Monday, 28 November 2011

AO4! AO4! AO4!

Hey Y13

Right. Context. Often omitted from your essays.

Research the context in which Wide Sargasso Sea was written. There are three main aspects to this:
  • Jean Rhys
  • Emancipation
  • Role of women
You then need to answer the question:

How does the context in which Wide Sargasso Sea was written influence your understanding of the novel?

By the end of the lesson you need to post a comment of about 300 words looking at one of these aspects. This will then be used in you essay. You can then look at what other people have written to help you with ideas for your own further research. You also then have a little bank of resources that you can look back on when you write your essay proper. Score!

If you find a useful link (not Wikipedia or the related links in Wikipedia...) then add that to your comments.
Three important things....
  • Remember, you need to reference all your work so save any links at the end of your essay.
  • Make sure you link your understanding to the novel so include quotations.
  • Put your initials at the end so I know who's done their work. (You will get a C3 if not on by end of the lesson.)
Some ideas...
You may want to discuss: Rochester's discomfort and dislike of his expereince in the West Indies; how Antoinette's experiences could also link to Jean Rhys' experiences; how the role of women could be linked to slavery or how the status of women is constricting and could lead to madness. Look back at the post about race and Jane Eyre for some ideas.

Let me know if you have any problems.
Ms :)


  1. A striking contextual difference between Jane Eyre and WSS is the opposition of the female characters, however fundamentally both socially beneath Rochester. Antoinette’s obvious beauty is apparent throughout the male narrative, ‘I wondered why I had never realized how beautiful she was.’ Rochester’s disinterest in Antoinette is littered throughout his narrative; however his rare compliments to her character are often purely linked to her physical attributes. The fact that the couple are already married at this point in the novel, therefore suggesting a loving and lifelong commitment; demonstrates his disinterest and the distance between the two. His characterisation of Antoinette contrasts greatly to ‘sweet and gentle’ Jane, who has no claim to beauty, however wins the heart of her beloved through her sweet nature. Nevertheless, both characters Jane Eyre and Antoinette Cosway share a number of similarities: both lower classes of society with troubled childhoods. Both women are obviously of a lower status to Rochester, not only through their gender, but further by their social class. The ending of WSS incorporates the cathartic tragedy of the fire in Jean Eyre, however through the perspective of a vulnerable, self destructive victim, not the ‘mad woman in the attic’ portrayed through Bronte’s novel. Rhys overturns the heroic and charming depiction of Rochester in Jane Eyre, and reveals the true colours to the character of an over controlling and manipulative coward.


  2. In Wide Sargasso Sea, contextual factors such as The Emancipation Act (1833) play a key role in shaping our understanding of the novel. After emancipation, ex-slaves embraced their newly-found freedom and since there was ‘no more slavery – why should anybody work?’ They also became a lot more outwardly resentful of their previous owners and this hostility was not resolved by the fact that white or Creole plantation owners that lost all of their labour did not get the “compensation the English promised when the Emancipation Act was passed.” This is apparent in the novel because it is what happens to Mr Luttrell who then ‘swan out to sea and was gone for always.’ This is also evident in Antoinette’s family estate which was falling into disrepair until wealthy people from England, such as Mason, bought their estates. This hostility is integral in part one as it results in Antoinette’s estate being burnt by protesting ex-slaves. Her family history may have influenced Rhys’ writing of this event because her grandfather’s house was burned by freed slaves in the 1830’s.


  3. Emancipation: Life in the West Indies.

    In the novel Wide Sargasso Sea it was set in the 1830s but was published in 1966. The Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on 25 March 1870, making the slave trade illegal though out the British Empire. The act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave aboard a British ship. In 1827, Britain declared that participation in the slave trade was piracy and punishable by death. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette’s mother describes one of the African women as an object. ‘She was your fathers wedding present to me- one of his presents.’ Christophine can be referred to as a nanny or a housekeeper. Some view Christophine more so of a mother to Antoinette then Annette. Annette was the widow and daughter of slave owners. Christophine can be viewed as an object in which she is born and then sold on to another person. Emancipation of Antoinette’s life is revealed in Wide Sargasso Sea, after her relationship with her mother and her life in poverty is changed in the marriage to Mr. Mason. Her change in clothes and wealth changes but her isolation and past doesn’t change. This links to the passing of the emancipation act.


  4. The role of women is imperative in understanding many aspects of our society, be it through modern aspects, such as politics or classical literature. Through the ages many novels have expressed their views on the subject mater, leaning on the spheres of feminism it is difficult not to consider how it relates to reflects how the movement has progressed or possibly digressed.
    ‘Wide Sargasso sea’ explicitly reveals how Jean Rhys has characterised the women as nothing more than an object of gain/desire,’ I wondered why I had never realised how beautiful she was’, shows Rochester’s patriarchal stereotype shine through, in accordance to the historical context of being a typical Victorian man. Alongside this, the revelation of Antoinette being something which he thinks regularly of and deems as ‘beautiful’, this may suggest the point mentioned earlier of the role of women being nothing more than subjective.
    The subjection of women to male authority is an important theme in both Charlotte Bronte’s nineteenth-century novel and Jean Rhys's twentieth-century revision. Like Bronte, Rhys illustrates the painfully limited role of women in Victorian society. Antoinette, for example, is unable to free herself from Rochester's brutality because she has no financial independence; when she married him all of the money in her dowry was given to him without condition or stipulation. Rochester represents the ultimate in patriarchal tyrants, but other male characters in the novel also display deep-seated feelings of misogyny, including Mr. Mason and Daniel. With the possible exception of Christophine, men deprive all of the female characters in the text of their agency, something Rhys clearly finds deplorable. The role of women could be argued as non-existent yet clearly something of deep meaning.


  5. Jean Rhys considered many possible titles for her prequel to Jane Eyre. ‘The First Mrs Rochester’ was one version –clearly highlighting the novel’s inspiration by the untold stories in Jane Eyre. ‘Le Revenant’ was also another title possibility, perhaps alluding to a gothic reading of the text, suggestive of haunting and being haunted. The gothic motif of the ‘return of the repressed’ implies a return from the dead. Whereas Antoinette doesn’t die and return as a horrific symbol, she nevertheless stands as haunting character, pushed to the brink of madness and beyond by Mr Rochester. Where the lonely girl, depicted with sympathetic understanding once was, Rochester’s harsh retaliation causes the protagonist to have a nervous breakdown and is left broken and irrational in the confusion of “When was last night?” Similarly, the French, ‘Le Revenant’ could be suggestive of possibly the Martinique French colony in which the novel is set, perhaps Rhys’ way of affirming a distinct gap and a sense of unfamiliarity. The Emancipation Act of 1833, despite being seemingly positive with the Abolition of the Slave Trade now imminent, tinges the novella with irony by associating it with “misfortunes.” The novel explores how true freedom is impossible given the persistent social, political, and economical inequalities on the island. Rhys’ writing often centres on themes of “isolation, absence of society or community, the sense of things falling apart, dependence and loss”. She uses irony and a concern for subjectivity and language to develop her themes of anxiety and loss. In Wide Sargasso Sea she contrasts the ‘lush tropical sensuality’ with the ‘cold English calculation’.

  6. one of the key events that happens before the book starts is emancipation. In 1833 (shortly before the start of the book) the Abolition of slavery act was brought about which stated that no one in British colonies could own slaves (this is opposed to the the Slave Trade Act in 1807 which made it illegal to buy and sell slaves) and in the book this has had a dire affect upon the estate that Antoinette lives on and others in her community. This is shown when she recalls that Mr Luttel grew tired of waiting for compensation and "shot his dog and swam out to sea" to commit suicide. Indeed it is the lack of compensation given that causes the discontent which leads them protest outside the estate in which they accidentally set fire to the house. This not only provides the backdrop for one of the most dramatic scenes in the book but also mirrors real life events that happened at the time. Rhyss manages to capture this feeling of resentment between the two sides perfectly when christophine syas "“No more slavery! She had to laugh! ‘These new ones have Letter of the Law. Same thing. They got
    magistrate. They got fine. They got jail house and chain gang. They got tread machine to mash up people’s
    feet. New ones worse than old ones – more cunning, that’s all." It is with our understanding of the emancipation of slaves that Rhyss makes us question wheter we should really feel sorry for Antoinette and the situation we find her family in given that for generationsw the family has benefited from the free labour of black slaves.

  7. Jean Rhys' personal traits and experiences can effect one's understanding of the novel. One of her traits which is particularly relevent to WSS is her sympathies towards the black community in Dominica which she is said to have 'envied for their vitality' (Eimer Paige). This then, gives Antoinette's description of the black Dominican communitie's hatred towards her and her famiy; "white cockroach, go away, go away...", more of a sense of longing and adds to the sense of this character's isolation, which is an important recurring theme throughout the novel (particularly: These were all the people in my life-my mother and Pierre, Christophine, Godfrey, and Sass who had left us.”). Her sympathies with the black community also isolate Antoinette from her mother during parts of the novel in which her mother acuses, segregates and objectifies the workers. This is emphasised in part one where Antoinette defends them against her mothers accusations; "'Godfrey stayed to' I said 'and Sass'".

    Rhys' turbulent relationships with men may also help a reader shape the character of Rochester. The knowledge of Rhys' history of questionable relationships give more weight to some of Rochesters more misogynistic statements, for instance "'stupid little girl,' I'd say", which would have extreme significance to a femenist interpretation of this text anyway.


  8. The change in fortune of the family in Part One from poverty to wealth could reflect the situation of the slaves in the 1830s when the Salve Abolition Act was passed in 1833. Although this technically meant an improvement in the lives of the slaves, the lack of work and so exports meant everyone – including the slave owners (as explored in Wide Sargasso Sea) suffered financially. This could relate to the way the lives of the family – particularly Antoinette’s – were meant to improve after the mother’s marriage to the wealthy Mr Mason. However in actually they get worse after their increase in wealth causes hatred among the impoverished ex-slaves causing them to set fire to their home, and the following events that ensue – most poignantly the mental decline of Antoinette and her mother. This mental decline could also relate to the situation of women in the 1830s, the way they were forced into the role of wife or daughter – either way the possession of a man (such as how Antoinette changes from the possession of her father, to Mr Mason, her brother and Mr Rochester). This reflects the frustration of the author, Antoinette’s isolation – ‘I got used to a solitary life’ – reflecting her own inability to fit in her home town of Dominica as the only white girl in a predominantly black community, and then her inability to fit in in England. She also – like Antoinette – doesn’t force herself into the expected roles of women – changing erratically from a well-dressed lady to a drunkard (again there is similarities between the author and Antoinette, ‘she darted to the table and seized the bottle of rum’) however because Antoinette is alive during the 1830s she is viewed as mad. This reinforces the idea of it being Mr Rochester who causes her madness, as well as the confinement forced upon her due to her gender and marriage, increasing the audience’s sympathy for her and her situation.


  9. Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea as a response to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, to convey, in her opinion, the other half of the story. She believed ‘The Creoles were misunderstood and maligned both by the blacks of the islands and by the wealthier white Europeans’. Events in the novel which mirror events from Rhys’ life draw parallels between the writer and the main character. Rhys was excluded and ‘socially and intellectually isolated’ when she moved from Dominica to England. This can be seen right from the beginning of the novel Wide Sargasso Sea, where ‘they say’ and ‘they thought’ represent the judgemental views of society, and the division of the people. The autobiographical elements may cause a greater impact on the reader (as they empathise with both the Antoinette and Rhys) and the reality of issues of race and segregation are heightened. When Mr Rochester arrives, he describes the life in the West Indies vividly as ‘wild, untouched,’ ‘alien’ and ‘disturbing’. Although Rhys would probably not have described her birthplace in the same way, she may have been accustomed to other ‘white Europeans’ reactions, which she could have base Rochester’s on. The reader is not lead to only sympathise with Antoinette, but with Mr Rochester too, as he is lost in an ‘alien’ world. We may consider here that Rhys’ own experience of moving to a foreign place, especially one which is physically and metaphorically so distant and unfamiliar (emphasis on Wide Sargasso Sea), is reflected in Mr Rochester’s response. A.M

  10. sorry I only posted it now, I forgot!

  11. The emancipation of 1833 came into effect in 1834 and was the abolition of slavery passed by the English Parliament and was to be implemented throughout the Empire. It is particularly significant when looking at Wide Sargasso Sea as Antoinette and her family are ex-slave owners who have now lost there estate due to this new English law “Still waiting for this compensation the English promised when the Emancipation Act was passed.” This creates bitterness as the fate of the family is determined by the distant England, who has done wrong by Antoinette‘s family and deceived her by not giving compensation. This characterises England as one very separate to the Caribbean (symbolised by the fictional island Coulibri) and this first impression of England also enables Rhys to continue to criticise England throughout the novel. As a direct result of the Act social status was reversed and power was now starting to move, seen by Antoinette being considered as a “White niggers.” This demonstrates how the previous racist slang is now being applied to the opposite race, showing how society is disrupted by the Act.

  12. The Sargasso Sea is between the West Indies and Europe and divides them.
    Jean Rhys is inspired to write WSS by Jane Eyre. Rhys in WSS exposes what is supressed and hidden in JE. And introduces Creole perpective.
    Racial Context.
    The Rochester character (who is significantly nameless in WSS) is blinded by conflicting colonial narratives.
    Ref. Introduction to 1966 Edition by Francis Wyndham

  13. How does the context in which WSS was written influence your understanding of the novel?
    Context: Jean Rhys
    Jean Rhys was born in Dominica and spent her early life there. The island in which the first part of the narrative is located is unnamed and somewhat ambiguous, but the title confirms its rough location in the West Indies, specifically the islands between Jamaica and Dominica.
    In the narrative of WSS, Antoinette feels a connection with the landscape and world that she knows to the extent that it can be seen as a representation of her own distinct identity and connection with the land.
    Part 2 p 68: “The sky was dark blue through the dark green mango leaves and I thought, “This is my place and this is where I belong and this is where I wish to stay.”
    Ford Madox writes of her early work that she has “a terrifying instinct and a terrific – and almost lurid! – passion for stating the case of the underdog”
    Rhys’s early formation in the West Indies was coupled with her research into the mental state of white creole heiresses in the early nineteenth century (this novel is set in the 1830s). Daughters of ex-plantation owners were often unable to find husbands in the wake of the Emancipation Act and were despised by their black neighbours . “Look the white niggers! And then they were all yelling. “Look the white niggers! Look the damn white niggers!”” (part 1 p 22). This quotation highlights the ‘outsider’ position of the creoles in the historical period and geographical context. Rhys’ use of repetition with expansion (“damn”) creates a sense of the outcast position of the family in the society they are left in.
    SB (I hope you don't mind me posting a comment twice, I had more to say and didn't have enough time at first).

  14. I don't mind you posting as many times as you like! Well done, Soph. Some good stuff here.