Review of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
'Is it true,' she said, 'that England is like a dream? Because one
of my friends who married an Englishman wrote and told me so.
She said this place London is like a cold dark dream sometimes.
I want to wake up.'
Jean Rhys grew up in Dominica, the daughter of a Welsh doctor and a white Creole mother. She left the island, as many did to attend college in England at 16. She never agreed with England's colonization of the islands and felt she was displaced by their values. Having taken twenty-one long years to write this short novel her feelings for colonization are echoed in young Antoinette's life. Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight was published at the start of World War II and was lost in the war as many thought she was because she had disappeared into obscurity. Part One of Wide Sargasso Sea first appeared in an issue of Art and Literature in 1964.
How does one go from innocent child to the devilish woman in the attic of Thornfield Hall estate in Jane Eyre? Part One of the novel follows young Antoinette as she grows-up in Jamaica, a white girl not well liked among the locals. Her family life is shattered when the locals turn against her family with dire consequences. While trying to make sense of the world she is placed in a convent. Her saving from the convent comes in the form of an arranged marriage to a man she has hardly met from England.
Enter Part Two, the honeymoon where she has convinced this man to take her to the one place she can feel safe, a hidden retreat on the island of Dominica. Having married Antoinette for socioeconomic reasons can he come to love her in this magical lush land? Her unnamed husband was the second-son and not entitled to any of his family estate, causing him to seek out a wife with a nice dowry to live on.
Being the story only fills about 100 pages I don't want to say too much here. Rhys' did a good job of creating Antoinette's character and letting us glimpse into her psyche. The cultural aspect of the time period in Jamaica following the emancipation of the slaves is documented as well. Overall, she had done a good job setting up a plausible beginning to the woman that becomes known as Bertha Rochester, wife #1.
More thoughts and quotes can be found Update 1 on Part One and Update 2 on Part Two.
[Notice: Original posting 2014-01-31 at Plethora of Books Blog: http://bookchallenges.weebly.com]
Tags: 2014, Classics, Historical Fiction