#BookSnapSunday – Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea

Visitors to our place often comment on our extensive book collection. As avid readers we do have a lot of books and it can be very difficult to part with such dear friends. Some are long time favourites. Some are still waiting to be read. And others have been read at some point in the past.

 In our house, any blank patch of wall is seen as an opportunity for another bookshelf, but there comes a point when you run out of wall space. I have always admired those lovely old Victorian houses which devoted an entire room to books, with floor to ceiling bookshelves on every wall. What bliss to have a dedicated library! Sadly I don’t believe that will ever be the case, but as we are likely to continue collecting books, perhaps it is time for some weeding. We have decided we need to be more ruthless. We have to be tough. We have to ask the hard questions. Am I likely to read that book again?

The favourites will stay – no question about that. Some books just need to be read over and over again. Those still on the TBR – we’ll get to them eventually. And then there are those that have been read, and enjoyed but are unlikely to be read again. It’s time to pass them along to a new home. For some, that it is an easy decision. For others I am not quite sure. Some books are like wine – they improve with age and rereading. To be certain I am making the right decision, I have started rereading some books that I know I have read some time in the past but never recorded a date or a rating or notes of any kind. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is one of these.   

Wide Sargasso Sea was first published in 1966, won the WH Smith Literary Award in 1967 and the Cheltenham Booker Prize 2006 for the year 1966. It has also been listed on the BBC News list of the 100 most influential novels. It has been pictured above with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for a reason.

Readers familiar with Jane Eyre will remember Bertha, the “mad wife in the attic.” Bertha’s mother was a Creole, which means she was born in the Caribbean. Traditionally Creoles were distinguished as white, coloured or black. Jean Rhys was a white Creole, born in Dominica in 1890, although she lived most of her life in England and Europe. She deplored the stereotypical representation of Bertha in Jane Eyre and wrote Wide Sargasso Sea to give Bertha a far more sympathetic understanding.

The story acts as a prequel to Jane Eyre, being set in the 1830s to the 1840s, just after slavery had ended throughout the British Empire. Bertha’s real name is Antoinette, but after her arranged marriage to Edward Rochester, he renames her Bertha, a far more “English” name, I suppose. Although Bertha is of English descent, Rochester’s perception of her is tainted by the fears about white degeneration that were commonly held during the nineteenth century.  It was believed that living in a tropical climate, like the Caribbean, in close proximity to non-whites, and being involved with slavery, had a degenerative effect on the white Creole population. It is Rochester’s racism and cruel treatment of Bertha that eventually leads to her madness. Rhys also draws attention to the absence of legal protection for married women during the nineteenth century. While Rochester received a financial down payment for marrying Bertha, she received nothing, leaving her in a vulnerable position and without any means of financial support to escape the marriage. (Sue Thomas, The Conversation)

It is always interesting to do a little background research into a text and I strongly suspect that with such an esteemed pedigree Wide Sargasso Sea will find its way back onto the bookshelf. How do you deal with overflowing bookshelves?

Happy Reading! 

Further Reading



7 thoughts on “#BookSnapSunday – Wide Sargasso Sea

  1. I must find my copy of Wild Sargasso Sea, I don’t think at the time I was ready for it. Book storage is a conundrum all right! I have purchased several large stackable plastic boxes with clip-down lids (some on tiny wheels) so I can store the read or less-read overflow. Trouble is they will take up space somewhere else, e.g. the garage 🙂

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    • I think the first time that I read Wide Sargasso Sea I was puzzled by it, but I think doing a little background reading has helped prepare me for reading it again – helps to give it some context. I think it doesn’t matter how we store our books, they still take up space. The plastic boxes sound like a good idea although I’d be afraid it would be out of sight, out of mind. 😄

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  2. It is such a haunting book that one. One scene in particular springs to mind whenever I think of that novel, the fire. Reading it also changed how I thought about Rochester, the Brontes created some rather dark and disturbing men, do you think their errant brother inspired so many Byronic men.
    Overflowing bookshelves! I think I have given up, I try occasionally to weed the odd title but with others in the house who simply seem to be incapable of giving up anything it is a struggle.

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    • I am appreciating reading it again, especially with a little more background understanding this time. Rereading a text really does help to build up layers of understanding, especially at different points in our lives. I don’t know much about the Brontes brother – another avenue for some reading! Bec and I are the only readers in our house, but we’ve both decided we need to at least get rid of those we weren’t that fussed on. Problem is, that rereading often helps you appreciate a book even more than the first time.

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  3. Love this post – you write so nicely!! 😍 Wide Sargasso Sea is next on my list (I wrote a review of Good Morning, Midnight on my blog recently – I’d love to hear what you think if you check it out)… do you think I should read Jane Eyre first? I’m an established Jean Rhys fanatic, but your post has made me think I could appreciate this one better with a bit of background. ❤️📚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Meg, I don’t think it really matters whether you read Jane Eyre first or not, although Jean Rhys did write Sargasso Sea in reply to it. It might make more sense to understand why she felt she needed to write Sargasso Sea. It probably would help to explain the final scene. I enjoyed your review of Good Morning, Midnight – I’ll have to add that one to my Wishlist.

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