By Hephzibah Anderson 20 October A while ago, and for more years than I ever intended, I was the resident books expert on an early-hours radio phone-in.
Jean Rhys and Charlotte Bronte The use of symbolism in the presentation of characters by Jenia Geraghty I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom.
I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all Charlotte Bronte and Jean Rhys composed their novels in different centuries and came from very different backgrounds.
However despite these disparities the use of symbolism in their narratives can be compared. Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea is a creative response to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, a nineteenth century classic, which has always been one of English Literature's greatest and most popular love stories.
She seemed such a poor ghost, I thought I'd like to write her a life. The main source of trouble is Rochester's insane first wife, Bertha Mason, a lunatic Creole who is locked in the attic of his country house, Thornfield Hall. The problem is eventually solved, tragically, when Bertha escapes and burns Thornfield to the ground, killing herself and seriously maiming Rochester in the process.
The social and moral imbalances between Jane and Rochester are then equalled by his punishment for his previous actions, and Jane's rise in status due to an inheritance.
This ending, however, did not satisfy the Dominican-born Jean Rhys. She disagreed with Bronte's presentation of Bertha Mason and set out to write 'a colonial story that is absent from Bronte's text'. Rhys's story tells the story of Bertha, and relates Bertha and Rochester's meeting, and their doomed marriage.
In Wide Sargasso Sea Rhys shifts the perspective on Jane Eyre by expressing the viewpoints of the different characters in the source material, so taking a different structural approach to the first-person narrative technique employed by Bronte. She wrote her version as a multiple narrative, giving Bertha a previously-unheard voice.
Rochester, even though un-named in Wide Sargasso Sea, takes over the narration in part two, and Grace Poole enlightens us at the opening of part three. Rhys can be seen as repaying Bronte for her failure to give Bertha a voice by not allowing Jane one, even though she does appear in the novel.
Antoinette, as Bertha is named in Rhys's novel, declares, 'There is always the other side', and this proves to be the governing theme throughout both novels.
I knew you would do me some good in some way. I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you [Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre] Rochester's prescience is an example of a prominent theme in Jane Eyre, in which premonition and the supernatural appear throughout the story. Both Jane and Edward believe in the signs they read in eyes, in nature and in dreams.
Jane's own surname, 'Eyre', comes from the name of a historic house in which a madwoman lived, but Bronte also intended it to mean being a free spirit. Jane indeed has a frightening experience and actually sees herself as a spirit in the Red Room mirror at Gateshead, where she subsequently has a fit.
Jane encounters the legend of Gytrash in her fit, 'A great black dog behind him', a tale about a spirit that appears in the shape of either a horse, dog or mule that haunted solitary ways and followed isolated travellers. Jane describes Rochester's dog as Gytrash before she knows to whom he belongs, suggesting that she had a premonition from the vision she saw in her fit that this encounter was to spark off the most incredible aspect of her life.
Jane's dreams form a firm base for the prediction of what is to happen in her life. The symbolism of her dreams forecast her future. When she dreams of a garden that is 'Eden-like' and laden with 'Honey-dew' Rochester proposes to her. That night, however, the old horse chestnut tree is struck by lightning and splits in half, foretelling the difficulties that lie ahead for the couple.
The theme of dreams and foresight is also used by Jean Rhys: Is it true that England is like a dream? One of my friends wrote and said London is like a cold dark dream.
Antoinette's dreams appear to be just as significant as Jane's, and Rhys no doubt found inspiration for developing Antoinette's character through the idea of Jane's dreams and premonitions.
In Bronte's time writers would often employ the technique of 'word-painting' at pivotal moments in the text and use landscape imagery to integrate plot, character and theme.
In the scene where Jane describes herself as 'tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea', for example, Bronte warns the reader that Jane's romantic interlude is not an entirely positive turn of events. The emphasis on 'unquiet sea' informs the reader that Jane may well be in danger.
This technique adds to the gothic element of the story, and heightens our response to the characters' perceptions of their predicaments. Similarly, in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester and Antoinette's marriage can be seen as being doomed from the start due to the landscape that they pass through on their journey to the honeymoon house.
They stop in a village named 'Massacre' where it is raining and rather grey, and Rochester takes an instant dislike to the place because of the name and the inhabitants, both of which he describes as 'sly, spiteful, malignant perhaps'; words which appear to convey his whole attitude to all those who surround him.
Later Rochester describes the night the couple spent in Massacre, emphasising that he lay awake all night listening to cocks crowing; a symbol of deception. In the Bible Jesus says to Judas, 'before the cock crows, you shall deny me thrice', and this line, interestingly, appears in the novel further on when Rochester confronts Antoinette about her history.
Just as the name Jane Eyre can be seen to reflect Jane's character, the title of Rhys's novel can be seen to reflect the development of its plot.
The Sargasso Sea, 'Sargasso' being the weed that gives that part of the North Atlantic its nameis almost still but at its centre has a mass of swirling currents, an image suggestive of Antoinette's character, and of the turmoil of her imprisonment and the method of her escape. There is a limit to the extent to which we can see Wide Sargasso Sea as an interpretation of Jane Eyre, and we must remember that in some respects Rhys's novel takes pains to distance itself from Jane Eyre.
The distinction is seen particularly in the inclusion of post-colonial theory in Wide Sargasso Sea. Antoinette is aware from a young age of the element of imprisonment that hangs over the West Indies; The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell.
The dead flowers represent the institution of slavery, while the fresh living smell represents what has come and will come in a post-emancipation society.Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea are both excellent pieces of written work that explore the theme of racial identity and social class.
In Jane Eyre, Jane struggles with her identity as a governess for aristocratic children. Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea can be considered as a response to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, in which Rhys makes use of Brontë's story as a basic source for her novel and rewrites an English text.
Wide Sargasso Sea turned Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel inside out. As the book celebrates its 50th anniversary, Hephzibah Anderson explains its enduring power.
Wild Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys - beautiful, dramatic prose set in the West Indies. Find this Pin and more on Between the Lines by Sarah de Pina. Jean Rhys' novel Wide Sargasso Sea endeavors to create a back story to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Her grand attempt to tell what she felt was the story of Jane Eyre's 'madwoman in the attic', Bertha Rochester, Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea is edited with an introduction and notes by Angela Smith in Penguin Classics.
Comparison of ‘Jane Eyre’ with ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ Task: Compare and contrast the presentation of Bertha/Antoinette Mason in the novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and in ‘Jane Eyre’.
‘Charlotte Bronte’ was one of the three talented sisters in the Bronte family. All three were outstanding novelists. Charlotte Bronte wrote ‘Jane Eyre.