Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME

Wide Sargasso Sea

It's no secret to most of you that I absolutely love Jane Eyre. I've read it three times and it changes every single time for me. I never get tired of it. I've known about Wide Sargasso Sea

for quite awhile too, and ever since I heard it was about Bertha's take on her insanity I was intrigued. Let's face it, Bertha Mason makes Jane Eyre what it is. She brings all the creepiness and discussion into the book. If you haven't read Jane Eyre (Why haven't you read Jane Eyre?) then Wide Sargasso Sea probably won't mean much to you, and this post won't mean much to you, but if you have then you are probably interested to know more about this book.

It is set in the Caribbean and there is a lot of racial tension surrounding Bertha, or as she is called in this book, Antoinette Conway. I won't tell you why she has two different names because it would ruin a little surprise that is tucked away in the 171 pages of Wide Sargasso Sea. Antoinette is essentially white and very beautiful, while most of the people surrounding her are black. The book spends a lot of time exploring the racial tensions Antoinette experiences and Rochester sees, and in that aspect of the book I was a little disappointed. I think I was hoping for more Jane Eyre, but Wide Sargasso Sea explores new issues that belong to it alone.

The story is told in alternating parts from Antoinette's perspective and Rochester's perspective. As we know from Jane Eyre, neither Rochester or Antoinette are too into marrying each other. They are driven by money and sex, and later Rochester finds out she is insane and that her mother was also insane. Wide Sargasso Sea explores this insanity, and shows how it might not have been Anoinette's fault. After all, Rochester is a cold man who really hates her, he is sexually forceful and then later sexually cold, and he attempts to drive her away from what is most natural to her. All interesting ideas that have really colored discussion of Jane Eyre since the book was published.

As a book it is well formed, the characters well developed, the themes covered. Rhys steals fire and mirrors from Jane Eyre, spreading the ideas throughout the book. I underlined several conversations, such as,

"Next time she spoke she said, 'The earth is red here, do you notice?'
'It's red in parts of England too.'
'Oh England, England,' she called back mockingly, and the sound went on and on like a warning I did not choose to hear." (65)

I underlined this because of the concentration on the color red, as in fire, and because I think it shows Rochester's attempt to fit everything into the way he sees life. As you can see, well-formed, complete ideas that relate back to Jane Eyre. I enjoyed these passages, but then at times I felt like I was reading a paper about Jane Eyre instead of a book. Basically, I enjoyed this book in an extremely formulaic way. Maybe if I read it before I studied Jane Eyre in school I would have enjoyed it more? I'm not sure. I would recommend it though as it is very short. I read this book as part of the November Novella Challenge.

I give Wide Sargasso Sea a B.

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Wide Sargasso Sea + TIME