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Wide Sargasso Sea

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Jean Rhys, a native of Dominica, wrote Wide Sargasso Sea as a revision of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, focusing her novel on Bertha, the Jamaican madwoman locked in the attic of the British manor house. Written over the course of twenty-one years and published in 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea was immediately recognized as a central novel for those interested in colonialism, Caribbean culture, race, and women's writing. It is set in Jamaica, Dominica, and England between 1839 and 1845 and describes a world of changing poser relations among the English, the Creoles, and the newly emancipated slaves. The novel is considered a literary masterpiece for its simple yet rich language and its innovative narrative structure. The text of this Norton Critical Edition is accompanied by annotations that assist readers in understanding the historical background, regional and cultural references, and Creole and French phrases necessary for a full appreciation of the novel.

(back cover)

266 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1966

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About the author

Jean Rhys

52 books1,218 followers
Jean Rhys, CBE (born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams; 24 August 1890–14 May 1979) was a British novelist who was born and grew up in the Caribbean island of Dominica. From the age of 16, she mainly resided in England, where she was sent for her education. She is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), written as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

She moved to England at the age of 16 years in 1906 and worked unsuccessfully as a chorus girl. In the 1920s, she relocated to Europe, travelled as a Bohemian artist, and took up residence sporadically in Paris. During this period, Rhys, familiar with modern art and literature, lived near poverty and acquired the alcoholism that persisted throughout the rest of her life. Her experience of a patriarchal society and displacement during this period formed some of the most important themes in her work.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,739 reviews
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.6k followers
September 15, 2010
In short - incoherent overpraised rubbish.

I have read my share of classics over the years. Some of them were boring, some outside the area of my interest, but never had I come across one that was so dreadfully bad and at the same time so critically acclaimed.

I simply can't comprehend how this jumble of disjointed sentences can be seriously called a "masterpiece." The story was almost impossible to follow. Had I not read "Jane Eyre," I'd be lost in this book completely. The characters' motivations and even actions were hard to understand, their personalities were non-existent. And apparently, Bertha went mad because Rochester didn't give her enough loving and cheated on her with a servant girl once.

Awful beyond belief.

Reading challenge: #27, 1 of 2.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
April 16, 2020
Bertha Mason is the madwoman in the attic; she is the raving lunatic that is Rochester’s first wife in Jane Eyre,but have you ever stopped to wonder what her side of the story is? Have you ever considered that she may have a tale to tell?

Jean Rhys has, and she tells it to you in all its traumatic colours. Our crazy lunatic isn’t that far from Jane. Bronte describes her as a semi-human, an animal that growls and raves as she stalks the hall of Thornfield like some unidentifiable spectre. But what drove her to this state? What made her this way? Well the simple answer is a man named Rochester. As the second son of a rich family, he needed a means of creating his own wealth. What's the answer to his problem? Marry some rich girl and steal all her money and not worry about the consequences, but there more to it than this. Do you remember that scene in Jane Eyre where Rochester tries to dominate Jane and make her into something else by picking out her clothes? Perhaps Bertha had this but on a more intense scale.

Indeed, Bertha isn’t even her real name. Rhys names the character Antoinette, a name Rochester refuses to use when he learns of her past. Antoinette has a family history of insanity on the maternal side, but, again there is more to it than this. What creates this insanity? For Antoinette it is the simple of act of belonging nowhere. She is a hybrid, a figure that walks between cultures. As a white European girl she was raised in Jamaica; thus, she is neither fully Jamaican nor European. This sounds very similar to the role of the governess, a figure that belonged to no particular class structure. Neither culture would accept Antoinette as one of their own, as she herself recognises:

“It was a song about a white cockroach. That’s me. That’s what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I’ve heard English woman call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all.”


She is stuck in-between with an uncertain identity, so when this Rochester figure comes along proposing love she is swept away. Could she really be this happy? This man offers her hope and a new life, but it is all a lie. When she finds out it breaks her. The last bastion of refuge shatters and she realises her hate for this false man: she finds yet another place she doesn’t belong. Rochester takes his grief stricken wife home, and shoves her in an attic. Then BOOM! He finds himself utterly shocked at the manifestation of her madness. Such a fool.

We cannot blame Bronte for her depiction of Bertha. Bronte wrote during the peak of the British Empire; these ideas were imbedded into her cultural psyche: this is how the Victorians saw the world. Bronte was unconsciously aware of this; she even went as far as to apologise at a later date for her depiction of Bertha. She didn’t fully consider how it would be received. In her fixation with women’s rights in an unjust Western society, she failed to look beyond the realms of the English experience. But that is not to overlook the phenomenal achievements of Jane Eyre. It does wonders for recognising the voice of women; however, Jean Rhys just goes a little bit further.

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Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
March 19, 2018
Beware of a few Jane Eyre spoilers if you've managed to live your life so far without a) reading it, or b) knowing what happens.

One thing that really gets on my nerves is when an author writes a book about another author's story/character/whatever and you cannot understand or appreciate what you are being given unless you read the first author's work. Now, I have read Jane Eyre many times, but If I hadn't I would have been clueless as to what Rhys was babbling on about here. For me, this book really demonstrates that the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list really does not mean "The 1001 Best Books Ever".

And I do appreciate the original idea behind Jean Rhys' novel. The mad woman in Mr Rochester's attic had a story to tell, it has long bothered feminists and other critics how this character was portrayed in Jane Eyre because, at the end of the day, this mad woman was a person with a history - or should have been - not just a little crazy puppet there to pop up and throw a spanner in the works when Jane and Mr Rochester finally got together. Rhys wanted to give her the past that Bronte didn't, and she also wanted to show her decline into madness so the reader could appreciate who she was and where she came from and why she ended up the way she did.

I just don't think it was handled very well and I didn't like the writing style at all. The narrative relies upon dream-like visions, fragmented impressions, incomplete sentences, and multiple first-person voices to create an overall sense of disorientation in the reader... or so is the intention according to my little bit of google research. I'd say "complete bewilderment" is more accurate than "disorientation". I find that I can't appreciate this feeling of being drugged up to my eyeballs when reading a book, though I know many readers look on it favourably. It's more trippy than beautiful to me.

Plus, I think the attempts to show how she became mad were a failure. This book appears on lists like "Novels for Feminists" and "100 Books Every Woman Should Read" - why? When this is a book about a woman who falls into madness because she distrusts her husband and their relationship is falling apart. I appreciate that it isn't feminism if the woman is always strong and never makes mistakes, but she basically crumbles because her husband doesn't give her enough attention. Not very believable, and not very pro-woman either.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
January 4, 2022
Years ago I used to go to Dominica, I stayed in three places. Firstly was an old Great House in Roseau, the capital, Cherry Orchard which wasn't it's original name and was at one time the home of Jean Rhys. There were nuns staying there too. And the largest horriblest millipede I have ever seen, in the toilet. It wasn't dead, it reared it's head up at me. It was then I decided to leave, and bought The Wide Sargasso Sea.

I went to Laudat as I was into climbing, hill-walking really, we only used ropes once. That was because the rasta whose guest house I was staying in, One Love, wanted to go to Roseau shopping and it was a long hike on the road but there was a short cut if you went down the mountain, that needed ropes. I didn't know what I was letting myself in for, this was not the sort of life I was used to! So I hitched a ride back. (Very uncomfortable, standing up in the back of a pickup bouncing at high speed over a pot-holed 'road' and had to pay the driver in US$ as well).

When I was in Laudat I had a couple of amazing experiences. I trekked to the the Boiling Lake which is a long,hard climb - you can tell when you are getting closer because the air stinks of sulphur. I also went to the Freshwater Lake which was peaceful and apparently sacred to the Carib and Arawak Indians.

When I was there the rasta said he wanted to eat some fresh meat so I thought we were going back to Roseau but no, he strung up a goat into a small tree by it's hind legs and sawed at its throat, the poor creature screaming and blood everywhere (I had headphones on, Michael Jackson, but I could still hear it). Then he sliced open its belly and brought out the liver and said he would cook it first. His sister fried it with local herbs, it smelled horrible, old goat and I could not bring myself to even put any on my plate. I stuck to ground provisions, yam, dasheen, yucca and Irish potatoes. Next day I left.

I went to stay in the Carib Reserve with the bwoyfrien's family. He was half Carib At that time there were no guest houses, nothing at all. I stayed in a simple wooden house. The first night I had salt fish with roast breadfruit cooked on an open fire. It was amazing.

Next day we picked cocoa pods and threw the pink beans on a big mat on the ground to dry in the sun and ferment. The cocoa beans were surrounded by white 'cottonwool' which was delicious and juicy and lemony, a real surprise. Every day we raked the beans until they were brown, then they were ground up and formed into hard balls mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg to grate for hot chocolate. At night I read the book by the light of an oil lamp.

I could relate to the book from Jean Rhys's life. Antoinette was neither really Jamaican or European. Jean was in a similar situation. She didn't get on with her mother, her father was harsh, she spoke Kweyol,tthe local French patois as well as English, but was not really accepted by the Blacks. Sent to the UK for schooling at 16, she didn't fit in there any better and was mocked for her accent and less than standard English. She wasn't rich, destined to be a debutante, but was expected to return to the island and marry another white Dominican, which she didn't want to do. Nowhere did she fit in, and that is Antoinette too. Antoinette went mad, and Jean became bad - a chorus girl, a prostitute, a kept woman and then..... a brilliant author.

The wide Sargasso Sea seems to be expanding. Sargasso is an orange algae, a seaweed that floats in long drifting lines you can see from the plane but ends up in huge mats in marinas and beaches on the South/East side of the islands. It can totally cover a beach and be as deep as up to your knees. And it stinks, it stinks worse than the Boiling Lake. Rotting vegetation, rotting eggs, it's really nasty and since 2011 every single year it has drifted all over the Caribbean stinking up the shoreline, no one knows why. It has to be dredged, raked and trucked away. Then all of a sudden, the season will be over and everything is ok, back to the clear waters and fresh breezes and we forget all about the stink of the sargasso. I wonder if Dominica had this awful plague back in Jean Rhys's time she'd have changed the title of her book?

I read this book years ago and loved it as much as Jane Eyre of which this book was the prequel. I also wrote a review years ago but it not only disappeared, the edition was changed. How do these things happen?

Written 14th June 2020 since the original review and correct edition disappeared
Profile Image for leynes.
1,118 reviews3,041 followers
June 2, 2021
My crops are flourishing. My skin is clear. My grades are up. I couldn't be happier. Wide Sargasso Sea is the gift that keeps on giving, and I will forever be grateful to Jean Rhys for finally doing what needed to be done. Charlotte Brontë could never.

In case you didn't know, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) is a feminist and anti-colonial response to Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre (1847), describing the background to Mr. Rochester's marriage from the point-of-view of his "mad wife" Antoinette Cosway (aka Bertha Mason).

Despite it being my mom's favorite book, I only got interested in the novel after I heard Marlon James gushing about it on his podcast. He said: "In a lot of ways it was a novel that finally slammed the door shut on the 19th century. You can't read Wide Sargasso Sea and then read Victorian literature with their rose curtains anymore. You realize that these are some nasty hypocritical people who destroy everybody in their way who are not them." I mean, that's sure as hell a way to get me interested in a book, Marlon. Sign me the fuck up!

On top of that, I've been getting really interested into the postcolonial literary practice of "writing back" – so postcolonial writers responding to texts in the canon by taking silenced characters from the margins and placing them in the center by giving them a voice and more background in their own narratives, and Wide Sargasso Sea is like the textbook example when it comes to writing back.

In Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason doesn't speak. Not a single word. She doesn't have a voice. All she does is growl and hiss. There are only a few scenes where we can catch a glimpse of her and there are also not that many scenes where she is being talked about. However, as a little refresher, let's look at at how Bertha is portrayed in Jane Eyre. When Rochester's illegal wedding to Jane gets interrupted by an intruder who declares: "The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment.", we first learn of the existence of Rochester's wife. After a moment of inarticulate fury, Rochester admits that his wife is alive and that in marrying Jane he would have been knowingly taking a second wife. He then proceeds to describe his wife in these charming terms:
Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations! Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard!—as I found out after I had wed the daughter; for they were silent on family secrets before. Bertha, like a dutiful child, copied her parent in both points. I had a charming partner—pure, wise, modest; you can fancy I was a happy man. I went through rich scenes! Oh! my experience has been heavenly, if you only knew it! But I owe you no further explanation. Briggs, Wood, Mason, I invite you all to come up to the house and visit Mrs. Poole's patient, and my wife! You shall see what sort of a being I was cheated into espousing, and judge whether or not I had a right to break the compact, and seek sympathy with something at least human.
So, he is not only describing her (and her family) in incredibly insulting terms (by being downright mean, dismissive and condescending), he also dehumanises her in the most horrid fashion (as can be seen in the last sentence of that quote^^). As if this wasn't bad enough we then get to see Bertha in action as Rochester orders the crowd to come to Thornfield to see her, to judge for themselves:
In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.
Here again, Bertha is seen through a colonial gaze and gets thus dehumanised. She is seen as a "beast", a "wild animal" who is devoid of speech. She is perceived as being dangerous, uncontrollable and maniac. A few moments later, Jane describes: "Mr Rochester flung me behind him: the lunatic sprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek."

And that's pretty much all we get of Bertha in Jane Eyre, except for the part where she burns Rochester's fucking house down (of course) and flings herself to her own death (how fucking convenient, right?).

So, it comes as no surprise that Jean Rhys, a white Creole woman herself, took offense to that portrayal. In one letter, she wrote: "The Creole in Charlotte Brontë's novel is a lay figure - repulsive which does not matter, and not once alive which does. She's necessary to the plot, but always she shrieks, howls, laughs horribly, attacks all and sundry - off stage. For me (and for you I hope), she must be on stage. She must be at least plausible with a past, the reason why Mr. Rochester treats her so abominably and feels justified, 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. Personally, I think that one is simple. She is cold - and fire is the only warmth she knows in England."
“Is there another side?”

“There is always the other side, always.”
Jean Rhys tells Antoinette's story from the time of her youth in Jamaica, to her unhappy marriage to a certain unnamed English gentleman, who renames her Bertha, declares her mad, takes her to England, and isolates her away from the rest of the world in his mansion. [Sounds familiar? No. Then reread Jane Eyre with your eyes fucking open this time.] Rhys uses multiple voices (Antoinette's, her husband's, and Grace Poole's) to tell the story, and intertwines her novel's plot with that of Jane Eyre. In addition, Rhys makes a postcolonial argument when she ties Antoinette's husband's eventual rejection of Antoinette to her Creole heritage (a rejection shown to be critical to Antoinette's descent into madness).

But Jean Rhys does a lot more than just revising Jane Eyre – she doesn't simply flesh out the characters of the original novel to explain their motivations, she actually intervenes in the very project of the novel and its imposing structure, exposing its historical limitations and its legacy as a product of empire and violence.What Wide Sargasso Sea explores is negotiation of the space between audiences and performers, sanity and madness, expectation and fulfilment, acting and being.

The Sargasso Sea lies between Europe (Rochester's home) and the West Indies (Antoinette's home) and is difficult to navigate, like the human situations in the novel. Many vessels have become becalmed or lost in this area of the ocean. Similarly, Antoinette feels lost as she is figuratively caught between England and Jamaica. She is neither colonial nor Jamaican, but a white Creole. The social and racial currents swirl around her as she searches for stability and identity.
I wonder why I have been brought here. For that reason? There must be a reason. What is it that I must do? When I first came I thought it would be for a day, two days, a week perhaps. I thought that when I saw hime and spoke to him I would be wise as serpents, harmless as doves. ‘I give you all I have freely,’ I would say, ‘and I will not trouble you again if you will let me go.’ But he never came.
When she physically crosses the Sargasso Sea and goes to England she believes the ship had lost its way and that she is not really in England. She completely loses her identity, which points out how wide the Sargasso Sea has been for Antoinette. What haunts the reader of this text is the knowledge of what will happen to Antoinette, and the sense that secrets are hidden because people do not want to see what they see, or know what they know.

In England, a total rupture occurs in Antoinette's mind; she has been constructed as the mad Creole by Rochester but she does not recognise that self when she sees it, having returned in imagination to the Caribbean world that is shut up in her, as the red dress hangs in the black press smelling of spices. In her dream she sees the woman with the streaming hair in the mirror as a framed ghost, and drops her candle in fear, setting fire to Rochester’s house.

It is apparent that Jean Rhys hears voices that Brontë’s novel pushes to the margins or out of hearing. Caliban’s isle was full of noises, but this isle is full of voices, speaking different languages and different versions of English and French. Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism, suggests that classic realist fiction develops in Europe in the 19th century because the “power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging” is a way of asserting cultural superiority. Rhys was annoyed when she read Jane Eyre because she thought: “That’s only one side – the English side” and she chose to write a prequel, rather than sequel, to Jane Eyre to interpret the colonial underpinning of Rochester’s thought and actions, seeing from the perspective of white Creoles who have been displaced by a new wave of colonizers. The implication is that the Creoles are classified as inferior in the new society. Antoinette’s displacement makes her more conscious of what she is not than of what she is; she even envies the ex-slaves for their sense of self-definition.

In Rhys’s version of Rochester’s first marriage he is perplexed by the conflicting narratives that lie below the surface of official colonial policy and practice. In this unfamiliar landscape, he tries his best to assert his power over basically every person he meets, but especially over his wife-to-be.
Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too.”
The uncanny control he exercises over her derives from his power as a patriarchal Victorian who has stopped listening to all the islands’ voices. In his fear of Christophine’s obeah magic and the passion between him and Antoinette he has reduced his wife, who loves him, to a spiritless shell: “Like a doll. Even when she threatened me with the bottle she had a marionette equality.”

The voice of his suppressed wishes [= the wish to possess his wife], which is heard when he speaks to the ‘witch’ Christophine, seems to be casting and incantatory spell: “Marionette, Antoinette, Marionetta, Antoinetta.” Christophine recognizes what he is doing and accuses him of spirit theft: “All you want is to break her up. She tell me in the middle of all this you start calling her names. Marionette. That word mean doll, eh?” He loathes her otherness, and reveals himself as a practitioner of colonial obeah. With the confidence of his belief in his own cultural and racial superiority he has stolen her spirit and driven her mad, but his vindictive account of it is as unhinged as her behaviour.

His lust for possession betrays Antoinette, who gives herself freely to him until he rejects the gift; when Christophine suggests that he and Antoinette should separate so that Antoinette can live happily with some else “a pang of rage and jealousy” shoots through Rochester and in revenge he asserts his ownership of his wife and all her belongings.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys also draws attention to colonialism and the slave trade by which Antoinette's ancestors had made their fortune. The novel does not shy away from uncomfortable truths about British history that had been neglected in Brontë's narrative. The lurking, suggested, but mostly unspeakable secrets of Wide Sargasso Sea are glimpsed but never clearly seen. They are rooted in West Indian history; the islands’ inhabitants seem to Rochester to collude in concealing their past – the willed amnesia of the descendants of both plantation owners, like Antoinette, and of slaves. It is as if both exploiters and exploited want to suppress any record of the humiliation and cruelty of slavery, and yet the landscape is haunted by it.

There is a similar resolute amnesia about the transition from slavery to emancipation, when the white Creoles lost their status in comparison with new arrivals from Britain like Mason. Part of this guilt relates to anxiety about miscegenation. Mason buys Rochester for Antoinette because he wants the innuendoes about her and her mother to be silenced, though doubts occur to Rochester even before he hears Daniel’s story. He looks at his wife as they arrive on the honeymoon island and wonders why he has refused to admit what he sees: “Long, sad, dark alien eyes. Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either.”

Rochester is so preoccupied by anxieties about incest and racial impurity that he wants to rationalise his own feelings. Though he shows tenderness for her he anxiously assures himself, in the present tense, that desire is not love and that he has no feeling for her because she is different: “I did not love her. I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did.”

Rhys’s decision to set the main action after the Emancipation Act of 1833 is deliberate, as it connects Antoinette’s quest for selfhood not to Jane’s but to the fate of the ex-slaves of the island. “Qui est la?” recurs as a question in Antoinette’s dreams, echoing the French patois spoken by her surrogate mother figure Christophine, an outsider herself as an ex-slave born in Martinique and living in Jamaica. “Who is there?” is followed by “You frightened?,” and these two challenges drive Antoinette to ultimately choose her Caribbean identity over her European one.
Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do. There must have been a draught for the flame flickered and I thought it was out. But I shielded it with my hand it burned up again to light me along the dark passage.
When she sets her fatal blaze at Thornfield Hall, it’s because she imagines a red dress spilling across the floor like a flame, recalling an episode in which Christophine tells her to wear a red dress instead of a white one bought for her by Rochester. When asked “You frightened?” for the last time in a hallucination, it is by Tia, a Jamaican girl who was her friend before a mob descended on Antoinette’s childhood plantation home, burning it to the ground. In response to Tia’s call, Antoinette jumps toward her out on the mansion’s ramparts, and the novel ends. The fire that consumes her is directly linked to the one set by that group of newly freed ex-slaves. It is an act of resistance, not madness.
Profile Image for emma.
1,872 reviews54.8k followers
May 5, 2023
no thanks.

this was no jane eyre, which is...well...what it was trying to be.

generally it was pretty incoherent and just not the serve i thought it would be...dramatic and ungrounded and strange and very, very married to including an exploration of race that it didn't seem interested in concluding.

oh well.

bottom line: a rare L in the short classic community.

Profile Image for Ilenia Zodiaco.
267 reviews14.1k followers
January 20, 2022
“Il grande mare dei sargassi” appartiene a quel tipo di letteratura elettrica che più che accenderti, ti fulmina. Non si tratta di una semplice rilettura di Jane Eyre – sarebbe riduttivo - ma di una vera riscrittura ovvero una totale decostruzione del motivo vittoriano della “mad woman in the attic” ovvero il sistematico confinamento e isolamento delle donne nella società inglese del diciannovesimo secolo. Sui detriti di questa operazione di smantellamento, la scrittrice disegna (e quindi sovra-scrive) complesse ramificazioni di pensieri, immagini e temi che arrivano fino a noi oggi. Anticoloniale e profondamente femminista, “Il grande mare dei sargassi” è un romanzo potente, legato inestricabilmente alla terra in cui è ambientato: i Caraibi, all’epoca colonia inglese, ritratti nel periodo appena successivo alla soppressione della tratta degli schiavi (ma prima dell’abolizione ufficciale della schiavitù), in un clima di sobbollimento e rancore che rendono l’atmosfera sulfurea.

L’identità, la terra, la razza

La storia è quella di Antoinette, in Jane Eyre conosciuta col nome di Bertha Mason, ragazza creola dalle fortune alterne, destinata a sposare Mr. Rochester, qui mai chiamato con questo nome. Già da questo rovesciamento – la protagonista femminile con un nome inventato che non le appartiene ma che le è stato imposto e il protagonista maschile a cui il nome è stato volontariamente tolto, come a rappresentare semplicemente il prototipo di europeo colonizzatore - si intuisce la profonda analogia intessuta da Jean Rhys tra il corpo delle donne e la terra colonizzata.

Antoinette, fin da piccola, vive un senso di ambiguità rispetto alla sua identità etnica e conosce un senso di estraneità in quanto donna bianca, discendente da una famiglia di proprietari terrieri schiavisti, invisa alla comunità nera del luogo perché percepita come colonizzatrice e usurpatrice. Per questo motivo sia lei sia la madre subiscono angherie e ripicche continue, vengono chiamate “blatte bianche” dai nativi e invece “n**** bianche” dagli europei.

“Così, in mezzo a voi, spesso mi domando chi sono e dov’è il mio paese e a quale appartengo e addirittura perché sono nata”.

Allo stesso tempo, però, Antoinette è stata allevata da donne giamaicane a cui si sente legata, più che alla propria madre. In special modo costruisce una relazione molto significativa con la sua balia, Christophine, una donna molto indipendente e carismatica con doti da guaritrice. Molto diversa dalla madre, una donna distrutta dai lutti e da cui si vuole distaccare a causa della sua fragilità mentale che rasenta la follia, alimentata dalle dicerie e dai pettegolezzi locali.

Quando il patrigno la obbligherà a sposare un estraneo, un gentiluomo inglese in cerca di una ricca dote, il senso di alienazione e diversità rispetto al proprio ambiente crescerà enormemente. Infatti la Giamaica prima e le isole sottovento su cui trascorreranno la luna di miele poi, rimarranno per sempre agli occhi di Rochester un territorio straniero, “dalla bellezza estranea, conturbante, segreta”. Un luogo da cui vuole solo trarre profitto ma che non conoscerà e non capirà mai fino in fondo. Lui, abituato fin da piccolo a nascondere le proprie emozioni e a dissimulare, secondo l’educazione inglese, sarà sempre turbato dalla vivacità, dalla libertà espressiva e “dagli occhi pazzi” degli abitanti di questo luogo “selvaggio”. Lo scontro tra Rochester e Antoinette non è però solo culturale ma soprattutto di genere. E qui ritorna l’analogia tra il corpo delle donne e la terra. Rochester ha un doppio ruolo: usurpatore della terra (in quanto europeo che si appropria delle risorse altrui) e usurpatore della vita di Antoinette, che non ama e sposa opportunisticamente solo per appropriarsi della sua eredità ma che soprattutto eradica dal suo luogo d’origine e che porta in Inghilterra senza il suo consenso. Rochester - come l’uomo bianco europeo - spezza il legame tra i nativi e la propria terra, spezza i loro corpi e la loro identità.

“Ma io amavo questo posto, e tu l’hai trasformato in un posto che odio. Pensavo sempre che anche se nella vita tutto fosse venuto a mancarmi, tutto, qualsiasi altra cosa, avrei ancora avuto questo, e ora tu l’hai distrutto. Ormavi non è più che uno dei tanti posti dove sono stata infelice, e tutto il resto non è nulla in confronto a quello che è accaduto qui”.

Civilizzazione e zombieficazione

Viene ribadito più volte che Rochester ha un approccio predatorio e possessivo nei confronti di Antoinette (“Tutto quello che voi volete è farla a pezzi”) come quello dei colonialisti nei confronti della terra. L’approccio di Rhys è già intersezionale in quanto fa emergere i legami (e le discriminazioni conseguenti) tra etnia, classe e genere.
Il conflitto tra uomini e donne ruota attorno alla proprietà e al possesso dei beni. Il denaro – come in Europa - è uno strumento di controllo di cui le donne sono private, così come vengono confiscate le loro case. Il regno della casa si estende anche al corpo (il corpo è la casa che abitiamo) e quindi alla mente. Le donne devono essere depotenziate e screditate anche da quel punto di vista, conseguentemente vengono messe in dubbio le loro facoltà mentali e eroso il loro senso di sicurezza e identità.

È sempre Rochester che, molto subdolamente, approfitterà del senso di confusione e del conflitto interiore di Antoinette sulla propria identità etnica, per affibbiarle un altro nome: Bertha. Rochester lo fa per disgiungere Antoinette dalla madre (che porta lo stesso nome) e quindi per allontanare il fantasma della follia, per ricondurre Antoinette a un’identità a lui più vicina, più europea, più civile e ragionevole. Per allontanarla dal suo lato più caraibico, più selvaggio e oscuro. Non lo fa perché è meschino e sadico, lo fa perché segue i dettami della società imperialista e patriarcale: lo spirito civilizzatrice è profondamente violento, barbaro e rapace. Lui stesso ne subisce le conseguenze. Essendo un secondogenito, infatti, è bandito dai frutti più maturi del suo lignaggio ed è praticamente scacciato dalla sua famiglia nelle lontane colonie caraibiche, alla ricerca di fortune (e doti).
I corpi delle donne non sono che altre colonie da invadere e saccheggiare.

Oltre a chiamarla con un nome nuovo (così come abbiamo affibbiato nuovi nomi a territori già popolati a cui abbiamo imposto le nostre lingue), la apostrofa anche con appellativi canzonatori, come quello di Marionetta (assonanza col nome Antoinette) che lascia intendere non solo poca autonomia decisionale ma un vero e proprio riferimento allo zombie. Il concetto di zombie – morto apparente, fantoccio senza volontà – infatti era noto nei Caraibi grazie all’eredità delle pratiche magico-religiose africane (come il vudù), diffuse durante l’epoca della tratta degli schiavi che mise in contatto tribù e gruppi etnici provenienti dall’Africa con quelli locali. In Giamaica l’insieme di queste pratiche – più volte rievocate nel romanzo – è chiamato Obeah, una parola ashanti che indica la stregoneria. Tra i riti obeah c’è proprio quello della zombieficazione: un processo attraverso cui un individuo viene reso schiavo fisicamente e mentalmente, ridotto a uno stato liminale tra vita e morte, una non-vita. Lo stato in cui versavano sia le donne nel diciannovesimo secolo sia ovviamente i territori colonizzati, in sostanza. Non stupisce perché lo zombie diventò nelle credenze popolari un mostro così temuto, era l’incubo diventato realtà che le popolazioni locali vivevano ogni giorno sulla loro pelle: la paura di diventare schiavi, di essere privati della propria dignità e della propria volontà.

Jean Rhys è abile a contrapporre le superstizioni e i temi della magia nera (uno specchio per l’immaginario psico-collettivo di una società) con l’apparente razionalità degli europei colonizzatori. Infatti con tutta la ragionevolezza della loro educazione, è proprio Rochester a zombificare Antoinette, nonostante sia lei a minacciarlo di usare la magia nera. La religione e la cultura europea rifiutano le superstizioni e i rituali magici obeah, salvo poi attuarli sulle donne e sulle altre etnie, senza battere ciglio. Non stupisce che Antoinette finisca per perdere la ragione. Se la ragione è usata per servire un sistema folle, la follia diventa la naturale conseguenza, la risposta logica a un sistema disegnato per farle impazzire.

Jean Rhys non solo riesce a fare giustizia per il personaggio di Bertha in Jane Eyre – affetta da mutismo, trattata come una cosa, ora con condiscendenza ora con orrore – ma riesce nel più ambizioso tentativo di creare una storia oscura che getta luce su tutte le donne chiuse nelle soffitte. Anzi, fa qualcosa di più, ti dà una chiave per liberarle.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews50 followers
December 4, 2021
(Book 411 from 1001 books) - Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys (1890 – 1979)

Characters: Antoinette Cosway, Tia, Aunt Cora, Grace Poole, Richard Mason, Annette Cosway, Pierre Cosway, Mr Mason, Christophine, Godfrey, Edward Rochester

Abstract: Born into an oppressive, colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty. But soon after their marriage, rumors of madness in her family poison his mind against her. He forces Antoinette to conform to his rigid Victorian ideals.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و ششم ماه سپتامبر سال1992میلادی

عنوان: گردابی چنین هایل؛ نوشته: جین ریس؛ مترجم: گلی امامی؛ مشخصات نشر تهران، اسپرک، سال1370، در193ص، کتابنامه به صورت زیرنویس، موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده20م

عنوان: گردابی چنین هایل؛ نوشته: جین ریس؛ مترجم: گلی امامی؛ تهران، کتاب پنجره، سال1387، در208صفحه؛ شابک9789647822398؛

رمان «گردابی چنین هایل» پس از سالها دوباره روانه بازار کتاب شد؛ برگردان همین رمان، نخستین بار توسط نشر «اسپرک» به سال1370هجری خورشیدی، منتشر شده بود؛ مقدمه‌ ی «فرانسیس ویندهام»، خوانشگر را با زندگی نویسنده، بانو «جین ریس» آشنا می‌کند؛ نویسنده‌ ی زاده شده در «هندغربی»، که بیشتر سال‌های کاری خود را در «انگلستان» بگذرانده، در زمانه‌ ی خودش در نیمه‌ ی نخست سده ی بیستم میلادی، شهرتی به سزا داشته اند؛ سبک نو نوشته‌ های ایشان، خود را، برابر با رمان‌هایی نشان می‌دهند، که در همان سال‌ها، به قلم بانوان نویسنده ی «انگلیسی» منتشر شده‌ اند، ناقلان آثار و طوطیان شکر شکن شیرین گفتار نیز، چنین آورده اند که: شبا‌هت‌های بسیاری با نوشته‌ های «آندریا لِوِی»، در داستانهای خانوم «ریس» دیده می‌شود؛ پایان نقل از طوطیان شکرشکن شیرین گفتار

داستان در نخستین سال‌های سده ی بیستم میلادی است که آغاز می‌شود؛ جایی در «جامائیکا»، زنی تنها با دخترش روزگار می‌گذرانند؛ آن‌ها روزگاری ثروتمند بوده اند، و از امتیاز زندگی اشرافی خود لذتها برده اند، با لغو برده داری، و درگذشت سرپرست خانواده، در انزوا به سر می‌برند؛ آن‌ها نه انگلیسی هستند و نه سیاه‌پوست؛ از سفید‌پوست‌های بومی جزیره هستند؛ انگلیسی‌ها آن‌ها را «کرئول» میخوانند، و سیاه‌ها آن‌ها را «سوسک سفید» صدا‌ می‌زنند؛ دختر راوی داستان، روایت را آغاز میکند، تا دنیایی پر از زشتی به تصویر کشد؛ دنیایی که، زندگی آن‌ها را به آتش کشیده است؛ در فصل‌های پسین رمان، دختری جوان مقیم صومعه است، سپس ازدواج می‌کند، تا هر دو با هم، رمان را پیش ببرند: باز هم، دنیا پر از سیاهی است، پر از نفرت است، و پر از جدایی است؛ جایی که انگار قرار نیست آرامش وجود داشته باشد، تا بتوان لحظه‌ ای آرام بود، و چشم برهم گذاشت؛ «جین ریس» از «رئالیسم» شاعرانه‌ ای بهره می‌برند، که هماره خوانشگران، علاقه‌ ی ویژه، به نوشته های ایشان نشان می‌دهند؛ جمله‌ های بلند، و البته پر از صنایع ادبی، که وظیفه‌ ی تصویرسازی را به عهده دارند؛ اثر همانند نوشته‌ های امروزین، در ذهن راویان اصلی داستان چرخ می‌زند، و مرتب با عوض شدن راوی، ماجرا از چند سو دنبال، و تصاویر به ذهن خوانشگر فرستاده می‌شوند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 08/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 12/09/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
January 11, 2023
If you have read Jane Eyre, read this ......

“..she belonged to that magic and that enchantment. It had left me thirsty and my whole life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I even found”

And these are the words from the distraught Edward Rochester (Jane Eyre) when he discovers he has been fooled into marrying Antionette Cosway. An insidious move by her family to pass their burden onto the unsuspecting master of Thornfield. A revelation to us as well, because this woman is none other than Bertha Rochester, in Jane Eyre. This is her story and chronicled are the events from her early childhood that led to Bertha’s demise and eventually labelled as Rochester’s insane wife.

An ingenious retelling, in parts, and a worthy accompaniment to the sensation that is Jane Eyre. A book that by no means cowls in its association or in the presence of the literally masterpiece it takes its inspiration from. Instead, this retelling (of sorts) is highly imaginative, intense, brooding, and uncanny in its vivid depiction of people and surroundings, its symbolism and heavily weight themes, like Jane Eyre was.

The Storyline

The book is broken into three parts and narrated by Bertha / Antionette in the first part of the story as she shares her early family life; their troubles and rejection in a society recently liberated from slavery.

In the second part of the story, Rochester travels to the West Indies where he meets and marries Bertha, in quite bizarre circumstances. Nevertheless, entranced by her rare beauty Rochester, once married, begins to question his union when the closely guarded family secrets begin to unravel and he begins to suspect that the rumours of madness, amongst his in-laws, are not wholly unfounded.

In the final part of the book, we travel back to England where Bertha resumes her account from the attic in Thornfield Hall, where she is now guarded by Grace Pool. An account that is moving and touching as ‘the insane wife’ cries and agonises over the need for a husband’s love and touch. However, as her pleas are ignored, we begin to question this so-called madness and its origins, and feel such empathy for the character of Bertha, for all she had suffered in her early years and is set to endure in her new one. For those that have read Jane Eyre - you know her outcome.

Review and Comments

It is fair to say I too made a journey in this book, from the West Indies, treading in the footsteps of the mixed-race Bertha, and into England, and in doing so I began to question ‘who actually betrayed who here?. Was Rochester duped? Or was it the ‘insane’ Bertha?, who thought she had finally found love, only to have her hopes destroyed when she was ultimately rejected by the man, she thought would finally give her the acceptance she craved.

How evocative and thought provoking for readers and lovers of Jane Eyre. Fabulous, just as retellings should be. Although only part of the story is a retelling, because as a prequel many of the events proceed Jane Eyre and fill that vacant slot about how Bertha came to be imprisoned in Thornfield. What it does offer is a different perspective on both characters, although I don’t think Rochester comes out particularly noble in Jane Eyre either.

Along with some incredibly important themes of racism, postcolonialism, greed, family, and marriage which are richly and explicitly depicted. The ones on mental abuse, loneliness and rejection are less pronounced and draw the reader in to construct their own picture, which I think is more effective than had the author taken the brush to canvas and painted the landscape for us. More affecting I’d say.

How this whole story comes together is a triumph, even the book title wasn’t left to chance because ironically the ‘Sargasso Sea’, was known to have marooned ships that became entangled in its weeds – unable to escape. Just like our unlikely heroine.

“Perhaps love would have smiled then; Shown us the way;
Across the sea; They sway its strewn with wrecks
And weed-infested; Few dare it, fewer escape still !!!”

The beauty of this book also comes from the colourful portrait of a tropical paradise that is juxtapositioned to a darker post-colonialist Jamaica, which promised much but didn't deliver the freedom and fundamental change in prejudices that had become so deeply engrained in all parts of the community.

What a wonderful little treasure and to have found this at a book fair when I had just finished Jane Eyre, making this an even more enjoyable read. Although a prequel, I would suggest you read ‘Jane Eyre’ first to appreciate the significance of Rochester and Bertha.

Another 5 star for a modern classic - how could I not with its link to Jane Eyre. Yet that's not all. It is a book that is perfectly haunting and richly atmospheric for the way the story is told and how it encapsulates the period. A book that is emotionally evocative with characters that are wonderfully portrayed and vividly depicted to match the themes and storyline. And finally a quote that perfectly captures the descent into madness and loneliness.

“There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about.”

Just stunning and even more memorable and enjoyable when completing this particular Jane Eyre reading experience.
Profile Image for Jaidee.
607 reviews1,205 followers
August 18, 2021
5 "erratic, ecstatic and hypnotic" stars !!!

4th Favorite Read of 2017 (Tie)

This book is such a wonderful dark counterpoint to Jane Eyre. I was inspired to write a poem rather than a review and I hope you enjoy it


Antoinette by day, Bertha by twilight
The white cockroach of Coulibri
Bold & Beautiful
Mad and Fiery as Hades

Daughter of slaveowner, philanderer, villain
Mired in mayombe and voodoo
and the saints of the dark godesses
on the isle of Jamaica

Nineteen lovers or was it ninety nine
No matter...some are real but all are imagined
as her body was built for lust
primitive and yielding to whites and blacks

Rochester, so refined and elegant
never to be hers but used again
and again and again and again
until her loins are as red as the flames she breathes

Opium on the ship journey to misty England
Locked in an attic with alcoholic Grace
coming heart to heart with her nemesis
so plain and fair is the little Jane Eyre

Damnation, Anger, Lust, Madness
A fire to disfigure her one true love
Rochester, you bastard, to hell I will send you
My name is Antoinette Bertha Cosway

The White Cockroach
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,230 followers
March 6, 2019
I've always been convinced I've read Jane Eyre. I've even rated it here. I also thought I had at some point in my life seen a film adaptation. But the further I ventured into this retelling of Charlotte Bronte's novel the more I found myself doubting the veracity of this assumption. Finally, I had to own up to never having read Jane Eyre. This came as a bit of a shock, as it always does when we discover we have invented a memory. No doubt I once fibbed, not wanting to embarrass myself as being poorly read and the fib became a monument, a monument I've even garnished with (four-starred) flowers.

And if you've never read Jane Eyre this novel is sometimes confusing. It may even be confused. It begins with Antoinette, a young Creole girl whose family on her white father's side have a dubious history of slave-holding. Slavery has recently been abolished and there's much anger in the air. The racism theme in this novel is for the most part artfully dramatised, especially perhaps the close bond between racism and misogyny. As if you can't have one without the other. (Women too can be misogynistic, if they've been browbeaten and brainwashed .) Part one, culminating with the eruption of the violence simmering throughout, is all beautifully observed and compelling.

Then we begin part two and I found myself reading three pages which were going completely over my head. I retraced my footsteps and found a footnote. The note at the back of the book informed me the book was now being narrated by Antoinette's new husband. Should a novel need this kind of note? I recently watched a documentary about Rhys' editor and learned that the first part of this book was added afterwards at her suggestion. Which means Rhys composed the novel in a completely different key. And I'm afraid this shows. I kept feeling Rhys didn't have full control over her material. As if the new beginning had skewed and jarred what followed. To my mind, the editor should have gone further and told her to now write the entire novel from Antoinette's point of view. The husband narrative, never entirely convincing - what baddie portrays himself as a baddie? - might have been interesting had Rhys sought to undermine Antoinette's truth with his truth - created a battle of two unreliable narrators. But he's a reliable narrator, too reliable, there essentially to establish facts. It struck me as a laziness in Rhys that, having changed the beginning, she left what follows untouched. And all the best bits of the husband's narrative are when he sounds exactly like Antoinette. That Rhys eventually dumps him for part three and returns to Antoinette does make you wonder why he was ever there in the first place. (She also very clumsily adds a brief third voice in part three which confirmed to me that she gave far more thought to crafting her sentences than she did to structure.) It would have demanded a more refined artistry but my feeling was Rhys could have and should have channelled all the information we learn through the husband through Antoinette.

What redeems the architectural flaws is how well Rhys writes and how much of interest she has to say about her subject matter. It's sad if this, as the cover proclaims, is her masterpiece because my feeling is she was more than capable of writing a better novel. The average rating for this is 3.58 and that's pretty much how I felt. And I haven't read this three times as this site declares. But I have now read it. Jane Eyre will follow soon.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews630 followers
July 15, 2019
“After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie”, was so terrific that I ordered two more books by Jean Rhys to read.
“Good Morning, Midnight”, - will be next to read...

“Wide Sargasso Sea”, was Rhys most famous book.... quoted as a masterpiece...bringing the fascinating character- Antoinette Cosway- from Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre”, out of the dark attic...and putting her center stage.
I agree - the entire concept for this book was brilliant- fascinating- and it worked.
What an incredible risk, Rhys made!! Truly was amazing.

Funny... I had just recently read “Mona, in Three Act”, by Op de Beeck Griet... and my complaint was it was 400+ pages long. This book, half its length had twice as much lasting power.

The introduction, by Edwidge Danticat put me in the right framework to plow ahead.
I became interested with what Danticat was fascinated with.
Edwidge Danticat had a Caribbean background, as Rhys did.
She wrote:
“The fact that Bertha Antoinette Mason—the first Mrs.Rochester—was a Creole, a white person, who was born and raised on a Caribbean island, fascinated me. I was sad, though, that we readers spent so little time with her, and that when we did see her she was either raging mad or setting things on fire. There must be something more, I told myself. How did Bertha Mason come to be confined in our old house in England? Was she madly in love or simply mad? Had Mr. Rochester once loved her the way he loves Jane Eyre?”

And so the story begins with Antoinette Cosway narrating PART ONE.
“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks”. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self’, Christophine said”.
Complex race and gender relations revealed themselves right away.
This theme continues throughout.....( Antoinette is later called “white cockroach” and “white nigger”), along with themes of emotional repression, slaves & slave owners, frustration and desperation, class, gender, love & hate, sensuality, jealousy, abuse, feminism, possessiveness, mental illness, control, ( Mr. Rochester re-naming Antoinette, Bertha), madness, and a relationship between money, lust, sex, and power.

Mr. Rochester marries Antoinette....partly for money ....but also in part to have power of her ....and partly for lust. It’s such a doomed marriage. Antoinette tries to ride out the racial tensions and family struggles.

PART TWO is the longest section - narrated mostly by Mr. Rochester. He tries to turn Antoinette into something she isn’t.

PART THREE.... the shortest section ... perhaps the saddest part of the entire book - but we see the parallels to PART ONE...

The characters want freedom...characters were often drunk...the Caribbean was a dream for Mr. Rochester....
England a dream for Antoinette....
But DREAMS....can literally drive a person mad.

Many great reviews already written....
I completely agree... this was a phenomenal book.
I read it slow - I re-read parts several times. I reflected on it during the times I wasn’t reading it often. It’s a slim book that I also plan to read again.
It’s simply haunting in my thoughts.
The female characters- Christophine, a former slave, and Antoinette, both will remain in my thoughts in much the same way Jane Eyre has.

Loved it and agree with others...this was a phenomenal- tragic
Once again proving a thin novel of 200 pages can have more power than books twice its length.

Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,519 followers
December 23, 2018
Probably contains some spoilers

“Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible – the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest trees, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched. One was snaky looking, another like an octopus with long thin brown tentacles bare of leaves hanging from a twisted root.” - Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I was curious to read this book as it was considered a sort of prequel to Jane Eyre. So I guess this counts as fanfiction? At least it’s very well-written fan fiction!

The writing style is of course different from Jane Eyre. The depictions of the Caribbean are beautiful. It’s a relatively short book and it tells the story of Mr. Rochester's first wife, Antoinette Cosway, whom he met in Jamaica. The themes explored in the book are very postcolonialism (discusses the relationships between former slaves and slaveowners after Emancipation), identity (Antoinette is Creole and is therefore not accepted by either the blacks or the whites) and madness.

I’ve just finished reading a book about the Suffragette movement that looked into historical accounts of insanity in women. I had no idea that the word "hysteria" was first used to describe a supposed mental ailment that women suffered from all because they had a uterus. *sigh* Apart from being frustrated by that piece of pseudoscience, what's also frustrating is the fact that historically a lot of people were unaware that the environment one lives in can make one "crazy." Women in particular, who were often reliant on men and didn’t have their own freedom were obviously more likely to suffer from nervous breakdowns.

I’m pretty sure most readers will change their opinion of Rochester after they read this. I will definitely see him in a less than favourable light when I do re-read Jane Eyre.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,197 reviews1,820 followers
August 8, 2021

”Wide Sargasso Sea – Fiamme di passione”, film australiano del 1993 diretto da John Duigan, con Karina Lombard nel ruolo di Antoinette/Bertha e Nathaniel Parker in quello di Edward Rochester. Nel cast anche Rachel Ward e Michael York.

Oggigiorno lo si definirebbe un prequel: la protagonista si chiama Antoinette Cosway, che con le seconde nozze della madre diventa Antoinette Mason, per poi a sua volta sposarsi con Edward Rochester (ma qui il suo nome non viene mai pronunciato), un matrimonio fallimentare che finisce col marito che chiama la moglie Bertha invece di Antoinette, e la tiene reclusa nell’ultimo piano della sua grandiosa e sinistra dimora nella campagna inglese. Sequestrata perché ritenuta pazza dopo averla spogliata d’ogni bene.
La “pazza” racconta in un delirante flusso di coscienza la terza parte di questo romanzo: racconta della candela che reggeva in mano, del tessuto che ha preso fuoco, poi la tenda in fiamma, poi un’altra candela, infine l’incendio.
Che si porta via la villa.

Versione per la televisione UK del 2006 diretta da Brendan Maher dove Rebecca Hall è Antoinette e Rafe Spall è Rochester.

La villa di Edward Rochester protagonista maschile del romanzo Jane Eyre di Charlotte Brontë, l’uomo di cui Jane Eyre s’innamora.
Ecco perché prequel.
Non credo Rhys abbia pagato diritti di sorta, d’altra parte Jane Eyre è ormai fuori diritti.
Battute a parte, un grande omaggio alla Brontë e al suo romanzo pubblicato centoventi anni prima, un affascinate caso letterario, e una grande idea per un grande breve romanzo che in italiano meriterebbe senza indugio una nuova traduzione (questa che ho letto io è del 1971 e lascia molto a desiderare, aggiunge delirio al delirio).
Wide Sargasso Sea uscì nel 1966 solo perché l’amica ed editor della Rhys, Diana Athill, riuscì a dare un ordine ai fogli sparsi che da vent’anni la Rhys continuava a scrivere e lavorare.

Valentina Cervi interpreta Bertha e Michael Fassbender Rochester in “Jane Eyre” del 2011, diretto da Cary Joji “True Detective” Fukunaga.

Ho parlato di una terza parte, ambientata in Inghilterra, dove la voce è quella diretta, e farneticante, della protagonista, Antoinette-Bertha che in qualche modo lascia intuire la fine.
La prima è sempre per sua voce e racconta la sua vita da bambina e adolescente, nelle Indie Occidentali.
Inizia che la schiavitù è stata appena abolita, e i bianchi nati laggiù sono definiti negri bianchi, o creoli, usando l’accezione originale del termine.
La famiglia Cosway è ridotta male, madre vedova, figlia e fratellino perennemente ammalato.
La serva Christophine è una seconda madre per Antoinette e la introduce al mondo della magia caraibica (voodoo, zombi, obeah).
La madre riesce a chiudere un matrimonio vantaggioso con il ricco Mr Mason. Ma, i locali non amano i negri bianchi e appiccano il fuoco alla loro villa, e nelle fiamme rimane ucciso il piccolo di casa.
A quel punto, la mamma di Antoinette diventa preda di una qualche forma di demenza, di rabbiosa follia, che spinge a rinchiuderla fino alla sua morte.

Nel “Jane Eyre” di Franco Zeffirelli (1995), Bertha è Maria Schneider, e Rochester è interpretato da William Hurt.

Antoinette cresce dalle suore.
E qui comincia la seconda parte, raccontata soprattutto da Rochester, e in misura minore ancora da Antoinette.
Il patrigno muore e la affida a suo figlio Richard, che per Antoinette è un fratellastro, il padre di lui è il patrigno di lei. Mason jr compra un marito per la sua sorellastra Antoinette, forse per togliersela di mezzo: cede tutto il capitale di lei a un secondogenito inglese, che per legge non aveva diritto a ereditare nulla del patrimonio della sua famiglia d’origine.
Non la amavo. Avevo sete di lei, ma questo non è amore. Mi destava ben poca tenerezza, per me era un’estranea, un’estranea che non pensava e non sentiva come me.

Claudia Coulter è Bertha nella miniserie inglese in quattro puntate del 2006 “Jane Eyre”, dove Toby Stephens è Rochester. La regia è affidata a Susanna White, che ho molto apprezzato in alcuni episodi della serie “Generation Kill”.

Antoinette, in quanto donna, non ha diritto di scelta, di autodeterminazione, è gestita e sballottata come un pacco postale. Dopo un periodo nelle isole dei Caraibi, durante il quale Rochester cede alle voci che girano contro sua moglie, ben più che sussurrate, accusata d’essere figlia di una pazza, mezza strega, tendete a sua volta alla follia, e quindi, oltre che allontanarsi dalla moglie, pronunciare le parole riportate sopra, e tradirla con una serva sotto lo stesso tetto, decide di far ritorno in patria, l’Inghilterra, dove ora può ritornare senza problemi economici, addirittura diventato ricco grazie al vantaggioso matrimonio.
E, come s’è detto, relegherà segregata Antoinette, che per ghiribizzo decide di chiamare Bertha, nell’ultimo piano della dimora, affidandola alle cure e ai soprusi di una donna di servizio, Grace (invero un’autentica disgrazia).
Dimora nella quale approderà Jane Eyre per innamorarsi del padrone di casa, Edward Rochester.

“Jane Eyre – La porta proibita”, diretto nel 1943 da Robert Stevenson. Orson Welles veste i panni di Rochester (qui in foto con la protagonista interpretata da Joan Fontaine. Bertha rimane nell’attico, viene solo nominata, non si vede.

Definita post-moderna, la scrittura della Rhys a me pare modernissima, e lussureggiante, come la natura delle isole in cui è ambientata, quei Caraibi all’epoca della storia identificati con le Indie Occidentali.

Jean Rhys disse:
L’intero scrivere è come un lago. Ci sono i grandi fiumi ad alimentarlo, come Tolstoj o Dostoevskij; e poi ci sono i minuscoli ruscelletti, come Jean Rhys. Tutto ciò che importa è alimentare il lago. Io non sono importante. Il lago lo è. Bisogna continuare ad alimentare il lago.

Jean Rhys: nata il 24 agosto 1890 a Roseau capitale di Dominica, morta il 14 maggio 1979 a Exeter nel Devon, UK.
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book394 followers
April 9, 2021
Forgive me for this rather shocking confession, but I have never read Jane Eyre. As a lover of Literature (I guess for the time being I should demote myself to ‘so-called lover of Literature’) I stand before you hanging my head in shame (just ignore the fact that there’s a book laying in my lap). It seems to be a rather troubling trend as before this I read J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, without ever having read Robinson Crusoe..

So, having never read JE, how can it be that I simply adore this book? In the time I spent rereading this novel (that’s right, I read it twice), should I not have been reading Miss Brontë instead? Is it possible that I enjoyed it more, having never read JE? I’m afraid I do not have the answers you may seek. I feel better already having gotten this off my chest, but rest assured I will appeal to the Literature Gods for further guidance in this matter. I do not wish to lead anyone astray, but if JE is holding preventing from picking this one up all I can say (whisper, really) is: DO IT! (I was going to say JUST DO IT, but someone already trademarked that.)
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
February 25, 2020
Hazy and full of dread, Wide Sargasso Sea fleshes out the character of Antoinette, the first wife of Rochester from Jane Eyre. Set in Jamaica shortly after the abolition of slavery, the novel follows from birth to death the heroine, a French creole woman of the former planter class who finds herself estranged from white and Black communities alike because of her fraught social identity. In lush, fragmented prose Rhys begins and ends the story from the perspective of Antoinette, who speaks elliptically of her traumatic childhood in the colony and her descent into madness in England. The middle, longest part centers on Rochester over the course of his honeymoon, and carefully charts the psychology of a money-hungry white abuser who’s happy to exploit his wife for all she’s worth, then cage her out of sight. The work’s end, with its self-conscious restaging of pivotal scenes from Jane Eyre, leaves something to be desired, but otherwise it’s an arresting slow burn.
Profile Image for Caroline .
429 reviews594 followers
August 20, 2021

Published 119 years after Jane Eyre, the famous classic that inspired it, Wide Sargasso Sea is Jean Rhys’s attempt to give Bertha Mason (here going primarily by the name “Antoinette Cosway”) a detailed back story. A fan of Jane Eyre and of the movie version of Wide Sargasso Sea, I greatly looked forward to reading this book. I want to stress how crucial it is to read Jane Eyre before starting this. There's simply no understanding what happens in Wide Sargasso Sea otherwise. Though perhaps that doesn't matter, because I don't recommend this anyway. Rhys's basic vision was strong but her execution terrible.

To provide some brief background, Rhys imagined Antoinette as a Creole girl in a gorgeously lush Jamaica, with the story opening at the height of political and racial tensions there. Unfortunately, this atmospheric setting can’t make up for Rhys’s surprisingly weak and hazy portrayal of Antoinette.

This prequel is divided into three parts. A young Antoinette narrates part one; part two is narrated mostly by Mr. Rochester (whom Rhys for no valid reason chose to never name); and part three is once again narrated by Antoinette, this time as an adult.

Part one starts off promisingly enough, but when Rochester materializes in part two, Antoinette is suddenly an adult woman, newly married to him, and the union is a loveless one. This jump in time is too abrupt to work. Upsetting the smooth flow of part two, Antoinette’s voice randomly interrupts at one point, thus giving the impression that Rhys had trouble organizing this story.

The story is most intriguing and moves more quickly when it opens, when young Antoinette is trying to make sense of her relationship with her mother. Here’s a part rich with the potential to add much-needed psychological depth, but Rhys neglected it so sorely that it’s hard to understand why she included anything about their relationship at all.

Another trouble spot concerns Rochester. It’s unclear why Rhys allotted him such a generous chunk of the narrative. Rhys didn't flesh out Rochester any more than she fleshed out Antoinette, so significant narrative devoted to him matters little, nor should it change how fans of Jane Eyre feel about Rochester. His portrayal here is simply too colorless to inspire any strong opinions.

Rhys’s prose is horrible, both stylistically and technically. It’s choppy and oftentimes convoluted; some punctuation is missing throughout or used incorrectly; and large sections, especially toward the end, veer into nonsensical, difficult to follow, “stream of consciousness”-like territory. I honestly had no idea whatsoever what some of her sentences meant, despite repeated reading.

Rhys lacked a fine-tuned ear for dialogue, and she didn't use dialogue to make her characters distinct. It’s striking, for instance, that Rochester’s impressions of their natural surroundings sound remarkably like Antoinette’s:
Rochester: “One morning soon after we arrived, the row of tall trees outside my window were covered with small pale flowers too fragile to resist the wind. They fell in a day, and looked like snow on the rough grass--snow with a faint sweet scent. Then they were blown away. [...] It was a beautiful place--wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret.”

Antoinette: “I can remember every second of that morning, if I shut my eyes I can see the deep blue colour of the sky and the mango leaves, the pink and red hibiscus, the yellow handkerchief she wore round her head, tied in the Martinique fashion with the sharp points in front, but now I see everything still, fixed for ever like the colours in a stained-glass window.”

By far, though, Wide Sargasso Sea's biggest misstep is in, well, its very reason for being: its depiction of Antoinette. Her sections should be the most significant, most powerful of the entire book, yet she remains almost exactly as she did in Jane Eyre: a shadow of a woman, indistinct, never able to be truly understood or even pictured. The missed opportunity here for a three-dimensional Antoinette is so very, very disappointing; Rhys only skimmed the surface of this mystery woman’s history.

Finally, probably most inexcusable is that Rhys implied that Antoinette’s plunge into insanity . This would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive--in more than one way.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a disappointment all around and a classic I would have been no worse off for skipping. Anyone eager to know more about the mystery woman from Jane Eyre won’t find the answer in these pages. Bertha Mason, it seems, is a character fated to remain a mystery. Maybe one day a really talented writer will take on the challenge of giving her the backstory Rhys failed at miserably. I'll eagerly read it.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,184 followers
March 8, 2017
I think the idea of one author piggy-backing, uninvited, on the characters and plot of another, is decidedly dodgy. However, this is widely regarded as a classic, and as I've read Jane Eyre many times (review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), I thought I should finally try this prequel novella.

With such well-known books, I don't think it's a spoiler to say this imagines the story of the mad first wife in Rochester's attic: from her childhood in Jamaica, through to her marriage to Rochester, and a final epilogue that ties the two novels together, set in her attic at Thorfield. She travels from privilege to poverty and then to something else altogether.

NOTE: The book and this review use the N word occasionally (and appropriately, imo).


The novel is set shortly after the emancipation of the plantation slaves, and Antoinette (aka Bertha in Jane Eyre) is the creole daughter of a former slave-owner.

Colour (in ever sense), and its contrasts and consequences, is at the heart of the novel, such as when "marooned" is used as a literal description and a metaphor, when Antoinette is looking at her mother.

The lush and multitudinous colours of the Carribean ooze from almost every page (see quotes at the end), but it's the colour of people that is more problematic.

Antoinette is mixed-race, but mostly accepted as white. Except that "accepted" isn't really true. When her widowed mother marries Mr Mason ("we ate English food now"), she notices how English he is, how un-English her mother is, and is less sure about herself. A black person describes her as a "white cockroach" and the English think of her as a "white nigger", but the blacks say that a "black nigger is better than white nigger". She muses, "I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong".

Colour determined the balance of power in colonies like Jamaica. Freeing the slaves changed that, but didn't entirely reverse it. With the story set at this turning point, it's not only Antoinette who is questioning her identity and her place in life, and to some extent, her personal change of circumstances, and Rochester's role in that, echo those of colonial people in general.

The rich colours sometimes have an unreality about them, and that seems prescient when dreams and drugs appear to muddle reality and unreality ("Only the magic and the dream are true — all the rest's a lie."). But they are transient, I think.

What of madness? I was expecting this book to be about what madness means, and the use and abuse of the label (especially by men, about women), and perhaps it is. Nevertheless, the overwhelming theme for me was colour.


The story is initially told by Antoinette. Later Rochester has a turn, and they swap a couple more times. In narration and dialogue, it wasn't always immediately clear who was talking. Not a huge problem, but a definite irritation.

More provocatively, if Antoinette really IS mad, how can she tell her story so coherently, and if she ISN'T really mad...? In fact, Rochester's final passage is more muddled and rambling than any of Antoinette's.

Given this, and the way Rochester was tricked into the marriage (stated in Jane Eyre, but given detail here) and some of what happens in this book (), one has to ask whether he is as much of a victim as Antoinette is.


The heat of this book is in stark contrast with the cold that pervades much of Jane Eyre: here the passions are out in the open; in that, they are often suppressed.

Apart from the characters (though Rochester is never named), there are echoes of what is to come, perhaps designed to reinforce local ideas of of the power of obeah (magic): . The colour red is strong in both, in the literal sense (furnishings, flowers, fabrics, sky etc), and perhaps as a foreboding of fire of temper and of flames.

A more Biblical omen comes from several mentions of a cock crowing: just before the wedding; when collecting ("That is for betrayal, but who is the traitor?"), and persistently when Rochester is planning taking Antoinette back to Spanish Town.


Having opened by saying I dislike the idea of adding to another author's story, I was intrigued by Daniel to the extent that if there was a book about him, I might be tempted to pick it up: what sort of man is he really, and what are his motives?

Daniel claims to be one of many illegitimate half-siblings of Antoinette. Her (white) father was well-known for his philandering ways with local women, but the authenticity of Daniel's personal claim is disputed.

Baptiste tells Rochester that Daniel is "a very superior man, always reading the Bible" and, a few sentences later, "Daniel is a bad man and he will come here and make trouble". Is this poor editing, or deliberate and significant?

In his house, there is a framed text reading "Vengeance is mine" and Daniel is jealous of Sandi (the favoured illegitimate son, who passes as white, and is wealthy). His feelings about Antoinette are less clear, and his motives for telling Rochester about her mother's madness and other gossip are also uncertain: does he want to protect Antoinette in some way, is he hoping Rochester will be so incensed that he will wreak revenge on the Masons (and maybe gratitude on Daniel) and why, at the end of the scene, . Or maybe I'm reading too much into a minor scene?


* "The diamond-shaped pieces of silk melted one into the other, red, blue, purple, green, yellow, all one shimmering colour."

* An extraordinary oxymoron about her convent school: "my refuge, a place of sunshine and death".

* "light and dark, sunshine and shadow, Heaven and Hell"

* "Everything is too much... Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near."

* A bathing pool has "secret loveliness. And it kept its secret... I want what it hides."

* "It was often raining when I woke during the night, a light capricious shower, dancing playful rain, or hushed, muted, growing louder, more persistent, more powerful, an inexorable sound. But always music, a music I had never heard before."

* "I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it."


I'm really torn between 3* and 4* - and I see the GR rating averages 3.51* On balance, I think 4* - but only just.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,950 reviews615 followers
May 2, 2023
The Wide Sargasso Sea is a novel by Jean Rhys, published in 1966 at age 76. Rewarded by the Royal Society Literature Award, this novel highlighted an author who remained in the shadows. His life undoubtedly inspired Jean Rhys to create the character of Antoinette. Like her, she is the daughter of an Englishman married to a white Creole. Cradled in the culture of the black community of Jamaica, Antoinette, following her mother's illness, is put in a boarding school with nuns. However, she only leaves boarding school to be "sold" to an English gentleman. She falls in love with him, but satisfied to have made an excellent financial transaction by marrying her, he will quickly take a grip on her. Rumors run here and there, madness, like his mother, ready to abandon herself in the arms of the firstcomer. Cohabitation quickly becomes unbearable; alcohol flows freely; the couple's tension turns to confrontation, and she leaves Jamaica for England.
This novel is fierce, the atmosphere suffocating, I would even say choking. Despite or because of the magnificence of the landscapes and the islands' beauty, some vis-à-vis others' frustration quickly reaches a deleterious paroxysm. White representatives of English colonialism despise these white Creoles. What difference can their eyes be between white and black negroes? Jean Rhys relates.
And, of course, this novel has another facet. I humbly admit that I would have missed it if not gone snooping here or there. What if Antoinette was Rochester's Hidden Woman? What if Wide Sargasso Sea was the prologue to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre?
I humbly admit that I would have missed it if not gone snooping here or there. What if Antoinette was Rochester's Hidden Woman? What if Wide Sargasso Sea was the prologue to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre?
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,256 reviews2,303 followers
June 1, 2016
Every once in a while, I stop to think about the neglected characters in various novels who exist only as plot devices. What are their stories? If you saw the novel through their eyes, what would it be like?

Therefore, ever since I heard the premise of Jean Rhys's novel, I was eager to read it. Bertha, Mr. Rochester's first wife, must have had a life other than as the "madwoman in the attic". I do not know if Charlotte Bronte ever thought about it, but Ms. Rhys obviously did, and this compellingly readable novel is the product.

The language is beautifully evocative. I could see the West Indies, even though I have never been there. I could see, hear and smell the tropical countryside (very much like my homeland), at once breathtakingly beautiful, compellingly seductive and strangely frightening-like Antoinette. Especially to the eyes of an Englishman whose green meadows and rolling fields hold no secrets.

Yes, the countryside is beautiful... but dangerous, since you can get lost in it. It may suddenly cloud over and start to rain, and you may find yourself in the burnt-out ruins of a country house populated only by ghosts of dead slaves and murdered slave-owners.

The characterisation is perfect. Rhys draws each character, including the minor ones, with a few deft brush strokes. Rochester, for all his faults, comes across as sympathetic, a victim of his times and society: the "evils" he does are part of his social makeup. And Antoinette is a masterpiece-inseparable from the landscape she inhabits. As we progress through the novel and she slips more and more into madness, the narrative also matches her mental state. In fact, the third part is downright creepy.

However, I am still plagued by a niggling doubt... would this novel be effective for someone totally ignorant of Jane Eyre?

Oh well...maybe the question is irrelevant.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,625 followers
May 14, 2019
An epic romance made meek, singular, aromatic, ethereal, surreal. A fresh little nugget of splendor, of much-needed prose perfection. This is gothic romance at its absolute height. (It's perhaps the best piece of fan-fiction ever.) & I say this as "WSS" is in actuality a side story formulated for the emblematic crazed woman smack in the middle of "Jane Eyre". But it takes a life of its own... merging elements of brutal nature and brutal nurture both, to birth a spectacle like one I've never experienced before. Not short of magical, it's baffling how truly impactful these short novels really are. Rhys gives us so much by giving us the absolute least. Leaving the reader naturally to ask for more.

There are specks of Graham Greene (the impeccable) here; as well as Toni Morrison (the visionary)-- SO the best of the best in the best.

To be read IMMEDIATELY. "Wide Sargasso Sea": certainly a masterpiece.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews9,006 followers
December 26, 2017
I don't think I really understood this book at first, but after I finished it, I went looking around online for more info about it and it clicked. This book is a prequel to Jane Eyre to be read after you read Jane Eyre. Reading it before you read Jane Eyre will probably spoil some of it for you. Also, as a stand alone book without referrence to Jane Eyre, I don't think it is a particularly interesting book.

The story for me was a bit flat. I didn't fully understand the motivation of the characters. This is a case of having to know a bit of the background of the world at the time the book was released to really get it. There are a lot of themes around the treatment of women, race, slavery, imperialism, etc. that the casual reader may not catch. I know I didn't at first (thanks, Wikipedia! 😉)

So, here's a basic bullet point rundown:

- A so-so story
- Doesn't really stand well on it's own (must be read after Jane Eyre)
- With Jane Eyre in mind, you should really read a synopsis of it before, during, and/or after you read this (unless you are well versed in Jane Eyre)
- I give it 3 stars as it is cool to get backstory from another book, but I couldn't go higher because I was not moved or blown away. The story just was there . . . kinda blah.
Profile Image for Dolors.
541 reviews2,287 followers
May 20, 2013
Fear of the fallen myth syndrome is what has prevented me from reading this book for years.
You have to understand, Jane Eyre was my first "adult" novel. I was still a tomboy who had only read Enid Blyton's "The Secret Seven" when one scorching summer day the torn spine of a seemingly ancient book caught my attention among a few volumes sitting on my Godmother's shelves. I remember that summer as one of the best of my life, and while Jane became my personal heroine and I developed a fervent crush on Mr. Rochester, I discovered an awkward but exhilarating female awareness completely foreign to me.
Call me nostalgic, but I didn't want to lose that simple and uncomplicated feelings from my childhood.
I should have known better.

Doomed Bertha, from fire you come, consumed in fire you will go.
Antoinette Cosway is the scapegoat of a decadent, expatriate and exploited society. She neither belongs with the "whites" nor the "niggers". She is a white cockroach, a white nigger who carries the heavy burden of her slave-owner ancestors during the last remains of the British and French Colonialism in the Caribbean Islands.
A neglected child, she blossoms in isolated existence, nurturing a strange communion with the exotic, humid landscape of her home in Coulibri. Prejudice and superstition ignite her dormant sinister tendencies when her mother's house is set on fire by the locals, killing his half-witted brother Pierre and leaving Mr. Mason, her mother's second husband, as her sole protector.
A young woman who shies from light and longs for the cool shadows of a convent where she recovers from shock. Her beauty thrives attuned to the hostile and oppressing tropical surroundings.
One should never leave lonely alone.
Mrs. Rochester, with her sad, dark alien eyes. And her red dress, as blinding as furious flames but in complete harmony with the too much red flowers, closes in on her young husband, choking him, disorienting him.

Impressionable Edward Fairfax Rochester, the typical Victorian gentleman, overwhelmed with the intensity of these somber, bizarre, damp landscapes with its menacing and reproachful people, can't avoid feeling equally appalled and attracted to his new wife. His cold and possessive masculinity keeps him from acting far from virtuously with his young wife, pressing instead of soothing, demanding instead of empathizing, presumptuous instead of trusting.

Clash of cultures, class and race relations, the suffocating subconscious of unknown misdeeds...history makes a victim out of Antoinette. Deranged woman? Or simply a collateral undesired effect of the oppression of colonialism and patriarchal tradition, embodied of course, in Mr. Rochester?
Jean Rhys masters the helplessly biased, non reliable, first person narrative form, alternating the voices of both Antoinette and Edward, smothering the reader with her misleading lush tone, hypnotizing him with her exquisite and deeply disturbing style, which builds up imperceptibly towards a suffocating and unavoidable culmination.
Antoinette says It is always too late for truth.
Truth. Such an elusive word. We all seek truth. But which truth?
I have found my own truth, better said, I have shaken hands with my long time found but not avowed truth. A truth I already perceived in Mr. Rochester's guilt, in his deceitful ways, in his rough domineering character. He never loved Antoinette, Bertha as he called her in a futile attempt to change her, for she was much of a wild spirit, caught alight, impossible to cage. She didn't have a place in this world, so Mr. Rochester forced her to create her own.
And curiously, this new found truth does nothing but enhance my feelings for my childhood hero, this wounded rogue, shinning with all his flaws, who comes more alive today than ever.
I should have known better. Rhys' novel stands on its own and it's her subtle and haunting voice that allows us to listen to those who never dared to speak before. I have listened and understood. Have you?

I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it..
Profile Image for Blaine.
782 reviews661 followers
March 2, 2022
I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.
I’m sure I never would have read Wide Sargasso Sea—honestly, I’m not sure I ever would have even heard of it—if it were not included on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Novels list. I read Jane Eyre a couple of years ago, so I was mildly curious to read a backstory of that novel’s “madwoman in the attic.” Unfortunately, I had a lot of problems with this book.

Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Antoinette Cosway. As a child in Jamaica, her slave-trading family lost its wealth when slavery was abolished. She is eventually married off to young Edward Rochester, though neither really loves the other. He cheats on her, is emotionally cruel, and eventually begins calling her Bertha rather than her actual name. Antoinette does indeed slowly go mad. The final dozen pages of the book take place within the timeline of Jane Eyre, and the novel ends with Antoinette about to start the fatal fire.

I am honestly not certain what I was supposed to get from Wide Sargasso Sea. There’s a lot about race here, and that could have been a corrective to the problematic racial parts (especially about Bertha) in Jane Eyre. But the Antoinette of this novel is hardly a sympathetic victim. Again, her parents were slave-traders who lost their wealth when slavery was abolished. By modern standards (and this book was published in 1966), who is supposed to be sorry for the slavers? And this novel posits that’s there’s a history of madness in Antoinette’s family, so it’s not clear that it’s Edward or England or gender roles in marriage that drives her mad.

Now, it’s possible I went into this book with an unhelpful attitude. Does anyone agree with the Goodreads description of Antoinette as “one of fiction’s most fascinating characters”? I mean, I remembered her character, but she was hardly as interesting as Jane Eyre herself. Worse though, is the following assertion from the novel’s Introduction:
In spite of its connections to Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Wide Sargasso Sea is more than, to use a contemporary term, fan fiction. It is its own jewel of a novel, which can be read with or without its original inspiration in mind.
That, my friends, is just utter nonsense. Wide Sargasso Sea is literally a fan fiction, a possible backstory of Bertha, and to a lesser degree, of Edward. I have trouble imagining anyone would have cared about this novel but for its connection to Jane Eyre. Moreover, the ending here would be incomprehensible without a familiarity with the original novel.

There’s some nice writing here, and there’s a lot of intertwining of character and setting that reminded me of Wuthering Heights. But Wide Sargasso Sea just isn’t very interesting, and there’s nothing here that isn’t done better in any number of other novels. You’d never have heard of it if it weren’t for the fan fiction connection to Jane Eyre. And I cannot believe that anyone would place this derivative work on a top-100 novels list of any kind. Not recommended.
Profile Image for Rakhi Dalal.
212 reviews1,436 followers
July 16, 2014


Sitting in bed. Scribbling. Using a pencil instead of pen for the ink spills over while I shake. Influence of cheap wine.

Sometimes I get out of control, freaky. My neighbors think I am mad. Ha! What do they know of madness? Who knows of madness? People only see what is there before their eyes. Who bothers to think how the despair creeps inside, shutting out the doors to the World permanently?

I look at the copy of Jane Eyre kept on the table by my side. I fill with rage.

No one thought of you. No emotion or thoughts expressed, not even fear. No one thought you had a soul too; a heart that once throbbed to the love of a man. Or that you loved to sing and dance, perhaps. Or that you had a mother, consumed by a raging fire of the memory of your dead brother. That you tried to keep sane in a mad-mad world filled with people who were no better.

Why did no one think of you, Bertha? No, not Bertha. I won’t call you that. It is how they have known you, till now. Only a madwoman in the attic. I will call you Antoinette, a name your mother may have given you, with love, when you were born.

I’ll tell your side of the story. The other side.


Disclaimer: It is a fictional attempt to imagine and understand how Rhys
might have felt about writing for the madwoman, the writing being done while living in isolation at a small place for almost 20 years.

Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book565 followers
October 30, 2020
Jean Rhys takes us to the West Indies, an environment that is heavy, languid, stifling, and claustrophobic. It is not surprising that people go insane here, what is surprising is that anyone is able to keep their sanity. In this world of mysticism, racial mixtures and moving boundaries, is born the tragedy that becomes the catalyst to one of the greatest love stories of all time. But that is after--this story belongs, not to the governess, but to the wife.

Antoinette Cosway is a girl who is pressed beyond her limits. Subject to her environment and her mother’s precarious hold on her own wits, Antoinette is destined to be a mix of all that is fragile and all that is fierce. She battles, and narrowly wins, until she is sold into marriage to her unlucky bridegroom. His lack of understanding of who she is, and her unconventional worship of him, take her beyond the limits of her abilities to cope, and plunges her into a darkness that is frightful.

There is a mix of voodoo, mystery and madness in this novel that is riveting. You pray for help and hope for this poor girl, and yet you know it is not coming, for you know her end before you even begin her story. You have glimpsed her before, almost without pity, but in Rhys’ hands you find the pity and it is all encompassing.

Short and sweet and fantastic. One hundred and ninety pages of power. A must-read.
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,477 followers
April 21, 2019
"Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere."
-Hazel Rochman.

Jean Rhys was a post-colonial writer, who lived in the Caribbean and identified with the plight of former plantation slaves for whom emancipation didn't offer the freedom it promised.

This, an innovative sequel to Jane Eyre, is a raw depiction of life in the steamy underbelly of post-colonial Jamaica.
At times an astonishing read, Rhys gives voice to the subjugated silent minority, whilst beautifully describing the hi-def tapestry of the Caribbean scenery.
Profile Image for Mutasim Billah .
112 reviews200 followers
June 14, 2020
“If I was bound for hell, let it be hell. No more false heavens. No more damned magic. You hate me and I hate you. We’ll see who hates best. But first, first I will destroy your hatred. Now. My hate is colder, stronger, and you’ll have no hate to warm yourself. You will have nothing.”

And that pretty much sums up the story. Wide Sargasso Sea is a tale of passion, and madness. Its a story from a time when slavery was abolished and slave traders were shunned from the community in Jamaica. A little girl grows up and finds herself alienated from society, growing up away from love, as certain events tear her family apart. A world of superstition and magic, a world of vivid colors is where our story is told. A world of hatred, and madness.

“And what does anyone know about traitors, or why Judas did what he did?”

The story was written during a period of obscurity in Rhys' career between 1939's Good Morning Midnight and 1966 when this book was released. With an impending World War and economic crisis from the first still at large, the themes of Good Morning Midnight were deemed too depressing by critics and readers and drove her into isolation from the public eye. At such a moment, when she had almost given up writing, an advertisement requesting her whereabouts for permission to adapt her then-latest work into a theatrical presentation appeared in the newspaper. Her friendship with Selma Vaz Dias, the origin of the advertisement, eventually inspired her to begin writing again.

“I watched her die many times. In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty. Only the sun was there to keep us company. We shut him out. And why not? Very soon she was as eager for what's called loving as I was - more lost and drowned afterwards.”

Wide Sargasso Sea is written as a feminist, post-colonial prequel to Jane Eyre, one of the two central characters being Antoinette Cosway, shown as a devilish madwoman in the attic in the latter. The central themes are identity politics of the post-Emancipation era, and the story of the women who lived through them, the cultural taboo regarding mental health, and the superstitions of the time, that a slave-trader's daughter's identity is like a double-edged sword. And that love is merely one side of the coin, the other being hatred. I really enjoyed the experience. I hope you do too.

“There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about.”
Image: Karina Lombard as Antoinette Cosway in the 1993 film adaptation of the story.

Profile Image for Nat K.
427 reviews161 followers
November 8, 2020

"I knew the time of day when though it is hot and blue and there are no clouds, the sky can have a very black look."

From the opening pages, this story has a feeling of malice behind it. There is an impending feeling of doom that emanates, which practically pulses from the book. As if you know something bad is about to happen.

Which of course it does.

This is the story of Antoinette Cosway. Of Creole heritage, she is neither black nor white. And is not fully accepted by either. It's not a comfortable place to be.

"She is Creole girl, and she have the sun in her."

The daughter of a slave owner, this is set in the Carribean. Change has come with emancipation, and the freeing of slaves. And with that change, unrest and hatred.

Part 1 is narrated by Antoinette. It’s told from her perspective from a child to a young woman. Through her eyes, we see the beauty of the island she lives on. The amazing colours and scents. How brilliant and lush the landscape is. The mountains. The water. ”...the sea was a serene blue, deep and dark.” We get the sense that Antoinette is only truly at peace and comfortable in nature, that she feels at one with it, rather than amongst people. She tells of her unsettling childhood, and the unrest between the people. Of her mother’s widowhood and subsequent re-marriage. Her ill younger brother. We see tragedy befall her family, and it is truly awful.

The passage which shows the fate of the family parrot "I opened my eyes, everybody was looking up and pointing at Coco on the glacis railings with his feathers alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him and he fell screeching. He was all on fire." is so powerful. Upsetting. Shocking.

Those words will be imprinted on my mind forever. They are too visceral to ever be removed.

Part 2 is told by Antoinette’s husband. We never learn his name. At first, I felt sorry for him. He seemed decent, that he had an inate kindness. He wed Antoinette within a month of meeting her, and of that time, he was ill in bed for three weeks with a fever. So it was hardly a heady, whirlwind romance. Of two souls destined to meet.

Unfortunately money - a lot of money - did exchange hands. Antoinette was effectively bought (or sold), whichever way you want to look at it. 

"Gold is the idol they worship."

He is never entirely comfortable in Antoinette’s home, on her island. Everything overwhelms him. It is all too bright. Too vibrant. The colours, the smells. He is not at ease, either in the surroundings or with the people. He has a sense of disquiet, of mistrust. All he wants is for them to return to England.

”Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near...

But having said all this, I had the sense that he had some feelings for Antoinette, at least in the beginning. That he cared for her. That there was some emotion involved. That he was a kind man. That it could have turned to love. He was certainly enraptured by her beauty, which seemed somehow tied in with the place of her birth. Perhaps it could have worked between them. But his mind was poisoned against her, with the arrival of a letter… It played on his mind, and he took it on board. Then every move she made and words she said were filled with suspicion from him. He simply could not move beyond his doubts, and block out the words of others who were simply jealous, and filled with spite. His feelings once cooled, and could not again be warmed.

Sadly, Antoinette's plight did not lessen as she reached womanhood. Marriage was not the haven she may have seeked, even as it was not the path she chose for herself.

” Have all beautiful things sad destinies?”

Part 3 The return to England for the unhappy couple. For Antoinette a "cardboard world", all muted shades of brown, red and yellow. Misunderstandings and hatred cannot be overcome. This is the shortest section of the book, a mere six pages long. It is devastating. 

"Names matter, like when he wouldn't call me Antoinette, and I saw Antoinette drifting out of the window with her scents, her pretty clothes and her looking glass.”

"Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I?”

"I listen but I cannot understand what they say. So there is still the sound of whispering that I have heard all my life, but these are different voices.”

A red dress hanging in the press reminds Antoinette of her home. The one she will never return to. It is her final link to it.

” The scent that came from the dress was very faint at first, then it grew stronger. The smell of vetivert and frangipani, of cinnamon and dust and lime trees when they are flowering. The smell of the sun and the smell of the rain.”

Why are people so poor at saying what is really in their heart, at how they really feel? Why do we allow silence and misunderstandings to speak for us? What are we so afraid of?

Reading this book it saddened me to think that human beings haven’t changed all that much over the years. We still like to put labels on people. To put them into neat little boxes which make us feel better about ourselves. Belitting a child by calling her a “white cockroach” and “white nigger” was confronting, and made me feel very uncomfortable. It was ugly, and unnecessarily cruel. After all, where we’re born and to whom is all a throw of the dice, isn’t it. All part of the randomness of life.

And treating women - treating anyone - as worthless, as no more than a stepping stone or commodity...I have no words.

Genetic guilt - to be the daughter of a slave owner -  is the lottery of life. Again, I have no words.

The writing is moody and atmospheric. It has that full bodied, sensual, gothic style that is so descriptive. There were many times where it reminded me so much of Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire. It’s as if you can reach into the pages and feel the heat, and taste the scents on the air.

It is beautiful.

”I breathed the sweetness of the air. Cloves I could smell and cinnamon, roses and orange blossom.”

Another aspect I loved is the relationship between Antoinette and Christophine, her childhood nurse, who tried to support Antoinette when she realised her husband was turning away from her.

Accused of practising obeah (voodoo), Christophine is a bold, loyal Jamaican woman. The Emancipation Act has not changed her feelings toward Antoinette. Nor towards others. People that are rotten can be of any colour under the rainbow. She knows human nature.

Some gems of homespun wisdom came from Christophine's lips. She could still be uttering them today, she's delightfully sassy.

"When man don't love you, more you try, more he hate you, man like that."

"A man don't treat you good, pick up your skirt and walk out."

"You  think you fool me? You want her money but you don't want her."

Remember, this story is set in the 1830s, so Christophine is a woman ahead of her time.

At around 140 pages, this novella packs in an incredible amount of disquiet and emotional turmoil. It is intense.

It’s a very interesting insight into human nature, what drives us. Our fears and jealousies. And how fate cannot be outrun.

On a lighter note, I have no idea why, but prior to reading this, I thought the title was Wild Sargasso Sea. That’s what it was in my head for years. Regardless of the title, I loved this book, and Jean Rhys’ writing. I’m keen to continue to play catchup and read her other work. There’s something about her writing...I know I have a copy of Good morning, midnight which I’ve had for more years that I care to admit. Based on this one, I think it's time to get stuck in and get lost in her books.

This book has had an incredible impact on me. I was not expecting this.

”But what about happiness, I thought at first, is there no happiness? There must be. Oh happiness of course, happiness, well.”
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