Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys What do these two covers tell us about the novel?
Background info to the novel: • Written in 1950s – published in 1966. • Time when women were beginning to demand a ‘voice’. • Positions of women, black people and other groups were discussed. • Ideas of freedom – post-war euphoria. • Economic slump. • Issues surrounding colonialism/slavery. • Response to Jane Eyre – a ‘prequel.’
Born in Dominica Lived until she was 89, but success came ‘too late’. Travelled Europe Colonialism heritage Had a life troubled with madness, violence and alcoholism Married three times Bohemian lifestyle
The Plot: Wide Sargasso Sea was inspired by Bronte’s Jane Eyre, written a hundred years earlier. Antoinette Cosway was based on Bertha in Jane Eyre. This character aroused Rhys’ sympathy and she was determined to write her side of the story, to show her as something other than the ‘madwoman in the attic’ that Bronte had marginalised in her story. It is set in Jamaica in a time of great upheaval following the emancipation of slaves in 1834 and tells the story of Antoinette’s childhood, her family’s tragedy and how she fell in love with Rochester.
Narrative technique • Divided into three parts, each of which is written as if in a different voice. • Antoinette, Rochester and Grace Poole. • Sometimes the different characters discuss a different event in different ways – this makes the reader question the reliability of the accounts. • Stream of consciousness technique.
Wide Sargasso Sea – easier themes guide • Colonialism • Race • Gender • Insanity • Love • Truth • Happiness
Past and memories Rejection. Belonging/not belonging. Naming Identity Supernatural Isolation/loneliness Racial identity Position of women Poverty Different interpretations Past and present Secrets Repression of painful memories Motherhood/mothers and daughter Harder themes guide:
Possible questions: • Compare and contrast the characterisation of Rochester and/or Bertha in Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. In your essay you should refer to: • Different critical interpretations of the text. • The writers’ use of language. • The writers’ use of narrative technique and structure.
Another one: • Compare and contrast the use of narrative technique and/or structure and/or language in Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. You must refer to different critical interpretations in your answer.
Finally, a couple of shorter ones: • Critically discuss how identity is explored in Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. • Compare and contrast the theme of freedom in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.