Jean Rhys pp 27-50 | Cite as

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie: ‘Between Dog and Wolf’

  • Sylvie Maurel
Part of the Women Writers book series (WW)


In After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, her second novel published in 1930, Jean Rhys approaches the problem of feminine identity in a radically different way. In marked contrast to Marya Zelli, Julia Martin, a middle-aged woman, will not ‘allow herself to be constructed through other people’s narratives’. An elusive figure cast adrift in Paris and London after the break-up of her relationship with the eponymous character, she baffles those who come across her and defeats any attempt they might make to define her. An exile in every possible way, she is cut off from her relatives, lives outside her country as a social outcast, and cannot be incorporated into known categories. A borderline character, ‘between dog and wolf, to borrow the novel’s last words, she is destined for marginal existence and indeterminacy. In fact, in her first two novels, Jean Rhys seems to be playing with the trope of the blank page. She exploits it in two distinct ways, as female authors often do, according to Susan Gubar. In Quartet, Jean Rhys uses the metaphor ‘to expose how woman has been defined symbolically in the patriarchy as a tabula rasa, a lack, a negation, an absence’.1


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  1. 1.
    Susan Gubar, ‘“The Blank Page” and the Issues of Female Creativity’ in Elizabeth Abel (ed.), Writing and Sexual Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 89.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Heterodiegetic: a type of narrator who is absent from the story he tells, who is not part of the cast of characters. See Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980), pp. 244–5.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gubar, ‘“The Blank Page” and the Issues of Female Creativity’, p. 80.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Translated as ‘flat death’. See Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Hill & Wang, 1974).Google Scholar

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© Sylvie Maurel 1998

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  • Sylvie Maurel

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