World Literature in English   Wide Sargasso Sea
Wide Sargasso Sea and
its literary and socio-historic contexts
Pin-chia Feng and Kate Liu
*Pagination in green: Wide Sargasso Sea.  Introd. Francis Wyndham  NY: Norton, 1982.  Originally published in 1966;
Pagination in red: Wide Sargasso Sea.  Ed. Judith L. Raiskin.  Norton Critical Ediction.  NY: Norton, 1999.

II. Rhys on Jane Erye
"The creole in Charlotte Bronte's novel is a lay figure -- repulsive which does not matter, and not once alive which does.  .  . . For me . .  . she must be right on stage.  She must be at least plausible with a past, the reason why Mr. Rochester treats her so abominably and feels justified, and the reason why he thinks she is mad and why of course she goes mad, even the reason why she tries to set everything on fire, and eventually succeeds.  . . " (Gregg 82; emphases added)
Rhys's Revision of Jane Eyre: 

I. Shift of dates: 

  • Jane Eyre -- towards the end of the novel reads a book published in 1808 

  • Bertha confined in the attic in the first decade of the 19th century.
  • WSS's time frame shifted to 1830's onwards: 

  • Emancipation Act 1833
    Antoinette -- a child in the 1840's  (Mark MaWatt qut in Gregg 83)
    II. Writing beyond the Ending: Jane Eyre and WSS
    • "By turning a classic nineteenth-century novel inside out and giving its voiceless character an explanatory story, Rhys has constructed a critical examination of romantic thralldom and marital power--internalized and external institutions that support gender inequality." (45-6)
    • "By a maneuver of encirclement (entering the story before) and leverage (prying the story open), Rhys ruptures Jane Eyre.  She returns us to a framework far from the triumphant individualism" of the character of Jane Eyre by concentrating on the colonial situations¡K.  Wide Sargasso Sea states that the closures and precisions of any tale are purchased at the expense of the muted, even unspoken narrative, which writing beyond the the ending will release.  ('Remember,' Doris lessing reminds us, 'that for all the books we have in print, there are as many that have never reached print, have never been written down.'" (46)         --Rachel Blau DuPlessis
    III. What does Jean Rhys do and fail to do in constructing female subjectivities? 
    If she presents the creole women's difficult positions pretty well, is she fair to the Black subjects in the Caribbean area?  e.g. her presentation of Christophine and voodoo.  
      Social background (in & out of the text)
    • Background on postslavery Caribbean:
    -postslavery problems 
    Woodville Marshall argues that the freedpersons were "disappointed that the emancipation apparently promised by the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833 had not come, and [they were] " continually harassed by masters who attempted by various legal and illegal contrivances to reduce the small portion of 'free time' which the Abolition Act had decreed" the effects of slave emancipation on members of the white plantocracy."
    • Post-Emancipation Racial relationships in the text--  among the black Caribbean, the Creoles, and the English. 
    Gender relationships -- "halfway house" (p. 96);  marriage and inheritance
    Their influence in the text on 
    • Annette and then Antoinette, 
    • Antoinette relationship with Tia, 
    • Antoinette and Rochester 
    • The madness?
    Racial and Gender problems mentioned in the text: 
      Backgrounds on Race:
    I. white masters, New & Old: Mr. Luttrells p. 17; death of Mr. Lutrell 
     p. 26 (New masters after the Emancipation of slaves) [Mr. Mason -- p. 32; p. 35]
    II. White against creole: e.g. p. 17; Aunt Cora's husband 30
    III. Black against creole: poor "white cockcroaches" p. 23 
    Background on Gender revealed through letters and conversation: 
    1. about the Cosways: p. 28-29; Daniel Cosway's letter  pp. 96-99
    2. about Mason's marriage: 29-30 

    3. Gender: Rochester's Marriage and Inheritance: p. 70; 114