Katie from Portsmouth has been busy reading Wide Saragossa Sea in between stints volunteering at Portsmouth Library. Here's her review of Jean Rhys' classic "post-colonial" novel.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and follows the descent of Antoinette, or 'Bertha', into madness. The novel is set in Jamaica following the abolition of slavery and Antoinette relates the difficulties of her childhood such as the racial tensions between her white family and the native Jamaicans and her mother's mental illness. She comes to have an arranged marriage with an Englishman (it is implied that this is Mr Rochester) and they spend their honeymoon in Granbois, Dominica. To his horror, Antoinette's new husband receives a letter from Antoinette's relatives detailing his new wife's family history of mental illness amongst other disturbing rumours. He gradually becomes more and more distanced from his wife, who is desperate for his affection and becomes paranoid and distraught. It soon becomes clear that Antoinette is trapped within a male-dominated society and that this, and her husband's indifference, is starting to take its toll on her sanity...
Wide Sargasso Sea is a must-read for all Jane Eyre fans as we are given a fascinating insight into the infamous 'Madwoman in the Attic' in a way that makes us sympathize with her, which is very different to her rather frightening depiction in Bronte's novel. It is written mainly from Antoinette's point of view; therefore we are given valuable access to her innermost thoughts and feelings, which helps the reader to empathize with her more. It is also interesting as a modern reader to see how women were oppressed by men in the 19th century and indeed this novel is a brilliant example of sexual inequality, particularly as Antoinette is given the name 'Bertha' by her husband, a symbol of how women lost their own identities within marriages and became their husbands' property. The novel also provides an insight into post-colonial Jamaica and the difficulties that white people faced following the end of slavery, which makes for reading that is eye-opening but uncomfortable at times. Whether you have read Jane Eyre or not, 'Wide Sargasso Sea' is a thought-provoking read which will linger in your mind.
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