Tuesday, 10 February 2009
WIDE SARGASSO SEA
I’ve just finished reading Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – her imagined prequel to Jane Eyre. I had watched the BBC dramatisation of it, with Rebecca Hall as Antoinette/Bertha, a few years ago, and enjoyed it, so I knew the story already. But nothing beats the novel. And what an odd, atmospheric and passionate novel it is. The style is strange – stream of consciousness and unreliable narrators – and very compelling to read.
It’s set in 1830’s Jamaica, and so often I wanted to jump into the pages of the novel, into the lush heat of Jamaica and Dominica, and slap Edward Rochester around the head for believing malicious gossip and for driving his wife mad. I can’t say it’s totally turned me off him but it has certainly made me wary of him. I hope he made a better husband to Jane Eyre than he did to the troubled but ultimately sane, Antoinette/Bertha.
I can see why people have been urging me to read Wide Sargasso Sea for years – it’s creepy and oppressive and interesting all at the same time. And for Brontë fans, it certainly makes for a wider appreciation, or reading, of the sublime Jane Eyre.
Jean Rhys was a fascinating woman: born in Dominica in 1890, she married three times, and lived in Paris for a spell in the 1920’s, where she was encouraged in her writing by Ford Madox Ford. Presumed dead, when her literary output dried up, she was alive and well in Cornwall and Wide Sargasso Sea was published in 1966, though she had had the idea for it floating in her head for years.
It’s a gem of a book and I love the fact that a nineteenth century masterpiece inspired a twentieth century one. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. If you have, what did you think of it?