Wide Sargasso Sea  

Posted by Robyn in , , , ,

By: Jean Rhys
List Price: $13.95

Wide Sargasso Sea is an interesting take on Jane Eyre, although one cannot truly call it a sequel. It is far, far more than that. Wide Sargasso Sea is a novel of the struggle for individuality, repressed sexuality, and the looming threat of psychosis.

This story begins during the post-colonial era in Jamaica, just after the British emancipation of the slaves in 1813. The once prosperous plantations have now fallen into disarray and disuse. The Cosway plantation is no exception. The proprietor, Mr. Cosway, has died and left his wife, Annette, and children, Antoinette and Pierre, in a state of severe poverty. The estate home, as well as the wife's sanity, are quickly deteriorating.

One day, an Englishman named Mr. Mason appears on the island and quickly falls in love with Annette, proposing to her shortly thereafter. Mr. Mason uses his wealth to help restore the manor, yet his attempts were in vain. In a brutal scene of mob violence, the former slaves burn down the Cosway home, causing Antoinette's mother to break with reality and become insane. Everyone believes that the insanity is hereditary and it is only a matter of time before Antoinette succumbs as her mother did.

A few years pass by and Antoinette is shocked to discover that she has been sold into an arranged marriage to an English gentleman by the name of Rochester. Antoinette's step-brother has given Rochester control over her dowry, bringing fortune to him despite his role as a second son. Rochester, though pleased by the passion and sensuality of Antoinette, regrets the decision that he made to marry a woman that he barely knew despite the financial independence that is associated with his marriage.

All is well with the marriage, especially as the two become addicted to the sexual aspect of their relationship, until one day Rochester receives a letter from a man who claims to be Antoinette's half-brother. He explains to Rochester that he has been tricked into marrying a madwoman. Rocheter is infuriated and now refuses to have anything to do with Antoinette, especially sexually. Antoinette, who craves their previous relationship, falls into a state of madness due to her husband's hatred for her.

My Thoughts
The aspects of this novel that seem most important to me are sexuality and madness. Although I can't claim that the two are mutually exclusive, I can say that Annette's madness had less to do with her sexuality, as some would suggest, and more to do with her oppression under the system of patriarchy.

Antoinette has been forced to submit to the will of her husband, a man who barely knows her and certainly does not care for her at all. As terms of their marriage agreement, Antoinette's wealth was all transferred in Rochester's name. This deprives Antoinette of the financial independence necessary to free herself from her husband's brutality. Rochester is the ultimate representation of patriarchal supression.

An excellent novel and one that once read, will not quickly be forgotten.

This entry was posted on 28 January 2009 at 9:58 AM and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Hi Robyn, I came to visit your site in return! I really like it. I enjoy your style of reviewing, very clever to give the plot first, and then what you thought about it. I started My Sister's Keeper in Chapters (a block book store), and have to pick it up to finish (I didn't buy the book then, I was just browsing) - your review makes me want to finish it very soon!

January 28, 2009 at 5:27 PM

I'm glad to hear that! I love to read and I especially love to review. It was great to hear from you!

January 29, 2009 at 9:55 AM

I think that Rochest was as much a victim of the patriarchal society as Antoinette was. He marries her to satisfy his father and to remove the stigma of being basically just a spare for his brother. He was duped by Mason into an arranged marriage to secure his own financial independence.
The betrayal of both individuals, Rochester by Mason and Antoinetter by Rochester. is the ultimate tragedy. If Rochester had been able to forgive Antoinette for the betrayal that she had no part in, they may have overcome the obstacles before them and had a successful marriage.

February 1, 2009 at 8:31 AM

This book was interesting, but Rhys did not stay with all of facts from Jane Eyre, which made it less enjoyable

July 10, 2009 at 7:16 AM

I've seen this book in a number of bookstores, but never quite got around to picking it up. Now that I've read your review, I'm enchanted with the plotline. Wow.

June 10, 2010 at 9:47 PM

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