- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classic; 5th or later Edition edition (March 28 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141182857
- ISBN-13: 978-0141182858
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.1 x 19.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 141 g
- Average Customer Review: 65 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #589,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Wide Sargasso Sea Paperback – Mar 28 2000
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About the Author
Jean Rhys was born in Dominica in 1894. Coming to England aged 16, she drifted into various jobs before starting to write in Paris in the late '20s. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie was written in 1930. Her early novels, often portraying women as underdogs out to exploit their sexualities, were ahead of their time and only modestly successful. From 1939 onwards she lived reclusively, and was largely forgotten when she made a sensational comeback with Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966. She died in 1979.
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It *is* a bit joggy, in its plot-line, and in terms of its treatment of time, but I'm very glad I read it. If you've ever wondered how the madwoman in Jane Eyre got there, and got that way, well, this is one very valid possibility.
Not at all flattering of Mr. Rochester, although it provides a fair back-story for how he got that way.
There has been a lot of literary criticism that places this book in opposition to Jane Eyre. I see them as complimentary. The story of Bertha Mason's decline draws many parallels to Jane's own developmental years, and there is a hint that Bertha could have been like Jane, and vice-versa.
The novella stands strongly on its own, however. Beautifully written, it certainly provides food for thought.
I actually first heard of this book a few years ago, when I rented a movie by the same name. I watched that movie and, despite a few minute clues, did not until the very end recognize it as being prequel to one of my all-time most beloved novels: Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE. This story chronicles the untold tale in Bronte's novel - the history and mystery behind Mr. Rochester's secret in the attic unveiled, the madwoman in the attic endowed with a soul. "Bertha" Antoinette Cosway-Mason is a Creole heiress living in Jamaica and Dominica in the 1830's whose isolated and tragic upbringing is augmented by the cultural chaos of that place and that time. Shunned by both the English and white population and the recently freed slaves, then further burdened by her manipulative relatives and insane mother, Antoinette's childhood and early adulthood was as intensely oppressive as was the beauty of her surroundings. The first chapters of this novel are told in her voice - and what a marvelous voice it is - such richness, such poetry - "Great splashes of sunlight as we ran up the wooden steps of the refectory. Hot coffee and rolls and melting butter. But after the meal, now and at the hour of our death, and at midday and at six in the evening, now and at the hour of our death. Let perpetual light shine on them." The tempo simply flows right through you; it is beautiful.
Rhys's lyrical prose is beyond doubt a manner of genius; and I do believe this book is worthy of a classic. It really could have been brilliant, but it is riddled with flaws. First of all, the language is so exquisitely overflowing that it's almost a distraction. Yet within the context of the first section of the story - Antoinette's voice, encompassing her life before her marriage - I suppose may be overlooked and given up to the whims of the narrator.
The second section, however, is from Mr. Rochester's point of view - from his first acquaintance with his bride and to their home in the West Indies, nearly through the balance of their time together on the islands. Rochester, who at the time is a very young English gentleman: a second son raised within the stringent confines of British landed gentry - arrives in a place totally alien to anything he has ever known, completely wide-eyed and ignorant of everything, from the temperamental weather patterns to the quirks of the denizens of that place. Yet Rhys gives him a lush, worldly and poetic voice, not at all unlike that of Antoinette's. In fact, when the narration switches briefly back to her, it's only distinguishable by studying closely the sway of the narration and pronoun use. Antoinette, incidentally, never refers to Rochester by name at any time during the entire book. Truly, though the author had essentially free reign with the character of "Bertha," as that entity was only faintly drawn out in JANE EYRE, she was considerably restricted when it came to Rochester. In drawing him out, Rhys has failed on two counts: the first in that his language sounds too embedded within the lyrical rhythms of the alien landscape he supposedly fears and does not understand, to ever ring true for a young man of his circumstances; the second in that, notwithstanding the anger and bitterness felt toward his father and elder brother, Mr. Rochester's actions in this story do not in any way ring true to the man as Bronte wrote him. He's barely recognizable.
The third, and final, portion of the story reverts back to Antoinette's point of view - this time from the garret room of Thornfield Hall. Though the writing here remains quite pretty, the narration completely loses its coherence. This loss may be construed as understandable - as the narrator would by now be quite mad - but it just doesn't strike true. The language is inconsistent - smooth and flowing in places, choppy in others. The tragic consequences of a bitter young man's revenge and a damaged young woman's confusion gets entirely lost here in the author's imposingly scattered prose.
I am sure that, judged in its own right, this novel can quite easily be classified as a work of art. But loving JANE EYRE as I do, I am sorely unqualified to make the distinction. Yet I cannot deny that I was mesmerized by the overwhelmingly lush impact of the writing in WIDE SARGASSO SEA. Sick with a lingering fever and lamenting his fate, the young bridegroom makes the trudging maiden journey with his new bride to their honeymoon house in an island place called Massacre ~ "Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near. And the woman is a stranger."
Ah, yes indeed ~
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