Wide Sargasso Sea and Antoinette
In Wide Sargasso Sea, author Jean Rhys uses intertextuality to tell the story of Antoinette Mason. Intertexuality is when an author bases their book/novel off of another text. In this case, Wide Sargasso Sea is shaped from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and it elaborates on the character of Bertha, who is Antoinette Mason in Rhys’ novel. By reading Wide Sargasso Sea we are enlightened on things in Jane Eyre that Bronte does not tell us about or elaborate on. Also, by reading Jane Eyre we understand things about Wide Sargasso Sea that Rhys doesn’t include in her novel.
Both authors have created compelling novels that aren’t built from each other and provides a deeper understanding of one another. Rhys is quoted saying “Whether I have any right to do it is a question I’ll face later” (217). When examining the texts, it is apparent that she is not stealing or attempting to take credit for Jane Eyre. Yet she is only telling it from Rochester’s crazy wife, Antoinette/ Bertha’s perspective. I feel that she has every right to do this because she is molding a story of her own based on a minor character whose story is never told.
Whether the two stories could exist without the other is another question. Jane Eyre is an interesting story that creates suspense and mystery, but provides closure at the end. We are left to wonder about Rochester’s past up until the story is almost over. We come to find out the he was married to Antoinette, a lunatic whom he locked up in a room with only Grace Poole to watch over her. It is assumed that how Rochester’s marriage came to be was something Bronte wanted the reader to wonder about, and even make up circumstances on their own. Jane Eyre is an excellent novel that has no problem standing on its own.
Wide Sargasso Sea is a story about the life of one of Bronte’s characters in Jane Eyre who plays a brief role but is crucial to the story. Antoinette lived a very underprivileged life growing up. Her family situation and her social situation shaped her into the character we know her as today. From the story of her life we get a better understanding of her role as a character in Jane Eyre and perhaps most of the mystery we have is cleared up. Wide Sargasso Sea is a very creative literary piece that provides depth to a character whose story would have gone untold.
After reading Wide Sargasso Sea we have a better understanding of Jane Eyre and some of the events that took place within the novel. We find more out about Rochester’s dark past; Bronte just didn’t go far enough back to enlighten us on his marriage. After reading Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea we now know how Rochester and Antoinette’s relationship came to be. Their marriage was arranged so that Rochester would have financial stability because he was the second son and was likely to not inherit anything from his father. Rochester felt he was duped into marrying Antoinette by his father and everyone else.
In one scene Rochester says, “As I walked I remembered my father’s face and his thin lips, my brother’s round conceited eyes. They knew. And Richard the fool, he knew too…They all knew. ”(Rhys 62). He thinks everyone knew Antoinette was crazy but didn’t tell him. Rochester seems to be ashamed with himself over locking Antoinette in the attic, but he feels like it was the right thing for him to do. He would have had a miserable life and also would have put everyone in danger at Thornfield, with crazy Antoinette around.
Antoinette was a lunatic and if Rochester had to put up with her psychotic antics, he likely would have gone crazy himself. The feelings that Rochester has for Jane are almost new to him. He did not marry Antoinette because he was in love with her. After reading Wide Sargasso Sea we see why Rochester was so glad to find someone like Jane. He didn’t really have anyone to talk to or a companion for the longest time. Before Jane came to Thornfield, Rochester would go away for many months at a time just to escape the terror of what he had locked up at home.
When Jane was there, Rochester did not have any reason to go away because he was content with the situation at home and his feelings for Jane. One night Rochester and Jane are by the fire and Rochester says, “I knew…you would do me good in some way, at some time: I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you…” (Bronte 129). This quote shows that Rochester has real feelings for Jane. Without the knowledge from Wide Sargasso Sea we would not understand why Rochester was so happy when Jane was there, or what had caused his unrest in the past.
In Jane Eyre we see the character of Grace Poole as being very strange and eerie. She operates mostly on her own, staying quiet and often looking very mysterious. Jane believes that Grace is the one that lights Rochester’s bed on fire. Little does Jane know that Grace is hiding the person that attempts to take Rochester’s life. Grace is paid double her salary to be the caretaker of Antoinette. She was paid that so she would not let the other servants or anyone in town in on the secret.
In Jane Eyre we don’t know what Grace Poole does until the very end, so she ends up being depicted as a villain throughout the novel. After reading Wide Sargasso Sea we have a better understanding of the events and characters in Jane Eyre. In Caroline Rody’s criticism of Wide Sargasso Sea she explains, “Strikingly, Rochester remains completely nameless throughout. Called only “the man,” “he,” “husband,”…this speaker is given no body—no physical description whatsoever” (Rody 219). Without any previous knowledge of Jane Eyre we wouldn’t know that Antoinette’s husband’s name is Rochester.
We see that Rochester isn’t as bad of a man as we suspected him to be throughout Jane Eyre, he just had some serious misfortune. These two novels are excellent in their own regard. I feel as though they both should be read in order to get the fullest understanding of each. Both works fill in gaps that would have been left unknown if they had to stand on their own. Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea are prime examples of how intertextuality can be fulfilling and provide a greater understanding of two pieces of literature.