This post kicks off my slight change to my blog, content wise, hope everyone enjoys what I have to say. This isn’t permanent by the way, I’ll still be reviewing books that I buy/are sent to me, just going to change it up every now and then!
If anyone has anything they want to comment, if they agree/disagree with my ideas I would absolutely love to know! I have included all secondary texts/references in footnotes at the end of the post.
I wouldn’t recommend reading this post unless you have read both of the books or really don’t mind about having them completely spoiled for you!
Let’s get started!
In my second year of University I took a literature module called The Modern Age. It was without a doubt one of the best modules I have taken, the texts we read and the ideas that everyone had about them were so so interesting. So, this book is one from that module and is a really fascinating reads.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress.
Voyage in the Dark – Jean Rhys
‘It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known,’ says Anna Morgan, eighteen years old and catapulted to England from the West Indies after the death of her beloved father. Working as a chorus girl, Anna drifts into the demi-monde of Edwardian London. But there, dismayed by the unfamiliar cold and greyness, she is absolutely alone and unconsciously floating from innocence to harsh experience. Her childish dreams have been replaced by the harsher reality of living in a man’s world, where all charity has its price Voyage in the Dark was first published in 1934, but it could have been written today. It is the story of an unhappy love affair, a portrait of a hypocritical society, and an exploration of exile and breakdown.
At the end of the module I wrote an essay which explored the tensions between the private desires of the self and the public expectations of society. To do this I used the characters of John (The Savage) from Brave New World and Anna from Voyage in the Dark.
I argued that the relationship with, and the loss of, the mother is a significant factor in the characters’ private desires and their ability to conform to the expectations of society. Ultimately, both characters are unable to conform to public expectation due to their private desires, which can, I believe, be attributed to the mother.
In Brave New World John was born and raised in the Savage Reservation. Promiscuous behaviour is frowned upon and the society is much like our society today. However, the new society in Brave New World has dispelled any kind of family structure and openly expects and encourages promiscuity from its inhabitants. This is shown most clearly through a conversation between Lenina and Fanny in which Fanny questions Lenina for having sexual relations with the same man for four months, she berates Lenina telling her the D.H.C (Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning) would be furious. The D.H.C is then noted as having ‘patted [Lenina] on the bottom’ which infers that he ‘stands for the strictest conventionality’.
John’s mother, who was born in the new society and is left at the Savage Reservation continues to follow the rules of the new society. Whilst living on the reservation ‘lots of men came to see Linda’ and when the other women became angry with Linda she did not know why, this immediately highlights that Linda still lived by the rules of her old society, which were not acceptable on the reservation. Linda also calls John a ‘little beast’, she ‘often forgot to wash’ or feed him and ‘did not know how to mend [his clothes]’, which shows she was unable to care for him as a mother would usually care for their child. John tells Bernard that the other boys on the reservation ‘shut [him] out of absolutely everything’ they called him ‘son of the she dog’ and sang a ‘horrible’ song about Linda. It is through these points that it can be argued that John’s desire is for a more traditional mother figure. It is evident here that because of Linda’s promiscuity and shortcomings as a mother, and the expectations of her (the new) society that contrast with his private desires that John is unable to conform to, or fit in with, society.
The new society in Brave New World has dispelled any kind of family structure and openly expects and encourages promiscuity from its inhabitants. This is shown most clearly through a conversation between Lenina and Fanny in which Fanny questions Lenina for having sexual relations with the same man for four months, she berates Lenina telling her the D.H.C (Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning) would be furious. The D.H.C is then noted as having ‘patted [Lenina] on the bottom’ which infers that he ‘stands for the strictest conventionality’.
When he is taken to the new society John is unable to adapt to the new society and unable to allow himself to feel any lustful or sexual feelings. This is where we can see his mother as a direct influence on his ability to conform to societal expectations.
I believe that John ‘the savage’ can be seen as a case study of Freud’s Oedipus complex. Simply defined the Oedipus complex is a young person’s ‘phantasy and obsessional feelings about possessing the opposite sex parent, and ridding himself of the same sex parent so as to dispose of the rival’. It is in John’s fervent attachment to his mother and his hatred for her lover Pope that this idea manifests itself.
When Lenina takes John to ‘the feelies’, an erotic film that allows its viewers to experience the feelings of the actors, John is horrified and terms it an ‘ignoble’ and ‘horrible film’. Later when Lenina throws herself at John and he finds himself thinking of the feelie and recoiling in horror. Buchanan puts forward an interesting point regarding this. He states that this horror at the feelies and sexual relations with Lenina, is linked to his Oedipal desire for his mother. He argues that ‘John’s desire for Lenina becomes inextricably linked to the mixture of sexual arousal and disgust that he feels while watching the feely’. Buchanan goes on to state that this is due to John identifying the ‘golden-haired…brachycephalic beta’ from the feely with his mother, which could infer that the ‘more than real blackamoor’ is identified with Pope. We can therefore connect John’s feelings of disgust at the feely and towards Lenina to the jealousy he experienced when he saw his mother and Pope together in bed, which shows the extent to which his unresolved Oedipal desires for his mother have affected his ability to conform to the public expectations of society.
In both the new and old society John is unable to fit in with society because of his mother. John’s inability to fit in with, or conform to, society is especially evident in his defiance of any lustful or sexual impulses. Through living in a society that enforces promiscuity, John’s Oedipal desires for his mother are confronted, along with his jealousy for her lover. By showing the connection between his mother and Lenina, which is highlighted by the feely, we can see that his relationship with his mother is the main source of his private desires, which have in turn caused him to be unable to conform to societal expectations.
 Rhona M. Fear, The Oedipus Complex: Solutions or Resolutions? (London: Karnac Books, 2016), p. 3.
 Buchanan, ‘Oedipus in Dystopia’, p. 79.
 Buchanan, ‘Oedipus in Dystopia’, p. 79.
 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p. 158.
The expectations of society in Voyage in the Dark can be seen in direct opposition to those in Brave New World. Whereas the society of Brave New World expects promiscuity, Anna’s society condemns this type of behaviour. This can be seen clearly in the opening chapter, when Anna, a chorus girl, goes to rent a room the landlady accuses her and her friend of being ‘professionals’, which immediately implies that as a chorus girl Anna is deemed a prostitute. The implications of prostitution are furthered when she is seen reading Nana, a story about a French prostitute.
Anna’s private desires are based around love and companionship, which can be seen as an attempt to find a substitute for the mother she has lost, and the stepmother she is rejected by. These attempts can be seen throughout the novel, when she loses her mother Anna’s father marries again, her stepmother however, does not care for Anna very much and is not maternal towards her. Deborah Kloepfer notes that Hester is a ‘cold… substitute for a mother’ and her language and treatment of Anna ‘serves to sever any kind of relationship’. It is Anna’s friend Francine who becomes the substitute for her mother. Francine cares for her when she is sick and helps her through her first period, both of which can be seen as maternal actions. Francine makes Anna’s menstruation seem ‘perfectly natural’ Hester, however ‘induces in Anna [an] hysteric’ reaction. Louis James supports this when he states that Anna’s ‘deepest relationship’ is with Francine who becomes a ‘mother… to her’. Anna is moved from the West Indies to England after the death of her father and therefore loses the mother substitute she found in Francine. Anna then attempts to substitute these ‘lost’ mother figures through her relationship with Walter.
Simone de Beauvoir’s theory of women in love supports this idea when she states that through the love of a relationship a woman tries to ‘bring back to life’ her family situation. This situation is
“one she knew as a little girl, sheltered by adults; she was an integral part of her family home life, she felt the peace of quasi-passivity; love will bring her mother… back to her, and her childhood as well; what she wishes is to find… walls that hide her from her abandonment within the world… this childish dream haunts many feminine loves; the woman is happy when her lover calls ‘my little girl, my dear child’; men know the words well.”
Anna’s ‘abandonment’ can be seen in the loss of her original mother, the rejection by Hester and the ‘loss’ of Francine.
Upon first meeting Walter Anna is unimpressed and does not want to have any kind of relationship with him. Walter’s letter, however, seems to change this. Firstly it reads ‘My dear Anna’, Walter then expresses that he is worried about her. There is an almost instantaneous shift in Anna’s feelings after this letter, Anna replies and asks Walter to come and see her because she is unwell. Beauvoir’s statement that women are happy to be called ‘my dear’ is reinforced through Walter’s language and the immediate change in Anna’s feelings. In her reply to Walter’s letter Anna is essentially asking him to care for her, as a mother would care for a sick child. This shows that Anna believes that she can substitute her lost mother figures through her relationship with Walter.
Through the loss of her mother, and her need to find a substitute, Anna becomes unable to conform to societal rules. Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation, which expands on Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and, Superego, proves to form an interesting analysis of why this could be. It states that
“during… childhood the ego and the superego are not fully operating… the child is dependent on the mother to perform ego-functions for her… She is the child’s ego and superego. Only when [the] relationship [is] continuous and satisfactory can the ego and superego develop.”
This proves an interesting analysis to relate back to Anna’s character, as the ego ‘considers social realities and norms, etiquette and rules in deciding how to behave’ and the superego’s ‘function is to control… impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as sex’. From this we can assume that through the loss of her mother and rejection by her mother substitute Hester, Anna’s ego and superego have not fully developed, which would therefore mean that her ability to conform to the expectations of society is limited. We can therefore see the direct link from the loss of her mother to her ability to conform in society.
Each time Anna has sex with Walter he puts money in her handbag, thus causing Anna to go against the expectations of society by becoming the ‘professional’ that her landlady thought she was. By having sex with Walter he remains Anna’s mother substitute, but at the price that she is unable to conform to public expectation. After Walter ends the relationship Anna realises that she has lost her chance to find a mother substitute, so she continues sleeping with men for money and trying to find the substitute she has lost in Walter, but instead she continues to fall further into the non-conformity.
 Diane E. Eyer, Mother-infant bonding: A scientific fiction (New York: Yale, 1992), p. 53.
 Simone de Beauvoir, The second sex (London: Vintage Books, 2014), [Kindle Edition].
 Carol-Anne Tyler, Female impersonation (Oxon: Routledge, 2003), p. 83.
 Tyler, Female Impersonation, p. 83.
 Louis James, ‘Sun Fire – Painted Fire: Jean Rhys as a Caribbean Novelist’, in Critical perspectives on Rhys, ed. by Pierrette M. Frickey (Washington: Three Continents Press, 1990), p. 123.
 Deborah Kelly Kloepfer, ‘“Voyage in the Dark:” Jean Rhys’s Masquerade for the Mother’, Contemporary Literature, 26 (1985), 443 – 459 (p. 449).
Well there it is: A 3500 word essay in condensed format! I know for some this will probably be super boring, but for some it may help with ideas of your own, or just give a critical insight into the books! AND MOST IMPORTANTLY it means I can still write this blog whilst I am drowning in dissertation hell this year! (woo!)
PEACE OUT FELLOW BOOK LOVERS