Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea Norton Critical Ediction. NY: Norton, 1999. Creole Identities, and Racial/Gender Relations
Outline • Jean Rhys • Wide Sargasso Sea: General Introduction • Part I: Antoinette’s personality and the causes for it • Annette: a) The Creole Identities of Annette; b) Annette as a Woman; c) madness Gender+Race • Antoinette: a) loss of mother; b) as a creole; 3) convent • Antoinette’s personality • Main Questions: • 1) Mad Woman • 2) Fatalism? • Abeng and Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys--Biographical Sketch • 8/24/1890 the daughter of a Welsh doctor and a white Creole mother • 1907-8 Attends the Perse School, Cambridge. • 1909-10 Tours as a chorus girl. Abandoned by her lover. • 1919 Marries Jean Lenglet and moves to Paris. 29 Dec., birth of a son who dies three weeks later. (–altogether 3 marriages, 2 children.)
Jean Rhys--Biographical Sketch • 1923-24 Meets Ford Madox Ford. Husband in jail, affair with Ford. (ménage a trois--Ford, Stella Bowen, Jean)) • 1933 Divorce. • 1934 Marries Leslie Tilden-Smith. • 1945 TS dead.Begins work on Wide Sargasso Sea. • 1947 Marriage to Max Hamer. Disappears from the public scene. • 1966 WSS published.
Rhys: her characters’ and her self-identity • Her characters: , all drifting, unhappy, unstable, but with clear self-knowledge and understanding of others. • “I have no pride—no name, no face, no country. I don’t belong anywhere.” (Good Morning, Midnight.) • Rhys: Only returned to Dominica once in 56 years; • Rhys: . "I don't belong anywhere but I get very worked up about the West Indies. I still care. . . ."
Rhys: her self-identity • "Do you consider yourself aWest Indian?" She shrugged. "It was such a long time ago when I left." "So you don't think of yourself as a West Indian writer?" Again she shrugged, but said nothing. "What aboutEnglish? Do you consider yourself an English writer?" "No! I'm not, I'm not! I'm not even English." "What about aFrenchwriter?" I asked. Again she shrugged and said nothing. "You have no desire to go back to Dominica?" "Sometimes," she said.
Wide Sargasso Sea: General Introduction – (1) the Title • Sargasso Sea: The heart of the Bermuda Triangle is covered by the strangest and most notorious sea on the planet— the Sargasso Sea; so named because there is a kind of seaweed which lazily floats over its entire expanse called sargassum. (source) • signaling the wide division between Antoinette and Rochester and the race and gender entangled relationships in the Caribbean area.
FYI: Sargasso Sea • An oval-shaped area of the North Atlantic Sea, bordered by the Gulf Stream and encompassing Bermuda Islands. It is characterized by weak currents, very little wind, and a free-floating mass of seaweed called Sargassum .(textbook 1)
Rhys on Jane Eyre • "The creole in Charlotte Bronte's novel is a lay figure -- repulsive which does not matter, and not once alive which does. . . . For me . . . she must be right on stage. She must be at least plausible with a past, the reason why Mr. Rochester treats her so abominably and feels justified, and the reason why he thinks she is mad and why of course she goes mad, even the reason why she tries to set everything on fire, and eventually succeeds. . . " (Gregg 82; emphases added) • Q: Is Anntoinette then doomed to be mad? Couldn’t there be different endings? Is the novel too sad?
Rhys's Revision of Jane Eyre:Shift of Dates: • Jane Eyre -- towards the end of the novel reads a book published in 1808 Bertha confined in the attic in the first decade of the 19th century. • WSS's time frame shifted to 1830's onwards: Emancipation Act 1833 Antoinette – born 1839 (p. 31), a year after the full emancipation; a child in the 1840's (Mark MaWatt qut in Gregg 83)
Rhys's Revision of Jane Eyre:Antoinette’s Fathers • Jane Eyre – Bertha—the child of Mason • Wide Sargasso Sea – • two fathers (Mason and Cosway), the old slave master and the new one. • more relatives (Sandi, Daniel, etc.) and connections with the Caribbean blacks (Tia and Christophine)
Backgrounds (1) on Race: • I. white masters, New & Old: • Mr. Luttrell and his death p. 9; old Cosway p. 17 • Christophine’s comment and the new Lutrell 15 • New masters after the Emancipation of slaves [Mr. Mason – purpose p. 17; changes brought to Coulibri 18; about the blacks p. 19] • II. White against creole • e.g. the town people’s gossip p. 17; Aunt Cora's husband 18 • III. Black against creole: • poor "white cockcroaches" p. 13; white niggers p.14; black Englishman and white burned like black 26 • IV. The position of obeah woman p. 12, 17
Background (2): Before and after the Emancipation Pre-Emancipation: racial and sexual exploitation. (e.g. Daniel) Post-Emancipation Problems: • Belated Compensation, • Importation of contract laborers • Annette’s distrust of Christophine, Godfry, and Sass’ leaving p. 12 • Riot: The presentation of the black mob Myra – hell (21); animal howling (p. 23), parrot killed = bad luck 25; the final confrontation, women crying 26.
WSS: Settings • Part I: (Martinique), Jamaica: Coulibri estate, near Spanish TownPart II: Granbois, Dominica, Part III: “Great House” England
Plot and Structure • Part I: Antoinette's Childhood – • Isolation after Mr. Cosway’s death and the emancipation; • The mother’s re-marriage to Mr. Mason; • The riot; • Antoinette in the convent. • Part II: Rochester and Antoinette • Upon arrival, R tries to adjust, writes letters to his father; relations between A & R. • Daniel’s letter and the letter from England. • Antoinette’s taking action • Leaving for England. • Part III: Antoinette in England
Genealogy Cosway—Annette AlexanderDaniel Pierre Sandi ----Antoinette—husband----Amèlie (Bertha) (Rochester) Christophine Tia
Central Questions • Part I: How does Rhys characterize Antoinette? What are the causes for her personalities? • Creole identity and Mother-daughter relationship; • childhood experience; • Convent education (Part II: How does Rhys explain the problems between Antoinette and Rochester? • their socio-historical context—19th Century Victorian/Colonial world? Race + Gender)
FYI: Important Symbols and Scenes Antoinette and Tia-- friendship (13-14), divided by racial differences (27) • the garden imagery in Part I; • The fire scene and the burning of the parrot (25)
Creole Women’s Positions: Annette Annette: 1) multiple alienations of the creole —from the white people in the Spanish town (9; 17)—because she is Creole, from Martinique and poor; -- from the blacks (“they”) because she is former slave-owner and poor: pp. 10, 11 -- both Annette and Antoinette—seen as “white cockroaches” (13)/”white nigger” (14)
Creole Women’s Positions: Annette Annette: -- 2) As a woman – • Cosway: a womanizer; calls Daniel’s mother “sly boots” pp. 73-74; halfway house p.57; drinks himself to death • Widowed –can only survive by marrying again. Antoinette (solitary life) Antoinette (planned and hoped) p. 10 -- marooned & her son 11 -- borrow a horse from the new Lutrelles gay and a good dancer • 2nd Marriage: Worse, since Mason does not understand the racial relationship (19, 21)
Creole Women’s Positions: Annette Annette: -- 3) as a creole woman • Why does she care so much about the parorot CoCo? 25 • Antoinette’s account of what happened to Annette: 78 (also her sensual memories of the past 79); 80-81
Creole Women’s Positions: Antoinette Antoinette: (1) loss of motherly love • Her love rejected by Annette(11, 13, 15, 28-29,) • The mother cares more about Pierre 16; • Annette ashamed of her 15; • Being pushed away after her madness pp. 28-29 • missing her mother in the convent 34; • The mother’s death 36
Creole Women’s Positions: Antoinette Antoinette: (2) Race Relations – • Christophine: helpful but fearful • like a substitute mother; • feared by Antoinette 18 -- Combination of Catholicism and voodoo (Part II:1. Antoinette’s seeking for help: p. 67, 68, 70 2. Put in jail once and may still be. P. 86)
Creole Women’s Positions: Antoinette • Antoinette and Tia – • friendship (13-14), • divided by racial differences (27) • The boy and the girl 29-30
Creole Women’s Positions: Antoinette the second refuge in the convent –dissociated from reality • Stories of the saint; • no looking glass care taken in maintaining beautiful mages of femininity ; p. 32-33; • images of the nations vs. the mother to be forgotten; 33 • A place of sunshine and of death. Pp. 33-34
Creole Women’s Positions: Antoinette (& Annette) • Imagery: Garden • the biblical myth of the garden--(11) • associated with snake and forest • Imagery: Mirror • Annette 10; p. Antoinette & Tia; the convent
Antoinette’s personality: 5 examples • Self-protection in Childhood: e.g. the horse p. 10; garden 13; 16 • Sense of danger in the recurrent dreams pp. 15, 27, 36 • Insecurity -- Attempt to turn down the marriage p. 46; • [the two rats & the moon p. 49 • death impulse p. 54] Insecure; in lack of a firm sense of identity; (lack of love, fear of others’ and society’s criticism, feeling excluded.) Fatalistic (fear of “madness” as a hereditary trait) childhood as a creole woman
Part II: What causes the problems between Antoinette & Rochester? Is Rochester completely to blame?
Sargasso Sea: Race and Gender • Why is the marriage between Rochester and Bertha unhappy? • Why is Bertha mad? Beast, madness in the family, driven mad, or not really mad? Man Women Man Women Obeah woman Race White – Creole --Black Gender – Marriage & Inheritance system
Gender/Race Relationships among the Character Spanish Town Whites p. 17 Mr. Cosway Father E. Rochester The Masons Richard Pierre Daniel Godfry Sass Myra Aunt Cora p. 18, 68-69 • Antoinette Annette Christophine Amelia
Is Antoinette Mad? feminine madness as fate? • the letter from Daniel Rochester's suspicion of Antoinette’s madness (pp. 56 - 58) • Wickedness is not the worst. There is madness in that family. Old Cosway die raving like his father before him. • The madness gets worse and she has to be shut away for she try to kill her husband — madness not being all either. • Antoinette's explanation pp. 78;Christophine’s explanation p. 94
Antoinette's explanation pp. 78 • [After the father’s death she was lonely] And very poor,' she said. “… For five years. …She was so lonely that she grew away from other people…” • Then there was that day when she saw I was growing up like a white nigger and she was ashamed of me, it was after that day that everything changed. Yes, it was my fault, it was my fault that she started to plan and work in a frenzy, in a fever to change our lives. …[the riot] • I saw the man lift her up out of the chair and kiss her. I saw his mouth fasten on hers and she went all soft and limp in his arms and he laughed. The woman laughed too, but she was angry. When I saw that I ran away.
Christophine's explanation pp. 94 • [after the riot]'They drive her to it. When she lose her son she lose herself for a while and they shut her away. They tell her she is mad, they act like she is mad. Question, question. But no kind word, no friends, and her husban' he go off, he leave her. They won't let me see her. I try, but no. They won't let Antoinette see her. In the end - mad I don't know - she give up, she care for nothing. That man who is in charge of her he take her whenever he want and his woman talk. That man, and others. Then they have her. Ah there is no God.‘ (94)
“Fatal” Endings? 1. Antoinette's temperament--sense of doom and insecurity; death with (54) • Antoinette’s seeking for help from Christophine 2. Christophine’s role- -- her suggestions -- practical? pp. 65 -; -- her limitations – (1) as an obeah woman; (2) not understanding Rochester’s possessiveness • Would their marriage have been saved without the voodoo?
“Fatal” Endings? (2) 3. Cultural Conflicts and Gender Inequality -- Antoinette and her place –the crab, 52; 53; 4. Rochester’s hypocrisy and selfishness – e.g. Turning Antoinette into Bertha pp. 68, 81, and then to Marionette; calling her “my lunatic” 99. 5. The Ending – possibilities of ‘return’?
The Ending • [on the battlement]I turned round and saw the sky. It was red and all my life was in it. I saw the grandfather clock and Aunt Cora's patchwork, all colours…I heard the parrot call as he did when he saw a stranger, Qui est la? Qui est la? and the man who hated me was calling too, Bertha! Bertha! …But when I looked over the edge I saw the pool at Coulibri. Tia was there. She beckoned to me and when I hesitated, she laughed. I heard her say, You frightened? And I heard the man's voice, Bertha! Bertha! …. Someone screamed and I thought, Why did I scream? I called 'Tia!' and jumped and woke. • … was outside holding my candle. Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do. There must have been a draught for the flame flickered and I thought it was out. But I shielded it with my hand and it burned up again to light me along the dark passage.
Antoinette/Tia vs. Clare/Zoe: One hundred year in between Wide Sargasso Sea • A-- more passive • Tia – less friendly • Broken apart first because of money and then because of the racial conflict Abeng – • Clare – first wants to prove herself and then wants to apologize for her selfishness • Zoe – tolerates Clare but scared at the end, regretting being too close to Clare • Ms. Mattie • blames it on her blood from her father’s side. • Sends Clare away • Clare will come back later, • but not Antoinette.