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Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea

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  1. Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea Norton Critical Ediction. NY: Norton, 1999. The Daughter’s Entrance into the Symbolic Order: Split Identities and Mirror Images

  2. Outline • General Introduction: Jean Rhys & Wide Sargasso Sea: • Part I: Antoinette’s Difficult Entrance into the Symbolic Order • The Symbolic Order • Antoinette’s Lack (1)the Mother Annette • Antoinette’s Lack (2) the other Mother figures: Christophine and Aunt Cora • Antoinette’s Lack and Split Identities • Antoinette’s personality • Next Week

  3. Jean Rhys—A Life of Displacement • 8/24/1890 the daughter of a Welsh doctor and a white Creole mother • Educated at a convent school and then sent to Perse School, Cambridge, UK at the age of 17. • 1909-10 Father died, Rhys joined Tours as a chorus girl (instead of going home). Abandoned by her lover. • 1919 Marries Jean Lenglet and moves to Paris. 29 Dec., birth of a son who dies three weeks later. (–altogether 3 marriages, 2 children.)

  4. Jean Rhys– A Life of Displacement • 1923-24 Meets Ford Madox Ford. Husband in jail, affair with Ford. (ménage a trois--Ford, Stella Bowen and Jean) • 1927-1939 – finished 1 collection of short stories and three novels. • 1933 Divorce. 1934 Marries Leslie Tilden-Smith. 1945 TS dead.1947 Marriage to Max Hamer. Disappears from the public scene. • 1966 WSS (which she begins to work on in 1945) published.

  5. Rhys: her characters’ and her self-identity • Her characters: , all drifting, unhappy, unstable, but with clear self-knowledge and understanding of others. • “I have no pride—no name, no face, no country. I don’t belong anywhere.” (Good Morning, Midnight.) • Rhys: Only returned to Dominica once in 56 years; • Rhys: . "I don't belong anywhere but I get very worked up about the West Indies.  I still care.  . .  ."

  6. Rhys: her Self-Identity "Do you consider yourself aWest Indian?"  She shrugged.  "It was such a long time ago when I left." "So you don't think of yourself as a West Indian writer?" Again she shrugged, but said nothing.  "What aboutEnglish?  Do you consider yourself an English writer?" "No!  I'm not, I'm not!  I'm not even English." "What about aFrenchwriter?"  I asked.  Again she shrugged and said nothing.  "You have no desire to go back to Dominica?" "Sometimes," she said. 

  7. Rhys on Jane Eyre • "The creole in Charlotte Bronte's novel is a lay figure -- repulsive which does not matter, and not once alive which does.  .  . . For me . .  . she must be right on stage.  She must be at least plausible with a past, the reason why Mr. Rochester treats her so abominably and feels justified, and the reason why he thinks she is mad and why of course she goes mad, even the reason why she tries to set everything on fire, and eventually succeeds.  . . " (Gregg 82; emphases added) • General Q: Is Antoinette doomed to be mad? Couldn’t there be different endings? Is the novel too sad?

  8. Rhys's Revision of Jane Eyre:Shift of Dates:  • Jane Eyre -- towards the end of the novel reads a book published in 1808  Bertha confined in the attic in the first decade of the 19th century. • WSS's time frame shifted to 1830's onwards:  Emancipation Act 1833 Antoinette – born 1839, a year after the full emancipation; a child in the 1840's  (Mark MaWatt qut in Gregg 83)

  9. Wide Sargasso Sea: General Introduction – (1) the Title • Sargasso Sea: The heart of the Bermuda Triangle is covered by the strangest and most notorious sea on the planet— the Sargasso Sea; so named because there is a kind of seaweed which lazily floats over its entire expanse called sargassum. (source) • signaling the wide division between Antoinette and Rochester and the race and gender entangled relationships in the Caribbean area.

  10. FYI: Sargasso Sea • An oval-shaped area of the North Atlantic Sea, bordered by the Gulf Stream and encompassing Bermuda Islands. It is characterized by weak currents, eerie little wind, and a free-floating mass of seaweed called Sargassum .(textbook 1)

  11. WSS: Settings • Part I: (Martinique), Jamaica: Coulibri estate, near Spanish TownPart II: Granbois, Dominica, Part III: “Great House” England

  12. Plot and Structure • Part I: Antoinette's Childhood – • Isolation after Mr. Cosway’s death and the emancipation; • The mother’s re-marriage to Mr. Mason; • The riot; • Antoinette in the convent. • Part II: Rochester and Antoinette • Upon arrival, R tries to adjust, writes letters to his father; relations between A & R. • Daniel’s letter and the letter from England. • Antoinette’s taking action • Leaving for England. • Part III: Antoinette in England

  13. Characters

  14. Wide Sargasso Sea: General Questions I. What are the subject positions available in this society? 2. What roles do the parents (Annette, Mr. Mason, Christophine) play in this story? 3. How does Antoinette respond to her environment at different stages— • ‘When trouble comes’ • Her time with Tia • the mother’s re-marriage • The riot 4. What do the symbols of mirror, garden and parrot means?

  15. Symbolic Order (1)Racial Hierarchy and Antagonism expressed in Language • I. White Masters, New & Old: • Christophine’s comment 80 • Mr. Luttrells p. 77; death of Mr. Lutrell   new Lutrells • New masters after the Emancipation of slaves [Mr. Mason—82 hires new servants] • II. White against creole • e.g. the town people’s gossip p. 82 ; Aunt Cora's husband 82 • III. Black against creole: • poor "white cockcroaches" p. 79; white niggers p. 80 (Tia) black Englishman p. 87 (at the riot) • IV. The position of obeah woman (82)

  16. Symbolic Order (2): Before and after the Emancipation Pre-Emancipation: racial and sexual exploitation. (e.g. Daniel) Post-Emancipation Problems: • Belated Compensation, • Importation of contract laborers • Annette’s lack of understanding of Christophine 78; distrust of Godfry, Sass’ leaving p. 79, • Riot: The presentation of the black mob Negative: Myra – hell (84-85); animal howling (p. 86), parrot killed = bad luck 87; Positive: At the final confrontation, some women start to cry. 88.

  17. Symbolic Order (2): Antoinette’s Subject Positions • Seen as a white nigger (vs. white man with good, or real nigger) • In Tia’s dress, Antoinette sees “beautiful” Luttrells 80  • Spanish town gossips (p. 82) see A as “going the same way” of madness & promiscuity? --fixed and denied.

  18. Antoinette’s Lack (1): the Mother Annette Annette: 1) multiple alienations of the creole —from the white people in the Spanish town because she is a Creole from Martinique and poor; -- from the blacks (“they”) because she is former slave-owner and poor -- from the FOB such as Mr. Mason (who cannot understand her sense of insecurity)

  19. Annette: Her Gender Position Annette: -- 2) As a woman – • Cosway: a womanizer • Widowed –can only survive by marrying again. Antoinette (solitary life)  Antoinette (planned and hoped) p. 10 -- Marooned, she expects her son to be her phallic symbol 77 -- borrow a horse from the new Lutrelles gay and a good dancer • 2nd Marriage: Worse, since Mason does not understand the racial relationship (83-84)

  20. Annette Annette: -- • Why does she care so much about the parorot CoCo? 87 • the parrot’s Q & A: • Qui est la? Qui est la? • Che Coco, Che Coco.  Lack of position/identity

  21. Annette Antoinette: Social Hierarchy Reinforced; Stronger Sense of Lack Antoinette’s loss of motherly love • Her love rejected by Annette(78, 79,81), who • cares more about Pierre 81; • Is ashamed of her 80; (later) • pushed away after her madness; • missing her mother in the convent; • The mother’s death

  22. Antoinette’s Substitute Mother Antoinette: Christophine: helpful but fearful • like a substitute mother 78; • feared by Antoinette 82-83 -- Combination of Catholicism and voodoo (Later her help is counter-productive) Aunt Cora: • A. lives with her when Coulibri is reconstructed • Stands up for them at the riot • [later] cannot help when A. is married to R.

  23. Antoinette’s Lack of and Need of Mirror Image/Ego Ideal A. Fixation in the Imaginary Order: • Self-protection in Childhood: • Refusal to accept change: e.g. the horse p. 77 • To be safe from strangers: garden 78; 79; 81 •  [later] fatalism and death impulse B. In Need of but Split among Different Ego Ideals (object a) – • The mother’s face -- frowning; • Christophine – blue-black and thin • Tia –dress exchange • To be somewhere else p. 81

  24. Antoinette’s Lack of and Need of Mirror Image/Ideal Ego C. Sense of Rejection by Both Societies • Being call names by “strange negros.” 79 • Her dream 81 (after the pool episode) D. After the mother’s re-marriage, Antoinette tries—without success--to find her position in the Symbolic Order • Not having a father figure as object of love (84) • Example of her split identity 85 among “The Miller’s Daughter” Mr. Mason, her mother.  grateful and like him  to Pierre “How will you like being made exactly like other people?” • Failure to seek comfort from Tia. 88

  25. Antoinette Her childhood as a creole girl neglected by her mother, and not protected by her father(s) Insecure; in lack of a firm sense of identity; (lack of love, fear of others’ and society’s criticism, feeling excluded.) • Fatalistic (fear of “madness” as a hereditary trait) [Later—convent as a temporary refuge with no real education]

  26. Next Week • The Piano • “Snowed Up”