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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys

I decided to read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys because of Twitter. Yes, that's right. Because of Twitter. I follow @WNBA_NRGM which is National Reading Group Month from the Woman's National Book Association. They mentioned this article from NPR. Confused yet?

I had no idea that this novel had anything to do with Jane Eyre [my review]. **If you've never read Jane Eyre and are planning to, you might want to stop reading here. **I happened to see it the other day at the library and picked it up. So here we go.

Wide Sargasso Sea imagines the background of "Bertha" the first wife of Rochester from Jane Eyre. It's supposed to clear up the mystery of why she ending up being the crazy lady in the attic.

And I say "supposed" because it didn't really clear up anything to me. At the end of the book, I still feel that "Bertha" a.k.a. Antoinette Cosway, the wealthy Creole girl from the Caribbean, is still such a mystery.

Let's be honest. I didn't really like this book. Classic literature it may be but here's why I had problems with it.

1) Rochester doesn't really seem like the Rochester from Jane Eyre. That said, if he's supposed to come off as an evil man who enslaves her in his kind of failed. You could see where he seemed just as stuck in having to marry her as she was to him. And there was no logical reason for him to start calling her "Bertha", it was out of character, and it just bugged me. (A large portion in the middle of the book is written from Rochester's perspective. I DID like that.)

2) The book jacket made it seem as if she had no choice in marrying him. As if against her will she was forced. But I didn't really see that in the book either. I couldn't really see WHY she had to marry him or why she did.

3) She remains a complete mystery. If she's supposed to be strong-willed, I don't see it. If she was supposed to be an innocent who was manipulated, I don't see it. I'm just not sure where the author was wanting to take this character.

4) The characters were confusing, the writing was confusing...I'll just leave it at that.

What I did like about this book:

1) The very beginning is very vivid. It's the part where Antoinette is a child, growing up as a Creole without a father, and the social changes that happen on the island where she lives. I'd tag this as "classic" just from that small section. Then the book just goes down-hill from there.

2) In a weird way, I could never get a picture of what Antoinette looked like. Maybe it was purposeful since Antoinette was caught between worlds, not fitting into either one. I thought that was a really powerful writing tool she used.

3) I did like the parallel between Jane's upbringing and Antoinette's. Lots of similarities.

4) Jean Rhys. I am kind of fascinated about the author herself. I'd love to read a book just on her.

***Has anyone else read this? Did you like it? If so, what was I missing?


  1. Hi, Amanda! I didn't read this review, because I have not yet read Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea, but I plan to. I had to pipe in and tell you what made me laugh though. I saw "WNBA_NRGM which is National Reading Group Month" and thought to myself, "How cool that the Women's National Basketball Association has a reading group!" Needless to say, when I finished the sentence, I saw I was *way* off base with that thought! :-)


  2. The covers don't really blend into the Jane Austen style of books. I don't think it would be one for me.

  3. LOL. Vivienne is so right. Wide Sargasso Sea isn't much like Jane Eyre/Jane Austen style books.

    I read Wide Sargasso Sea in college a long, long time ago. I liked it then, probably because my prof helped me see a lot of its value. What I remember most from it was the idea that madness is pushed on women, especially marginalized ones like "Bertha," who lives in a postcolonial island (right?) and is neither white French nor native islander (right?). She doesn't own herself, and she can't escape her maddening culture. As you say, Rochester isn't an all-bad villain. I think that speaks to the helplessness of people trapped in a damaging culture.

    That said, now that I'm out of school, I read for entertainment value 80% of the time, read to learn something 15% of the time, and read high art very, very seldom. :) I'm not sure how Wide Sargasso Sea would bode with me now.

    P.S. I just found your blog and am loving it! Thanks for sharing your cool reads.

  4. I started reading this one once and I didn't get very far. Maybe I'll try again one day, but right now it's hovering in "meh" limbo.

  5. I love this cover even though it does not seem appropriate based on your description of the book?

  6. Hi Amanda: I did read Wide Sargasso Sea and felt the same way you did about it. I found it very very confusing and frankly cannot see the value to it. I had read Jane Eyre and though it was helpful, itcertainly did not add to my comprehension. I recently read the biography of Jean Rhys and perhaps have a greater understanding of why she writes such confusing narratives! What a life! JM

  7. Try Jean Rhys's "Good Morning, Midnight"


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