The ‘Dreamlike Downward Career of a Girl’: Compounding Trauma in Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark

Senior Capstone Experience by Abby Wargo ’20

Submitted to the Department of English

Advised by Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor

Description: “In my English SCE, I examine how varying types of trauma, specifically postcolonial and sexual trauma, accumulates, weighs down, and consequently destroys Anna Morgan, the teenaged protagonist in Jean Rhys’s 1934 novel Voyage in the Dark. Much Rhys scholarship fails to go beyond Anna’s seeming unwillingness to “get on” in her life; still less analyze her status as a colonized citizen and as a sexual object alongside one another. I analyze these two together because Anna’s experiences as a young woman and a colonial immigrant living in the imperial center of London both limit her opportunities in life as well as fracture her identity and suffocate her personal growth. I argue that it is because of Anna’s compromised social status as an outsider, a single woman, and low economic class that thrusts her into a never-ending cycle of misery, one that has been fated from the outset. This gradual disillusionment, made obvious through Anna’s unhealthy coping mechanisms, is present in the narrative itself by way of compression of time, memory, fragmentation, ellipses, repetition and more. Both Anna and the text itself devolve as the novel progresses; a self-fulfilling prophecy only set in motion by difference. “

Contributor Bio: Abby Wargo is a queer journalist, poet, and essayist from Maryland. She recently earned her BA in English from Washington College, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Elm, for two years. At WC, she was awarded the Maureen Jacoby Prize for potential in the field of editing and publishing and was named a finalist for the Sophie Kerr Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Furrow Magazine and Electric Moon Magazine. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @abbylwargo.

Read Abby’s SCE below:

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