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  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

    Ministry of Higher Education

    Umm Al-Qura University

    College of Arts and Administrative Sciences

    Department of English

    The Untold Text : Jean Rhys's Wide

    Sargasso Sea as a Writerly Reading of

    Jane Eyre

    A thesis submitted to the Department of English in partial fulfilment of the

    requirements for the degree of M.A. in English literature.

    Submitted by

    Nada M Al-Amri

    Assistant Teacher, Umm Al-Qura University.

    Supervised by

    Prof. Abu-talib Mahmud Ahmad

    Professor of English Literature., King Khalid University

    Second Semester


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    Rewriting, as Terry Threadgold(1948-), a Professor of

    Communication and Cultural Studies, describes is a transformative way to

    make "new discursive spaces" where "the unthought" and "the unspoken"

    are made "visible and audible"(56). Jean Rhys(1890-1979)a famous

    Caribbean writer, establishes Wide Sargasso Sea(1966) as a revision in

    which the madwoman silenced in Jane Eyre(1847) speaks and tells her

    own side of the story. In Rhys's re-reading and re-inscription of such a

    nineteenth-century classical novel as Jane Eyre provides the other, or the

    colonial subject , as side of the cultural representation of England and its


    Gayatri Spivak(1942-), an Indian literary critic, charges that it should

    be impossible to read nineteenth-century British literature without

    recognizing that imperialism, understood as social mission, was a crucial

    part of the culture representation of their own country to the English (243).

    literature has, since the mid-nineteenth century, been a tool not only for

    imparting culture literacy, but also for exhorting cultural power. Nowhere

    has this been more important than in the imperial context .Writers attempt

    through literary works to transpose history to suit their own interests. Our

    understanding of history in literature depends ultimately on the side that

    renders it. The history that this study traces through the relationships

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    between English and non-English texts, as well as between male and

    female subjects, emphasizes the notion that the powerful side is the one

    whose voice is heard at the cost of the marginalized "Other" powerless

    side. The "Other" is introduced into the European World in terms of sex,

    class and race origins, and is often given a different status: marked some

    times as savagery, sometimes as madness, and at others by a transgressive


    The Caribbean feminist writers, Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine

    Savory Fido, write, "The concept of voicelessness necessarily informs any

    discussion of Caribbean women and literature. It is a crucial consideration

    because it is out of this voicelessness and consequent absence that an

    understanding of our creativity in written expression emerges" (1). This

    voicelessness is the historically muted female Caribbean subject, erased

    under patriarchy and colonialism. Yet, many Caribbean women authors

    continue to battle this marginalization, and through their revisions of

    colonialism, strive to end their enforced (literary) silence. By

    demonstrating particularly the complexities of women's positions as

    subalterns under colonial hegemony, they navigate to the margins of

    history where women's stories have been exiled and move them to the

    center of literary discussions. Claiming their female characters' selves and

    recording their undocumented histories allow Caribbean women authors to

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    illustrate the intricate connections between genre, gender, and race. It

    creates new narrative possibilities for the emerging female Caribbean post-

    colonial protagonist.

    Therefore, the researcher explores how the Caribbean writer Rhys in

    her novel Wide Sargasso Sea "represents a paradoxical mix of dependence

    on a pretext and aesthetic originality and independence"(Rubik 64), and at

    the same time fills the gaps within Jane Eyre by employing intertextual

    strategies that point us to a particular process of reading . In Culture and

    Imperialism, Edward Said(1935 2003) a famous Palestinian-American

    literary theorist and critic, states that In reading a text, one must open it

    out both to what went into it and what its author excluded. Each cultural

    work is a vision of a moment, and we must juxtapose that vision with the

    various revisions it later provoked"(67). By pairing Wide Sargasso Sea

    with a classical English text , Jane Eyre, the researcher hopes to provide

    even more insight into the idea of rewriting a classical Western text.

    The most important piece of contextual information about Wide

    Sargasso Sea is that the novel was inspired by Charlotte Bronte's (1816-

    1855) famous nineteenth-century novel Jane Eyre. It is "a brilliant

    deconstruction of Bronte's legacy"(Maurle 141). It acts as a prequel to the

    events described in Bronte's tale. It is the story of the first Mrs. Rochester

    (Bertha/ Antoinette) Mason. Rhys offers a much more nuanced and

    sympathetic portrait of a Creole madwoman caught in an oppressive

  • 4

    colonial and patriarchal society in which she belongs neither to the white

    European nor the black Jamaican. In her novel, Rhys imagines the past of

    Bronte's deranged maniac, whom she depicts with sympathetic

    understanding. She is no longer a cliche or "foreigner," but a real woman

    with her own hopes, fears, and desires. By fleshing out Bronte's one-

    dimensional madwoman and tracing her development from a young solitary

    girl in Jamaica to a love-depraved lunatic locked in the cold attic of her

    English husband , Rhys enables readers to sympathize with the mental and

    emotional decline of a human being. She humanizes Bertha's tragic

    condition, inviting the readers to explore Antoinette's terror and anguish.

    The researcher's concentration is limited to Charlotte Brontes Jane

    Eyre and Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. To explore how Rhys creates a new

    text from the story of Jane Eyre, taking the minor figure of the madwoman

    out of the margins and placing her into the forefront, this study focuses on

    themes of colonialism and racial conflicts in order to understand the

    cultural differences between the two texts consequently understand the

    characters of the two novels fully. The cultural differences between the

    main characters as, Antoinette and her English husband Rochester, create a

    wide gap between them, a gap they will never bridge. Rhyss novel thus not

    only discusses patriarchy, it also foregrounds different perspectives on


  • 5

    Jamaica was still a British colony in the late 1830s, around the time

    when the novel was set. The white English colonized the black people out

    off a belief that they were superior, more powerful, and civilized than the

    inferior, primitive and less developed black societies. Therefore, this study

    deals with the effects of the patriarchal and colonial oppression on both the

    internal and external relationships in the worlds of Jane Eyre as a colonial

    text and Wide Sargasso Sea as a postcolonial text. The unequal

    relationships between men and women as well as between colonizers and

    colonized stem from the unequal distribution of power in both England and

    Jamaica. In her novel, Bronte concentrates on the negative effects of

    patriarchy on internal relationships within England. Rhys's novel, on the

    other hand, broaches the issue of colonialism and its inevitably devastating

    effects on the international colonized world.

    Wide Sargasso Sea is the untold story of Jane Eyres madwoman in

    the attic, and though it is a novel that could stand alone, the influence of

    Brontes work is undeniable. This relationship between the two novels is

    analogous to the history of colonization in the Caribbean, European

    influence is present despite the colonized subjects ambivalence towards

    this influence. Rhys uses Englishness to her advantage to create a text that

    questions Western authority by portraying English control (in the form of

    English men and husbands) as harmful and malignant. Moreover, she

    succeeds in creating a madwoman as a sympathetic figure who emerges as

  • 6

    triumphant and liberated from English rule as the researcher explains

    through the interpretation of Wide Sargasso Sea.

    Bronte's novel reflects history from a colonial perspective, whereas

    Rhys's novel reframes that history from a postcolonial perspective. While

    the colonial text endeavors to suppress those belonging to a different class

    and race by excluding and marginalizing them, the postcolonial text

    emerges from the voices of those who were originally deprived and

    silenced. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys gives voice to the Creole woman and

    provides the perspective of the other by telling Janes story in a different

    racial context by translating the Victorian womans feminist struggle to a

    West Indian context. Thus, this study discusses Wide Sargasso Seas

    intertextual relationship to Jane Eyre as a revision/rewriting and examines

    the postcolonial/racial foundation, which prompts the rewriting of Jane


    In the critical co