Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Literature: Crossing the "Sea", Jean Rhys' masterpiece at 50

 Originally published in 1966 and just now republished on its 50th anniversary, Wide Sargasso Sea has been described as homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the classic nineteenth-century Gothic romance and precursor of the contemporary bodice-ripper. Indeed, Rhys looks at some of Brontë’s characters and then remakes them, though she has no Jane Eyre.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a 1966 postcolonial novel by Dominica-born British author Jean Rhys. The author lived in obscurity after her previous work, Good Morning, Midnight, was published in 1939. She had published other novels between these works, but Wide Sargasso Sea caused a revival of interest in Rhys and her work. It was her most commercially successful novel, benefited as well by feminist exploration of power relationships between men and women.
The novel is written as a prequel and response to Charlotte Brontë's noted novel Jane Eyre (1847), describing the background to the marriage that Jane learns about after going to work for Mr. Rochester. It is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in Jamaica, to her unhappy marriage to a certain English gentleman—he is never named by the author. He renames her to a prosaic Bertha, declares her mad, and requires her to relocate to England. Caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she fully belongs neither to the Europeans nor the Jamaicans, Cosway is Rhys' version of Brontë's devilish "madwoman in the attic." As with many postcolonial works, the novel deals with the themes of ethnic inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation. It is also concerned with power relations between men and women.

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