Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

*This post may contain spoilers for those that have not read Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966. * 🙂

“Blot out the moon,

Pull down the stars.

Love in the dark, for we’re for the dark

So soon, so soon.”

“There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about.”

How true this is for Mr. Rochester and Antoinette: the death of who they each could have been being so much more haunting than the ultimate end of life.

I had no idea this little gem existed prior to hearing about it on various blogs. I have
to wonder what Charlotte Bronte would have thought of this extension of Jane Eyre, but I was impressed. I was swept into another world, another time, another place … rich with culture, Obeah, secrets, and emotion. Jean Rhys laid down some exquisite prose: haunting and sweltering: her words seemed to capture the thick, heavy, sweltering atmosphere of the Jamaican setting. Oppression, a major theme of the novel, is brought to life for the reader in the metaphor of oppressive humidity in her words.

Racial tensions play an interesting role in the novel. The white folks are the minority here and this “reverse discrimination” is what ultimately drives Antoinette’s mother
mad. Tragedy, fueled by this racial strife and hatred, takes her home, her son,
and her mind leaving her daughter Antoinette vulnerable to a marriage with a
man who is little more than a stranger, rather than the “colored” boy she loves. But,
despite the fact that Rochester and Antoinette are married for reasons that
have nothing to do with love, they seem to fall for each other anyway and are
initially happy together. Ironically, they are drowning in their passion for one
another as Daniel Cosway enters the story: a man I despise.

Daniel, who claims to be Antoinette’s half brother, takes it upon himself to write a letter to Rochester claiming that he has been duped into marrying a woman who is
hiding many secrets including the history of mental illness in her family. It
appears that Rochester becomes convinced that Antoinette is destined to be just
as crazy and immediately begins to push her away. It is as if in an instant,
Rochester’s world becomes colored by a shadow of negativity and all that he experienced before was just a beautiful dream. This one petty, vindictive action by Daniel puts in motion a chain of events that leads to the heartbreaking death of who both Rochester and Antoinette could have been and she becomes the lunatic in the
attic of Thornfield … Bertha … a zombie .. “a living person who is dead.”

“Very soon she’ll join all the others who know the secret and
will not tell it. Or cannot … they can be recognized. White faces, dazed eyes,
aimless gestures, high pitched laughter … they’ve got to be watched. For the
time comes when they try to kill, then disappear. But others are waiting to
take their places, it’s a long, long line … I too can wait – for the day when
she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a
legend. Or a lie.”

The question is this: Was mental illness hereditary for Antoinette, an unavoidable destiny? Or was her fate caused by specific circumstance? If not for this letter and what followed could Antoinette have led a normal, healthy, happy life or would another event down the road have still triggered the same type of breakdown? Could Rochester have saved her if only he could have tried?

A young Jean...

Favorite Quote: “His name was Disastrous because his Godmother thought it such a pretty word.” – Antoinette Cosway

Jean Rhys 1890-1979

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte…Final Thoughts…

*This post may contain spoilers for those who have not read the novel, although, from what I can tell, there does not seem to be many who have never read Jane Eyre. J

Oh Jane Eyre, (first published by Charlotte Bronte in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell) even now I am not sure that I completely understand what all the hype is about. The novel did become much more interesting after the first third. I liked the book. It was certainly better than I had expected it to be, but I am still not sure if I can list it as one of my absolute favorites. However, it goes without saying that Charlotte Bronte was a talented writer.

Some thoughts:
1.      Did anyone else have a hard time picturing Jane as just an 18-19 year old girl? She seemed to resonate in my head as more of a contemporary of Mr. Rochester’s generation and I had to keep reminding myself how young she really was.
2.      I really enjoyed the scene where Mr. Rochester posed as the fortune teller! I also liked how interested Jane seemed to be in “signs” and the meaning of dreams and such. For example: “When I was a little girl, only six years old, I one night heard Bessie Leaven say to Martha Abbott that she had been dreaming about a little child: and that to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to oneself or one’s kin.”
3.      It surprised me that Jane would travel back to see Mrs. Reed on her death bed. I am not sure that I would have been able to turn the other cheek and give the woman any satisfaction.
4.      Beautiful foreshadowing for what is about to happen to Jane and Rochester on their proposed wedding day: “It was not without a certain wild pleasure I ran before the wind, delivering my trouble of mind to the measureless air torrent thundering through space. Descending the laurel-walk, I faced the wreck of the chestnut-tree; it stood up, black and riven: the trunk, split down the centre, gasped ghastly. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed-the sap could flow no more: their great boughs on each side were dead … as yet, however, they might be said to form one tree-a ruin, but an entire ruin.”
5.      If you were Jane, what would you have done upon the discovery of Mrs. Rochester? Would you have escaped in the night to nothing and no one or would you have stayed with Mr. Rochester, your love, although marriage was no longer an option? “What is better?-To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion … fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern climate … to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester’s mistress … or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in the breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” I would have stayed with Rochester.
6.      Grace Poole…uh, how the heck did this woman retain her own sanity while being cloistered on the third floor providing care for a lunatic such as Mrs. Rochester? Wasn’t she scared out of her mind that she was going to end up dead herself? I don’t blame her for her propensity to drink gin in the evenings!
7.     Did I find any more similarities to Rebecca as I read on? Well, Grace Poole is odd, but she is definitely no Mrs. Danvers. There are many obvious plot differences and the more passionate love story of Jane and Rochester. Thornfield burns to the ground like Manderlay, but ultimately, Daphne du Maurier’s work felt much darker…it was much heavier on the “eerie” factor…much more suspenseful. Some of this was no doubt because Manderlay itself became a character, taking on a life of its own, while Thornfield remained just a setting and because Jane Eyre simply contained a much more hopeful tone than Rebecca.
8.      Did I find that Jane returned to her former feisty glory? Not exactly in the bold way that I had hoped for, but a certain fire laced with grace remained. Actually, I quite liked it.
Charlotte Bronte

Favorite Quotes:

“The waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.” – Jane Eyre
“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” – Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte…Initial Thoughts…

I have read about a third of Jane Eyre, the classic I never intended to read, and so far…so-so. The novel opens with Jane looking back on her life at age 10. Her parents are deceased and she has been living in the home of her Uncle Reed who, on his own death-bed, forced his wife to promise to continue to look after Jane. She is provided with material comforts, but is treated cruelly and starved for affection. She is reminded each and every day just how unwanted she is in the Reed’s world. Ultimately, she is shipped off to a school for orphans. At least here, Jane meets companions and receives an education; however, the girls are often literally starving and there is a typhus outbreak that results in the death of many students. Eventually, the conditions at Lowood are exposed and improved. Jane excels academically and at age 18, she joins the cast of characters at the home of Mr. Rochester as governess.

Initially, I fell in love with Jane’s feisty character (the scene where she stands up to Mrs. Reed!!!), but her time at Lowood appears to have dampened some of her original fire. Perhaps this is just a natural maturing. I became bored by much of the story in this first third. I was struck with a “blah” feeling that reminded me of Jane’s simple, “blah” appearance. Is this where the term “plain Jane” originated from? However, things seem to finally be picking up. Someone has tried to burn Mr. Rochester alive by setting his bed on fire and there is much mystery surrounding one Grace Poole. The mention of Poole brings me to one of the reasons why I decided to read this novel in the first place: I had heard that it held similarities to Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I found they both start rather slow, involve a mansion shrouded in mystery with an eerie portion of the home that isn’t used and include a whack job character on the house staff. Also, in both cases, the narrators are reflecting on their past. Will the similarities end here? Will Jane return to her former feisty glory? Ok, I am intrigued enough to read on…

Should I Read Jane Eyre?

I have a confession. I have never read Jane Eyre and I have never had any desire to. In fact, I purposely left this book off my classics project reading list. I have absolutely no idea why I have always felt this way. This afternoon, Jayson, Alexa and I went to see the movie Country Strong. One of the previews was for the new Jane Eyre movie coming out and it actually looked really good. Now, I am thinking that I should read the novel. What if I am missing out on something great for reasons that I can’t even explain? So, I ask you…should I read Jane Eyre?