Jean Rhys

Topics: Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys Pages: 8 (2781 words) Published: June 4, 2010

This essay will explore the post colonial text Wide Sargasso Sea. It will pay particular attention to the identity of the protagonist Antoinette Cosway, in Jean Rhys’ most popular book. It will explore the alienation and confused identity of Antoinette and whether this confusion was self inflicted or instigated by the actions of others. Wide Sargasso Sea is a text that is classed as, ‘re-visionary’ writing and this genre of literature will be explained by Peter Widdowson using paper entitled ‘Writing back’. This will be further enhanced by the use of the American lesbian feminist, poet and critic Adrienne Rich and her essay ‘When we Dead Awaken: Writing as Revision’. Throughout the exploration of Wide Sargasso Sea, historical context and information will be given to portray the reaction and analysis of the colonial situation, in light of Rhys’ opinions as a white Creole. The observational and critical analysis of cultural legacy by Rhys, leads to Wide Sargasso Sea fitting under the heading of post colonialism .

Wide Sargasso Sea is a prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It tells an alternative tale of the secret, first wife of Edward Rochester, Bertha Mason, alias Antoinette Cosway. Rhys’ novel is set on the Caribbean island of Dominica and addresses many issues that were current at the time of writing, as well as issues of society in the temporal placement of the book in 1839. Rhys constructs a thought provoking deconstruction of Jane Eyre and uses many of her own experiences as a white Creole woman, to portray the feelings of thoughts of the white Creole character Antoinette Cosway, through her narration. What is unusual about the novel is that Rochester, who remains nameless in the text also, has a narrative voice, which is heard and observed in the second trimester of the three part novel. By vocalising Rochester it immediately “controverts Mr. Rochester’s narrative to Jane in the original novel – both as to his character and to what really happened and by the increasingly fragmented nature of his narrative, raises the question as to who is in fact the mad one” (Spivak: 1985,262-78). A brief narrative contribution is also given by Grace Poole, who is the servant in the book Jane Eyre, but ultimately Antoinette’s jailer. The trilogy of parts is clearly defined with the first segment of the book being narrated as a bildungsroman Antoinette’s childhood. The second part clearly identifies that her marriage to the nameless Rochester is failing. The final trimester of the book is more illusive and leads the reader to surmise what might and might not happen. Not only does Rhys’ novel address the heartache of a disastrous marriage, within the imposing of a patriarchal society, but she also addresses issues from the colonised individual’s perspective of England and its cultural impact and legacy.

Rhys has chosen to move the temporal placement of Jane Eyre to the mid nineteenth century; this enables Rhys to use her literary licence to place Wide Sargasso Sea just after the emancipation act of 1834, which allows Rhys to utilise some of the more volatile and social issues of identity and culture. This is further enhanced when examining the quote of Williams in Widdowson’s essay ‘Writing back’ he states that in the “two popular forms of historical novel and in the context of the mid Victorian fiction:

the historical romance, which is virtually dominant, particularly when it is a historical romance associated with war; and the consciously exotic, itself often significantly associated with the new epoch of colonization . . . A place, a setting of a colourful kind is there, but the historical movement, the historical tension within the period, is subordinate to the sense of historical spectacle. The same is true of the exotic. It is not needless to say, the story of the colonial wars; it is the adventure story extracted from the whole story (Williams: 2006, 494).

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Bibliography: Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin, 1994.
Bush-Caver, Helen and Mary T. Williams. Accessed 26th April 2010 11.45am.
Connor, Steven. The English Novel in History 1950 – 1995. London: Routledge, 1996.
Guevara, Che. Colonialism is Doomed. Speech delivered before the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 11, 1964. Havana Ministry of External relations, Information Department. Official Cuban Government Translation. Transcribed for the Internet by the Workers’ Web ASC11 Pamphlet project (RCG), 1997. 2nd (HTML) Edition, 1998. Accessed on 26th April 2010.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin, 2001.
Rich, Adrienne. When we Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision. Http:// accessed 23/11/2009.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘Three Women’s Text and a Critique of Imperialism. Henry Louis Gates ed. ‘Race’ and Writing Difference. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985. pp.262 – 78.
Widdowson, Peter, ‘Writing Back’: Contemporary Revisionary Fiction. Textual Practice. London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2006.
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