“I watched her die many times. In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty. Only the sun was there to keep us company. We shut him out. And why not? Very soon she was as eager for what's called loving as I was - more lost and drowned afterwards.”
I picked up Wide Sagrasso Sea at a thrift store purely because of the cover. How could I not? It was the most gorgeous and alluring thing I have ever seen. I read the cover and I was intrigued, but skeptical (it is a story of the mad woman in the attic, a presumed prequel to Jane Eyre). I've never heard of Jean Rhys, I feared it might be one of those contemporary fluffy re-tellings of an already known book. I could not have been more wrong.
Turns out Jean Rhys is a well known literary genius and this book, ahh this book is a masterpiece. Fair warning though, if you are a fan of Rocherster's in Jane Eyre, maybe don't read this? Because after, believe me you will not be.
I am trying very hard to separate two books, two so very different pieces of literature. Two sides of a coin I didn't know I needed. But, even if Wide Sagrasso Sea casts an ugly, deep shadow on Jane Eyre's Rochester, I will not trade reading it for anything.
If you're read Jane Eyre already, you know that it reads very much like an autobiography. Characters feel real, the setting even realer and you've left with the feeling that these people really lived, really excited. Wide Sargasso Sea takes that to the next level. If before things felt real, now they are three dimensional.
The writing styles could not be more different, the settings are like day and night. Wide Sargasso Sea is blazing with colors, heat and mad passion, while Jane Eyre is bleak, cold and collected. And yet, and yet Jane and Antoinette (for there was never Bertha, Bertha was a selfish whim of Rochester's) could not be any more similar.
“I have been too unhappy, I thought, it cannot last, being so unhappy, it would kill you”
I am honestly stupefied how a book so short, merely 170 pages could hold so much. The themes it explores, the messages it sends - all the while creating round, tortured characters that feel so very real. At all times I was mesmerized and terrified by this book. At all times, I, as Antoinette herself, felt an unending doom loom over the story.
If there ever was a book to hold discussions over in a book clubs it's this one. The reverse racism, the domestic neglect, alcoholism, prejudices of community and pressure to belong, to fit in. And most of all, the driving force of the story - a woman, so lonely, so forsaken, that she would do anything to be touched, to be loved. For being a classic Wide Sargasso Sea, is so very modern in its regard to women and their sexuality.
“She’ll have no lover, for I don’t want her and she’ll see no other.”
Needles to say that I need more Jean Rhys in my life. Maybe Wide Sagrasso Sea is one time wonder, but I have to know for myself. In her I found something that I've been looking for a very long time. She's sparse with words, but she paints an explicit picture. She holds the details, making the reader's imagination bloom and fill the blanks. She's forward and blunt and I absolutely love that.