Her grand attempt to tell what she felt was the story of Jane Eyre’s ‘madwoman in the attic’, Bertha Rochester, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is edited with an introduction and notes by Angela Smith in Penguin Classics. Born into the oppressive, colonialist society of 1930s Jamaica, white Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent beauty and sensuality. After their marriage, however, disturbing rumors begin to circulate which poison her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is inexorably driven towards madness and her husband into the arms of another novel’s heroine. This classic study of betrayal, a seminal work of postcolonial literature, is Jean Rhys’s brief, beautiful masterpiece.
Rating: 3 stars
The sky was blue through the dark green mango leaves, and I thought, ‘This is my place and this is where I belong and this is where I wish to stay.’ – Jean Rhys
These lines from Rhys’s famous Wide Sargasso Sea pretty much sums up how the protagonist, Antoinette feels about her origin and her openness to leaving her place for maybe a better and different life. She is Rhys’s character that brings to the forth the idea of female sexuality in an unabashed and unprecedented manner, colored with the hues of violence. She is the answer to your question about the appalling mad woman from Jane Eyre.
Rhys attempts to break through the norms by writing about this woman who is suppressed by the then male-dominated society. In her ode to feminism, Rhys explains the tumultuous relationship between Antoinette and Rochester the reason for her madness and inherent desire to have a will of her own.
In a book about the themes of sexual and emotional oppression, Antoinette struggles perennially on the inside, almost succeeding in making the reader empathize with her. But that’s where the book and the character failed to click with me – while I do understand the world that was, I hate it if the female characters are in the mode of being victimised and don’t attempt to break out of it. Unfortunately, Jean Rhys – albeit being a feminist in her own accord fails to tug the strings of my heart primarily because of this.
However, I am sure there are many takers for her writing for all the poetic and dream-like narration that she offers! I recommend you read it for maybe, you may like it!