Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Wide Sargasso Sea: A Novel, by Jean Rhys
Read and reviewed in August, 2008, released in September.
I finished reading Wide Sargasso Sea this morning. Although small in size, it is a powerful story, and one that will remain with me for a long time. Aspects of the story may seem racist, but it is told from the point of view of English and Creole upper classes a few years after England enacted the abolition of slavery and slave trading.
In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester seemed a likable character unfortunately saddled with an insane wife, who conveniently burned the house down, killing herself and making it possible for Mr. R and Jane to marry.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, we meet the unfortunate "madwoman." We begin with her difficult childhood. Her mother was an impoverished single parent raising a daughter and a younger son who was called an "idiot." Her family had been of the wealthy ruling slave-owning class, but her father died of alcoholism and had been a womanizer, siring several of Antoinette's mixed race half-siblings. Antoinette was a lonely child; her only playmates were the children of former slaves who resented her family, insulted her, threw rocks at her, and stole her clothes. Her mother went mad after their home was burned, killing the poor little younger brother.
Antoinette's marriage to young Mr. Rochester was arranged. Mr. R. thought he loved her, or could love her, but he was swayed by some of the ex-slaves' rumors and superstitions. It seemed to him that her mood swings really were craziness, and in truth, she was sometimes violent. She was deeply troubled, and her problems began in her childhood and her dysfunctional family life. Was she crazy? If so, what was the nature of her psychosis? It didn't seem to be schizophrenia. Maybe it was multiple personality disorder, but that wasn't clear cut. In any case, she was already disturbed when he took her to his home in England. She had little memory of the voyage, and in fact didn't believe she was actually in England.
This book was sent to me by another Bookcrosser, NomiJo. You can read her review here.