story, ‘Leaving School: How I became a novelist’, which is also held in the McFarlin Library (JRC (I) 2:24, 6). One of them even suggested that Rhys let her heroine ‘recover and marry a rich man’ (JRC (I) 2: 24, 6), but she refused point-blank to turn her novel into a Gaiety musical. Then, Michael Sadleir of Constable accepted to publish it, but only if Rhys agreed to revise the last chapter and ‘give the girl a chance’ (JRC (I) 2: 24, 7).

17Strangely enough, Sadleir did not object to the overall plot (a botched abortion leading the heroine to the brink of madness), he simply found the outcome (death) too depressing to ‘please prospective readers’, as Rhys recalls in one of her letters (Rhys 1985, 25). Sadleir was adamant and after much dithering, Rhys complied with his demands and wrote an open ending so as to get her novel into print. The last chapter was thus published at a mere quarter of its original length. If the unabridged version of ‘Part IV’, which is a twenty-page-long typescript with autograph revisions, provides valuable insight into the writer’s creative process, it gives us no hint as to who did the final trimming. Therefore many questions arise. What did Rhys choose to discard in order to skirt censorship? What makes the published version more palatable for the general public? To what extent was it bowdlerized? Does the mangled version retain its subversive features?

‘Giv[ing] the Girl a Chance’: The Original Ending and the Rewriting of ‘Part IV’

18‘Part IV’ is characterised by a kind of experimental writing in which memory and fantasy, past and present, exterior events and interior monologue are intertwined, through an elaborate network of echoes that replicates the heroine’s obsessive thought-pattern. Although Rhys was a latecomer to the British Modernist scene, her writing shares many features with that of her fellow modernists: dissolution of space and time, stream of consciousness, aesthetics of fragmentation . . . As a maelstrom of memories and voices that mirrors both the hallucinatory state of the protagonist and her fading consciousness, the whole chapter thus reads like a Modernist dream-text with Joycean overtones, based on the logic of free association.

19This is even truer of the original version: one only has to look at the layout to be convinced. Indeed, the narrative proper—the heroine lying in bed bleeding in the wake of her botched abortion—is indented, while memories from her West Indian childhood are characterised by their lack of punctuation and a wider space between the words. This allows for a clear separation between exterior events and childhood memories. By contrast, the published version is a continuous flow which allows for a much more linear and smoother reading, and thus may be more likely ‘to please prospective readers’, as Michael Sadleir put it.

20Both versions focus on the aftermath of Anna’s abortion. But in the original ending, the heroine is explicitly dying: the major events she has experienced in her short life come back to her in a rush, and so as a re-enactment the original version is clearly a deathbed scene. A whole string of memories from Anna’s childhood have been erased in the final version: memories about loss, mourning and exile, more specifically her mother’s funeral wake, her father’s death and herself entering the realm of ghosts and shadows or ‘going to the end of things’ (JRC (I) 5: 13, 18). Significantly, when Rhys changed the ending, she also changed the title of the book from Two Tunes to Voyage in the Dark. As a result of the drastic cutting, in the abridged version, the present prevails over the past and continuity over disruption, and the ‘two tunes’ coalesce—rather than clash—in the mind of the main character.

21Nevertheless, rebellion appears as the underlying theme of ‘Part IV’ in both versions, as Anna is recalling the West Indian Masquerade she always found so enthralling as a young girl. Indeed, during the Easter Carnival, black people are made up to look like white people and through mimicry, they stage a protest against colonial rule. The original version even contains an allusion to slave emancipation, alongside a fiery debate about slavery. But the West Indian Carnival is more than just a comic reversal meant to question the social order in the Bakhtinian sense. From an aesthetic point of view, it might well be read as an inversion of the negro impersonations and minstrel shows that were quite popular on the British music-hall stage, performed by white people in blackface, sometimes with a racist streak (as they tended to show an idealised version of plantation life). The Carnival of ‘Part IV’ seems to be a mirror image of the British music-hall and here again, popular culture is the voice of protest and rebellion—that is to say ‘defiance’ (JRC (I) 5: 13, 13)—against the establishment.

  • 6 Edward Lee explains that cake-walk was a plantation dance which ‘resembled a strutting walk and was (...)

22With its jagged and syncopated rhythm, the musical intertext of ‘Part IV’ is the herald of a new kind of dance music typical of the jazz age, namely the cake-walk and ragtime, which came to Britain before the First World War and were then regarded as a hotbed of depravation, because of their unbridled and sometimes offensive nature.6 In her seminal study Dances with Darwin 1875–1910, Rae Beth Gordon explores the mixed feelings such a burlesque, hysterical and regressive dancing style elicited from music-hall audiences. On the one hand, people were thrilled and titillated by African dance, but this kind of performance also aroused a great deal of cultural anxiety, as corporeal dislocation was equated with degeneration or the sign of a lower stage of evolution, as well as with anarchy and disorder. In addition, because of its Afro-American roots, dance music must have appeared as a threat to Englishness—just like the ‘nigger tunes’ (JRC (I) 5: 13, 3) that Anna keeps humming in the original version, and which are frowned upon by her stepmother, an Englishwoman through and through.

  • 7 Here again, Gordon's Dances with Darwin provides an original insight into the close links between p (...)

23Confronted with those new cultural forms often deemed obscene, someone in Anna’s family gets carried away by a sense of moral outrage: ‘it ought to be stopped somebody said it’s not a decent and respectable way to go on’ (156). The erotic dimension of the music was emphasised in the original version (which is overall more blunt about lovemaking and sexuality), as the man who plays the concertina ‘sits sweating with his legs wide apart’ (JRC (I) 5: 13, 16)—instead of ‘he sat sweating’ (157) in the expurgated version. The black man’s posture, which is an ironic reminder of the Hottentot’s exposed genitalia, takes us back to primitivism and an aesthetic of transgression.7 In the original version, transgression was closely related to obeah or voodoo, and therefore to an ancestral past when Anna’s native island was still a virgin territory. Just like the first inhabitants of the island, the Caribs, finding shelter in pristine forest, obeah women resisted the invaders and played a part in slave uprisings across the Caribbean. Besides, in the manuscript the allusion to black magic was associated with the powerful image of a waste land, in a passage which read like a syncretic, and quintessentially Modernist, collage.

24In the light of the original version, one may now wonder about the shaping force of censorship. In her meticulous study on British modernism and censorship, Celia Marshik contends that ‘the modernism we know owes many of its trademark aesthetic qualities—such as self-reflexivity, fragmentation, and indirection—to censorship’ (Marshik 6). It is true that irony is enhanced in the altered ending of ‘Part IV’, as the future looming ahead for Anna sounds even worse than death: a life of deprivation with no prospects other than prostitution. More importantly, primitivism seems to go hand in hand with ‘parasexuality’, as the West Indian Carnival offers a reversed image of the British music-hall, and is likewise a tool for dissent and disruption throughout the final version. But otherwise, the original shape of ‘Part IV’, with its fragmented and disjointed nature, was more akin to high modernism than the tamed version.

  • 8 The article ‘The “seeds of madness” in Wide Sargasso Sea: The Novel and its Avatars’ provides a mor (...)

25Although Rhys managed to retrieve or salvage some elements from the original version in the published one, she felt that her book was ‘spoil[t]’ (Rhys 1985, 25)—so much so that she reclaimed the manuscript of ‘Part IV’ thirty years later and revised it while she was finishing Wide Sargasso Sea. Strangely enough, she did not incorporate those revisions when Voyage in the Dark went into a second edition in 1967, but a few elements which had been removed from the original version of ‘Part IV’ were kept in reserve for her last novel, namely some patois songs and allusions to black magic.8 Rhys had never come to terms with the excruciating experience of moral censorship, nor had she ever forgiven herself for complying with her publisher’s demands. But as she drew on the original version of ‘Part IV’ for the final chapter of her last novel and its treatment of madness, in a way Wide Sargasso Sea finally enabled her to redeem herself.

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Bailey, Peter, Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City, Cambridge: CUP, 1998.

Gordon, Rae Beth, Dances with Darwin, 1875–1910: Vernacular Modernity in France, Farnham: Ashgate, 2009.

Hynes, Samuel, The Edwardian Turn of Mind, London: OUP, 1968.

Kift, Dagmar, The Victorian Music Hall: Culture, Class and Conflict, Cambridge: CUP, 1996.

Lawrence, David Herbert, Sex, Literature and Censorship, London: Heinemann, 1955.

Lee, Edward, Folksong and Popular Music, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.

Lynd, Sylvia, ‘Tales of Long Ago in New Novels’, News Chronicle 27630, 12 November 1934.

Marshik, Celia, British Modernism and Censorhip, Cambridge: CUP, 2006.

Partridge, Eric, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977.

Rhys, Jean, Letters 1931-1966, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.

Rhys, Jean, Voyage in the Dark (1934), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.

Rhys, Jean, ‘Voyage in the Dark, Part IV’, Jean Rhys Collection, (I) 5: 13.

Rhys, Jean, ‘Leaving School: How I became a novelist’ [version 8], Jean Rhys Collection, (I) 2: 24.

Richards, Thomas Karr, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle, 1851–1914, Stanford: SUP, 1990.

Rovera, Catherine, ‘The “seeds of madness” in Wide Sargasso Sea: The Novel and its Avatars’, Commonwealth Essays and Studies 32.1 (Autumn 2009): 110–120.

Walkowitz, Judith R., Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State, Cambridge: CUP, 1980.

Zola, Émile, Nana (1880), Paris: Livre de Poche, 1984.

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1 The title of this paper is a playful allusion to the American rap metal band and lead singer Zack de la Rocha, a champion of left-wing causes. Although Rhys's novel is far from carrying anarchist overtones, it smacks of rebellion against the establishment and some entrenched social norms. Anna Morgan, just like any other Rhys heroine, is an underdog who finds herself beyond the pale—or, according to the title of one of Jean Rhys's short stories, ‘Outside the Machine’.

2 For a thorough analysis of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869, see Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State by Judith Walkowitz. It reveals, in a compelling way, how the state attempted to control the body of the prostitute, as prostitutes were forced to undergo periodic medical checks and sent to lock hospitals, if found suffering from gonorrhea or syphilis.

3 On stage as well as in print, adultery and abortion were prohibited, alongside religious topics, and the Examiner of Plays forbade the serious treatment of sexual matters. Samuel Hynes brilliantly explains the ins and outs of theatre censorship in ‘The Theater and the Lord Chamberlain’ (The Edwardian Turn of Mind, Chapter 7).

4 Dagmar Kift offers valuable insight into music-hall culture and class-consciousness. According to him, music-hall was ‘one of the most controversial institutions of English working-class culture’ (Kift 177), as it stood at the crossroads between ‘a hedonistic and somewhat unbridled working-class culture and middle-class social reformers organised in temperance and purity movements; industrialists, executives, the clergy, academics and Sunday school teachers. It was they who embodied at their most extreme what is commonly known as “Victorian values”’ (Kift 182).

5 Rhys suffered both negative reviews and library censorship. For instance, her first novel (Postures, later released as Quartet) ended up on the ‘restricted list’ and many reviewers called it ‘sordid’. And so, as Celia Marshik rightfully points out, ‘such reviews aligned Rhys's work with texts that purity workers wanted to suppress’ (Marshik 176–177).

6 Edward Lee explains that cake-walk was a plantation dance which ‘resembled a strutting walk and was originally created in imitation of white employers in the Southern United States, during the second half of the nineteenth century’ (Lee 134–135).

7 Here again, Gordon's Dances with Darwin provides an original insight into the close links between primitivism and modernity, on display in the Parisian café-concerts and music-halls. The author argues compellingly that the café-concert aesthetic, which itself was informed by the scientific and medical theories of the time (namely Darwinism and hysteria), paved the way for ‘the dislocations of the human body that were later transposed in Cubist and Expressionist painting, as well as in modern dance’ (Gordon 9). So much so that ‘[n]ot only the seeds, but a full first flowering of a modernism composed of hysteria and savagery, is triumphantly present in the performances of the epileptic singers’ (Gordon 237–238).

8 The article ‘The “seeds of madness” in Wide Sargasso Sea: The Novel and its Avatars’ provides a more thorough analysis of the influence of ‘Part IV’ on the writing of Wide Sargasso Sea (see Rovera 114–119).

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Catherine Rovera, « (Out)Rage Against The Machine: ‘Parasexuality’ and Subversion in Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 45 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2013, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Catherine Rovera

Université Paris-Dauphine - ITEM-E.N.S.-C.N.R.S.
Catherine Rovera est maître de conférences à l'université Paris-Dauphine et membre de l'ITEM-E.N.S.-C.N.R.S. (Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes). Spécialiste de Jean Rhys et du modernisme, elle mène des travaux de recherche en critique génétique et en codicologie portant sur les manuscrits de Jean Rhys et de James Joyce. Elle s'intéresse en parallèle à l'histoire de la culture populaire britannique et aux arts du spectacle, et étudie plus précisément l'influence du music-hall victorien et édouardien sur l'écriture moderniste.

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