Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea, a hugely acclaimed novel by Jean Rhys was eluding my list for a long time. Now that I found the new Penguin Classic copy, it was time to pick this up and read. Now, this book is supposed to be a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. This novel is an attempt to fill the character viod of Bertha Mason, the mad wife of Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre. Here is a comparitive study..

This book was published in 1966, after a very very long gap by Jean Rhys. Her previous works, written between two world wars, are out of circulation. Publishing of 'Wide Sargasso Sea' has lifted her sagging literary career to greater heights.

The novel starts with the childhood days of Antoinette. Slavery was banned in the British Empire, recently. The life of erstwhile slave-owners, predominantly the whilte planters are in disarray. They are looked upon with contempt and distaste. Most of them have left the caribbean and returned to the homeland. Those remained had to cop with the changing social order. They are isolated from the rest of the society and live under pitiable condition. Antoniette's widowed mother, struggle to bring up the kid and accepts to marry a wealthy planter. Soon, she succumbs to mental disarray and was confined to an isolated stay supported by a couple of servants.

Antoniette was married off to a young British, Rochester, for a large sum of dowry. The second part of the novel, set in her ancient estate, goes through the systematic alienation of Antoniette, with Rochester, and the rest of the world. Her attempt to get back with the world , to reconcile, is not yielding any result. This add to the suspicion of Rochester about her mental imbalance, prompted by her so called co-brother in a letter and subsequent meeting with him. Soon, she was taken back to England and was forced to lead a life similar to that of her mother.

Antoniette, who is a creol, is equally unacceptable to the black community ( who call her white cockroach ) and to the whites ( called her a white negro). Her trouble upbringing, with the servents, especially Chrisophine, who believed to be practising obeah (similar to woodoo) and whom Anotoniette approaches towards the end to help her to come out of her current state of affairs, are all lead to the degradation of her mental illness.
Jean Rhys, uses the method of alternating between Antoinette and Rochester. The book has been heralded as one of the first post modern - post colonial novel. While the book is superbly written and the new penguin classic edition is with a 27 page introduction and a detailed afterword, I was missing something. May be I need to read Jane Eyre to fully appreciate this book.
Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys

Penguin Books
151 Pages ( plus 27 pages of introduction and notes)
Rs 299

1 comment:

Randy said...

This novel IS a bit perplexing, even if one HAS read Jane Eyre..
Though I would really recommend reading Jane Eyre to see what Rhys is reflecting off of. I think she purposely never lets the reader get 'comfortable' with the narrative, it has a distinct edge. Part of it is that its a bold move on her part to attempt to show Bronte's 'mad woman in the attic' from inside the attic and if not in a fully sympathetic light, at least an exploration of how she might have arrived there.
I still came away 'uncomfortable'..I have heard I need to read her 'Good Morning, Midnight' and her short stories.