Jean Rhys – mad, bad and creative

A haunted life of fear, betrayal, louche behaviour, imagined victimhood, callous insensitivity and heavy drinking was the backdrop to Jean Rhys’s highly acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea – a transplanted rendition of Bronte’s ‘mad wife in the attic’ in Jane Eyre. Although started 30 years earlier, it was only published in her 70s when she was living in a Devon shack in poor health.

  Her astrology gives a clue as to why this character struck a chord with her. She was born in Dominica on 24 August 1890, no birth time sadly, when there was a horrifically difficult Neptune Pluto in Gemini opposition Mars (Moon) in Sagittarius square Saturn and Sun in Virgo. Cruelty, acute frustration, ill-treatment, low self-esteem as well as unyielding determination and a hunger for attention/publicity drove her on. Her revved-up, indulgent Venus in Libra was conjunct Uranus, trine Pluto and sextile Mars.

  As a child on the Caribbean island she was terrified by her nursemaid regaling her with stories of red-eyed women creeping into children’s bedrooms at night to suck their blood. Her mother whipped her until she was 12 telling her she was ugly and her father’s male friends were abusive. Sent to London in her late teens she dreamt of becoming a great actress but ended up as a chorus girl with a litany of rich gentlemen supporters.  She married three times, firstly to a Belgian spy, embezzler, bigamist and jailbird; then No 2, a literary agent, gave her a home and did the chores while she wrote novels as well as drinking heavily and physically assaulting him. No 3 wound up in prison for attempted fraud. Along the way she had an abortion, abandoned two children in clinics and had multiple affairs. She died at 89 after a car-crash of a life.

  A biographer remarked “her belief in her own victimhood was largely a myth. There were always Samaritans who helped her -. She repaid kindness with abuse and distrust because her faith in people had been poisoned. But the paranoid sensitivity and sharp eye for insults that destroyed her as a person also made her a writer.”

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Friedrich Nietzsche

15 thoughts on “Jean Rhys – mad, bad and creative

  1. Correction on the Jean Rhys chart….no daylight savings time and the birth time is
    12:50:42 pm….the original chart stays the same.

  2. I was always led to believe that Jane Eyre was a slave narrative. Indeed Rochester mentions ‘governess slavery’ to Jane.

    Charlotte Bronte would have been very aware of runaway American slaves such as Moses Roper (fled to England 1835) and Frederick Douglass (arrived England 1845). The former definitely addressed audiences in Congregational Churches at Gomersal and Skipton, two towns close to Haworth, and Mary Taylor, Charlotte’s close friend, was born at Gomersal. Some authors have even gone so far as to suggest that ‘Jane Eyre’ can be read as a revision of the Douglass narrative – with the white English governess uncannily paralleling the emancipatory quest of the American fugitive.

    The role of Bertha Mason becomes even more interesting in this scenario. As a wealthy white Creole, she would have owned slaves but would also have been owned by her husband. She wasn’t totally mad – she didn’t hurt Jane but only attacked the men in her life, her controlling husband and brother.

    And the moral? The owner is as much damaged as the owned – both are in need of redemption.

  3. How interesting to see this chart – I’d noticed the publication of the new biography. Her childhood sounds horrendous though – “Neptune Pluto in Gemini opposition Mars (Moon) in Sagittarius square Saturn and Sun in Virgo. Cruelty, acute frustration, ill-treatment, low self-esteem…” as you say. And the Nodes in Gemini, so communication and writing are so appropriate.

    I think the character of wealthy ‘red eyed’ white Creole Bertha in ‘Jane Eyre’ does seem to symbolise the rage and confusion of Neptune/Pluto opposite Mars (Moon), and the restrictions of her life (Saturn) in the attic in the novel. And the fiery Mars, setting fire to the house. No wonder Jean Rhys, daughter of a white Creole herself, identified with her and gave her a back story. Charlotte Bronte (21 April 1816) had a Gemini Mars opposition Neptune in Sagittarius, square Pluto in Pisces. The Moon’s Nodes are 17 Gemini.

    Of interest is that Man Ray, photographer, artist, surrealist and incredibly complex character was born just three days later on 27 August 1890. The strange, obsessive horror writer H.P.Lovecraft was born 20th August 1890, And detective novel queen Agatha Christie, although 15th September, 1890, also has that Neptune conjunct Pluto in Gemini square Saturn, with the Sagittarian Mars they all share conjunct the Moon’s South Node.

    • Jane, Thx. I’d forgotten to look at Charlotte Bronte – makes sense. Mars Pluto Neptune is a truly ‘mad’ combination.
      Another of the later Neptune Pluto in Gemini conjunction was Nancy Cunard, 1896 – ‘nymphomaniac, fearless campaigner, alcoholic’ and physically violent with her multiple lovers. She had Neptune Pluto trine Mars (Moon) in Aquarius and trine Neptune – wild and wayout. Plus of course the megalomaniac madmen of Hitler, Mao etc.

      • Thanks Marjorie – it’s fascinating to realise how many of these individuals went on to shape and impact on culture and politics of their times, and on into ours. Neptune/Pluto in Gemini does feel quite unhinged, if potentially wildly creative.

        I did, of course, have to check another Bronte astro chord – Daphne du Maurier, whose gothic novel ‘Rebecca’ has many elements of Jane Eyre too. 13th May, 1907 – and from a very complicated, eccentric and bohemian family. Certainly dark shadows in their family history…Anyway – her Mars in Capricorn is conjunct Uranus, opposing Neptune conjunct Jupiter in Cancer. Venus in Aries makes a t-square. There’s a mutable Saturn square Pluto, still in Gemini (22), that connects directly with Bronte’s Neptune square Pluto, and Rhys’ writer’s Virgo Mercury.

        Synastry with/between historical figures might seem a bit mad (!), but I’ve noticed how it does seem to resonate in odd ways. The chart never dies, as they say.

        • It’s a moot point whether literature shapes and impacts on the culture and politics of their times or whether it reflects the culture and politics, holds a mirror up to them.

          This was of course the era of the suffragettes and the fight for the emancipation of women: thus the submissive wife or the ensnaring wife (Rebecca means ensnare or bind). These themes, as you imply, predominate in both Jane Eyre and Rebecca

    • Most interesting Jane. The 19th century gothic novel does seem to reflect society’s fears around women’s ‘wildness’/madness/uncontrollability and the motif of the contained/constrained/imprisoned woman. You see this throughout the century; ‘The Woman in White’ is another example and Wilkie Collins has a Libra Mars opposing an 8th house Moon/Pluto in Aries squaring onto Neptune/Uranus in Capricorn.

      ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman was published in January 1892 under the same NeptunePluto conjunction in Gemini that you see in Jean Rhys’ natal chart, while Mars was in Scorpio and the Sun in Capricorn. Again, it tells the story of a woman suffering from post natal psychosis, confined to one room by her controlling husband while she disintegrates into insanity.

      Edgar Allen Poe whose themes include erotic obsession, premature death of women, burial of women, madness and premature burial has Moon/Pluto in Pisces square Saturn/Neptune in Sagittarius and Mars in the 12th house.

      When ‘Jane Eyre’ was published on October 16th 1847, there was a sextile between Neptune and Pluto with Neptune at 27 of Aquarius and Pluto at 26 of Aries. Jean Rhys’s Mercury at 26 Virgo creates the focal point of a Yod formation in this particular synastry. There’s a fated feel here. Rhys’ Virgoan Mercury also opposes Brönte’s Pluto in Pisces. In October 1966 when TWSS was published, Saturn in Pisces was opposing Rhys’s Mercury in Virgo as well as conjuncting Charlotte Brönte’s Piscean Pluto.

      I loved ‘Jane Eyre’ as a teen and adult, rereading throughout young adulthood and found Wide Sargasso Sea’s bleakness difficult, but it’s an interesting challenge to Charlotte Brönte’s Rochester, after all through the lens of modern times it’s easy to spot various ‘red flags’ around the behaviour of this Byronic hero who must repent in order to be redeemed.

      Charlotte Brönte herself was not a stranger to obsessive limerance — she wrote to a friend: “If you knew my thoughts; the dreams that absorb me; and the fiery imagination that at times eats me up … you would pity and I daresay despise me.” There’s that Mars opposition Neptune in Sagittarius square Pluto in Pisces right there!

      • So interesting VF, thank you. Our posts ‘crossed’ somehow in the ether – I’d been thinking about Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and saw your thoughts after I’d sent it. I’ve read all these books too, and found The Yellow Wallpaper almost unbearable.

        Very interesting about Wilkie Collins too, with his opium addiction and running two households and relationships simultaneously. Pluto, Mars, Neptune, Uranus….it’s the weight of those outer planets with a personal planet that creates the ‘chaos and dancing stars’ Marjorie quotes.

        The gothic themes of the 19th century are endless aren’t they? Houses of Parliament and St Pancras Station spring to mind! Gothic or sinister women proliferate in paintings too, the ‘femme fatale’ as a kind of vampire seems to be a Neptune/Pluto figure. There are connections with syphilis, a very widespread disease for centuries but somehow in the foreground of public awareness at that time. Neptune/Pluto would be symbolic of that – spread by female sex workers (entirely to blame of course…) to their clients, who went on to infect their ‘respectable’ wives. Syphilis eventually causes madness too. Not to even mention all the opium, cannabis, arsenic etc that were legally available in a respectable Victorian shop near you!

        • ‘Brönte’ — apologies for my dyslexic eye, it must be annoying for readers.

          Yes Jane, that brings to mind Augustus Pugin who spent his last years obsessively attempting to prove the superiority of gothic over classical architecture — he did indeed die prematurely at the age of 40 from complications arising from Syphilis. He’s yet another of the Neptune in Sagittarius square Pluto in Pisces generation with his Sun conjunct Pluto and his Uranus in Scorpio focal point yod! Of course the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are constructed and completed during the Neptune in Pisces era.

          The gothic revival in the UK coincided with the pre-raphaelite movement in the UK, in fact the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in 1848, a year after Neptune entered Pisces and ‘Jane Eyre’ was published. It’s a movement which looks back to a supposed glorious, Athurian medieval past and very much romanticised — our own era of Neptune in Pisces has also given rise to the fantasy of a gilded past I would argue, with all the fanaticism and deceptive ‘beauty filter’ of Neptune in that sign — the middle ages were never this attractive in real life, but here they are presented to the viewer as a counterpoint to an era of increasing industrialisation and mechanisation as the working class urban population ache for a pastoral past which in reality was far from idyllic.

          It’s no coincidence that the Victorians invented nostalgia and as you say, the ideal feminine archetype of the Pre Raphaelites presages the image of the femme fatale and eventually the Symbolist Art movement of the late years of the century where the female figure begins to morph into something more untamed, vampitic and sinister.

          • No eye more dyslexic than mine – no need to apologise! In the way of all things synchronous, this year’s (ghastly) Met Gala in New York had as its theme ‘Gilded Glamour’. Inspired by New York’s so-called ‘Gilded Age’ in the late 19th century – Astors and Vanderbilts etc. I love a bit of real glamour, even if glamour also means enchantment or some kind of spell, so isn’t real at all. Yet this event seems far from anything magical or entrancing, and more like the last, doomed days of Versailles. But probably not as much fun.

          • Haha Jane! For me, the Met gala this year brought to mind Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’.

          • I think you’ve hit on an excellent theme for next year’s Gala! Or is the Masque of the Red Death an avatar of Neptune in Aries? Fantastically camp movie too.

  4. How interesting, thanks Marjorie. This and the post on the Judd family. Sometimes when I look at someone’s chart it feels it feels almost like an intrusion because it can reveal so much about the energy they are working with, like turning something inside out to see how it is made.

  5. Gosh Marjorie. There is always so much to unpack in your blogs.

    I am particularly intrigued by your linkage of Jane Eyre and Nietzsche: “man [or woman] is a rope stretched between the animal and the superman – a rope over an abyss; a dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting; what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal; what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING”.

    Whereas Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) represents the over-going, Brenda Mason/the mad wife (Jean Rhys) represents the down-going. The creative life is the bridge which spans the two extremes.

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