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Wide Sargasso Sea vs.

Jane Eyre
In the novels Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, the theme of loss can be viewed as an umbrella that encompasses the absence of independence, society or community, love, and order in the lives of the two protagonists. They deal with their hardships in diverse ways. However, they both find ways to triumph over their losses and regain their independence. The women in both novels endure a loss of personal freedom, both mental, and physical. Jane Eyre, in her blind infatuation with Mr. Rochester, allows her emotions to enslave her. She realizes her obsession when she states, "My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom I had made an idol" (Bronte 241). By design, Rochester seduces Antoinette and deliberately makes her depend on him. Through her own writing, Jean Rhys has given us her motives for writing Wide Sargasso Sea . However, dangers still exist in taking a previous work and reworking it. While there are similarities between the Mr. Edward of Wide Sargasso Sea and the Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre there still remain several profound differences. This results not only in creating a criticism of Jane Eyre but of creating Wide Sargasso Sea as a novel in its own right. One of the main dangers we can see in writing Wide Sargasso Sea would clearly be the setting for the Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre Rochester is seen on his own soil, functioning in his own society, where his own moral codes are applicable. This clearly contrasts to Rhys setting, as here her Edward is seen in a setting that is not his own, in which he may not feel comfortable or accepted. This can also be applied to Rochester . It is clear, that when a character is displaced their experiences would be different. This fact is one of the many silences in Jane Eyre. Although it is remarked that Rochester did in fact spend time in the West Indies , it is never developed, and therefore we, as the readership, do not know how he reacted in this situation. Rhys was presented with a blank parchment, with which she could develop the character as she pleased, paint him in any colours that suited her own narrative. Rhys Edward is thrust into a society which does not recognise him in the terms of his English moralities. Not only does it not recognise him, but it works against the colonial domination which he represents.[3] It is in this way, that the Edward of Wide Sargasso Sea and the Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre differ profoundly. As the man himself is portrayed in a different setting, he therefore takes on different aspects, which creates a clear breach between the man as portrayed in both novels.

The character of Rochester in Jane Eyre is a far more credible character than Rhys Edward. Through giving Rochester his own voice in Wide Sargasso Sea Rhys is giving him his own narrative, to make up for his insufficiencies in Jane Eyre and therefore through this he has achieved a sense of his own mastery. By doing this, she has also created in him an awareness of his superiority, therefore it does not follow that the story would develop to lead him into a state of insufficiency, and almost slavery to his maddened wife. He not only loses credibility in the eyes of the reader, but also in his own eyes[4], which therefore casts the character as portrayed in Jane Eyre into doubt. There is nothing remaining of the stone[5] which Antoinette sees by the time we come to Jane Eyre. At no time in Jane Eyre is Rochester portrayed as unnecessarily cruel or cold. Even when dealing with Bertha. He hires for her the best help he can, and provides for all her needs. In Bronts novel there is no evidence to suggest cruelty on the part of Rochester which drove his wife to madness, he is in fact described as a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged,[6] It therefore follows that it is far harder to condemn Bronts Rochester than it is to condemn Rhys Edward. The nature of the characters does not follow, casting the credibility of Rhys Edward into doubt, making it impossible to fully associate the characters in both novels. Similarities do however exist between both Rhys Edward and Bronts Rochester . Rhys, in Wide Sargasso Sea has remained true to the doubts and biases that are portrayed in Rochester in Jane Eyre. Misogyny is one of the main pervaders of the text. The way Edward blames Antoinette is just as clear as the way Rochester blames Bertha. His sense of victimisation is clearly portrayed in both novels. In Jane Eyre he states: Bertha Mason, the true daughter of an infamous mother, dragged me through all the hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man bound to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste.[7] Not only his victimisation at the hands of both his and his brides families is clear in both novels, but also his victimisation at the hands of his patriarchal sympathies. In Jane Eyre there can only be a marriage to Jane after his patriarchal strength has diminished. When he is returned to her, he is maimed, blinded, and dependent on her. Rhys reworking of Jane Eyre is thought by some to be a re-illumination and re-emphasising of aspects of Rochester already present in the novel, but not developed.[8] Throughout Jane Eyre it is obvious that Rochester is constantly trying to redefine his sense of patriarchal mastery. This exchange suggests Rochester s need to reveal his mastery, by forcing Jane to acknowledge his status. His attempts to marry Jane while still being legally married to Bertha can also be seen as an emphasis of his masculine patriarchal power.[10] This emphasis is mirrored by Rhys is Wide Sargasso Sea, in that Antoinette presents a challenge to his patriarchal power. She is a threat, and therefore must

be eliminated. His marriage to her was purely mercenary, thereby the challenge is in place from the beginning, as she is the source of his wealth, having been denied his own patrilineal inheritance by the presence of an older brother. When she becomes mad, the only option left to him is to attempt to deny her existence by imprisoning her where he no longer has to see her, or have anything to do with her. Rhys stays with the patriarchal theme of Jane Eyre in that she too has Antoinette/Bertha implicatively castrate Rochester . Antoinette proves Rochester s destruction, destroying his authoritative aspect just as the outcome of the Jane/Rochester relationship ends with his dependence on her. Bront needed to create a man equal to Jane. Jane was an outcast from the patriarchal organization rather than a conscientious objector to it,[11] therefore Rochester s masculine authority had to be diminished. Rhys uses this in her novel to illuminate the identity construction that Rochester undergoes in Jane Eyre, emphasising this aspect, which may have been overlooked by a readership all to ready to read the character of Rochester as the traditional representative of Victorian patriarchal values.[12] The similarities and differences in the characters of Edward and Rochester are what make Wide Sargasso Sea a valid criticism of Jane Eyre. Through the similarities, the reader is able to relate to Bronts novel, while the differences enable the reader to look at the aspects of Rochesters character that were previously taken for granted, in a critical light. It remains dangerous, and the argument over Rhys right to portray ideas which Bront may not have meant to portray still remains. However, this aside, as it is irrelevant to the novels validity as a criticism, the novel remains strong. It does what all good criticisms do. It searches the novel for its hidden meanings, and portrays them to its audience so they will have a different light in which to view the text. Rhys has simply chosen to convey her meaning in a narrative, rather than analytical form. There are certain advantages to Rhys writing of the relationship between Edward and Antoinette. She is ready, and able to discuss the sexual nature of their relationship in ways which were not available, or not acceptable to the Victorian author and readership. However, despite this, writing Wide Sargasso Sea was a dangerous undertaking. The readings of many of the scenes in Jane Eyre are inevitably changed when seen from a different viewpoint. The scene in Jane Eyre when the old butler gives the account of Rochester risking his own life to save Bertha would be read in a different way if Rhys novel is taken into account. Without knowledge of this text it would be seen as a final acceptance of the fact that Bertha is his wife, and therefore his responsibility as a husband. With Wide Sargasso Sea in mind however, it is difficult to interpret this scene as anything but an attempt to save the wife he has created in his mind rather than the reality. By calling out Bertha rather than Antoinette he is stripping her of the last vestiges of her Creole identity, thereby this event cannot be seen as anything but an attempt to turn away from the violence of his past with her as it is in Jane Eyre.[13]

While the writing of Wide Sargasso Sea remained dangerous because of this, it also enables the novel to stand in its own right, as it brings a different viewpoint, and spin on the silences in Bronts novel and therefore can be seen as both a relevant and irrelevant criticism of Jane Eyre. This is not to say that it is not a valid criticism, simply that some of the points it raises are not relevant to Jane Eyre. All points however remain valid to Wide Sargasso Sea as a novel in its own right. Rhys stated that she was vexed at [Bronts] portrait of the paper tiger lunatic, the all wrong Creole scenes. She went on to state: Ive never believed in Charlottes lunatic, thats why I wrote this bookThe Creole in Charlotte Bronts novel is a lay figure repulsive which does not matter, and not once alive which does[16] The life of the lunatic in Jane Eyre is clearly one of the silences she attempted to remedy in her writing of Wide Sargasso Sea. Wide Sargasso Sea remains a novel in its own right, as well as a relevant criticism of Bronts Jane Eyre. Through the character of Rochester/Edward, we see that there are both similarities and differences between the characters as portrayed by their authors, however, Rhys Edward still remains recognisable as the Rochester of Jane Eyre. While some views of Bronts novel may change, the intended meaning of the novel remains the same

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