|(Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book!)|
WIDE SARGASSO SEA, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting women characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.
I love Jean Rhys. Her writing is beautiful, emotional, smart, haunting, and unforgettable. She tackles topics of madness/depression, racial inequality, power relations between men and women, sexuality, and class. I crushed hard on her when I read Wide Sargasso Sea and then fell in deep when I finished Good Morning, Midnight. Over the years, I've read her work sparingly, because I don't want to run out of her writings. I know, its crazy! Usually, when I love an author so fiercely I tend to devour their works one after the other. However, I've started to break that habit and instead only read their books when I crave substance; which is why I want to read Quartet by Rhys soon (I swear the book is calling to me). Anyhow, when I received the email regarding the 50th anniversary reissue of Rhys' most popular novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, I whooped for joy. I was so excited to reread this book that introduced me to the brilliant Jean Rhys. Especially, as I had been wondering about rereading Jane Eyre and had agreed to do so with Meredith (of Dolce Bellezza) - talk about perfect timing! Now I would get to experience both stories once again. If truth be told, I'm not a fan of Jane Eyre (which is why I'm rereading it). After reading WSS, I found myself despising Rochester and rallying behind Antoinette aka Bertha (the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre). So, I admit that I am biased toward this novel, which means that I will love it each time I read it. Oh well, I can't help but be moved by great literature.
WSS by Jean Rhys is brilliant. It tells the story of a young woman who is thrust into a marriage, a home, a country, a life that hardly resembles anything she ever hoped or imagined for herself. Antoinette struggles with her identity all throughout the story - from her race to her class, she finds herself depicted as "other" time and time again. The hurt and pain she endures from her husband (an unnamed Englishman who turns out to be Rochester) is disturbing and unbearable. The more she suffers, the more she learns that her life will be one of misery. Her husband hates her and faults her with everything - he takes great pleasure in hurting her. The further away Antoinette gets from anything remotely familiar to her, the more unhinged it appears she becomes. Haunted by her mother's madness, the violence in her community, and the cruelty of her husband, Antoinette is left to wander around the attic (where her husband has locked her away) amid her loneliness and delusions. She becomes the mad woman in the attic aka Bertha from Jane Eyre. Rhys writes about this young, beautiful woman who eventually becomes her own worst nightmare. Its heartbreaking and fascinating all at once. You can't help but root for Antoinette and tear up when she gets broken time and time again. This story is truly an inspiring and thought-provoking read. The ways in which Jean Rhys has utilized a character from Jane Eyre is amazing, imaginative, and smart. She has constructed a story for a woman who is meant to be nothing more than a hindrance in Jane's happily ever after. How brilliant!
I absolutely loved reading all about Antoinette, again. And I loved getting lost in Rhys' writing. Wide Sargasso Sea was an absolute treat to reread. I would happily recommend it to fans of Jean Rhys, fans of Jane Eyre, and fans of great literature - you will LOVE this book!!