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?