Jean Rhs Wide Sargassos Sea

19th Century Nostalgia

The ESA would like to welcome our new blogger Cassie Dominic! Cassie is an international student studying English and Classics with big dreams and an obsession with all things Jean Rhys and Shonda Rhimes. 

Before I delve into an attempted explanation of why this novel is near to my heart, I should state that I have a special fascination for Jean Rhys; my admiration for her is on a level of its own and I am rarely able to adequately articulate just how or why – though I did attempt to in my IB Extended Essay.

Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of a woman named Antoinette Cosway (readers may know her as Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre) whose tumultuous childhood filled with questions and confusion leads to security issues as a young adult. Even though this novel was written in the 60s, I find that it has a timeless quality because the conflicts Antoinette faces about identity and sexuality can resonate with most readers. I was in my late teens when I discovered Rhys’s story and found myself understanding Antoinette on an intimate level. Her qualms and worries were similar to mine at the time.

Apart from my personal love for the novel, there’s also a whole world that Rhys creates for readers to discover. This is the book that taught me what ‘otherness’ is and how it translates onto a page. When considering this angle of otherness to that as portrayed by mainstream Victorian writers, there is a lot to be discussed. Rhys, being creole and from the West Indies, throws a new light on foreigners and how just one person can significantly affect another person by trying to change or mold them.

I have read this story repeatedly and each time I am increasingly drawn into the character of Antoinette. Whether it is her character that narrates the novel or an unnamed character whom we take to be Charlotte Brontë’s Rochester in Jane Eyre, there is a level of mystery that surrounds Antoinette. I am constantly trying to decipher what each statement, event, or disaster represented to her. More than that, I am intrigued by how Rhys has given us a reason for Antoinette’s traits.

Wide Sargasso Sea is dear to me due to its representation of the foreign. Until the past two years, I was really only exposed to British literature and a fraction of American literature, so reading Rhys’s novel was new and made me aware that there are truly phenomenal stories everywhere waiting to be written. Besides giving us interesting characters to decipher in Wide Sargasso Sea there are also cultural and traditional elements that are open to interpretation, such as colour, lighting, clothes, and even language, all of which I believe are crucial factors for an engaging read. This novel has inspired me to keep searching for small stories that have big impacts.

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