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127 of 129 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who was the madwoman in Mr. Rochester's attic?
Jean Rhys, the troubled author who was far ahead of her time in the 1920's, felt a strange kinship with Antoinette or Bertha Mason, the madwoman locked in the attic in Bronte's "Jane Eyre." From the first time Rhys read "Jane Eyre" she knew she would someday write her story because she felt she'd lived it.
Like Antoinette, Rhys grew up in the Caribbean, a troubled...
Published on September 29, 2002 by Joanna Daneman

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dense foliage of perception
The book is undoubtedly not for everyman. It may leave you confused and dazed by the disjointed narrative structure, incomplete dialogues and overpowering images and emotions that seemingly arise out of nowhere and for no reason.
For many readers, a pre-requisite to enjoyment may be an acquaintance with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. My own view is that this is...
Published on June 1, 2000 by anita rhee

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exceptional Prequel, October 19, 2004
As a prequel to the classic, Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea lives up to the expectation of Bronte's novel. Carefully crafted around the most minute details Bronte used, Jean Rhys constructs a novel that is poetic and figurative in its language to describe the life of the woman in the attic. Rhys changes Bertha Mason's name to Antoinette Cosway as the first step in painting the Caribbean landscape which is carried through most of the novel, until the final part where Bronte's work threads through. Giving a voice to this mysterious character that Bronte chose not to detail sheds enormous light on Rochester's future perspective on relationships. Although short and succint, Rhys novel will surely give Jane Eyre readers a new light through which to analyze the time - honored novel.

I reccomend reading Jane Eyre first, even though this is considered the prequel. Understanding Jane Eyre will allow Rhy's work to have more depth, especially at the end.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative, Exotic and All the Above, March 12, 2000
Christina (Rosemeadow, Australia) - See all my reviews
Firstly, if you haven't read Jane Eyre I would go as far as to say don't bother. The Wide Sargosso Sea is the story of the character Rochesters' mental wife Bertha who is rather the mysterious non-being in Jane Eyre.
In this novel Bertha is made real. But the book is written mainly through her eyes. A woman who has a difficult life and goes through life mentally at a distance from everyone she comes into contact with, it results in the whole tone of the novel being quite distant and in a way cold. In contrast the setting and description is very rich, hot and exotic to the extreme.
You must remember though, Bertha is going mad and at times looking through Bertha's eyes, you'll get the same feeling.
A book you will either love or hate, not an easy read, aimed more towards a literary minded person. I loved it!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Haunting Masterpiece, December 11, 2001
"They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks."
The sense of alienation that Antoinette Cosway experiences as a child never lets up in this harrowing tale of the first Mrs Rochester.
Whilst Jane Eyre of the original novel manages to leave her painful past behind, Antoinette is unable to fight against the oppression of her surroundings. Her husband, bewildered by her passions, cannot understand her and seeks instead to contain her during her inexorable descent into madness.
In my opinion this book is as worthy of acclaim as the great novel that inspired it. "Wide Sargasso Sea" is in no sense a pastiche of "Jane Eyre". Rhys evokes, in her beautiful, laconic style, the haunting beauty of the Caribbean, the uneasy relations of the islanders after the abolition of slavery,the love Antoinette and her husband initially have for each other, which makes the inevitable end so much more painful.
It is said that it took Jean Rhys nine years to write this slim volume, but the result is an enduring masterpiece of the English language.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic Masterpiece, January 4, 2006
This is an enlightening version of the 'mad woman' locked up in Mr. Rochester's mansion in England. If Jane Eyre was a real person, one might have been tempted to warn her that, save for a few twists in circumstances, she could have been the wife driven crazy.

Despite having a strong mentor in her nanny, Antoinette Cosway doesn't know how to save herself. Society isn't set up to give women of her generation much power or independence. She didn't have much of a father or mother figure, and only Christophene seems willing to truly try to protect her. A childhood filled with violence and fear has created a woman afraid of shadows who lacks self-confidence. She looks towards others to help her feel 'safe', but nearly everyone in her life betrays her in some way.

In Rhy's eloquent style of writing, we are smoothly transported into the atmosphere of Jamaica after the 1830's. Though Antoinette is clearly a victim, I found Christophene's character refreshing and empowered. She's a former slave who is feared because of her knowledge of 'Obeah'. She isn't afraid to stand up to Antoinette's white husband, and comes close to helping the young woman re-gain her freedom. In my opinion, had the story ended with Mr. Rochester allowing his creole wife to remain in Jamaica under Christophene's care, Antoinette's broken heart would have mended and the signs of madness vanished. But because his troubled bride is treated as a 'possession', he takes her away from all that she loves, refuses to return any of her family fortune, and shreds her last piece of identity by calling her Bertha instead of her given name. Is this reader sorry that Thornfield Hall was burned to the ground? Not after digesting the first Mrs. Rochester's version of the story, so masterfully written by Jean Rhys.

Chrissy K. McVay

author of - Souls of the North Wind
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thought Provoking Prequel to Jane Eyre, April 17, 2000
Mark Mulanax (Barry University, Miami Shores, FL) - See all my reviews
Jean Rhys has put together a wonderful story of British Colonialism in Jamaica and Dominica set during the period from 1839-1845. In fact, this native of Dominica used this focus on Antoinette Cosway to explain how Bertha in Jane Eyre had become mad and kept locked in the attic. This follows many other novels focusing on the effects of British Imperialism. It depicts a time just after the emancipation of the slaves in Jamaica. A mother (Annette), Son (Pierre), and daughter (Antoinette), living on a plantation estate that is allowed to grow wild and unkept. There were no people to work the land since slavery was abolished. The black natives hated the remaining white colonists and often referred to them as "white cockroaches." The mother had remarried and one night their home is burned down by angry masses of ex-slaves. Pierre is killed in the fire. As they were escaping, Annette tries to run back for her parrot. They would have all possibly been killed by the mob if not for the parrot flying out of the window while on fire. The superstitious natives fled at the sight. Her mother grows insane and is locked up. Antoinette is raised in a convent and later married to a Mr. Rochester. He married her for her money and through some twists and turns they end up in England. He locks her upstairs to forget about her and hires Jane Eyre as nanny to his child. Later he tries to marry her and that is when Bertha's presence is disclosed. She is now quite insane and burns the house down, killing herself in the process. There is a symmetry here in that at the beginning of Wide Sargasso Sea, the Cosway's home is burned down by angry people trying to reclain their identity as humans. Later, Antoinette who later became Bertha when Rochester changed her name to a more English sounding one, burns down his home in trying to recapture her identity as a human being. Why did the mother and daughter become insane? This was not genetic but rather the result of two women being pushed or oppressed in some manner throughout their lives. Annette lived at a time of slavery and was thus remembered as an ex-slave owner. The natives despised her for this and harassed her as when they poisoned one of her horses. Also, the loss of her estate and son helped push her over. Antoinette was also despised for being the daughter of a slave owner. She grew up white with a native culture though and felt divided within her identity. When taken from her island home and deprived of her identity by being locked away all alone for years without even a mirror to see herself, this formed her into an "insane" person. Much symbolism is used within this story to depict division of self. Mirrors and watery reflections are used to show how one gains a self-concept. That is, we derive our sense of self from comparing ourselves with others and our perceptions of how we look to ourself. There is passion of course in the beginning of the marriage between Rochester and Antoinette. He later sleeps with Amelie (servant) and believes himself poisoned by his wife for unknown reasons. Being from England, Rochester is not comfortable in the island atmosphere and takes his wife back to England with him. She is distraught over losing her green, beautiful, lush, tropical eden.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better With A Book Club, August 14, 2009
This review is from: Wide Sargasso Sea (Hardcover)
So, one of my friends from book club told me not too long ago that I expect the author to tell me the story...and I thought, well yeah no kidding that is their job. But now I get what she was really saying... That sometimes the reader needs to figure out what is being said beyond the dialog between the characters. And I realize that I don't do that as much as I could when I'm reading. One of the great things about being in a book club is that you can tap into the genius of your fellow readers and have things illuminated for you that you may have overlooked. It's also helpful if you are lucky enough to have really smart friends, like I am.

This is one of those books that is saying a whole lot more than the words being exchanged between the characters. I honestly would have missed a lot of it with out our group discussion. I also found that I liked the book more after our discussion.

This book is interesting because it gives the character "Bertha" from Jane Eyre, a voice, a life and a history. I don't think I would have appreciated the story as much if I hadn't already read Jane Eyre. Reading this right after Jane Eyre might have been even better than letting time pass before reading "Bertha's" story.

The book is written from alternating perspectives. From Antoinette's point of view we learn about her childhood and the culture and political climate where she grew up. We later learn about Mr. Rochester, he is a second son who will never inherit his family's vast wealth. He decides to achieve his power and wealth through marriage to a woman in possession of her family's fortune. Ironically his father and brother both die before he returns to England and he inherits everything.

This story is rich with symbolism, irony and symmetry. And I think that it's really about Imperialism, power and domination. And while it's not my preferred flavor of fiction, it's "shadowy and ambiguous" (to quote one of my smart friends again) and doesn't offer a lot of detail, it tells a story that stirs the reader emotionally.

When I read Jane Eyre I saw "Bertha" as the barrier to Rochester's happiness, she was almost a caricature, I didn't really consider her as a person, she was the scary, crazy, pyromaniac in the attic. After reading 'Wide Sargasso Sea' I can see Antoinette as a person, sympathize with her struggles and agonize over how badly things turned out for her.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester is the caricature, the example of Imperialism. He is the proud, self-righteous white man who will take whatever he wants and thinks so much of himself that he believes he deserves to do so. While at the same time he sees something that is new and different from all he has known and criticizes and dislikes it because it is different.

The story is poignant because it could have turned out so differently. We already know from reading Jane Eyre that "Bertha" ends up locked in the attic as Rochester's prisoner. But there is a point in their relationship when it seems that they do truly love one another and could have gone on to have a happy life and marriage. But Rochester feels that he has been cheated and tricked and uses his anger to punish Antoinette for her past and her family's history.

In Jan Rhys's hands "Bertha" has become the sympathetic character with a sad and unfortunate upbringing who falls under the power of a greedy, angry and unsympathetic husband who takes her away from the only place she has ever loved and eventually from the world.

I would have appreciated a note on the history of the West Indies and the Emancipation Act. It would have offered insight into the context of the political situation during Antoine's childhood.

I found the story much more complex than I initially realized. I recommend reading it with a friend or two...pick smart ones.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book that gives in depth view into the mind of "Bertha"., January 16, 2007
Even thought I didn't enjoy the film too much the book itself is phenomenal. The story of Bertha, the first Mrs. Rochester, "Wide Sargasso Sea" is a not only a brilliant deconstruction of Charlotte Bront's legacy, but is also a damning history of colonialism in the West Indies. This novel addresses the issue of race and culture, but it also addresses the inner thought processes of a woman confronted with cultural chaos between the Creole, Jamaican, and British in the Caribbean.

Told from different points of view, the text is a tapestry weaving Bertha's story with Edward Rochester's early life. Like the seaweed the book is named for, the structure floats in and out of artistic consciousness as though on a sea of many unwritten stories. Although some might argue that "Wide Sargasso Sea," detracts from "Jane Eyre," I feel that Jean Rhys gives us a fuller understanding about the cultural historiography that produces "great literature." As a champion for the silenced voices, Charlotte Bront herself was all too aware of societies' injustices.

While today, "Jane Eyre" is generally accepted as a tract on social class, feminism, and conscious production of art, 150 years ago, Bront was lambasted by contemporary critics as unchristian, seditious and a poor writer. I can not help but think Bront, as social critic, would have cheered the publication of "Wide Sargasso Sea." A wonderful book for anyone studying Latin America or the Caribbean.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lush novel about a young Creole woman, April 22, 2005
caught between two worlds, Black Jamaican and English, belonging to neither one. Antoinette Cosway was used and abused by people closest to her: Her mother, stepfather, best friend Tia, and, of course, her husband. She was forced in a loveless marriage to Rochester, who made no bones about his contempt for her, Creole culture, and Jamaica and who was only there to help his beleagured family. At first, the marriage seemed loving until an anomynous man came to him with letters disparaging Antoinette and her family and his(Rochester's) unease with living in Jamaica. Things started to go downhill after that, with Antoinette's insanity and eventual lockdown in the attic of the Rochester estate in England.

This book tells where Jane Eyre left off. It's Antoinette's story about how she got to be the madwoman in the attic and the things that shaped her life prior to her coming to England with her estranged husband.

The book is so deep in the matrix of race, gender, class, culture clash, personality, belief systems(Creole, Black, and English), and public and private pain of those involved.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wide & Murky Sargasso Sea, April 4, 2003
A. Casalino "V^^^^^V" (Downers Grove, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wide Sargasso Sea (Hardcover)
Jean Rhys's enduring 1966 novel has been one of the more unique opuses of my reading experience - for, though it's been some two or three years since I've read it, I've been stumped - unable to form any very distinct or profound impression. Even at this point, I can only say that WIDE SARGASSO SEA is an ingenious work of poignant contradictions.
I actually first heard of this book a few years ago, when I rented a movie by the same name. I watched that movie and, despite a few minute clues, did not until the very end recognize it as being prequel to one of my all-time most beloved novels: Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE. This story chronicles the untold tale in Bronte's novel - the history and mystery behind Mr. Rochester's secret in the attic unveiled, the madwoman in the attic endowed with a soul. "Bertha" Antoinette Cosway-Mason is a Creole heiress living in Jamaica and Dominica in the 1830's whose isolated and tragic upbringing is augmented by the cultural chaos of that place and that time. Shunned by both the English and white population and the recently freed slaves, then further burdened by her manipulative relatives and insane mother, Antoinette's childhood and early adulthood was as intensely oppressive as was the beauty of her surroundings. The first chapters of this novel are told in her voice - and what a marvelous voice it is - such richness, such poetry - "Great splashes of sunlight as we ran up the wooden steps of the refectory. Hot coffee and rolls and melting butter. But after the meal, now and at the hour of our death, and at midday and at six in the evening, now and at the hour of our death. Let perpetual light shine on them." The tempo simply flows right through you; it is beautiful.
Rhys's lyrical prose is beyond doubt a manner of genius; and I do believe this book is worthy of a classic. It really could have been brilliant, but it is riddled with flaws. First of all, the language is so exquisitely overflowing that it's almost a distraction. Yet within the context of the first section of the story - Antoinette's voice, encompassing her life before her marriage - I suppose may be overlooked and given up to the whims of the narrator.
The second section, however, is from Mr. Rochester's point of view - from his first acquaintance with his bride and to their home in the West Indies, nearly through the balance of their time together on the islands. Rochester, who at the time is a very young English gentleman: a second son raised within the stringent confines of British landed gentry - arrives in a place totally alien to anything he has ever known, completely wide-eyed and ignorant of everything, from the temperamental weather patterns to the quirks of the denizens of that place. Yet Rhys gives him a lush, worldly and poetic voice, not at all unlike that of Antoinette's. In fact, when the narration switches briefly back to her, it's only distinguishable by studying closely the sway of the narration and pronoun use. Antoinette, incidentally, never refers to Rochester by name at any time during the entire book. Truly, though the author had essentially free reign with the character of "Bertha," as that entity was only faintly drawn out in JANE EYRE, she was considerably restricted when it came to Rochester. In drawing him out, Rhys has failed on two counts: the first in that his language sounds too embedded within the lyrical rhythms of the alien landscape he supposedly fears and does not understand, to ever ring true for a young man of his circumstances; the second in that, notwithstanding the anger and bitterness felt toward his father and elder brother, Mr. Rochester's actions in this story do not in any way ring true to the man as Bronte wrote him. He's barely recognizable.
The third, and final, portion of the story reverts back to Antoinette's point of view - this time from the garret room of Thornfield Hall. Though the writing here remains quite pretty, the narration completely loses its coherence. This loss may be construed as understandable - as the narrator would by now be quite mad - but it just doesn't strike true. The language is inconsistent - smooth and flowing in places, choppy in others. The tragic consequences of a bitter young man's revenge and a damaged young woman's confusion gets entirely lost here in the author's imposingly scattered prose.
I am sure that, judged in its own right, this novel can quite easily be classified as a work of art. But loving JANE EYRE as I do, I am sorely unqualified to make the distinction. Yet I cannot deny that I was mesmerized by the overwhelmingly lush impact of the writing in WIDE SARGASSO SEA. Sick with a lingering fever and lamenting his fate, the young bridegroom makes the trudging maiden journey with his new bride to their honeymoon house in an island place called Massacre ~ "Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near. And the woman is a stranger."
Ah, yes indeed ~
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and exotic, thought provoking prose., June 4, 2000
Antoinette Cosway is a beautiful, exoctic creole. She catches the eye of an Englishman, and their passion for each other is powerful. They need each other for financial reasons as well. She must have a husband to claim her wealth, while he, as the second son, cannot claim his family fortune at all. The erotic feelings that the couple expresses for each other is only fleeting. Antoinette becomes "too much" for the 19th century English gentleman, who has been raised in a society that with holds passion.Eventually, quickly, he becomes disgusted with his young wife's need for exhuberant, physical attention. Anntoinette becomes desperate to experience the passion that her young husband had initially, openly and happily lavished on her. Once an errupting volcano, their relationship becomes implosive. The young man, who becomes intolerant of Anoinette, desperately avoids her. She becomes hysterical because as his wife, she has no control of anything in her life: love, ,sexual attention, money, or home. The English husband learns of an opportunity to return to England, and since Antoinette is his wife, he plans to take her with him. But she would never fit in the oppressive English landscape, so he has her declared insane, and takes her home to Thornfield, realizing he will never marry again as long as she lives. She is locked in a remote wing of his gothic mansion on the moors of England, and is lost to the world until she re-emerges as Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Beautifully written, Wide Sargasso Sea, was Jean Rhys's answer to a question many Jane Eyre readers have had. Who was the mad woman? Some of the questions I had also were answered. Who else would Mr. Rochester want but a young, pure thing who would adore him and revere him. Jane asked only for his spoken word never any passion. Jane was accustomed to dishonest and confusing relationships while she lived at the orphanage and her aunt's home as a child. When she arrived at Thornfield, Mr. Rochester was exactly what she would fall for: a man who possibly could rescue her, but who also would be dishonest and confusing. Jane Eyre is great literature as is Wide Sargasso Sea, but neither story has characters who are capable of good relationships. The film version is equally well done.
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