Intertextuality Features In The Book Wide Sargasso Sea

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You are able to read Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea on their own without being aware of their connections. However, some readers may see this as Wide Sargasso Sea losing some of its meaning since the book is seen as Rhys’ portrayal of Bertha being normal rather than the mad woman she is conveyed as in Jane Eyre.

‘When I read Jane Eyre as a child, I thought, why should she think Creole women are lunatics and all that? What a shame to make , Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, the awful mad woman and I immediately thought I write the story as it might’ve really been. She seemed such a poor ghost. I thought I’d try to write her a life.’

Many see Rhy’s novel as an overall critical review of Bronte’s Jane Eyre; ‘For while Wide Sargasso Sea pays respectful homage to Jane Eyre, it is primarily a critique: the previously silent madwoman speaks, and in the process exposes and inverts the patriarchal and colonialist presumptions and value systems around which the thematics of the precursor text coalesce.’

‘If Wide Sea Sargasso in some ways violently decomposes the topographic and textual structures of Jane Eyre through various modes of geopolitical dispersal and displacement, this in itself a re-inhabiting of the modes of displacement internal to the workings of structure in Jane Eyre.’

Rhys’ seems to focus specifically on the portrayal of Bertha through the character of Antoinette Cosway within her novel. This opinion is backed up by Rhys herself as she stated in many interviews that she would like the express the pleasant life Bertha could of had rather than the one she was given by Bronte in which she is imprisoned and seen as a deranged burden to her compassionless husband Rochester. Rhys appears to have added a more personal approach in her writing of Wide Sargasso Sea as she is a woman born to a mother of Creole descent and she herself grew up on the island of Dominica.

‘The mad wife of of Jane Eyre has always interested me. I was convinced that Charlotte Bronte must have always had something against the West Indies and I was angry about it. Otherwise, why did she take a West Indian for that horrible lunatic, for that really dreadful creature? I hadn’t really formulated the idea of vindicating the mad woman in the novel but when i was rediscovered, I was encouraged to do so.’

Rhys’ strong reaction to Bronte’s classic novel and the incorrect portrayal of West Indian women illustrates how Rhys feels a very strong connection to her West Indies background and that it has been a big influence in her outlook on life as well as her individual identity. The idea of identity and the issues surrounding it is a prominent topic within Wide Sargasso Sea which perhaps reflects Rhys’ own struggle with dealing with her mixed upbringing. Having to see such a critically acclaimed and popular novel such as Jane Eyre presenting such a one dimensional and cynical view on her native people would have a negative effect on Rhys. Furthermore, not only is Bronte’s presentation of an West Indian woman insulting to those of West Indian descent but it also exhibits a bleak image of West Indians to those who have no connection to the West Indies which according to Rhys is simply untrue.

‘By highlighting and dislodging the minor details of Creole depiction in Bronte's classic novel, Rhys's fiction has proven extraordinarily effective in helping to reorient the field of British fiction criticism. [Rhy is] regularly championed as a postcolonial and feminist novel from a West Indian perspective, Wide Sargasso Sea offers, in the words of Gayatri Spivak, an 'allegory of the epistemic violence of imperialism’

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‘Jane’s horrific encounter with Bertha has stood on its own since its publication in 1847. It is easy to miss the links between Bronte’s and Rhys’ novels. ‘Except that [there is] a dialectical tension between a outsize Bertha Mason pacing Bronte’s Thornfield attic and the moth-like Antoinette Cosway dreaming of fire in that same attic.’ Kamel finds that ‘this tension twines their creators perception on Victorian patriarchy with the presence, both explicit and implied, of colonialism and creolisation in the lives of the women who narrate the novels.’ Kamel then begins to take a more contextual approach when analysing both of the novels; ‘Bronte’s melodramatic depiction of of Mrs Rochester exasperated Rhys who understood Bertha’s marginality within the context of a patriarchal system that validated Rochester’s right to marry, yet divest a West Indian heiress of her legacy, desire yet despises her sexuality, relocate yet imprison her.’

Yet ‘since Jane refuses to live with Rochester once Bertha's existence is revealed, Bertha's very life blocks Jane's happiness-and the reader's-until its dramatic end. Those who read Jane Eyre without reading Wide Sargasso Sea appear to have a very negative and one sided view on Bertha; ‘Bronte's Bertha Antoinetta Mason is a female monster, a mysterious, threatening obstacle who must be revealed and then slain.’ And even if Bronte had included any information about Bertha’s background in her writing, there is doubt that many would have taken this into consideration when forming their opinion on the character of Bertha Mason. As Jane is the protagonist of Bronte’s Jane Eyre, her outcome and experiences within the story are presented as the most important by Bronte to the reader. So for the evil character of Bertha to hinder Jane’s happiness means that the mad Creole woman in the attic is to be absolutely defaced by the majority of the readers of Jane Eyre. But there are exceptions when it comes to the reaction towards Bertha; perhaps those who are not of white or middle/upper class status can allow some leeway in regards to the torrential distaste at the character of Bertha. Those of Creole, West Indies or a minority ethnicity group such as Rhys herself are able to see perhaps a humane and vulnerable side to Bertha rather than the vile monster Bronte has conveyed her as in her writing.

There are many similarities between Jane Eyre and Wide Sea Sargasso aside from the focus on the characters such as Jane and Antoinette’s disparaged social positions. There is the clear resemblance between the plots. ‘Neither Jane Eyre Wide nor Sargasso Sea, of course is named after its central architectural structure, although Thornfield Hall emerges as the privileged edifice in the textual encounter between the novels.’ Hope then goes on to say that ‘there is no single building that monopolises either narrative structure and that notoriously these are texts about displacement as much as inhabitation.’ ‘But perhaps the most curious transgressions of boundaries within the text are those memorable occasions when the unconscious process of the novel's dual narrators proves susceptible to the encroachments of the other. Most obviously, in Wide Sargasso Sea the dream is never quite the sole property of the dreamer.’ Smith then goes on to continue drawing on the links between the texts; ‘the various narrative dislocations of the novel function primarily as a convenient figural representation of the permeable boundaries of the characters' unconscious, and the sudden shifts in focalization provide an aesthetically useful osmotic shock to the actual process of reading insofar as they serve to reinforce the more pervasive thematics of destabilization. But significantly, the scrimmage for control of the unconscious process in the intratextual realm of character is also repeated in the intertextual relation of Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre.’

Jane Eyre is seen as an undeniable classic in english literature. But ‘the structure of Jane Eyre already contains, and finds its ontological principle in, its repetition, a repetition that simultaneously initiates and destroys the archive, just as it contains its archivist, the archviolithic Bertha Mason.’ Bronte’s work was also one of the first feminist novels to be written. But there are undeniable aspects that seem to go against the feminist views that it is illustrating. The blissful ending where Jane and Rochester get married, have a baby and live happily ever after is the typical fairytale ending that conforms to the patriarchal and male

dominated literature world. On the other hand, ‘Rhys reinterprets Jane Eyre from a feminist view, exposing the effects of a male dominated society on women on both sides of the Atlantic.’ Furthermore, ‘the development of Rhys’ narrative, where it centres upon Antoinette, bears striking resemblances to Bronte's portrayal of the younger Jane.’ ‘If Bronte's Bertha is Jane's 'secret self' (348), trapped and enraged by patriarchal oppression, Rhys's Antoinette is an even further reflection of Jane.’ Furthermore ‘in its revision of Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea highlights Charlotte Bronte's use of the eighteenth-century, bourgeois, feminist, woman/slave analogy that Mary Wollstonecraft made famous.’ But ‘in contrast to Bronte's heroine, Jane, Rhys's Antoinette is 'slave-like' for the very reasons Wollstonecraft isolates: vanity, sexual proclivity, uncultivated reason, inadequate education, and undeveloped virtue.’

Gilchrist finds that ‘in her unbridled sexuality, propensity for gazing in the mirror, disregard for facts and abstract principles, and fetishization of her red dress, Antoinette is virtually a composite of the women Wollstonecraft warns against and against whom Bronte created her plain, independent, morally-virtuous heroine. Rhys changes none of the terms of Bronte's madwoman. She remains beautiful, 'intemperate and unchaste' (Bronte 334, Rhys 110), and homicidal-suicidal. Wide Sargasso Sea privileges the very qualities that Bronte—and Wollstonecraft—denigrates.’

‘Wide Sargasso Sea convincingly implicates literary feminism in an exclusionary nationalist project consistent with imperial power. As Rhys's fiction demonstrates to great effect, the modern communities of national and racial belonging, familial in form, can bring devastating 'trouble' to those who fall outside the lines.’ Therefore, ‘Rhys explores these difficulties through the narrative of a bad (political) marriage of tragic proportions. In so doing, she implicates the rise of domestic sentiment as a centerpiece of modern national belonging in her critique of Creole characterization.’ ‘Antoinette's tragic fate is not the inevitable effect of Jane Eyre on an unwitting Creole reader but rather in part the consequence of Rhys's own rejection of modern nationalism and its corollary, utopian family feelings. ‘Consequently, Wide Sargasso Sea is a rendering of one possible life, not (as Cliff’s different renditions of her later indicate) the life of Bertha. Without changing the plot of Jane Eyre, Rhys revolutionizes the reception of the earlier novel.’

Therefore, ‘as a pre story that leaves Jane Eyre intact (albeit temporarily displaced), Wide Sargasso Sea has a stronger impact than a more intrusive revision. Antoinette may still die, but Rhys gives her death intent. Whenever readers of Wide Sargasso Sea return to Jane Eyre, then, they can no longer passively accept European definitions of the first Mrs. Rochester as “intemperate and unchaste” or her “seeming a bit mad—to an Englishman” as the only cause of her imprisonment and death. They cannot accept only one side of the story.’

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Intertextuality Features In The Book Wide Sargasso Sea. (2021, September 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
“Intertextuality Features In The Book Wide Sargasso Sea.” Edubirdie, 30 Sept. 2021,
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