In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys tells the story of a young Creole woman, Antoinette Cosway, growing up on the island of Jamaica. However, you probably know her as Jane Eyre‘s Bertha Mason, the iconic “mad woman in the attic.” We follow Antoinette as she tries to navigate racial tensions, her ultimately doomed marriage to Rochester, and the many problems in her family. In Jane Eyre, Bertha is a furious spectre, barely more than a grunting animal trying to scratch our heroine’s eyes out. Wide Sargasso Sea, on the other hand, gives Antoinette a voice, her own story to tell, and even her own name (I’ll get back to this).
If you have ever taken any class that touched on postcolonial literature in your life, you already know this title. Wide Sargasso Sea is one of the ultimate must-read titles in the field, a work that other postcolonial rewritings of classic literature are measured by; this is how it’s done. As a fan of both Jane Eyre and reworkings/reimaginings of well-known stories, it is downright embarrassing that I have not read this novel until now. However, when I came across a copy in a second-hand bookstore, I decided that it was finally time to correct this oversight. So did it live up to the hype?