Ambrosia4All, January 4, 2009 (view all comments by Ambrosia4All)
Overall this was a very interesting idea for a novel: take one of the most mysterious characters from classical literature and expand upon her backstory. And Rhys does not disappoint, she brings such a rich and detailed viewpoint of Antoinette (later dubbed "Bertha", as she is called in Jane Eyre) that one cannot help but sympathize with the girl who becomes the crazy woman in Thornfield Hall's attic room.
In particular, her identity crisis due to racial ambiguity spoke to me as a biracial woman. Using this as the basis of her illness at a time when race was deemed vitally important to a person's standing was a great take off point for her insanity. While racial differences have become more accepted, the relatively subtle (compared to more obvious displays in other novels) superiority complex of full-blooded whites to coloured and black people in this novel is still very much present in today's culture, despite the obliviousness of many.
Antoinette's insanity is very understandable as well. She is literally pushed to the brink and finally cannot bring herself back. No one offers her help and instead of being an evil woman who broke up Jane and Mr. Rochester, tried to kill her husband, and set his house ablaze, she becomes a sad woman who just needed a hug and some therapy. She was just genuinely a product of the times and her environment. Rhys draws this portrait of a woman harmed by society and her surroundings well and develops the Caribbean influences (drawn from her own background) pitch perfect.
This was not an easy read with a shifting point-of-view that is often hard to get used to or even identify. As Antoinette slips further into insanity her perspective in particular becomes unstable and difficult to comprehend. There are many motifs and some symbolism that is not obvious, but needs to be understood to get the full impact of Rhys' story.
In conclusion though, I definitely recommend it. It's a short book that on the surface can be easily comprehended.
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Wide Sargasso Sea (Norton Paperback Fiction)
Used Trade Paper
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W. W. Norton & Company -
The fortieth anniversary reissue of the best-selling "tour de force" (Walter Allen, "New York Times Book Review").
Jean Rhys's reputation was made upon the publication of this passionate and heartbreaking novel, in which she brings into the light one of fiction's most mysterious characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre,"
A sensual and protected young woman, Antoinette Cosway grows up in the lush natural world of the Caribbean. She is sold into marriage to the cold-hearted and prideful Rochester, who succumbs to his need for money and his lust. Yet he will make her pay for her ancestors' sins of slave-holding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak English home.
In this best-selling novel Rhys portrays a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.
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