Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jane Eyre spoilers)

Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780393310481
Pages: 174
Year Published: 1966
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Reason for Reading: sort of a prequel to Jane Eyre

From the back of the book:

Jean Rhys’s reputation was made upon publication of this passionate and heartbreaking novel, in which she brings to light one of fiction’s most mysterious characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

A sensual and protected young woman, Antoinette Cosway grows up in the lush, natural world of the Caribbean. She is sold into marriage to the coldhearted and prideful Rochester, who succumbs to his need for money and his lust. Yet he will make her pay for her ancestors’ sins of slaveholding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak British home.

In this bestselling paperback of a novel called a “tour de force by any standard” by the New York Times, Rhys portrays a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed most of the story, but, at the same time, I didn’t enjoy it. If I could forget the summary of the book on the back of the book, I think I would have enjoyed it more. But, as far as I’m concerned, the summary was misleading and didn’t fit with the actual story. I have never read anything by Rhys, and I apologize for anyone who likes her writing, but I did not like much of the writing style either. However, it was an interesting look into the story of Rochester’s “crazy wife” from Jane Eyre.

As mentioned, I thought the summary was misleading. While reading this book, at no point did I find Antoinette a “sensual young woman”. Maybe this was meant to come out when reading between the lines, but at no point did I see this character. I was also thoroughly unpleased with the portrayal of the Caribbean. I recently read Island Beneath the Sea and this novel painted the Caribbean in such an exotic way that perhaps the view Rhys brought out just seemed…bad. Rhys’ Caribbean was all dilapidated, caused by the emancipation of the slaves. It sort of seems like it was the Caribbean from a stuffy, English viewpoint. Rochester did not seem that “coldhearted and prideful” in this novel; he seemed more of this in the actual Jane Eyre. Also, Rochester, at no point, seemed lustful towards Antoinette.

I have to admit, this is one of the things I was disappointed in not reading. The summary uses words such as “sensual” and “lustful” and the cover, which is not the cover pictured above, was from the movie. I also saw NC-17 on the back–the rating for the movie. All of these things made me a little ready some romance in the novel and there was zilch! I mean, I don’t read romance novels, but I don’t mind a little romantic action in a book.

Cover: Alright, the cover on the left is the cover I actually have. The cover on the right is the same cover as above, which I like the best.

The cover my edition came with greatly disappoints me. It is like the problems I have with the summary: it makes the book appear to have more romance in the story than exists. While my favorite cover is a better portrayal on what is in the novel–the English manor on fire in the background, the young girl who looks like a doll (Rochester kept calling Antoinette “marionette”, which they said means doll in French).

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I do have a question for those of you who have read Jane Eyre: Do you think Rochester’s wife was crazy before he stuck her in the attic? Or is it possible that his secluding her away at the first sight of possible craziness made her insane?

I always sort of thought that her being stuck away in the attic of a house could have made her even more insane. And one of the characters, Christophine, in Wide Sargasso Sea sort of agrees with me on this. “They drive her [Antoinette’s mother] to it. When she lose her son she lose herself for a while and they shut her away. They tell her she is mad, they act like she is mad. Question, question. But no kind word, no friends, and her husban’ he go off, he leave her. They won’t let me see her. I try, but no. They let Antoinette see her. In the end–mad I don’t know–she give up, she care for nothing.  That man who is in charge of her he take her whenever he want and his woman talk.” While this is technically about Antoinette’s mother, I think it can sort of apply to her as well, as the is being treated like she is mad by Rochester because he has heard rumors that she is crazy. She’s only falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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One thought on “Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jane Eyre spoilers)

  1. Stephanie says:

    I think this was a tough book to read. On the cover she looks like a little girl. I don’t think I will be tempted to read it anytime soon!

    Stopped on the hop. Come by whenever! Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust
    steph@fangswandsandfairydust.com

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