Nomadic Passions: Encounters with Difference and Troubling Affect in the Novels of Jean Rhys

O'Shea, Johanna. 2018. Nomadic Passions: Encounters with Difference and Troubling Affect in the Novels of Jean Rhys. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis addresses the largely unchallenged assumption that the passivity of Jean Rhys’s protagonists is a dysfunctional limitation of agency. It proposes that Rhys’s critique of oppressive forms of power is at the heart of a passivity which is in opposition to dominant ways of being and thinking. It is argued that in Rhys’s four later novels there is a textual insistence on both the positive value of difference and the potentiality of difficult feeling. The study rethinks the value of Rhysian negativity using the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze as a presiding framework along with contemporary feminist theory, especially the work of Sianne Ngai and Sara Ahmed. Deleuze’s celebration of difference and his theorisations with Félix Guattari of minor literature and affect are used to interrogate the complexities of Rhys’s style and narrative strategies, and to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of her use of passivity as subversion and her exploration of becoming in the modern world.

The thesis analyses how Rhys’s navigation of passionate dissent and morbid affects challenges the values attached to the less powerful and posits an alternative to the conventional quest for happiness. Focusing on failure, a textual death drive and the problem of female transmission, the study identifies in Rhys’s later four novels a preoccupation with the limitations of the literary text, and contends that her work conducts a ‘libidinal mapping’ which addresses the problem of complicity. It is argued that a search for the conditions of communality spans these novels. Deleuze’s intensive reading method is used to think through what emerges in Rhys’s inscription of difficult connection in numerous fraught scenes, and the thesis questions whether, ultimately, danger and negative affect attend or in fact permit the possibility of self-making for the emerging subject.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

This is an edited version of the thesis, with third-party copyright material removed.


Jean Rhys, passivity, difference, negative affect, affect studies, Gilles Deleuze, schizoanalysis, minor literature, feminist literary criticism, feminist theory

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 June 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Aug 2018 14:48

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:13


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