This is yet another novel that I’ve read for university. However, I’ve meant to read it for a few years now, so a review shall ensue! Written by Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Bertha Mason, the ‘madwoman in the attic’ from Jane Eyre. It tackles the colonialism that underlies the entire Jane Eyre story, as well as the experiences of Bertha (actual name: Antoinette), a mixed-race woman from the West Indies.
I’m sure that I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – I really, REALLY can’t stand Jane Eyre. So to find a book that exposes the imperialism and white feminism underneath Bronte? That’s like a dream come true to me. I’d actually be interested in re-reading Jane Eyre just to see what alternate meanings and ‘others’ have been exposed by Rhys’ work. (And I do not say that lightly. I try not to hate books, but if I did, I would hate Jane Eyre.)
Like all Jean Rhys, this book is slippery. She makes you work for meaning. (And even then, there are some passages that utterly escape me. I love that.) Is Antoinette truly mad? What drives her ‘mad’? Rochester? Her position in life, as a mixed-race woman in Jamaica? (The difference between what is expected of her as a ‘black’ woman and as a ‘white’ woman, and as a woman in general?) It questions marriage and sexuality and what the aftermath of slavery has done to entire generations.
If you like the classics, give this a go. If you’re interested in feminism, and especially its relationship with race, give this a go. If you’ve got a pulse, give this a go.
(And then read Voyage in the Dark, because that too is utterly brilliant.)