Wide Sargasso Sea
is one of those works of fiction, like [b:Ulysses|338798|Ulysses|James Joyce|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1346161221s/338798.jpg|2368224], which require background knowledge to fully appreciate. In that sense it is more a work of literature to enjoy from a distance rather than emotionally. Intellectual love is perhaps the best way I can phrase how I appreciated this novel.
Having read [b:Jane Eyre|10210|Jane Eyre|Charlotte Brontë|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327867269s/10210.jpg|2977639] makes one able to properly understand the intricacies of the story unfolded in this novel. Jean Rhys uses the 'mad woman' of Jane's story to look at events in a previous history of the despicable Mr Rochester. The result is that a story is created in which one comes to dislike Rochester more than in the initial novel and also wonder at the transformation of the man by the end of Jane Eyre
. Yet this is also a novel that makes one think about how interpretations are shaped by our own reactions, how one novel is made great by the people who read it and see greatness in it.
There is meant to be a message in this about the danger of colonialism. However I personally did not see this message in a new light and saw the novel as more a re-evaluation of another work of fiction. Much of what modernism and postmodernism is all about. Therefore I would recommend this work to those who have read Jane Eyre
but not as much as I would recommend the initial work.Additionally
As a final reflection on modernist re-interpretations of classic works, it has come to my attention that many such works are about a re-writing of identity. In this novel Jean Rhys could be said to be writing about herself, or an aspect of herself spied in the 'mad woman' of Jane Eyre, as much as Charlotte Bronte wrote herself into the position of Jane. According to my studies, Jean Rhys lived an adventurous life. Getting herself involved in activities that would be scandalous to many even now such as posing nude and engaging in prostitution for money. She was also proclaimed dead while still alive and her work was 'rediscovered' at that time.
So, it makes sense that she would see the 'mad woman' of Jane Eyre as a kind of misrepresentation. Indeed to classify someone as mad involves a little bit of madness itself. In the process of writing this novel, Jean Rhys therefore throws light on the madness of madness as it were. There is the sense that the woman she draws out of Jane Eyre
is meant to be afflicted by the ugly word hysteria - which means wondering womb and was used to link madness to women's sexuality for decades. It's a clear sign of why many aspects of patriarchy are bad in how they could use such words to label individuals as sick and depraved when really what they were struggling from was the repressive nature of society.
Many other words we also currently use for madness have similarly different connotations to those suspected. For example lunacy coming from the idea of being driven mad by the moon. So the real warning of Jean Rhys' novel in retrospective analysis is that one should never ultimately condemn the other as insane merely because one does not understand them. That is the true insanity of those who would consider themselves sane.