“Everything must be for the ‘reactionary 19th century romance,’ ” Rhys angrily wrote a friend. “That unfortunate death of a Creole! I’m fighting mad to write her story” (Rhys, Jean Letters 1931-66, 157)
Although this work was conceived in the shadow of Jane Eyre, the scope of Rhys’ vision would be limited by simply seeing the work as a feminist response to Bronte’s iconic novel. Rhys brings to the surface the voice and agonies of Bertha Mason, the Madwoman in the Attic, considering how she may have arrived in that debilitated state and addresses the mysterious character of Edward Rochester as well as the complex, liminal Creole world that creates her. You do not need to have read Jane Eyre to find this work (and our study of it) fulfilling but if you have not, there are many film versions that would fill in that background story.
Our study will develop ideas and understanding about post-colonial theories and lived experiences. Using close consideration of the literature, we will study how Jean Rhys uses the intimate realm of her characters to play out the engagement and oppression of imperial forces—even as these forces seem out-dated and exhausted. We will also consider how the characters push against forces of control to claim their unique identity and attempts to create a world that honours diversity of culture, character and perspective.
“Justice. I’ve heard that word. I tried it out. I wrote it down. I wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice.”