Wide Sargasso Sea Hardcover – July 1, 1999
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|Hardcover, July 1, 1999||
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The novel is a triumph of atmosphere of what one is tempted to call Caribbean Gothic atmosphere. . . . It has an almost hallucinatory quality. --New York Times
About the Author
- Publisher : Buccaneer Books (July 1, 1999)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 189 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1568497296
- ISBN-13 : 978-1568497297
- Item Weight : 13.1 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,231,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester’s plans to marry Jane are frustrated by the revelation that the long-suffering man is already married and in fact, his mad wife is locked in the attic. But what is her story? And if she is ‘mad’, how did she get that way?
The wife is Antoinette Bertha Mason Rochester, nee Cosway; she prefers Antoinette. Rhys is masterful showing the descent of Antionette’s life and mind as well as the gradual rise of Rochester’s contempt and control of her. The evolution of Antoinette’s voice from clarity to ‘madness’ is exquisite and sad.
Like Rhys herself, Antoinette is of Creole descent. We meet her growing up in Dominica with her widowed mother and disabled brother. From the beginning, Antoinette is unsure of who she is. As white Creoles, they are rejected by both the English and the Blacks, who call them “white cockroaches.” As women, they lack status or agency. After the Emancipation Act frees the slaves, Antoinette’s slaveholding family, once wealthy, becomes destitute.
Antoinette’s mother pursues the only option she believes is open to her, and marries a rich white carpetbagger, Mr. Mason. Mason decides to replace the family’s remaining servants with Eastern coolie workers. The staff overhears, however, and they set fire to the home, Coulibri, resulting in the death of Antoinette’s brother and leading to her mother’s emotional devastation.
Mr. Mason abandons his mad wife to abusive caretakers and sends Antoinette to convent school. It is his responsibility to identify a husband for her, howe
ver, and he does. It’s an unnamed English gentleman, though readers of Jane Eyre will recognize him as Mr. Rochester.
As a second son, Rochester needs the money bequeathed to Antoinette by her stepfather. They wed, and at first the match seems successful. Rochester breaks down Antoinette’s reserve through affection and physical passion. Antoinette responds, opening herself to experience a happiness her childhood had trained her to never expect.
Yet Rochester has a nagging distrust of his exotic Creole wife, and antipathy for Dominica.
Geography becomes a proxy for the perceptions and misperceptions of the spouses. Neither view the home of the other as “real.” Antoinette sees England as cold and dark; in her eyes Dominica is lush, beautiful and fragrant. Rochester views the technicolor Dominica as ominous and threatening, as if he were about to be devoured by a giant Venus flytrap.
And then there is the Sargasso Sea, a dead-calm oceanic mire that Dominica borders upon. For Antoinette, it’s a metaphor for her deepest fears. For Rochester, it is a physical barrier between himself and his beloved England.
Rochester receives a letter received from a man who may or may not be Antoinette’s brother by her father and one of his slaves. The letter warns Rochester he was tricked into marrying a degenerate girl with a family history of madness. These allegations prey on Rochester’s insecurities and cause him to abruptly reject Antoinette. Her fragile sense of identity shaken and desperate to win back her husband’s affection, Antoinette resorts to means which unintentionally goad Rochester into acting on his worst impulses. The rift between them devolves into a chasm leading to her own undoing.
Rochester drags his broken wife to cold and dark England, where he confines her to the attic, under the care of servants paid for their discretion.
The Wide Sargasso Sea is a stunning work of understanding and empathy for all characters in this book – and the next.
I've read Jane Eyre (not required reading for Wide Sargasso Sea) and liked it, so decided to try Rhys again and was bowled over by this book!
If you want to be haunted by what you read to the point where the characters, imagery and overall feeling of the work follow you around for days afterward, Wide Sargasso Sea is the book for you. This is the Jean Rhys I was looking for. Hats off to her. Short, but tremendous.
Unlike, Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea is hardly a romance. In many ways, it is in fact, a chilling horror story that exposes the harsh realities of the world.
While Antoinette Cosway lacks Jane Eyre's strength and inner dialogue that has captivated readers for centuries, she manages to leave the reader haunted.
Ultimately, Jane succeeds where Anne fails because she makes the best of the unfair hand that she was dealt and overcomes adversity. Anne never seems to try very hard, leaving one to presume that she suffered from the same genetic defect that plagued her mother.
The strongest woman in Wide Sargasso Sea is Christophine, a former slave who completely understands human nature.
Once I was aware that this book was a prequel to Jane Eyre about the mad, passionate first wife of Mr Rochester, nothing would keep me from it - outside of a penny-priced copy of it being available on Amazon and it spending months & months stowed away in my bookshelf. So, after much ado, I dove in. It's a little disorienting to read between its dual narration and Antoinette's aggressive, spiteful prose, but it also reminds me of Alice Hoffman's A Marriage of Opposites headstrong heroine and her plight to know herself and who to trust in an almost anti-paradise.
Top reviews from other countries
He was tricked into marrying Antoinette (as is revealed in Jane Eyre, but there is more detail in Wide Sargasso Sea) and he didn't abandon her when her madness became apparent or have her committed to an asylum because he knew what those kind of institutions were like.
In wanting to marry Jane, he didn't feel as though he was already married and committing bigamy because Bertha was no kind of a wife.
I liked the way Wide Sargasso Sea gives the reader the social and historical context to the life of Rochester's first wife, how they met and how being mixed race means that she was never really accepted by black or white people in the West Indies where she was born and raised.
Wide Sargasso Sea is narrated in turn by Antoinette and Mr Rochester. I liked the vivid descriptions of the landscape and the way the heat of Jamaica contrasts with the cold in Jane Eyre.
I did feel it was a little disjointed in parts, but a good read for any Jane Eyre fan.
It is a kind of prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s novel. What we have is Rhys’ take on the circumstances of the ‘mad woman in the attic’. From her position as a Creole heiress fallen on hard times, we trace her life, significantly through many of her own words. Antoinette Cosway, as she becomes in Rhys’ book, is trapped into marriage with an English gentleman, who is to treat her with great cruelty, while indulging himself in unbridled licentiousness. In due course she accompanies Mason to England, now with the name Bertha, to be isolated in the attic of Thornfield Hall – ‘the great house’ as Antoinette refers to it. Meanwhile the substance of Bronte’s story runs parallel with Bertha’s fate. There is of course much more, including the section on Antoinette’s relationship with Grace Poole.
The book was written in the 1960s, so it can be argued that it shows remarkable foresight via its political, cultural and social attitudes. At the same time, many readers are likely to find the style awkward and rather wooden. The book is probably more of a challenge to read than ‘Jane Eyre’. There is no denying that it is an important book and this edition comes in a particularly attractive form.
I had to read this for my book club and I was really reluctant to read a 'prequel' to my beloved "Jane Eyre", but this was beautifully written and so different in tone and setting, with a completely different energy that it was immensely enjoyable on its own merits. I did feel it added to my understanding of Mr Rochester and my enjoyment of the original book.
Also, it's super short, so great for these bookclub months when everyone is really busy. No harm in being pragmatic!