"Why do we laugh when we should cry?...Is it only here in this sad island?": Gender, affect, and empire in Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and Johnston's Fool's Sanctuary
Item TypeHonors Thesis
British colonial literature has produced no shortage of the silent woman: she has surfaced in a variety of disguises as the domestic wife, the colonial woman, and the mysterious, exoticized other. For contemporary women writers interested in countries occupied by British forces, the prominence of the silent woman has produced a dilemma of writing agentic female characters and women's voices into literature without centuries of historical precedent for doing so. For Jean Rhys and Jennifer Johnston, dissatisfaction with the representation of women's narratives has inspired novels that engage with iconic colonial women, revising their stories and reconsidering the space for female political and emotional expression. These efforts pre-dated the development of the sub-field in affect theory currently forming within literary studies, with intersections in multiple disciplines and theoretical frameworks. Their early understanding of the significance of affect in revitalizing women's narratives is evidenced in their mutual interest in laughter in their early novels. However, this expressive form proves far removed from its traditional association with humor and comedy. Rather, Rhys and Johnston use laughter as a tool to expose the gendered and racialized dimensions of affective expression and to highlight the precarious position of women's narratives in historic periods overwhelming represented by the narratives of imperial men. In their efforts to bring about a widespread re-evaluation of the voices of women in colonial literature, Rhys and Johnston call for more nuanced understanding of the importance of affective forms, specifically laughter.
DegreeBachelor of Arts
CollegeJudy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College
College of Arts and Sciences