Quartet: A Constellation of Desires

  • Anne B. Simpson


Although Quartet was the first of Rhys’s novels to be published, it offers a more sophisticated view of social masquerade than Voyage in the Dark, which had been drafted earlier, as it enacts masking behaviors across several major characterizations. Further, its interrogation of the fiercely vexed psychological states that characterize the beginning years of life position its psychology as intermediary between the dyadic, pre-Oedipal concerns of After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie and the triangulated, Oedipal dynamics of Good Morning, Midnight. At first glance Quartet’s focus of interest seems more single-minded than my language would suggest: it enlists a configuration familiar to readers of Western narratives of jealousy and betrayal, as the protagonist, Marya, becomes trapped in a web of desire for a surrogate father and rivalry with a maternal figure, both of whom solicit as well as repel her entry into their domestic melodrama. However, the erotics of the three participants screen another pain to which the text bears witness, that of Marya’s infantile longing, as it is commingled with envy, toward a constructed vision of withholding motherhood. Complicating matters is the fact that the novel’s maternal and paternal imagos are at times conflated, stressing Marya’s state of isolation but also propelling Rhys’s audience to share in the confusion about the locus of this protagonist’s desires.


Oedipus Complex Good Morning Love Object Good Soldier Maternal Figure 
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© Anne B. Simpson 2005

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  • Anne B. Simpson

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