Wide Sargasso Sea: Jean Rhys and Antoinette

Cosway  -  Whether one views Wide Sargasso Sea as a ‘rewriting’, a ‘prequel’ or a ‘revision’ of Charlotte Bronte’s Jean Eyre, the symbiotic relationship between the two is fascinating. It would be simplistic to say that Bronte’s madwoman is ‘bad’ and Rhys’ ‘good’ since such an assessment overlooks the myriad social factors that creates these characters. Rhys proposes a distinctly feminist rendering of events by expanding upon and revising issues of equality, and colonialism, and in this way promotes valuable social and historical lessons that are learned in both the discrepancies and the similarities of these two very distinctive works. While Rhys’ novel can be seen as a challenge to the ideologies that underlie Bronte’s work, it does so without arrogance or hypocrisy; an act of creation, not simply correction. Rhys liberates Bertha/Antoinette from her literal (and literary) garret and gives her the fully flushed-out benefit of a history, vitality, and reason; a Frankenstein sort of fabrication that not only creates new perspectives for ‘modern’ readers, but expands upon existing ones. Not only does Antoinette have an awareness of her own oppression, she is an intellectual equal to Rochester (an embodiment of patriarchy and colonization), and yet she remains, like Rhys herself, a marginalized and stigmatized figure (Rhys spent her later years closeted away in a fog of misunderstanding and disregard, to the point of being preemptively declared dead).  Unlike Bronte’s Bertha, who seems a simplistic caricature, Antoinette is a multi-dimensional personality, an active participant in her own destiny, not an inarticulate victim. Yet the most fascinating and tragic correlation between Antoinette Cosway and Bertha Mason is that, in the end, whether liberated or not, these women share much the same fate.

 

 

Wide Sargasso Sea : Jean Rhys and Antoinette Cosway

Pyrography & acrylic with lacquer finish

48" x 48"

2006