Jane Eyre has always held readers’ imagination as Bronte presents her heroine as fiercely independent in a world where there is no place for a free-thinking female. Jane Eyre, the plain, orphaned child becomes sharpened through her struggles in the hands of tyrannical mother-substitutes, malignant boarding schools, demeaning poverty and an egotistical, impenetrable employer. But what continues to intrigue readers and audiences, as the multiple film version attest to, is not just Jane’s indomitable spirit but the other strange scenes and lives crammed into this 19th century novel of social criticism and Byronic heroes.
The hidden, voiceless character of Mr. Rochester’s first wife, who even in her silence greatly impacts Jane’s story, has caught the attention of critics and other writers. Jean Rhys, an early Modernist writer, chose to explore Bertha Rochester’s history in her brief but crystalline work, Wide Sargasso Sea. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys confronts the possibility of another side to Jane Eyre. The story of Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea is not only a brilliant deconstruction of Brontë’s legacy, but is also a damning history of colonialism in the Caribbean. One of our Paris Salon participants says this about Rhys: “I think these words from a Guardian critic sum her up pretty well: ‘She is loved not just for a talent that seems as spontaneous and individual in its personality as physical beauty, but for a special kind of courage.’ I would also add honesty, which brings Nualo O’Faolain to mind.”
These two works, taken together in this Salon intensive, will offer interesting commentaries on the positioning of the female as a space for madness and rebellion.
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