The idea of this read was to read Wide Sargasso Sea before Jane Eyre to put it in the proper perspective, and to strip away the layers of romance that Bronte drapes over Rochester, revealing him as a bitter, controlling, vengeful man.
Why, why does he take Antoinette back to England? Why not just abandon her, and pretend as if she hadn’t existed? Some of that is out of guilt, to punish himself for making bad decisions, but it also punishes her, who is not nearly as culpable as he would like to make her out to be.
In this third section, what I love is that Rhys not only continues her construction of poor, mad, imprisoned Antoinette, but also Grace Poole, one of the more maligned characters in Jane Eyre. No longer is Grace simply a mean, crude drunk, but instead is a woman who has endured hardship in the world and at the hands of men. She recognizes that same damage in Antoinette, the anger that has resulted, and respects it.
The third section is the most intertextual, weaving in and out of Bronte’s Jane Eyre and drawing attention to the absurdity of Rochester inviting a slew of people to his house when he has a prisoner in the attic.
The color red, of Antoinette’s dress, of the fire, in her memories of home, is throughout this section. It is the dress she wore with Sandi when she said goodbye to him: Sandi often came to see me when that man was away.
Does this mean that she was having an affair with Sandi before her marriage fell apart, or did that happen between sections two and three.
The section ends with a dream, Antoinette’s third of the book. Intriguingly and skillfully, Rhys has her dream of escape:
And the sky so red. Someone screamed and I thought, Why did I scream? I called Tia! and jumped and woke.
Out of the dream, then, she proceeds out of her prison with the candle to guide her.
It is a mercy, I think, that Rhys allowed her this freedom, at the end. She is not jumping to her death, but into wakefulness.