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Title: Reading Jean Rhys : empire, modernism and the politics of the visual
Author: Downes, Sarah
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis considers the relationship between literary modernism and visual culture in the work of Caribbean modernist Jean Rhys. Through analysis of a range of visual modes—theatre, fashion, visual art, cinema and exhibition culture—it examines the racialised sexual politics of Rhys’s modernist aesthetics, as represented in her texts of the 1920s—30s. I read Rhys’s four interwar novels—Quartet (1928), After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939)—in the context of contemporary visual practices and the politics of empire. Rhys’s descriptions of artistic practices, acts of viewing and interpreting art, and the identification of her protagonists as both objects and consumers of art are a crucial aspect of her anti-colonial feminism. The politics of vision and of empire are always intertwined for Rhys. Chapter One studies theatrical spectacle and everyday performances of the self. Chapter Two moves to the fashioning of female identities and sartorial constructions of Englishness. Chapter Three turns to Rhys’s use of ekphrasis to question representational structures as they exist in the modernist, primitivist art context. Chapter Four reads Rhys and cinema, focusing on divided or fractured subjectivities as relayed through allusions to distorted mirrors. This conveys Rhys’s powerful evocation of themes of alienation and dislocation. I conclude by analysing what ‘exhibition’ means for those occupying both subject and object visual positions within the imperial metropolis. Analysis is supported by readings of unpublished short stories, letters and poems, works that are relatively absent from current Rhys scholarship. The conjunction of revolutions in the visual arts and the destabilization of the empire in the modernist period provides clear space for investigation into the creation of new ways of seeing that provided a degree of visual agency for those deemed incapable of aesthetic production. Crucial to this is Rhys’s own Creolité. Situated within and outside of European visual subjectivity, Rhys’s work becomes vital to any study of social acts of seeing, in terms of individual subjectivity and within the wider systems of vision produced through the arts.
Supervisor: Snaith, Anna Lucy; Heim, Otto Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available