Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wide Sargasso Sea

I've never heard of this book before. It showed up on the Classics list I am working my way through & I said "Huh?" Never heard of it.

"Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys is a 1966 prequel to Charlotte Bronte's 1847 work, "Jane Eyre." I find it odd, an author writing a prequel off another person's work. Granted, Ms. Bronte was not around to approve/disapprove, but I find it odd.

We're meeting Mr. Rochester's Bertha, before she became the insane Amazonian-like woman as she is portrayed in 'Jane Erye.' Here, her name is Antoinette (Bertha is her mother's name. ) She is alive, vital, strong yet also weak. She's more than the phantom in Bronte's attic.

She is a young girl raised in a Jamaica that has just abolished slavery. Her and her family are looked down upon. They are neither rich, nor black. They are "cockroaches, " worse than the natives, because once-upon-a-time, their family for generations, owned slaves

Antoinette's mother is shunned by the people around her. They are almost completely destitute until a Mr. Mason sweeps her mom off her feet and marries her, securing their wealth. Slowly though, her mother descends into madness, a family trait. Antoinette is married to a young English chap, Mr. Rochester, who's not told of the family history, just that Antoinette has a dowry provided by Mr. Mason.

While Ms. Bronte's work feels very English, Ms. Rhys' work immerses you in a West Indies feel. The heat, the steam, the noises, the smells, the sights, the attitudes, all Caribbean. There is lust, heat, secrets, shame and slowly, the descent into madness.

Told in both Antoinette and Mr. Rochester's voices, "Wide Sargasso Sea" is a haunting yet beautiful companion to "Jane Eyre."


Gramatrick said...

I said when you were writing about Wicked that you had to read Wide Sargasso Sea, which is the first to look at very familiar story characters from another viewpoint.

It's a classic work -- emphasizing how in so much of male-written literature women are not fully-formed characters, but are either the ingenue or the crazy woman in the attic.

I read it when I was 13 and it had a huge impact on me.


Kaaren said...

You did? Huh. That's me and my Swiss cheese brain, I tell ya.

You are so right. Funny thing is that the crazy woman in the attic was written by a woman.

Hendel D'bu said...

Excellent review, my friend :-)