am 10. Juni 2005
Wide Sargasso Sea is a response to the well-known classic text Jane Eyre from the point of view of the most marginalized character, Bertha Mason. In Jane Eyre, the first Mrs Rochester is imprisoned in the attic because she is mad, the only additional information we get about her is that she came from Jamaica, one of Britain's colonies. Herself born in Dominica, in the West Indies, Jean Rhys was annoyed to find that Charlotte Bronte had made a West Indian white Creole like herself into a lunatic, and thus set out to rewrite the story from a different point of view.
Beside the main text, this edition provides an Introduction, a Chronology, Language Notes and Activities, Further Activities and Study Questions, Setting and Background Notes, Character Notes, a Text Summary, Critical Responses, and Suggestions for Further Reading.
am 9. Januar 2000
'Jane Eyre' was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager and if I had read 'Wide Sargasso Sea' right after reading 'Jane Eyre', I would have hated it for deconstructing the heroic image of Mr. Rochester. I'm glad I discovered WSS much later. It's an intriguing, fascinating study of Mr. Rochester and his first wife, Antoinette Mason, the prototype of the 'mad wife in the attic' who played a minor but vital part in 'Jane Eyre'. Antoinette's mother descends into madness following the loss of the family estate to a slave rebellion. To shore up the family fortune and save her from becoming an old maid, and thus a burden, she is married off to Mr. Rochester, newly arrived from England, who knows nothing about her mother's insanity. WSS shows us the other side of Mr. Rochester that Jane Eyre couldn't or wouldn't see: his coldness, his selfishness, and his opportunism. We can understand how, as he did in 'Jane Eyre', such a man would lie to an innocent young woman about his marital status and nearly trap her into unwittingly participating in a sham marriage. Rochester is attracted to Antoinette at first; he is dazzled by her beauty as well as her money and eager to marry her. Once the honeymoon phase is over, he is unable to adjust to his surroundings. Jamaica is antipathetic to everything he grew up with, it's wild, untamed, a study in extremes, anathema to a tidy, organized, narrow-minded European, and Rochester is the typical insular-minded Englishman who despises what he is unable to understand. Antoinette is totally a product of her surroundings and completely at home where she is, and as Rochester feels alienated from Jamaica, so he feels alientated from his wife, and the discovery of her mother's insanity is justification enough for his deepening antipathy for her. He can't accept who or what she is; he can't even accept her name, he insists on calling her 'Bertha', never mind that it's a name she hates, it's what he wants, so it's who she will be. In 'Jane Eyre', Rochester blames his wife's alcoholism for the failure of the marriage; in WSS, it's his brutally cold and insensitive treatment of her that finally drives her to drink. When he takes her away from Jamaica and everything she knows and loves, she retreats into a madness even deeper than her mother's; she can't live in his world, any more than he can live in hers. In 'Jane Eyre' Rochester is the romantic hero and in WSS he is a monster of selfishness; when both are put together, the real complexity of the character finally emerges.
Once you've read this novel, Charlotte Bronte's perennial classic will never appear in the same light to you as before. Jean Rhys takes the marginalized and demonized first Mrs. Rochester and turns her into a full-fledged, complex character who earns the reader's sympathy. Victorian racism, imperialism and morality are exposed for what they are, and yet this is done so subtly that it does not feel "over the top". In short: "Wide Sargasso Sea" is a superb companion piece to "Jane Eyre" that allows us to view its predecessor in a whole new light.
am 9. März 1997
This book is a real gem, which can be analized on many levels. This is not simply a passionate love story. It is a wonderful description of the Caribbean plantation society of the late 1800's, and an excellent account of the relationship that existed at that time between the new class of Caribbean Creoles and the members of the metropolitan European society. The author brilliantly uses the unequal relationship between a man and a woman to symbolize the historic colonial relationship. In addition, the novel is an important contribution to Caribbean literature in the sense that it was able to take the European classic Jean Eyre and bring it into the Caribbean context. A wonderful book for anyone studying Latin America or the Caribbean
am 11. Juli 2000
This book is a must read for fans of Bronte's JANE EYRE. Jean Rhys depicts the life of Berthe, the madwoman in Bronte's novel. The author shows it from the perspective of both Berthe (a.k.a. Antoinette) and Rochester. By the end of the novel it is understandable why Berthe became the madwoman in the attic. Rhys takes the reader through the tortured life of Berthe as a young girl into womanhood and her eventual marriage to Rochester. Clearly, there was not much hope for Berthe within her environment. Furthermore, Rochester gives up on his new wife too easily, forcing her to retreat further and further into herself. He falls quite short of being the loving husband. This book causes the reader to see both Berthe and Rochester in entirely different lights. When reading JANE EYRE, Berthe seems the nasty culprit. However, after reading WIDE SARGASSO SEA, the opinion you originally had may change drastically. All in all a wonderful read. It answers all the questions you may have asked yourself when reading JANE EYRE.
am 5. Juni 2000
Antoinette Cosway is a beautiful, exoctic creole. She catches the eye of an Englishman, and their passion for each other is powerful. They need each other for financial reasons as well. She must have a husband to claim her wealth, while he, as the second son, cannot claim his family fortune at all. The erotic feelings that the couple expresses for each other is only fleeting. Antoinette becomes "too much" for the 19th century English gentleman, who has been raised in a society that with holds passion.Eventually, quickly, he becomes disgusted with his young wife's need for exhuberant, physical attention. Anntoinette becomes desperate to experience the passion that her young husband had initially, openly and happily lavished on her. Once an errupting volcano, their relationship becomes implosive. The young man, who becomes intolerant of Anoinette, desperately avoids her. She becomes hysterical because as his wife, she has no control of anything in her life: love, ,sexual attention, money, or home. The English husband learns of an opportunity to return to England, and since Antoinette is his wife, he plans to take her with him. But she would never fit in the oppressive English landscape, so he has her declared insane, and takes her home to Thornfield, realizing he will never marry again as long as she lives. She is locked in a remote wing of his gothic mansion on the moors of England, and is lost to the world until she re-emerges as Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Beautifully written, Wide Sargasso Sea, was Jean Rhys's answer to a question many Jane Eyre readers have had. Who was the mad woman? Some of the questions I had also were answered. Who else would Mr. Rochester want but a young, pure thing who would adore him and revere him. Jane asked only for his spoken word never any passion. Jane was accustomed to dishonest and confusing relationships while she lived at the orphanage and her aunt's home as a child. When she arrived at Thornfield, Mr. Rochester was exactly what she would fall for: a man who possibly could rescue her, but who also would be dishonest and confusing. Jane Eyre is great literature as is Wide Sargasso Sea, but neither story has characters who are capable of good relationships. The film version is equally well done.
am 24. Januar 1999
Jean Rhys may be one of the greatest underrated writers of the century. Wide Sargasso Sea is her masterpiece. In a short 140 pages, Rhys creates a multi-layered story that deserves a few re-readings in order to fully appreciate it's scope.
It's not "anti"-Jane Eyre, it is an exploration of that theme Bronte created but never examined- the madwoman in the attic. Rochester is not "evil"- he is a confused, weak man who blindly follows the values of his society (money, emotional repression), and is in fact portrayed to be a victim of them. That is what makes this story a tragedy; the oppressors are not hellions, they are simply ignorant and arrogant.
There are so many themes in this book it is impossible to touch upon them all; men & women, slaves & slave-owners, rich & poor, industrial & rural, the known & the unknown, the conqueror & the colony.
The first part is narrated by Antoinette Cosway, her memories of growing up in post-Emancipation Jamaica. It is written as though we have direct access to her thoughts, or she telling us her memories verbaly. The prose is rythmic, not static. The second section is mostly narrated by Rochester, his voice is a little more restrained, he is prissy and frustrated and confused as he describes their marriage and life in the Islands. Sometimes Anointette (whom Rochester has re-named Bertha) breaks his narrative and we are shown her own growing frustration and desperation. The last section brings the story to England- a few paragraphs are given to Grace Poole, then it is Antointette's now "mad" voice as she is locked in the attic.
Reading Jane Eyre is obviously good preparation for this book, but if one knows the basic plot (say, have seen a movie version) that is good enough to appreciated WSS. Afterall, it is really the plot points and characters, as well as some imagery, that this "prequeal" picks up; it's themes stand on their own, as does Rhys's magnificant prose.
am 23. August 1998
Jean Rhys captures the feeling of what living in the West Indies is like, the heat, the lushness of colors, the earthiness of the people, both black and white, the social strata surrounding the master/servant relationship as it occurs in the West Indies at the time the book is written, the mid 1800's, and contrasts this with England, portraying England as a cold, hard, cynical place, a place where Antoinette, the West Indian girl is as out of place as Edward, the English gentlemen who marries her for her money, is out of place is the West Indies. Antoinette is looking desperately to Edward to provide her all the love and acceptance she missed out on in her childhood, and although denied this love, Antoinettes understanding of it is in the West Indian way, emotionally, colorful, passionate, even vulgar, but always full of life. Edward is from England his understanding of life and love is English, cold, analytical, proper and reserved. Even without Antoinettes history of emotional/mental illness, the two cultures and two people are so different it is only a short time before they collide, initially to Antoinettes misfortune, but ultimately in a final irony, to Edwards. Very interesting book, contrasting the way the atmosphere of the West Indies, and later on of England influence and explain the inner workings of the characters minds. Antoinette and Edward are not really ever portrayed as either simply mad/crazy in the former case or cold/evil in the later, but as two people with no understanding of the other and no potential for any communication whatsoever, each locked in his or her own world. Ultimately this leads to the destruction of Antoinette, and the revenge this leads her to. Very insightful book, using the characters own words to describe the actions.
am 1. Juni 2000
The book is undoubtedly not for everyman. It may leave you confused and dazed by the disjointed narrative structure, incomplete dialogues and overpowering images and emotions that seemingly arise out of nowhere and for no reason.
For many readers, a pre-requisite to enjoyment may be an acquaintance with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. My own view is that this is not entirely necessary but helpful to contextualise the novel. Rhys was fascinated with the mysterious madwoman, the first wife of Rochester, perhaps identifying with her to a degree. However, the fascination in exploring this figure lies not simply in the character's exotic background, misunderstood and exploited as she might be, but the pivotal role she plays in creating a moment of moral ambiguity and crisis within Jane Eyre, the character and the novel.
Wide Sargasso Sea itself is a mire of ambiguities and uncertainties, lurching from one crisis to another. It is interesting to note that the title refers to an area in the Caribbean famous for being treacherous. But what makes it rewarding for the reader is the unadulterated subjectivity of the narration, which is finely structured and layered to both highlight the complexities of issues involved such as (post)colonialism, gender politics and subject identification, as well as to immerse the reader in the disparate/desperate and irreconcilable angles of perception that works itself into a seamlessly hallucinatory reality.
If all of the above sounds like a dream, this is the book for you. Otherwise, it is one to stay well clear of. It may also help to dip into her other books which run along similar themes but are not so 'lush'.
am 18. November 2007
In "Wide Sargasso Sea", Jean Rhys offers the reader another side to "Jane Eyre". The story of Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester, "Wide Sargasso Sea" is a damning history of colonialism in the Caribbean.
The story is set just after the emancipation of the slaves, in that difficult time when racial relations in the Caribbean were at their most tense. Antoinette is descended from plantation owners. She can be accepted neither by the black community nor by the representatives of the colonial centre. As a white Creole she is nothing. The taint of racial impurity, coupled with the suspicion that she is mentally imbalanced bring about her downfall.
Rhys divides the speaking voice between Rochester, who is never named in the novel and Antoinette. Rochester is portrayed a proud younger brother betrayed by his family into a loveless marriage. His double standards are exposed when he chooses to sleep with the maid, Amélie, so displaying the promiscuous behaviour and attraction to the black community which he accuses Antoinette of harbouring. Their happiness at Granbois is ended by his willingness to believe the worst of Antoinette.
The lack of understanding between two cultures is at the root of Antoinette's subsequent madness. Madness for Antoinette mostly derives from the uneasy feeling of being unable to tell the difference between dream and reality, when reality eventually becomes dream-like.
The book is read by Anna Bentinck for ISIS Publishing. An impressive performance given the wide range of accents used by the reader.