Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wide Sargasso Sea, or Bertha's story

Alrighty, Blogger has already eaten this post entirely, so let me reconstruct it if I can...

Anyway, around mid-century the author Jean Rhys, a native of Dominica, was struck by the idea of writing the story of Bertha, Mr. Rochester's mad Creole wife. In 1966, she published Wide Sargasso Sea, a re-imagining of Bertha's back story, which was a critical success and won a major literary prize. It's billed as having an anti-colonialism bent and also as being a feminist narrative, but whatever -- it was a good read. Told from multiple view points, it follows Antoinette Cosway (later Bertha Mason) through an isolated childhood to a quickly arranged marriage with Mr. Rochester, to a passionate newly-wed existence that begins to implode when Mr. Rochester learns some of Bertha's family history. The truth is pretty fluid in the book, so it's hard to know what did and didn't really happen, but I found it engrossing even if I wasn't ready to assign in canonical Jane Eyre status.

I easily found a copy in my library and breezed through it quickly, so if anyone's out and about this week (before we shift to our as-yet-unassigned February read), pick it up and let me know what you think.

While researching movie versions (Netflix has both adaptations, but they're both labeled as being fairly explicit in a way the book is not), I came across the Sock Puppet Theater version. It has little do with the actual plot of the novel, but it's so charming I must share.


Emily J. said...

Ha, very clever socks. Ok, I have spent waaayyy too much time watching videos now.

Did you know Amazon has a view it now movie program? This is new to me. The Zeffirelli Jane E with Anna Paquin as young Jane, which is actually the only one I've seen, is 1.99 but the 11 episode 1983 tv miniseries with Timothy Dalton as Mr. R is 17.51. But it might be worth the $40 to buy this collection: http://www.amazon.com/Romance-Collection-Special-including-Prejudice/dp/B0012XIGVE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296017503&sr=8-1
A&E's P&P, Jane Eyre, Tom Jones, Ivanhoe, Emma, Lorna Doone, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Victoria and Albert in one box. Hours of Anglo period drama pleasure!

I saw Wild Sargasso Sea in college, but never read the book. I remember little, except that it was pretty risque and makes Jamaica seem dark and steamy - not a tourist paradise, and that I left unsure of how this Rochester was the same. Maybe in the book there is more of a similarity?

mrsdarwin said...

Emily, the Mr. Rochester is not all that similar (except for his family situation) and the style is not similar to Bronte's at all. In fact, if she hadn't been referencing specific historical events such as emancipation and certain compensation laws for plantation owners, I would have said the book could be set anywhere up to 1920, judging by the writing. But it is an interesting counterpoint.

I'm considering getting WSS on Netflix, but I dunno -- that sounds like an awful lot of sex to sit through, and it's the wrong time of month for that.

BettyDuffy said...

I'm going to start saying "What the deuce?!"
Starting today.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I've been looking for a copy of Wild Sargasso Sea, but I haven't had any luck in that department. I only heard about it recently, and I really want to read it. Mostly, I'm curious about Bertha's back story and how Mr. Rochester is portrayed. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


This reminds me that I have an ARC of The House of Dead Maids, which is another modern writer's "prequel" to Wuthering Heights. I've put off reading it because I don't think Heathcliff is the sort of character whom one should attempt to explain. But that's not the novel we're talking about here, is it? =P

hopeinbrazil said...

I disliked the movie very much for its steam factor. Thanks for letting me know the book is different.