Review: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Rhys, Jean
Length: 156 pages
Publisher / Year: Penguin Classics / 2000, first published in 1966
Why I Read It: Our May read for Year of Feminist Classics.
Date Read: 21/05/12
In this book Rhys takes us on the imagined journey of Rochester (from Jane Eyre) and his first wife, who shows up in Bronte’s classic as the mad woman in the attic. Here we get the full story of Antoinette Cosway, the beautiful Creole woman on the lush Caribbean island, her family troubles and her eventual marriage – and its disintegration. The novel truly discusses a lot of important issues, including class, race, language, mental illness, and the ways in which women have been controlled through history.
Through the examination of wealth, especially after the abolishment of slavery and the loss of livelihood for many of the families, Rhys tackles the intersection of race and class and how the poorer Creoles could be maligned by all, though still rely on the labour of the black population to keep them alive. The gulf between the Creoles and the English gentry from England indeed seems wide, by times, and I think she really did a great job of bringing all these distinctions to light.
Through both Antoinette’s mother and Antoinette herself, we see the ways in which women have had to rely on themselves through history, and how this can either lead to mental instability or simply be termed as that by others wishing to exert control. Rochester truly does try to control and break her, and as we know from Jane Eyre, he succeeds.
A fantastic read that I would recommend to any who are interested in feminism and women’s rights, in classics and Jane Eyre, or just in a great story.