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Submitted Literature

The Ha-Ha

By Jennifer Dawson


Josephine, the main character, is at Oxford when her public mask of sanity slips and her private madness comes to the surface.  The novel includes detailed experiential narration of visual hallucinations, delusions and anxiety symptoms.  Written through first person perspective, the reader is given the opportunity to get inside of Josephine's madness. Josephine, while hospitalized, meets a fellow patient in her private hideout – nicknamed the “Ha-Ha” – and discovers first love and burgeoning sexuality.  Through this element of the novel, notions of gender expectations placed on women of a certain social class in the ’60s are examined.

Key Themes:

  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads
  • Societal Pressure

Significant Quotes / Pages

11 - “There has always been that strange hiatus, that funny in-between gulf that other things took possession of when you were off your guard, and surprised you unawares: the purple buddleia with the butterfly clinging, the kangaroo, the groves of spotted bananas, and the egg-eating snake with the enamelled prong in his throat (for piercing the shell with).  They had always been there, these other things, and when the undergraduates spoke again or stood there waiting for me to affix the right reply, I was, if you see what I mean, a little flummoxed, a little behindhand; not quite up to the mark.  I had been tapped on the shoulder, so to speak; I seemed to be reduced to silence by the things the others got round so easily.

And then the laughter came.  For when they spoke again, those members of Oxford University with whom I consorted, I could only laugh.  Gale fumbling with the zip of her evening gloves; Prue pouting over her make-and-mend or struggling with the little portable wireless.  And outside were all these strange things, spotted or quilled or feathered.”

106 -   “He was still there sitting over his knees, searching for some more to say.  But he need not have bothered, for I was laughing.  I would sprawling over the carpet laughing. ‘You needn't look so anxious,’ I assured him. ‘I don't mind at all.’ I was asking myself why I should ever wanted, even for two hours on a Friday evening, to squeeze myself out of the real experiences that were mine, into a box that did not fit.  For as I sat there thinking of the party and the conversations I had listened to, and tried to take part in, in that strange, brittle atmosphere four flights up in the sky, it was they who became unreal, and what the textbooks could mean by schizophrenia was only that whereas most flies crawl along the ceiling in a well-behaved, decorous posture talking about the other sex, or income-tax allowances all the articles of faith that ought to be taught in prep-schools, some see how things really are on the ceiling, upside down, and get anxious and frightened, or want to laugh at the incongruity and oddness of that fantastic position. ‘I never was cured and I never shall be,’ I protested.”

Reference: Jennifer, Dawson. 1985. The Ha-Ha. London: Virago, 1985


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Friday 20th March 2009