Laura McDonald's Reviews > Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
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's review
Dec 05, 2007

really liked it

While doing some research on fan fiction, I came upon a comment that while it is widely derided as non-literary work, there does exist recognized literary writing that is, in essence, fan fiction. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys was one of these examples.

The story is that of Antoinette Cosway, also known as Bertha Mason. If you think you’ve heard that name before, Bertha is the mad wife in the attic from Jane Eyre. Rhys tells Antoinette’s story from her childhood in Jamaica to her hasty marriage to an unnamed Englishman and finally to her days as the mad wife in the attic in England.

The novel is remarkable on two accounts. One is how Rhys took Bertha out of Jane Eyre, such a neglected character in that story, and gave her a history and homeland. The sense of place is very strong–Jamaica is a beautiful yet sinister presence through the first parts of the story. The other noteworthy aspect of this book is the writing style; it is overwhelmingly sensual on every level–the colors, smells, sights, sounds.

Mostly the book makes you think. I followed a fine discussion of it on the C19 Forum and was in accord with many of the others who now wonder what to think of Rochester. Can I now read Jane Eyre without remembering his horrid behavior in Wide Sargasso Sea? And the mad wife–there is little or no sadness for her in Jane Eyre, yet reading her story in Wide Sargasso Sea is like reading a string of sad events that culminates in her tragic appearance in Jane Eyre. I can’t say that I related to Rhys’ characters or story, being so different from my own life experiences. However the story is compelling simply for its originality of content and style. It is a beautifully and sensually told story of a descent into madness.

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