Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, part 2

Part One of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea ended with Antoinette having a dream she was in hell, and being comforted with hot chocolate, which reminded her of the tragic life and death of her mother.

Part Two is the famous “narrated by Mr. Rochester” section, yet Mr. R is never mentioned by name.

The section begins with him under a tree in the rain, already questioning his marriage to Antoinette, and expressing doubt and fear of his surroundings. He describes the girl Amelie, the one he will later in the section bed as revenge against Antoinette:

A lovely little creature but sly, spiteful, malignant perhaps, like much else in this place.

Over the course of the section Rochester notes how he was disliked and disregarded by his father and older brother, and had been shipped off to get married to an heiress as a way to get off their hands. He notes how he learned how to cut off his emotions when he was a child, and dislikes Antoinette for not being able to do so, though in comparison, her childhood was at least as brutal and damaging as his. As he attempts to exert his control he begins to call her Bertha, his mother’s name, a name she rejects.

There is a part in the middle of section 2 in which Antoinette’s narration resumes, or disrupts, his. She seeks out Christophine’s help, asking for obeah cures to make her husband love her again. Christophine warns her again and again, and gives her good advice to run away, which she ignores.

While Antoinette is getting this “medicine” Mr. R finally sees Daniel Cosway, who has been trying to tell him the “truth” about Antoinette and her family. With this in his mind, Mr. R is drugged by Antoinette, sleeps with her, wakes disoriented, wanders the island, then comes back to sleep with Amelie, as revenge for being taken advantage of, and deliberately cruelly, knowing that Antoinette can hear. She deteriorates mentally, while he seems to rush the process along with his hate and cruelty, rushing to get off the island, and for some reasons taking her with him, punishment for believing that she duped him, perhaps.

There is plenty here to despise, but also, plenty here to show how things lead inevitably to the action of section three. Rhys showed how Rochester’s own upbringing was cold and distant, and gives insight into why he acts the way he does.

There is also plenty to show how Antoinette makes her own bad decisions, and is treated as an object by the men in her life, but disregards the sage advice of Christophine, the only woman in the book who seems to have figured out how to buck the patriarchy. But even she flinches from the threat of English law when Mr. R threatens her with it.

What do you think?

4 Responses to “Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, part 2”

  1. Amy Says:

    I think Rhys created some magnificently flawed characters here. Rochester is terrible, but again, she gives us context for that. Antoinette is not sinless either.

  2. Amy Says:

    Also, the continuous use of fire imagery is handled so masterfully–it could have been more like a bludgeoning in a less-accomplished writer’s hands. And the color red, particularly red curtains.

  3. Heideland Says:

    Oh Part Two.

    I realize Rhys wrote this part from the perspective of “Rochester” to elicit a modicum of sympathy for him and his position. It only served to solidify my poor opinion of him. I hate him. Unreservedly. Yes, he suffered abuse as the second son, but what does he do w/ his legacy of cruelty? He chooses to inflict cruelty on others, particularly Antoinette. He gaslights her into the beginnings of her mental distress. Christophine knew what was what. If only Antoinette would have heeded her cautions. Like the parrot, Coco, she seems tethered by fate.

  4. girldetective Says:

    I think it’s also interesting to contrast Rhys’ Rochester with Bronte’s. Bronte was an unworldly woman trying to write a worldly man, working to make it more than a simple Cinderella story. Rhys had been around the block, and her portrait of Rochester is one of a much more believable, complicated man, embittered by the injustices, both real and imagined, he’s suffered. It’s easier to forgive the Rochester of Jane Eyre, but Rhys doesn’t give the reader that easy out.