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Comparing Wide Sargasso Sea To Jane Eyre

As I mentioned in my preview of Wide Sargasso Sea, this novel by Jean Rhys is written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre.

Now, here’s a sad admission: I’ve never read Jane Eyre. Can you believe that insanity?

Most of you guys thought that my lameness in not having read Jane Eyre wouldn’t affect my understanding of Wide Sargasso Sea–especially with the stories being written by two different authors. Would it help to know a little more background on these characters? Probably. But a good story is a good story, right?

All that said, and fully admitting that I haven’t read Jane Eyre, I thought I’d do my best to compare the two books today, using my initial thoughts about Wide Sargasso Sea as my guide.

Let’s start with the main character in Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Cosway—known as Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. In WSS, she’s alive and vibrant—even hopeful—despite the fact she’s lost her mother to craziness, and her youngest brother was killed in a fire set by former slaves.  In Jane Eyre, she lives alone in the attic of Thornfield Hall, and is considered a raving lunatic.

Then there’s her husband, the Englishman, Mr. Rochester. WSS describes how the two meet—arranged—and how, as strangers, they never connect while living together in Dominica in the West Indies. Rochester never learns to trust Antoinnette or the Islanders—who he thinks conspire against him in some kind of voodooish fashion. In Jane Eyre, Rochester of course marries Jane while Bertha becomes the “madwoman in the attic.”

Also of note is the tone of the two novels. Jane is a Christian, which brings Christian overtones throughout Jane Eyre. But Antoinnette is cynical of Christianity and God, repeatedly saying things like “your God” to Mr. Rochester. She definitely has a more antagonistic view of God and faith.

As I’m still working through the novel, that’s all I have for now.

But what are some other similarities/differences between Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea?

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24 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read your blog because you are very funny! Thanks

    Like

    May 15, 2012
  2. I’ve never read Wide Sargasso Sea, but now I’m interested. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite novels, and it would be fun to read the backstory of Bertha Mason. Thanks for making me aware of this novel.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
    • kajal #

      When you start reading WSS, you will definitely start disliking Rochester.

      Like

      August 11, 2013
  3. I’ve read Jane Eyre over the years a few times; really I read this novel when I wanted to read a good narrative. I understand the Christian overtones; Jane Eyre I believe is forced to ingest them in the orphan home she narrowly escapes from to accept the job that eventually turns her life around. Married, a mother, wealthy, smart, and a Christian Lady she aquired this from working for the man. Bertha always was in the Attic.She almost started a fire once or twice, and Jane found out about her in that manner. I thank you for talking about the other novel today, I will put it on my reading list that never stops to wow me.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
  4. Get thee to a bookshop/library/kindle and read Jane Eyre.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
    • I know, I know. It’s on the “post-Time list reading list.”

      Like

      May 15, 2012
  5. Rhys creates a very plausible background for Bertha who is absolutely a product of “nature and nuture”. The eerie settting in the Carribean who spook anyone out who is not native to it – and so it does to Bertha, her mother and to Rochester.

    I felt less comfortable with Rhys’ handling of Rochester. He goes through a lot of changes from the time he gets to the Carribean to his meeting with Jane Eyre. In some way I can’t put my finger on, he doesn’t feel like quite the same man to me from one book to the other.

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    May 15, 2012
    • I agree with you about Rochester. It was like she wanted to demonize him the way Bertha was in Jane Eyre. I think she twisted him around too much. Her interpretation of Bertha’s background seemed reasonable, making her progression into the insane character in Bronte’s book plausible and organic. I think she handled Rochester with much less sensitivity and perhaps less mindfulness of the character he was supposed to develop into.

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      May 15, 2012
      • You said it. That’s exactly what I was thinking.

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        May 15, 2012
    • It’s interesting that you say that, because it almost seems to me that he’s inconsistent within Wide Sargasso Sea, not to mention the inconsistencies that you say in comparing the 2 books. He seems to inexplicably change character within WSS.

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      May 15, 2012
  6. I read Wide Sargasso Sea in tandem with Jane Eyre. It was my second time through Jane Eyre and I thought it added complexity to the way I thought about both books. I’m with Rachael, Get thee to a bookshop/library/kindle.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
  7. Jeff #

    Why not just watch the Jane Eyre movie? It worked for me in high school. I for one am waiting for Wide Sargasso Sea to come out on Red Box. In fact when you are finished with this 101 list of book you can easily shift this blog into a critique of the movie version of books and what the difference between the two are. You would get tons of traffic from high school student trying to not get caught by any trick questions. Thank. I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
    • To “just watch the Jane Eyre movie” would be to miss out on an amazingly crafted narrative. It would be to miss out on the language and the passion conveyed by a female author during the Victorian Era. To miss out on a novel published under a male pen name that few people believed was actually written by a woman because of that passion. There isn’t a single movie that stands up to the quality of the book.

      Then, of course, there’s the issue of which movie do you watch? One is true to the story line, but fails to capture the essence of the book. Another captures more of the essence, but departs from the book. And so on.

      Like

      May 15, 2012
  8. turnerbethany #

    This reminds me a lot of Wicked and Wizard of Oz. I might have to add Wide Sargasso Sea to the reading list. Jane Eyre is such a classic.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
    • Great thought! I haven’t even thought of that comparison. My wife’s a huge Wicked fan, and I’ve got to say it was pretty awesome.

      Like

      May 15, 2012
  9. Hmm. Mr. Rochester did not marry Jane Eyre while Bertha is living in the attic. Jane Eyre has the sense not to be a mistress. But yes, they eventually get married.

    Bertha is portrayed as a wild, ravenous, mad woman in Bronte’s novel. Well, at least I think that’s Bronte’s intention. But it didn’t get through me because I’ve read WSS before JE. I already know the story of that howling woman who has the penchant to walk around Thornfield during the dead of the night.

    In WSS, I think Bertha is a beautifully depressed/depressingly beautiful woman. Not anything like the Bertha of JE.

    Like

    May 15, 2012
  10. You’ve missed out, its my #1 book, read it yearly and am always touched by the beauty of language and characters ~ Thanks for a wonderful post~Deborah

    Like

    May 16, 2012
  11. In Wide Sargasso Sea, we almost get a feeling of sympathy and understanding for why Bertha is the way she is in Jane Eyre. Her family life has caused her to become insane as she ages. As opposed to just reading about her in Jane Eyre, if you do in WSS you see a different side to her.

    Like

    May 18, 2012
  12. Reading both of these books elicits a little bit of cognitive dissonance. You want to love Rochester as he is in Jane Eyre, but the man he is in Wide Sargasso Sea is a colonialist rapist monster (as I recall; I haven’t read WSS since college). Also, I admire Jean Rhys’s commitment to taking a beloved story and telling it from an underserved perspective (ethnically speaking, religiously speaking), but Antoinetta is just not as charming as Jane. Jane has her head on straight through the whole thing; she’s one of those rare fictional characters it would actually be fun to be friends with.

    Like

    May 18, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Book #42: Wide Sargasso Sea | 101 Books
  2. Spicing up plain Jane Eyre | laineweatherford

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