How far does this statement apply to Rochester’s relationship with Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea?
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is Jean Rhys’ prequel to ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte, however it was written after Bronte’s classic novel. The Creole ‘Mad-woman in the attic’- Antoinette- the enigmatic, repressed, voiceless secret of ‘Jane Eyre’, is given a voice by Rhys who (reveals) charts her journey into madness.
In Jane Eyre, the character is presented in a one dimensional light and Rhys herself stated “I thought I’d try to write her a life” (reference). Rhys was born in Dominica so is herself Creole, and a woman, which perhaps acted as inspiration for presenting Antoinette as a real person, with her own hopes, fears and desires. Compared to the bildungsroman genre of ‘Jane Eyre’, which presents the development of a character, ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ illustrates Antoinette’s decline from a solitary girl in Jamaica, to a love depraved lunatic in England. In her novel, Rhys links womanhood with madness. This character deterioration enables the reader to sympathise with a mental decline of a woman as she experiences hysteria and embraces the patriarchal literary stereotype of the ‘mad-woman in the attic’. (explain the patriarchal concept) Antoinette’s mother also experiences insanity. During the time period of the novel, hysteria was the one of the few modes of resistance/ rebellion against the oppression and tyranny of patriarchal society. It emerges from the frustration of lacking independency and individuality, which is what Antoinette had, but lost when she married Rochester. In a convent, Antoinette was taught how to become “poised” and “imperturbable” and learned to become an ideal feminine woman. Of course ideal womanhood, as defined by this society, is attaining modesty, manners and chastity. However Antoinette’s true, passionate self emerges when she is drunk. Her obsession with gaining love, affection and attention from Rochester, and her passion is what lead her to madness. According to Bertens, “helplessness and renouncing all ambition” (reference) give off positive connotations, therefore, within Antoinette’s world of the text, create an ideal woman in this particular society. Antoinette was trying to achieve that, however, Rochester distancing himself and his affections was the reason for the loss of these ‘positive’ traits.
The beginning of the novel is set in the West Indies, which is Antoinette’s homeland, therefore she is introduced as being in control and dominant. (maybe talk about – the motherland / the maternal/ the feminine) However when she marries Rochester, they plan to move to England (otherland). This move, initiated by Rochester, symbolises the invasion of her life. Antoinette gives herself freely to him. She is the “self-sacrificing angel”(ref). She is forced to abandon her motherland and migrate to an ‘otherland’. Antoinette is ripped from the womb and becomes dependant on Rochester however even in Jamaica; she is alienated. Antoinette’s father was a slave owner therefore after the Emancipation Act, Antoinette’s family was left despised by the local people. Antoinette’s friend Tia states “black nigger better than white nigger”. This suggests the difficulty Antoinette faces in discovering her own identity and her sense of self as she is marginalised by society (double oppression). Rochester calls Antoinette ‘Bertha’. Antoinette is originally a French name and Rochester attempts to eliminate her Creole identity and create an English one. He aims to construct a better image for himself by having an English wife. Antoinette says “You are trying to make into someone else” (page number). It is Rochester’s rejection of Antoinette’s Creole heritage which drives her into madness.
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is ‘multi-vocal’ novel meaning it is told by more than one narrator reciting their