WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys | Review

“Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting women characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.”   {Goodreads}

As discussed in a past Classic Couple post, I have finally read Jean Rhys’s famous prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. First published in 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of what happened to Antoinette–otherwise known as Bertha Mason–who we only ever meet as the “madwoman in the attic” in the classic Victorian novel. Here Rhys turns what we think we know about this story on its head, providing an alternative look at what may have really happened to the first wife of Mr. Rochester.

What I love about this novel is that it unabashedly exposes the layers of racism, colonialism, and sexism present in Jane Eyre. Rhys does this largely by playing around with perspective. The novel begins by focusing on the experience of Antoinette, showing the reader that she is an intelligent, rational, emotional human being with family, desires, and fears just like anyone else. Rhys then switches the focus to that of Rochester, revealing the inner workings of his prejudiced mind. Rochester openly admits to the reader that he hoped Antoinette would become “more English” through marriage to him and that he is disappointed when she doesn’t change in this way. By switching perspectives, we see that Antoinette is not the one who is “crazy”; rather, the real “madwoman in the attic” is the “Bertha” figure that Rochester portrays her as in order to get what he desires.

Another major strength of the novel is the way Rhys seamlessly ties it into Jane Eyre without being glaringly obvious or over-the-top about it. The final few pages of the novel place Antoinette in the attic of Thornfield Hall, yet she is not portrayed as Rochester would have her represented. Instead, she longs for the past that she used to have and the future that Rochester ripped away from her with this twist in their distorted marriage. Jane is presented as more of a ghost than Antoinette, the two-dimensional figure that we only hear about but don’t really know. Instead, the reader can’t help but empathize with this woman who was torn from everything she knew simply because Rochester didn’t like her non-English background and customs. In this way, Rhys connects her novel with that of Charlotte by suggesting an alternate reading of one of its characters rather than entirely changing the classic’s story. 

With that being said, it feels as though Wide Sargasso Sea does invite us to go back and read Jane Eyre with this new perspective in mind. In fact, I think it would be a great idea to teach these novels alongside each other in classroom settings rather than simply encouraging students to read Brontë’s novel on the basis that it is yet another classic. I believe that more can be learned from reading these two together rather than apart.

Overall, the only regret I have about reading Wide Sargasso Sea is not having read it sooner. This is a brilliant novel that everyone who reads Jane Eyre should absolutely pick up.

What are your thoughts on Wide Sargasso Sea? Have you read any of Jean Rhys’s other writing? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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A Classic Couple: Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre is one of the books that first made me fall in love with classic literature. I remember reading it on a family road trip before my senior year of high school, captivated by Jane’s independence and resilience. For years librarians, professors, and bookish friends who know that Jane Eyre is a favorite of mine have been recommending that I read Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea. This famous response to Brontë’s classic tells the story of Antoinette–more well-known as Bertha, the “madwoman” that Mr. Rochester keeps hidden away in the attic of Thornfield Hall.

Although this Classic Couple is quite an obvious pairing due to the inherent connection between them, there are nevertheless plenty of interesting similarities and differences to discuss.

+ Protagonists. What I love about both of these novels is that they feature independent, determined, intelligent women as protagonists. While Jane must work against the systemic sexism of her society in terms of marriage and professions, Antoinette is forced to confront an even more paralyzing hurdle: being a Creole woman who is considered neither black nor white in a society dominated by a pervasive racial hierarchy. Although Antoinette is ultimately locked in the Thornfield Hall attic as a “madwoman,” she regains a sense of empowerment through setting the building on fire. In this way, Rhys subverts the “madwoman in the attic” trope by showing that Antoinette can be just as empowering a figure as Jane–if not more so.

+ Mr. Rochester. Both novels feature Mr. Rochester, albeit in very different contexts. While Brontë romanticizes him as an enigmatic love interest that ultimately redeems himself in the end, Rhys exposes the colonialism that runs through his veins. As soon as he hears rumors of the “madness” that runs in Antoinette’s family, Rochester no longer wants anything to do with the marriage. It is clear by his racist comments that he wishes his wife to be more “English” and is repeatedly disappointed to find that she remains connected to her family, her past, and her home. Rhys’s Rochester is someone to be avoided rather than desired, thereby turning Brontë’s characterization of such a man upside down.

+ The attic. It feels strange to read about Grace Poole and the attic of Thornfield Hall from the perspective of Antoinette rather than that of Jane. While Brontë portrays the attic as a space that protects the rest of the house from “madness,” Rhys exposes it as a form of confinement that promulgates this damaging, inaccurate, colonial trope. Antoinette’s brief encounter with Jane outside of the attic reduces the eponymous character of Brontë’s novel to a flat figure, just as the character of “Bertha” is portrayed in Jane Eyre. Escaping the attic is Antoinette’s only way to reclaim a sense of freedom, independence, and control in an England that does not even feel like reality.

There is so, so much more I could discuss about these two novels, but I’ll save that for later posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little scratch on the surface of a much larger discussion, and I highly recommend reading both of these brilliant novels.

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Jane Eyre? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Named Novels

Happy Tuesday!! Today’s Top Ten Tuesday theme (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is Frequently Used Words in (Genre) Titles. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time then you’ve probably noticed that I adore classic literature. In typical Holly fashion, today I’ll be sharing ten classic novels with names as their titles. This might sound like a rather narrow, niche topic, but you’d be surprised how many of them there actually are!

What are your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned? What other novels have names as their titles? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Love But Have Never Reread

Happy Tuesday!! Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is supposed to be books I’ve loved but will never reread, but I’ve decided to scratch that and add a bit of a twist to it. Because I ADORE rereading books, there’s a likelihood that I’ll reread almost any book that I love. Instead, today I’ll be sharing ten books I love but for some reason have never gotten around to rereading. Fingers crossed that I’ll find time to reread them soon!

What favorite books have you never reread? Do you like rereading books in general? What are your thoughts on the books that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

Happy Tuesday!! I am so excited for today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic because it focuses on one of my favorite things: QUOTES. So many of my books are covered in highlighter and pen lines because I’m an avid annotator and marker of writing that really resonates with me. Here are just a few of the many quotes I’ve fallen in love with over the years:

“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”

{Originally from poet Francois Rabelais, read in Looking for Alaska by John Green}

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

{Brave New World by Aldous Huxley}

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

{Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt}

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

{Matilda by Roald Dahl}

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.”

{Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton}

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” 

{Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass}

“My mother is a fish.”

{As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner}

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

{The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien}

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

{Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling}

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

{Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë}

What are your favorite book quotes? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

The “Me in Book Characters” Tag

Ever wonder what kind of book characters I would be? Well, I’m here to tell you exactly that. Thanks so much to Ash and Lo @ Windowsill Books for tagging me in this original tag that they created!

  1. Thank the creators of the tag (Us! Ash & Lo @ Windowsill Books)
  2. Thank whoever tagged you!
  3. List 5 book characters who you are most like and explain why.
  4. Tag your friends!

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I would be amiss if I didn’t include Hermione at the top of this list, mostly because she was such an influential character to me when I was growing up. I definitely prioritize academics and studying, but I also really value friendship and I’m not afraid to confront someone when I really feel strongly about a cause.

Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Like Bilbo at the start of this novel, I would certainly consider myself a homebody. I like being cozy at home instead out on risky adventures– that is, until I inevitably find myself tugged out the door! (I’m looking at you, study abroad…)

Pip from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Pip isn’t really sure of himself and is definitely still trying to figure things out even when he’s matured in age… sounds familiar!

Jane from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Perhaps this one is more aspirational, but I really admire and identify with Jane independence, wit, and thoughtfulness. I’ve always loved her as a character, especially her way of reflecting on her past. Besides, she says the best quotes:

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” 

Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl

Reading, reading, reading– that’s me!! When I first read Matilda this past summer I immediately saw myself in this voracious little bookworm. So many trips to the library, so little time!

What book characters are you most like? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’m Thankful For

Happy Tuesday!! It’s one of my favorite times of the year: THANKSGIVING! Even though I won’t be in the States for Thanksgiving this year (shout out to my college at Oxford for having a dinner for the American students!) it’s still fun to get into the festive spirit. Today I’ll be sharing ten books that I’m thankful for (besides Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings because I feel like those are a given for me).

The BFG by Roald Dahl

I distinctly remember my fourth and fifth grade teacher reading this book aloud to us on multiple occasions and I simply adored it. Dahl’s creative, whimsical, witty stories are one of the things that made me fall in love with reading from a young age.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read this novel several summers ago and it is one of the books that made me realize how fun and rewarding reading classics can be. It also expanded my horizons of romantic classics beyond the usual Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

THIS. BOOK. I read this book in on of my freshman year literature classes in college and I’m convinced that it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with literary criticism and now want to be a professor. It’s amazing how one book can change everything!

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

I read this in the very first college literature class I ever took and it completely changed the way I think about narrative, form, and linguistic expression. In many ways it’s the text I keep coming back to over and over again what it is that I really love about literature.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Not only did this collection spark me to read and write more poetry recently, but it also made me think about myself and the world from a different perspective. Rupi Kaur’s words have gotten me through many rough days, for which I am incredibly grateful.

How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky

I couldn’t be more thankful for this essay collection’s wit, humor, and important message: absolutely no one is perfect. Reading this book also launched me into the world of Watsky’s music, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already!

1984 by George Orwell

I’m so grateful for this novel’s ability to spark and continue important conversations about where today’s society is headed tomorrow. The parallels between our modern world and the fictional society in this novel are terrifying and uncanny and real.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I’m thankful for the way this book has made me laugh, think, and realize that I wasn’t the only one experiencing frustrating high school drama. John Green is amazing at making you feel less alone.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

This book is a hilarious reminder that success doesn’t come easy, not even for those who you admire or who seem like they have everything figured out. (Besides, Mindy always makes me smile!)

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

I’m thankful for the way this book has made me smile, laugh, think, and look back on my own childhood nearly every summer for over a decade now.

Which books are you thankful for? What do you think about the ones I’ve mentioned? Do you have any fun Thanksgiving traditions or plans? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: Jane Eyre and Jellicoe Road

A while ago I made a post sharing some classic and contemporary pairs and since then I’ve been explaining each pair week by week. Today I’ll be delving deeper into one of my favorite classic couples: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road. As you likely already know by now from the countless times I’ve mentioned them on this blog, these are two of my favorite books. Now it’s time to compare them!

Protagonists || Despite the decades that separate them, there are actually many similarities between Jane Eyre and Taylor Markham. Both young women are independent, clever, and resilient. They’re also both orphans: Jane’s parents died of typhus while Taylor’s mother abandoned her at a Seven Eleven when she was eleven years old. The two girls end up being cared for by institutions (the Lowood Institution and the Jellicoe School). Both end up leaving their institutions eventually (though with varying degrees of success).

Love Interests || How could we not discuss Mr. Rochester and Jonah Griggs? Though these men seem disagreeable at first, they are actually sensitive and caring (can’t escape that romance trope!). Though their budding relationships are certainly dramatic at times, it’s nevertheless really fun to read about them.

Hidden Pasts || Jane and Taylor grapple with secrets from the past, both in their own lives and in those of others. Mystery appears early on in Jellicoe Road as Taylor reads the manuscript Hannah has been writing for years. Over time Taylor pieces together the sections that are written out-of-order; however, she doesn’t realize the full implications of the story until much later. For Jane, the mystery comes in the form of secrets she learns about Mr. Rochester’s past. It seems as though everyone has a little something to hide.

Personal Growth || The character development in Jane Eyre and Jellicoe Road is remarkable. We follow Jane as she matures from a little girl into a young woman and Taylor as she comes to understand her own identity and the person she wants to be. Not only are these women brave, resilient, and determined, but they are also kind, caring, and thoughtful by the end of these novels. Brontë and Marchetta didn’t sacrifice softness for strength, which is something I greatly admire.

What are your thoughts on these books? Are there any other books that share these qualities? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Summer Book Tag

Summer is pretty much over, but that won’t stop me from wrapping up the season with the Summer Book Tag. Thanks so much to Mischenko @ Read, Rant, Rock & Roll for tagging me!!

What book cover makes you think of summer?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I read this novel last summer and it is one of the most lyrical, seamless, beautifully written books I have ever read.

What book has brightened your day?

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo was one of my favorite books when I was younger. I remember reading it over and over again because a) mice used to be by favorite animals and b) this story is captivating, charming, and creative.

Find a book cover with yellow on it.

Just look at that cute little yellow chick! I read Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen a few weeks ago and loved it. I can’t even explain to you how heart-warming, poignant, hilarious, and brilliant this book is. I definitely wish I had read it sooner!

What action book had you running for the ice cream man?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman is equal parts hilarious, romantic, and action-packed. No matter what you’re in the mood to read, chances are that this book will fulfill it!

(Sunburn) What book has left you with a bad and/or painful ending?

I won’t spoil the ending in case you haven’t yet read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it’s pretty devastating.

(Sunset) what book gave you the happiest feelings when it ended? 
I desperately hoped for at least a moderately happy ending for Jane (given her circumstances) and Charlotte Brontë didn’t disappoint!

What book cover reminds you of a sunset?

Look at that literal sunset on the cover. This old edition of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton made this question easy!

What is one book or series you hope to read this summer?

I actually didn’t read any full series this summer… it was a summer of standalones, I guess!

Since summer has pretty much come to an end, I’m not going to tag anyone specifically… unless you would like to do it, then by all means GO FOR IT!

Is summer your favorite season or do you prefer autumn/winter (like me!)? What’s your favorite thing about summer? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Sunshine Blogger Award | 3

Hello, hello! I know I’ve been posting a lot of awards and tags lately, but they’re so fun that I can’t help myself. Thanks so much to Beth @ Reading Every Night for nominating me in this Sunshine Blog Award!!

  1. Would you rather witness the beginning of the earth or the ending of the earth and why?

    I would probably prefer to see the beginning of the earth because it sounds like it would be a lot more hopeful than seeing the ending. (Besides, there would be more chances of eventually seeing dinosaurs!)

  2. Why did you call your blog what you did?

    I’m severely allergic to nuts and a proud nerd; hence, the blog name Nut Free Nerd was born.

  3. What social cause do you feel the strongest about (e.g. LGBTQ+ rights, animal rights, etc.)?

    For the past two summers I have worked at a local Child Advocacy Center where they conduct forensic interviews of children who have allegedly been abused. Because of this work I’m constantly reminded of the severity of the child abuse problem and how our society likes to brush it under the rug because it’s difficult to talk about. Fortunately, organizations like Child Advocacy Centers are working to spread awareness about this important issue.

  4. Give five amazing bloggers a shout-out, share the love.

    I’d love to give a shout-out to Emma @ Emma the Book Lover, Marie @ Drizzle & Hurricane Books, Sydney @ Sydney’s Shelves, Shar & Shanti @ Virtually Read, and May @ Forever and Everly. These bloggers are so lovely and always leave the most thoughtful comments on posts. Definitely check out their blogs if you haven’t already! ❤

  5. Post a picture of a beautiful book cover.

    I absolutely love the simple cover design of Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. It suits the raw honesty of the poetry and lets the words speak for themselves. 

  6. Pick your two favorite characters of all time. Now sacrifice one! (The universe is at stake)

    Oh, this is so difficult! The first two that come to mind are Jane from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Matilda from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. (The fact that they both are named in the titles was completely unplanned!) Matilda is a new favorite of mine because I just read this children’s classic for the first time recently. Both of these characters are strong, intelligent, witty, independent females who I admire greatly. If I absolutely had to sacrifice one it would probably be Jane because the thought of sacrificing little Matilda is just too horrible to endure.

  7. If the apocalypse was coming and you had to evacuate Earth, what are three things you would take with you (both bookish and non-bookish items accepted)?

    A book for when I need to escape, a notebook and pencil (those count as one item, right?!) to record my thoughts and ideas, and a photo album to remember those that I love.

  8. What would you do if you won the lottery?

    Pay off my college loans, pay off all of my parents loans and bills, go traveling, and donate to a bunch of charities (and my local library!).

  9. Share one of your favorite quotes!

    I discovered one of my absolute favorite quotes years ago while reading John Green’s debut novel Looking for Alaska. In it he quotes Francois Rabelais, who once said: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” I love how this quote can be interpreted in so many different ways. I think we all have our own unique “Great Perhaps” that we’re trying to find, and this quote is a reminder to keep your ultimate goal in the back of your mind when you need inspiration or motivation.

  10. Tell us about the last book you read; what did you love/hate about it?

    The last book I read was Big Woods by William Faulkner, which I really enjoyed. I love how all of the stories are interconnected through characters, themes, and settings. There really wasn’t anything I disliked about it, besides the fact that his writing can be confusing at times.

  11. Share one song that you feel would be a perfect fit for your favourite book character.

    Jay Gatsby isn’t my favorite book character, but I can’t help but pair him with Lorde’s song “Green Light.” (Is this cliché? Yes. Do I regret it? NOPE.)

Kirstie @ Upside-Down Books

Gee @ The Bibliomaniac Book Blog 

Chelsea @ The Suspense is Thrilling Me

Sarah @ Sarah Withers Blogs

Heather @ Book & Words

Thanks again to Beth for nominating me! I hope you all have a lovely day ❤

What are your answers to these questions? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY