A spirited and sensual young woman grows up on a plantation in Jamaica just after the British government has freed the slaves. Her father has died years before and she, her handicapped brother, and her mother must try to keep up appearances until her mother can find a new husband. A new marriage brings a few years of happiness, but sudden, unexpected violence drives the mother into a deep depression and ends up forcing the girl into an arranged marriage with an Englishman who wants her fortune. The Englishman is Rochester; the Mr. Rochester of 'Jane Eyre'. And the girl slowly becomes the 'mad woman in the attic' of Bronte's beloved classic.
Beautifully written, with an engaging heroine and an interesting story, this book suggests that the withdrawal of love and choice can lead to the destruction of a soul as surely as violence.
This is a prequel to _Jane Eyre_ by Charlotte Bronte. It imagines the life and character of Rochester's first wife, driven to madness. This book is very intense and sensual. I was not able to fully appreciate it until I read a reader's commentary on the book- which I would highly recommend.
Pay attention! The book is written in the first person singular, but there are two first persons: the heroine (the first Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre) and her husband. Sometimes you have to read an entire section before you know which of them is the narrator. Its interesting how lucidly the heroine relates her tale, even though we know, as this is a sort of prequel, that she is insane. In fact, the final part is narrated by her at the time that she is insane and confined in Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre. Quite a feat that! That it is largely set in the Caribbean is easy to identify, but the Introduction refines it as Jamaica and Dominica. After Part One, I kept getting them confused; maybe because I couldnt keet the narrator straight. But, hey, thats me! Anyway, for you Jane Eyre stalwarts, here is your opportunity to discover how the first Mrs. Rochester became deranged. And, you can hear it mostly in her own words.
This book disappointed me as it could have been much better written. After reading Jane Eyre, it is a definite letdown! But others have enjoyed it and it WAS made into a motion picture, so it must have some redeeming features.
In 1966 Jean Rhys reemerged after a long silence with a novel called Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys had enjoyed minor literary success in the 1920s and '30s with a series of evocative novels featuring women protagonists adrift in Europe, verging on poverty, hoping to be saved by men. By the '40s, however, her work was out of fashion, too sad for a world at war. And Rhys herself was often too sad for the world--she was suicidal, alcoholic, troubled by a vast loneliness. She was also a great writer, despite her powerful self-destructive impulses.
Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress who grew up in the West Indies on a decaying plantation. When she comes of age she is married off to an Englishman, and he takes her away from the only place she has known--a house with a garden where "the paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest tree ferns, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched."
The novel is Rhys's answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë's book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell--that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester's terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys's imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Sea follows her voyage into the dark, both from her point of view and Rochester's. It is a voyage charged with soul-destroying lust. "I watched her die many times," observes the new husband. "In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty."
Rhys struggled over the book, enduring rejections and revisions, wrestling to bring this ruined woman out of the ashes. The slim volume was finally published when she was 70 years old. The critical adulation that followed, she said, "has come too late." Jean Rhys died a few years later, but with Wide Sargasso Sea she left behind a great legacy, a work of strange, scary loveliness. There has not been a book like it before or since. Believe me, I've been searching.
I was kind of mixed on this one. Even though I've never read Jane Eyre, I have seen several movie versions of the novel and am quite familiar with the story of Rochester and the "mad" woman who lives in the upper reaches of the gloomy Rochester estate. I think I was hoping for more character development in "Wide Sargasso Sea" both of Rochester and Antoinette Mason. However, for me the narrative was choppy at best, and hard to follow. I never got a real feel for the characters or their motivations. I guess I was expecting more from this.
I can't begin to explain how profoundly this book affected me when I read it. It has haunting scenes and lush beautiful language. I started reading this book shortly after finishing Jane Eyre and comparing the treatment of the character in the two books provided a space to ask some hard questions about race, status and ignored histories. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in colonialism, racial identity and prose that sticks with you. At times I found Wide Sargasso Sea to be incredibly disturbing but I could not put it down.
Wide Sargasso Sea was planned initially as a prequel to Jane Eyre in order to give more background information on two characters whose troubled lives are sparcely detailed in Bronte's original work. Our author, Jean Rhys, guides us through an island paradise-gone-off and spares no literary expense in delivering as true a picture as possible in colonial, post-slavery Jamaica and Dominica. While this novel does not examine the full list of human emotions, it needles into the most delicate of those feelings and explores paranoid delusions at their most extreme.
The descriptions of madness are indeed vivid. In fact, when I finished reading the book, I was left with a very disatisfied, mildly depressed feeling, and the residual effects took a few hours to wear off. If you are a very stable-minded individual, this book will still be enjoyable, but if you are slightly off center emotionally (and most folks are) the reading of this book ought to be planned- with some fun activity afterward to balance out the serious tone the book leaves with you.
Wide Sargasso Sea is the author's most famous book featuring a character likened to Charlotte Bronteâs woman in the attic but this novel is based in the Caribbean. Rhys named the key character Antoinette Cosway. It is written with three sections: (1) Antoinette's childhood in Jamaica, (2) her husband's experiences in the Indies post-marriage, and (3) events back in England where she descends ever deeper into her mind and madness.
In part one the reader learns about Antoinette's childhood which occurs after the British abolished slavery in the West Indies. White people are primarily British, Blacks are former slaves and a the third group is mixed racially and is hated by the other groups. Like the author, Antoinette, is a mixture - Jamaican/European who belongs nowhere. As a white European, she grew up in Jamaica. When she tried to relate to the blacks she was ridiculed and ostracized. Try as she might she finds no acceptance in either group.
An arranged marriage with Englishman gives her hope for happiness and she falls in love with him. However, once kind and thoughtful, he becomes disillusioned and hardened, changed by the culture clash he encounters. With the loss of what she hoped would be a place to belong, Antoinette, like her mother gradually becomes insane.
Since I have not read Jane Eyre, I cannot comment on the similarities between the novels so that I view it alone. It is an emotionally difficult novel to read. One cannot help but sympathize with this young, beautiful lost young woman. Although its length is short this is a tragic story that one cannot easily forget. Like others, I plan to read it again. It's that memorable.
The other side of the madwoman in the attic met in Jane Eyre...the beauty of this book is not just the tragic story of a woman devalued, but also the language and sense of place the Jean Rhys uses to lull the reader through the book.
We discussed this in our book club. This is a possible prequel to Jane Eyre. Some had read Jane Eyre and some had not.It lets you feel that the woman in the attic had a vibrancy prior to her prior to her marriage.I think she does a good job of giving the other side of the story. Reading it does require an ability to move back and forth between the two characters without a formal heading, but i=I think it works well
I enjoyed this novel very much as it gave the reader an in-depth view of the Caribbean culture in the late 1800's while telling us more about Bertha, the woman hidden in the attic from the classic novel, Jane Eyre. It is a very passionate story with a very tragic ending. The prose is beautiful and the themes are racism, sexism, colonialism and human nature. I recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in Charlotte Bronte and/or Caribbean literature.