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Published: 25-10-2019

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“Wide Sargasso Sea” and “Jane Eyre”: Dialogism of the Prequel and the Original

Wide Sargasso Sea was published in 1965, and immediately caught the focus of critics. Its publication helped to save Jean Rhys from the obscurity into which she had fallen after her preceding novels, published in between the Very first and Second World Wars, went out of print. Wide Sargasso Sea won Rhys the esteemed W. H. Smith Award and the Heinemann Award, and earned her a location in the literary canon. The novel seeks to recreate the ‘true’ story of Bertha Mason, the mad Creole wife of Edward Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Rhys explores the complicated relationships between the old slaveholding West Indian families, white and black West Indians, and the new English settlers in the post-emancipation Caribbean. Rhys attempts to appropriate what she viewed as an injustice of Brontë’s by telling the story of Bertha Mason (referred to in the majority of Wide Sargasso Sea as Antoinette Cosway). Following thoroughly reading Jane Eyre, Rhys writes in her personal notes that she “discovered what a fat (and improbable) monster [Bertha Mason] was.” She believed that Brontë “took her horrible Bertha from [a] legend [so she has] the appropriate to take lost Antoinette.”

Set primarily in Jamaica and Dominica, the country of Rhys’s birth, Wide Sargasso Sea describes how Antoinette became the ‘mad woman in the attic’, Bertha Mason, of Jane Eyre. In Brontë’s novel, Bertha is a monster, described as violent, insane, and promiscuous:

“it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothes and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face”

In this description of Bertha, Brontë renders indeterminate the boundary in between human and animal as properly as male and female Bertha’s gender is lost in Jane’s description and replaced by the neutral pronoun ‘it’. In nineteenth-century England, the quite existence of such a “strange wild animal” would nearly eradicate Jane’s hope of marriage to Mr. Rochester in spirit as nicely as the law. It would look reasonable to assume from her lack of humanity and consequential inability to react socially with other characters, that the Bertha of Jane Eyre is not a lot far more than a plot device, serving to present a legal barrier to Mr. Rochester’s marriage to Jane while weakening his social standing in the community. In rather sharp contrast, Rhys creates a vulnerable young woman whom readers pity, looking for, unsuccessfully, to fit in to a new world exactly where the old inequalities and prejudices are suddenly upturned to outcome in her becoming a “white cockroach”. She is told to “go away, go away. No one want you.”

The themes explored in the novel – particularly those of the race relations between newly freed slaves and their former owners and the status of women – have drawn the close attention of critics. Some critics debate the merits of the novel, saying that it relies also closely on Jane Eyre and can't stand on its personal worth. Francis Wyndham writes in the introduction to Wide Sargasso Sea that “it is in no sense a pastiche of Charlotte Brontë and exists in its own appropriate, quite independent of Jane Eyre.” This, however, would seem to be contradicted by Rhys’s own notes, in which she demonstrates an acceptance of the existence of Jane Eyre as vital for her novel to function. She indeed appears only as well aware of what she would lose by “cutting loose from Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester – Only as well properly. (Indeed can I?) Names? Dates?”

Undoubtedly, Wide Sargasso Sea forces readers to re-examine Jane Eyre and consider the significance of race in the nineteenth-century English novel. There are, in fact, 3 characters from Rhys’s novel who straight correlate to three from Brontë’s: Edward Rochester, Bertha Mason, and Grace Poole. Rochester remains nameless throughout Component Two of Wide Sargasso Sea, referred to only as “that man” or “my husband”. In this complex connection in between a novel and its prequel, names establish a clear link Rochester’s anonymity in Wide Sargasso Sea emphasises the implied importance of his character, and offers a strengthened authority to his account.

The implication that he is the narrator of Portion Two, combined with the circumstance occurring in both novels involving a substantial sum of funds changing hands in the marriage of a Creole, demonstrate a clear link amongst the two Rochesters. The surname of the step-father and step-brother of Bertha (initially Antoinette) is “Mason” in Wide Sargasso Sea, linking her character in each 1st and final name to the Bertha Mason of Jane Eyre. Antoinette refers to her ‘carer’ as Grace Poole – the name of Bertha’s caretaker in Jane Eyre. In this essay, Grace Poole acts only as additional proof to help the hyperlink amongst the novels, as readers are left feeling neither pity nor anger towards her character.

Despite the fact that Rhys claims only to have wanted to give Bertha a voice and a history, “I had material for the story of Mr Rochester’s very first wife. The real story – as it may have been,” there is no query that Wide Sargasso Sea has evolved in component into a complete prequel to Jane Eyre. The prequel to Jane Eyre was published extended following the publication of Brontë’s novel in 1847. Since of the huge period amongst publications, it is apparent that the two authors did not communicate with every single other, and even if any collaboration had been regarded as desirable, which is doubtful in the light of Rhys’s notes, it would have been not possible.

We must don't forget that Jane Eyre was written lengthy ahead of Wide Sargasso Sea, and consequently, I assume that it was Rhys’s intention from the outset for readers to read Jane Eyre prior to her novel. After all, there is no debate as to regardless of whether Jean Rhys created her novel to act as a prequel to Brontë’s. I think it is critical to read Jane Eyre before its prequel, as the savage portrayal of the heartless Mr. Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea – “Don’t cry either. Crying no good with him” – would no doubt have cast an ominous shadow over the caring, empathic Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre: “Oh, Jane, what did I feel when I found you had fled from Thornfield…What could my darling do, I asked, left destitute and penniless?” Inevitably, the antipathetic view of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre would be softened by her empathetic portrayal in Wide Sargasso Sea. Due to the reality that the two novels present such contrasting views of Bertha and Mr. Rochester, a consonance can't be achieved in between their conflicting descriptions. Cognitive dissonance ensues, and one particular finds himself torn, unable to decide which of the seemingly opposite character descriptions to believe readers’ sympathies have a tendency to lie with the incapacitated Mr. Rochester at the closing of Jane Eyre, whereas readers of Wide Sargasso Sea have a tendency to sympathise with the unjustly imprisoned Bertha. It is not feasible for readers to pity both characters simultaneously, as the two characters can't each be victims. In my belief, a satisfactory consonance can only be accomplished if one particular separates the characters to the extent of them being unique to their respective novel, hence wholly detaching them from their partners. No matter whether the characters in the two novels are factually analogous is inarguable. Nevertheless, it is not inevitable that a character in a single will influence the reader’s opinion of his equivalent in the novel’s companion when the reader comes to accept the characters to be special in their personal correct.

Definitely, mentally severing the characters from their partners is achievable, and indeed required to avoid irresolvable cognitive dissonance. Nevertheless, it is maybe not altogether desirable Wide Sargasso Sea may possibly partially lose its underlying essence if a full separation of characters is achieved, given that Rhys documents its creation spawning from a require of hers to fill an apparent void left in Jane Eyre she felt that Brontë did not give ‘the mad lady in the attic’ a complete enough portrayal for her to be a convincing character. Getting descended from a Creole mother herself, it is far more than achievable that she may have felt it an insult for Bertha to be described only in accordance to the stereotyped ‘mad Creole heiress’ of the nineteenth-century: “But I, reading it later, and often, was vexed at her portrait of the ‘paper tiger’ lunatic, the all incorrect Creole scenes” This note, written by Rhys a year ahead of Wide Sargasso Sea‘s publication, suggests a personal, and almost special, anger towards Brontë’s portrayal of Bertha in Jane Eyre, which she might have felt helped justify her claim to employing the character of Bertha Mason to ‘set right’ a racial injustice of Brontë’s.

Rhys successfully explores complicated themes of social relations in Wide Sargasso Sea in a way that is not attainable in Jane Eyre. Nevertheless, I do not think, as she did, that it was required to use the properly-identified characters of a renowned novel to carry out such an exploration. Certainly, she has written in her notes that “It is that specific mad Creole I want to create about, not any of the other mad Creoles.” It is possible to argue that Rhys perhaps feigned such a fascination in order to try to justify to us, or possibly to herself, her explanation for analogising her crucial characters to those of Jane Eyre. It is conceivable that her singular motive for forming the analogies was to rescue herself from the aforementioned obscurity she had collapsed into by launching Wide Sargasso Sea from the shoulders of an already well-known novel there would, of course, be no objection from Jane Eyre‘s author.

Apart from the clearly comparable traits of the primary characters in the two novels, other, equally compelling dissimilarities exist these dissimilarities spawn not from the characters’ variations in behaviour, but from the not-so-apparent differences in the characters’ style of speech. More than one hundred years had passed among the publications of the two novels, resulting in distinct cultural adjustments. Throughout the nineteenth century, imperialism was an undertone of virtually all British literature. Wide Sargasso Sea was published more than twenty years after Globe War II, a war which brought an end to the age of imperialism. It was written in the age of the American Civil Rights Movement, in which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his well-known “I have a dream” speech, growing the black population’s regard within the American white neighborhood. Mr. Rochester describes his keep in the West Indies, one particular of the nineteenth century’s fields of imperial conquest, as hell:

“One night I had been awakened by her yells…it was a fiery West Indian night…’This life,’ stated I at final, ‘is hell! This is the air, these are the sounds of the bottomless pit! I have a proper to provide myself from it if I can….Let me break away, and go home to God!’…A wind fresh from Europe blew more than the ocean and rushed via the open casement: the storm broke, streamed, thundered, blazed, and the air grew pure…It was true Wisdom that consoled me in that hour, and showed me the correct path…The sweet wind from Europe was still whispering in the refreshed leaves, and the Atlantic was thundering in glorious liberty…’Go,’ said Hope, ‘and live once again in Europe…You have d0one all that God and Humanity demand of you.'”

Here, a factual similarity can be clearly noticed between the two Rochesters’ abhorrence of the West Indies when reading the Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea‘s account of his hatred:

“I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of what ever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would by no means know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was component of its loveliness. And above all, I hated her.”

Although their sentiment is the same, the a single hundred years that have passed have left an evident mark on each the attitude to this hell and the style of speech of the Rochester from Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys is noted for her technical style by Francis Wyndham in the introduction to Wide Sargasso Sea: “What struck me on the technical side…was the singular instinct for type getting possessed by this young lady, an instinct for type being possessed by singularly handful of writers of English and by virtually no English females writers.” However, English grammar had evolved over these one hundred years in correspondence to the culture in which it was utilised. Unavoidably, consequently, the description by Rhys’s Rochester of his hatred for his surroundings carries neither the imperialist undertone of Britain’s superiority nor the antiquated fluency of style frequent to authors of the nineteenth century. When comparing these two passages, supposedly spoken by the same individual, the Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea sounds infantile (“I hated…I hated…I hated…I hated…I hated”) when compared to the competence with language expressed by the Rochester of Jane Eyre (“‘This life,’ said I at last, ‘is hell! This is the air, those are the sounds of the bottomless pit!'”).

Whether or not a particular person expresses himself implicitly or explicitly is a tendency individual to oneself. Throughout the complete novel, the Rochester of Jane Eyre expresses his hatred implicitly, whereas the Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea explicitly expresses his hatred five instances inside one passage. This is due to the Rochester of Jane Eyre‘s markedly superior handle more than language, which enables him to far more subtly express his emotions while achieving an equal, if not greater, influence than his partner in Wide Sargasso Sea. I argue that these passages alone act as proof of adequate weight to negate the possibility of the two Rochesters getting a single and the same.

In the passage spoken by the Rochester of Jane Eyre, he justifies the necessity for a shift beyond the laws of matrimony as divine injunction rather than human motive in this flight back to England. Indication of divine injunction (“I have a appropriate to deliver myself from it if I can… [I] have completed all that God and Humanity demand of [me]”) is wholly absent in Wide Sargasso Sea human motive is evidently the sole driving force (“I hated the mountains…I hated her”) of this Rochester. It is attainable that throughout the time period in between the settings of the two novels, Mr. Rochester’s fury and explicitness had somewhat cooled with age. Nonetheless, he is, nonetheless, an adult in Wide Sargasso Sea whose language had already fully created I deem it improbable and unconvincing, to most likely a higher extent than Rhys believed the Bertha of Jane Eyre‘s existence to be, for the younger Rochester of Wide Sargasso Sea‘s language to have evolved with his age to the language demonstrated by Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre.

Whereas a comparison can very easily be made among the speech and behaviours of the two Rochesters, such a comparison is much more hard to make in between the two Berthas, mainly due to the Bertha of Jane Eyre‘s absence of dialogue. Components A single and Two of Wide Sargasso Sea occupy the bulk of Rhys’s novel, telling the tale of the young Antoinette and her life in the West Indies, whilst Brontë allots nothing at all a lot more than 1 web page to Bertha’s life history, relayed from third parties. The first occasion of disclosure in Jane Eyre is granted to the lawyer Mr. Briggs as he reads a letter written by his client, Bertha’s brother, Richard:

“Edward Fairfax Rochester, of Thornfield England, was married to my sister, Bertha Antoinetta Mason, daughter of Jonas Mason, merchant, and of Antoinetta his wife, a Creole, at church, Spanish Town, Jamaica.”

The second is granted to Mr. Rochester shortly soon after as he explains his predicament:

“Bertha Mason is mad and she came of a mad loved ones idiots and maniacs via 3 generations! Her mother, the Creole, was each a mad-woman and a drunkard! – as I discovered out after I had wed the daughter: for they had been silent on household secrets prior to.”

I run into two seemingly irresolvable frustrations in Richard Mason’s letter when attempting to resolve my cognitive dissonance: my primary aggravation lies in him using a name, ‘Bertha’, which Rhys has recorded only Mr. Rochester to have utilised in her novel as it is, “a name that [he is] specifically fond of” my second aggravation lies in him referring to his sister, whom he had identified as Antoinette all his life in Wide Sargasso Sea, as Antoinetta, the name of Antoinette’s mother. These clear inconsistencies assert, in my thoughts, that the two Berthas are fundamentally diverse characters. Whether or not the inconsistencies were intended by Rhys is improbable I take into account it feasible that though she claims in her notes that her greatest error was to have “read ‘Jane Eyre’ too considerably,” she became so carried away in the creation of her novel that she overlooked Richard Mason’s fatal letter.

If readers are unable to detach the novels from each other based on their personal merits, I do not think they really know with whom their sympathies lie. Among Bertha and Mr. Rochester, the subject of Brontë’s sympathies is conclusively the incapacitated latter, whereas Rhys’s sympathies clearly and unarguably lie with the former. By means of the link she produced amongst Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre, Rhys robs Brontë’s Mr. Rochester of his due sympathy by demonising him in a life that his original creator did not conceive of. It is not a case of belief, it is a case of truth: Mr. Rochester is Charlotte Brontë’s creation, and for that cause, whichever light she chose for him to be cast in is the truth. There is no question as to with whom my sympathies lie.
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