Today I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
A prequel to Jane Eyre, it was published in the 1930’s. Taking place years before Jane Eyre meets Edward Rochester, the focus of the book is Antoinette Cosway, who is known to readers of Jane Eyre as Bertha Rochester, Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife. Antoinette Cosway and Edward Rochester are equally sold in the name of marriage. She is an heiress and he is a younger son in need of a wealthy wife.
What starts out as a story of young love turns into a story of vengeance, hate, mental illness and male power. If Bertha Rochester was Charlotte Bronte’s inner scream against the constraints that women were kept in during the 19th century, then Antoinette Cosway enlarges and opens up that inner scream.
I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea not only because today is National Book Lovers Day, but because the book publicly exposes the double standard that women have become the norm for women over the centuries.
Today I re-read Wide Sargasso Sea.
We all need heroes in our lives. They are the ones that we admire. We aspire to follow in their footsteps.
Kate Zambreno’s 2012 book, Heroines, is about the female authors who overcame the title of “female author”, to become successful in their own right.
The origins of the book come from the author’s blog, started on December 31st, 2009. Entitled Frances Farmer Is My Sister, Ms. Zambreno wrote about authors such as Jean Rhys and Zelda Fitzgerald. These women, whose abilities as writers equaled the male writers around them, were only thought to be muses. Because they were women, no one believed that they could write as well as a man. They were silenced, institutionalized and erased (thankfully for us, only temporarily) from literary history.
The format of this book is not written in the traditional format. Retaining the blog style of writing, the author lays out the difficulties that previous generations of female writers had to overcome. One of the qualities of the book that caught me off guard was how angry I got. Zelda Fitzgerald is not just the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was a brilliant writer in her own right. Jean Rhy’s novel, Wide Sargasso Sea is the highly acclaimed and respected prequel to Jane Eyre. She dared to flesh out the character of Bertha, Mr. Rochester’s first wife. In Jane Eyre, Bertha Rochester is a one dimensional madwoman who nearly kills her husband and burns Thornfield to the ground. Jean Rhys made Bertha an empathetic character whom the reader feels for because of the circumstances forced upon her.
Gloria Steinem once said the following:
The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.
This book pissed me off. But it also set me free. This is one of best feminist non-fiction books that I have ever read and I highly recommend it.
Fanfiction can be defined as fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.
While some might think that this is a new concept with the age of the internet and social media, fanfiction is a much older genre than some might presume.
Wide Sargasso Sea, written in 1966 by Jean Rhys, is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s literary masterpiece, Jane Eyre.
The novel is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a heiress who is creole by birth and living on a plantation whose glory days are long gone. When she grows up, she is married off an an Englishman, Edward Rochester who removes her from her island home and takes her to his gloomy isolated, Yorkshire estate to live. This is a story about madness, lust, greed and how women cope when they have no power to control their own lives.
The most recent film adaptation of this book was made in 2006 with Rebecca Hall as Antoinette and Rafe Spall as Edward.
What I enjoy about both the book and movie is that we are introduced to a character whose story we only know one side of. In Jane Eyre, Bertha Rochester is Edward’s secret wife, suffering from madness. Her only companion is a paid servant. In Wide Sargasso Sea, we meet Antoinette and we see the story from her point of view. We see the injustice not just being a woman in that era, but being a woman of mixed race in that era.
I recommend both.