Plotting against Oedipus: Narrative alternatives to hysteria in the novels of Jean Rhys and Marguerite Duras

Joline Jeannine Blais, University of Pennsylvania


Sigmund Freud first explored the connection between plot and gendered subjectivity. Unfortunately he modelled his theories on the classic Oedipal plot which construes subjectivity and desire according to a masculine standard. Extrapolating from a review of the "hysterical" resistance to Freud's Oedipus myth in the scene of analysis, I explore a few narrative alternatives which echo this "hysteria" in the works of Jean Rhys and Marguerite Duras. Chapter one addresses this question: What is the connection between hysterics' peculiar narratives and the articulation of an "other" desire? The subsequent chapters trace narrative options for women subjects which emerge from a reading of "hysterical" resistance to Oedipus. Chapter two explores a mother's narrative based on Marguerite Duras' Un barrage contre le Pacifique. Chapter three considers the narrative ramifications of sibling incest in Marguerite Duras' Agatha. Chapter four looks at voyeurism as a strategy for resisting the traditional feminine role in Marguerite Duras' Le Ravissement de Lol. V. Stein and Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea. Chapter five looks at the working girl's story and the use of irony and performance as resistance to sex typing in Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight. While the women protagonists in Duras and Rhys are often read as hysterical or mad, I argue that their illness is actually a misreading of their attempts to produce new--non-Oedipal--plots. These "hysteries" link their personal suffering--hysteria--to their material circumstances--history.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Womens studies|British and Irish literature|Romance literature|Caribbean literature

Recommended Citation

Blais, Joline Jeannine, "Plotting against Oedipus: Narrative alternatives to hysteria in the novels of Jean Rhys and Marguerite Duras" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9200314.