Monday, 27 June 2011
Wide Sargasso Sea, a novel that embodies the full range of post modern themes.
Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Power is what this book is about, the unequal power that exits between men and women, between the rich and poor, white and black, very much a post modernist novel, it is beautifully written, with absolutely breathtaking prose. Feminist and post colonialist in its outlook, it is brief, concise and disturbing. Telling the back story of the first Mrs Rochester, the mad woman in the attic in the Bronte masterpiece Jane Eyre.
Jean Rhys, herself born in Dominica, the daughter of a welsh father and a white creole mother, returns to the Jamaican islands to tell this the early story of Rochester's first wife, the creole Antoinette Cosway, who Rochester renames, Bertha, she is a complete mystery to him and in his failure to understand her, the relationship represents all that is wrong in the colonial relationship between Britain and its colonies, further the colonial relationship becomes a metaphor for gender politics and the novel exposes the inequalities that exist between men and women. Remarkably complex the novel touches on so many themes that pervade the modern consciousness.
Antoinette is an inherently tragic figure and this novel brings depth and compassion to her story, exploring the childhood dramas of growing up vulnerable in a post emancipation world, a world that is lush and beautiful but also frightening and confusing. Rhys writes with a rich, poetic, symbolism that unifies her purpose and theme. She creates a story which hauntingly hints at Antoinette's eventual end and she gives a powerful, moving voice to the mad woman in the attic. The novel is only a 156 pages long, divided into three parts. The first dealing with her childhood is told by Antoinette herself, a beautiful and haunting piece of writing filled with incident that echoes her future. The attack on her home and family, the arson that anticipates her future tragedy, all magnificently rendered. The second section gives voice to Rochester’s confusion in his relationship with this beautiful and tragic woman, the novel explores his inherent lack of empathy and inability to see the truth, it exposes the way his confusion and ignorance further propel the tragedy towards its conclusion and the final section returns again to Antoinette, and gives voice to her confusion and despair.
This is a quick, beautiful read that leaves the reader feeling haunted and troubled, well deserving of its now classic status. I am amazed at myself for not having read this much sooner. The novel, while a kind of prequel to Jane Eyre can be read as completely independent of that work, it does, however, enrich and add another dimension to the experience of Jane Eyre.
"But I looked at the dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now." (p.153)