Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2018

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks us to share the top ten authors we read for the first time in 2018. Largely due to all the books I had to read for my coursework, I was lucky enough to have been introduced to a plethora of brilliant writers this past year. As I made this list I was thrilled to see that so many of them are women of color–who also wrote some of my favorite book of 2018. 

What authors did you read for the first time in 2018? What do you think of the ones on my list? Any recommendations of books by them that I should read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Books

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

Classic Couple

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

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer 2018 TBR

Happy Tuesday!! More importantly: HAPPY SUMMER! I’m officially back from Oxford for the next eight weeks, which means it’s time to share the books I’m most looking forward to reading this summer. This is a conglomeration of books that friends have recommended to me, that remind me of Oxford, and that I’ve been meaning to read for ages. Hopefully I’ll be able to get through all of them, but no promises!

What are you looking forward to reading this summer? What are your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned here? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY