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Across the «Wide Sargasso Sea»: Jean Rhys’s Revision of Charlotte Brontë’s Eurocentric Gothic

Par Sylvie Maurel : Maitre de conférences - Université Toulouse-Le Mirail
Publié par Clifford Armion le 20/03/2008

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In this article, Sylvie Maurel analyses the Gothic destabilizing machinery at work in Jean Rhys’s ((Wide Sargasso Sea)). The first Gothic element the author looks at is the demonic agency that haunts the novel. Colonial history lingers in Rhys’s world and accounts for some of the strange and unexpected phenomena that occur on the island. Actually, the narrative is under the double influence of a past set in an actual history of slavery and a future already written in the story of ((Jane Eyre)). Rhys’s characters have an uncanny prescience of what lies ahead and a sense that they cannot evade repetition. The motif of witchcraft is another element that links ((WSS)) to the Gothic. The motif goes beyond a picturesque reference to the West Indian context and functions as a metaphor of the relationship between language and power. Christophine’s witchcraft and Rochester’s Eurocentric discourse are two similar attempts at transforming the world through language. The power of language is also reflected in the way the novel constantly brings together multiple voices and conflicting views which seem to hide a secret rather than reveal a final truth. Rochester can only feel the presence of such a secret and risks delirium as he tries to get a grip on something that constantly eludes him.

Toutes les citations de Wide Sargasso Sea sont suivies d'un numéro de page renvoyant à l'édition Penguin 1997.

Adapté, par l'auteur, d'un article publié dans la revue Commonwealth, vol. 24, n° 2, spring 2002, pp. 107-118.


Charlotte Brontë's Gothic typically locates otherness in the "undifferentiated realm of the alien tropics" (Hulme, 1994, p.80). Characterized as a dehumanized, impure lunatic, Jane Eyre's Creole, the main prop of the Gothic in the novel, clearly stands out as "a figure produced by the axiomatics of imperialism" (Spivak, 1985, p.247), especially as this marginal other is only instrumental in bringing a central, undeveloped self to completion. Metaphorizing the unacceptable longings and impulses that Jane must channel before she attains a civilized form of selfhood, Bertha, the Gothic other, is subordinated to and must be sacrificed for the welfare of the self. The whole plot is bent on her erasure which coincides with the resolution of conflict. Once the Creole heiress lies lifeless on the pavement of Thornfield Hall, Jane, the plain English governess, makes a triumphant entry into the realm of the civilized subject. Thus, Jane Eyre's Gothic reflects the drama of imperialism, and Gayatri Spivak is certainly justified in reading the novel "as an allegory of the general epistemic violence of imperialism, the construction of a self-immolating colonial subject for the glorification of the social mission of the colonizer" (1985, p.251).

Cast in the supporting role of the colonial other, Bertha is also the epitome of the spoken for. Featuring in the text first as an unspoken as well as unspeakable secret, she is then no more than an object of discourse, a discursive construct that comes to textual existence in an embedded narrative told from the perspective of Rochester. The embedding, which replicates at the level of narrative structure Bertha's confinement to the third-floor cell of Thornfield Hall, makes her out as a mere representation in Said's sense of the word, a discursive formation which, far from being predicated upon first-hand experience or reality, entirely relies "upon institutions, traditions, conventions, agreed upon codes of understanding" (1995, p.22). Rochester's second-hand tale is embedded in Europe's frame narrative about its non-European others. Bertha is both locked up in an attic and caught in the strictures of ideological representations, in the straitjacket of Rochester's one-sided and embedded narrative which constructs her as a stereotyped figure of excess, deviant sexuality and insanity. Jane Eyre and its Gothic creature exemplify "the tendency of the West to textualize the colonial, to transform the Other into a set of codes and discourses which can be recuperated into its own system of recognition" (Newman, 1996, p.172).

As a West Indian but also as a writer blessed with "a formidable critical intelligence that understands the constructed nature of the colonialist discourse that passes itself off as naturalized and transparent" (Gregg, 1995, p.38), Jean Rhys was of course unhappy with Charlotte Brontë's treatment of Bertha and undertook to revise the story of Rochester's mad wife. In Wide Sargasso Sea, she fleshes out the "paper tiger lunatic" (Rhys, 1985, p.262), allowing her to outgrow her predecessor's stereotyped construction of otherness, and promotes the raving monster who shrieks, grovels and laughs horribly to the status of an articulate "I" who speaks from "the other side" of the colonial divide. Giving a voice of her own to the silenced other, Jean Rhys shifts the perspective radically, but whether this is sufficient to define Wide Sargasso Sea as a postcolonial novel is doubtful. Peter Hulme, for instance, questions its postcolonial dimension on the grounds that it is:

a novel written by, in West Indian terms, a member of the white colonial elite, yet somebody who always defined herself in opposition to the norms of metropolitan "Englishness"; a novel which deals with issues of race and slavery, yet is fundamentally sympathetic to the planter class ruined by Emancipation. (1994, p.72)

Jean Rhys's sympathies may be with the white planters but her novel does not romanticize the colonial encounter. She makes a distinctive contribution to postcolonial counter-discourse, questioning the cultural hegemony of European knowledge systems, unsettling Eurocentric readings of the West Indies and challenging the self-legitimizing narratives of the metropolis. Instead of taking its cue from such narratives, as Charlotte Brontë's Gothic does, Jean Rhys's effects their dethroning.

According to Judie Newman, if Jean Rhys "exacerbates the Gothic mode of her predecessor, supplying a conjure woman, descriptions of obeah, ghosts, omens, zombi-lore, and poisonous potions as part of the process of reclaiming the first wife for West Indian culture" (1996, p.172), her revision of Jane Eyre's Gothic amounts to a mere "redemonisation":

the description of Antoinette (Bertha) Mason may transform her from Jane Eyre's "Foul German spectre - the Vampyre", but it merely substitutes the unblinking gaze, enslaved will, and loss of memory of the zombi in its place. Despite Rhys's attempt to reverse the Imperialist assumptions of the original, so that the first Mrs Rochester's tale is no longer silenced, her story becomes not so much "untold" as "unspeakable". (1996, pp.172-173)

In Judie Newman's opinion, Jean Rhys does not entirely stay clear from the pitfall inherent in any counter-discourse, "the danger of reinscribing the norms of the dominant discourse within its own apparent contestation" (1996, p. 173). This paper will argue that rather than simply being a vindication of West Indian culture and far from resulting in "redemonisation", Wide Sargasso Sea makes the most of the Gothic destabilizing machinery. Jean Rhys's "naturalized" Caribbean Gothic discloses the hidden mechanisms of colonial history and undermines the naturalized representations circulated by the metropolis.

1. Demonic agency

Jean Rhys's cast of characters is plunged into a disorienting colonial world where social structures and hierarchies are in the process of breaking down. The opening pages of Wide Sargasso Sea stage a post-Emancipation Jamaica marked by the decline of the local plantocracy. The golden age of its supremacy is "a thing of the past. (My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in bed - all belonged to the past)" (5). Coulibri estate, once host to what used to be the white élite, has "gone to bush" (6) and the road from Spanish Town is now so bad that Antoinette and her mother live as recluses. The bad road is of course not the only reason for their marginal position but the motif indicates, right at the outset of the novel, that new maps are needed in order to find one's way in this Jamaican interregnum. The narrator's world is in the throes of historical changes which, from the point of view of the child, are sometimes rendered as unexpected, almost uncanny mutations: "She [Antoinette's mother] changed. Suddenly, not gradually. She grew thin and silent, and at last she refused to leave the house at all" (6).

In fact the first reference to uncanny phenomenon is made in connection with the history of colonialism and the shift in the balance of power in the island. Ruined by Emancipation, waiting for legal compensation, Antoinette's neighbour, Mr Luttrell, shoots his dog and commits suicide. His estate, Nelson's Rest, is left empty and is soon said to be "haunted" or "unlucky" (5). As early as the first pages, imperial history is obliquely invested with a demonic power that continues to claim a heavy toll, even after the end of slavery: Luttrell chooses to die, Annette's horse is poisoned, she and her family are "marooned" (6), and many died in those days, both white and black, especially the older people", as Antoinette will remind her husband later on (83). Although Wide Sargasso Sea starts in changing historical circumstances, imperial history consistently breeds dereliction, death and violence. The ever-rising interracial tensions, which will eventually lead to the burning of Coulibri, are supplemented by new antagonisms between former slave-owners like the Cosways and new colonizers like Mason or the male narrator, who despise their predecessors - Mason, for instance is critical of Aunt Cora, "an ex-slave owner who had escaped misery, a flier in the face of Providence" (14) - and yet take advantage of the economic slump to buy the old estates for next to nothing or to marry commodified Creole heiresses.

That an estate called "Nelson's Rest" should be haunted is highly ironic. Named after one of Britain's heroes who fought the Napoleonic wars and opposed the abolition of the slave trade, Luttrell's plantation is a clear inscription of the Empire's coercive power and of the colonizer's self-proclaimed legitimacy: after territorial conquest, he is entitled to a well-earned "rest". Moreover, the ghosts that are said to hover over the place check any inclination we may have to think that the colonialist past and its deleterious practices are now laid to rest. They cannot be eradicated and, although the Emancipation Act has been passed, slavery lingers as historical residue, haunting the deserted plantation. "Nelson's Rest" is then a case of misnaming through which Jean Rhys exposes what David Punter calls "the colonial arbitrary" (2000, p.44), the imposition of arbitrary labellings on the reality of the colony, which, Jean Rhys intimates, is yet another form of violence. "Nelson's Rest" is a misleading attempt at rewriting history, at masking its tragedies, and Jean Rhys's ghosts lift the veil from the masquerade. The same exposure is carried out in the passage where the male narrator evokes the memorial tablets on the walls of the wedding church "commemorating the virtues of the last generation of planters. All benevolent. All slave-owners. All resting in peace" (47). The narrator's ironic gaze presents these epitaphs as deliberate distortions of the island's history. Nobody is ever allowed to rest in peace in the colonial context. The memorial tablets certainly do not propitiate the ghosts of the oppressed; nor do they simply cancel past horrors: Antoinette's universe is alive with their haunting aftermath.

These rewritings are a form of deliberate amnesia which, however, does not restore the place to innocence. The first pages of Wide Sargasso Sea depict a fallen world where devilish forces are at work. As Godfrey says after the discovery of the poisoned horse, "the devil prince of this world" (6), and the garden of Coulibri provides a graphic description of this fallen condition. It is likened to the garden of Eden but Eden interlocks with images of death, decay and evil:

[o]ur garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest tree ferns, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched. One was snaky looking, another like an octopus with long thin brown tentacles bare of leaves hanging from a twisted root (6).

The Emancipation Act may well have initiated a new phase in colonial history but it is impossible to make a fresh start in Antoinette's Jamaica. The "smell of dead flowers" inevitably mixes with the "fresh living smell", the ghosts from the past inevitably return to haunt the living. Purity and innocence are no longer retrievable, not even within the safe walls of the convent: its patron saint is one Saint Innocenzia but, Antoinette notes, "we do not know her story, she is not in the book" (30). Not in Granbois either, whose "intoxicating freshness" (44) is counteracted by the malevolent and overbearing presence of the forest, probably haunted by the angry ghosts of the nearby village, "Massacre" (for a more precise analysis of the historical significance of Massacre, see Hulme, 1994, p.80).

2. Uncanny repetition

Jean Rhys's Gothic articulates a "rhetoric of haunting", a characteristic feature of postcolonial writing according to David Punter, which acts as a comment on the evil agency of colonial history and inscribes it as an essentially repetitive process. The demonic influence of the past poisons the present but Wide Sargasso Sea suggests that it also contaminates the future, limiting the characters' possibilities and trapping them into repetitive patterns.

The novel, an earlier version of which was entitled Le revenant (Rhys, 1985, p.213), is organized around repetition. The structure of this multi-voiced narrative where various versions of the same events intersect is by nature repetitive. More importantly, its intertextual relationship with Jane Eyre turns the characters' story into preordained destiny. Fictional and historical narratives collude to transform the characters into puppets in the clutches of an inevitable, cruel fate from which they cannot disengage themselves. Constructed as "a plot of predestination" (Todorov, 1977, p.65), Wide Sargasso Sea is shot through with premonitions: the characters have an uncanny prescience of what lies ahead and a sense that they cannot evade repetition. The haunting comes both from the past and from the future. Antoinette is for instance troubled by premonitory dreams which anticipate her fated life. In the section of Part Two where she is in charge of the narrating, she claims she knows the place where she will be locked up: "[f]or I know that house where I will be cold and not belonging, the bed I shall lie in has red curtains and I have slept there many times before, long ago. How long ago? In that bed I will dream the end of my dream" (70).

Symptomatically, her prophecy conflates past and future, defines the future as mere repetition of the past. The male narrator is likewise plagued by various misgivings which gradually turn his life into a highly predictable sequence of events. Daniel Cosway's letter comes as no surprise for instance (62) and his slanderous revelations mark the beginning of "Rochester's" metamorphosis (for greater convenience I shall call the nameless narrator "Rochester", with the addition of quotation marks to differentiate him from the original) into the Gothic victimizer he always knew he was destined to become sooner or later: " 'Not now', I would think. Not yet' " (56). He too has a prophetic insight into the at once pre-existing and oncoming Gothic scenario that ensnares him, as much as it makes Antoinette slave to him:

I drank some more rum and, drinking, I drew a house surrounded by trees. A large house. I divided the third floor into rooms and in one room I drew a standing woman - a child's scribble, a dot for a head, a larger one for the body, a triangle for a skirt, slanting lines for arms and feet. But it was an English house (pp.105-106).

  Throughout her novel, Jean Rhys establishes a parallel between the intertextual determinisms that inform her story and history as a coercive process in which change and repetition, difference and sameness come uncannily close. The characters' story is made to develop into a mere re-enactment of past scripts - those of imperial Jane Eyre and of imperial history. Thus, not only does Antoinette's fate converge towards Bertha's but it also duplicates her mother's: both marry Englishmen, both are driven to what their husbands identify as madness and both come to have the same frown (7, 88). Antoinette's nameless husband becomes more and more like Charlotte Brontë's Rochester but he also has counterparts in the colony. His situation as a dispossessed younger son bears a striking resemblance to Daniel Cosway's predicament. Primogeniture in the case of "Rochester" and miscegenation and skin colour in the case of Daniel - who , also known as Esau, may be read as the archetypal double - have determined their resentful existences and shaped their hateful relations to their fathers, both described as potent, devilish figures (77, 42). In addition, when the male narrator assumes the identity of Jane Eyre's Rochester, he also becomes a doubling of the old slave-owners. He literally appropriates Antoinette - "She's mad but mine, mine" (107) - substantiating Christophine's observation that the new non-Creole incomers have invented new forms of slavery (11).

The new colonizer cannot evade slavery and this dehumanizes him as well as his new slave. If Antoinette becomes an expressionless doll or marionette (96) at the hands of this new colonial encounter, Rochester' is repeatedly likened to a zombie (62, 65). History and its ghosts, Jean Rhys intimates, produce, on both sides of the Sargasso Sea, dehumanized ghosts or acted-upon zombies whose spirits have been stolen by colonial witchcraft.

3. Colonial witchcraft

Through the character of Christophine, Jean Rhys introduces the motif of witchcraft into the text. Realistically motivated by the West Indian context, witchcraft does not merely function as a picturesque inscription of native culture but as a metaphor of the relationship between language and power, and more specifically of the mechanisms by which the subaltern is silenced by master narratives. Wide Sargasso Sea exhibits the processing, transformation and distortion of reality by the dominant idiom, that "tread machine" (11), to use Christophine's image, which leaves the subaltern with an inoperative language, incapable of acting upon reality.

Although, as Gayatri Spivak puts it, Christophine is "a commodified person" who was given to Antoinette's mother as a wedding present and is "tangential to [Jean Rhys's] narrative" (1985, pp. 252-253), she nonetheless plays a prominent role in the drama and in the local communities. One might even argue that, thanks to her occult and awe-inspiring activities as obeah woman, she is a figure of power. At the beginning of the novel, for instance, Annette suggests that her presence alone saved the family from further persecution. Black girls help her with the washing because they are "terrified of her" (7) and Christophine's threats send bold Amélie "creep[ing] out of the room" (64). For all her influential status in the black community, her magic proves ineffective in the framework of the dominant culture. Her love potion, for instance, fails to circumvent the dereliction of Antoinette and "Rochester's" relationship but, with the added ingredient of colonialism, it does act upon reality,  albeit with calamitous consequences: thinking that he has been poisoned and determined to take his revenge," Rochester" is drawn, as if by magic, into the ruts of colonial and literary history. He becomes the angered and deceived husband of Jane Eyre and, sleeping with the young servant Amélie, he acts out one of the most predictable scripts of cross-cultural encounter. Christophine's magic is warped and ultimately defeated by the rival power of colonial witchcraft.

In another episode in which she openly challenges "Rochester" in "her judge's voice" (98), Christophine makes one last attempt at transforming the world through discursive magic or persuasion this time. She delineates alternative scripts, escape routes which may emancipate the couple from the future the Empire has charted for them, and her words seem to find their way into "Rochester's" mind; they are echoed in his head, as if he was hypnotized by Christophine's verbal magic. "Coming from the darkness" (101), from unknown territories, her voice effects a kind of spirit-theft, until the word "money" breaks the spell (102), simultaneously di-spelling Christophine's sensible solutions. The balance of power shifts, a shift signalled in the text by the return of "Rochester's" narratorial agency; what Christophine is saying is now mediated by his enunciation: "Why, she wanted to know, could I not return half of Antoinette's dowry and leave the island" (102). The subaltern's voice is absorbed into the master's discourse and loses its resonance. Defeated by the threat of Imperial Law, against which, Christophine knows, she does not stand a chance, she is simply written out of the story, her exit sealing the fate of Antoinette and bringing dissent to an end.

In this scene, the wondrous might of the Empire's Law, re-asserted in the letter of Mr Fraser, the Spanish Town magistrate (103), wipes Christophine and her potentially magic narratives out of existence. This exemplifies the link, brought into relief by Edward Said, between power and narrative: "the power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them" (1994, p.xiii). It is clearly because "Rochester" senses the unhinging potential of Christophine's counter-narrative that he blocks it, in the same way as he suppresses his wife's narrative urge when she tries to articulate the alternative version to the story told by Daniel Cosway: "But why not tell me tomorrow, in the daylight?" (82).

In order to make sure that no resistant voice makes itself heard again, "Rochester" resorts to some of his own witchcraft, calling his wife Bertha. Antoinette is well aware of the magic involved in the process of naming: " 'Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know that's obeah too' " (94). If Christophine's and Antoinette's narratives fall short of transforming the world, "Rochester's" master word acts upon reality. "Bertha" begets Bertha, and Christophine notices the incipient metamorphosis shortly after Antoinette breaks the news to her that her husband has started calling her Bertha: " 'Your face like dead woman and your eyes red like soucriant...' " (73). Antoinette's othering is under way as the analogy of the ghost indicates, and the transformation is completed in a passage which almost duplicates Jane Eyre, as if both the character and the text were subjected to this ghosting: "Her hair hung uncombed and dull into her eyes which were inflamed and staring, her face was very flushed and looked swollen" (93) - the passage in Jane Eyre reads as follows: "It was a discoloured face - it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!" (Brontë, 1996, p.317).

The dominant idiom is therefore invested with a magic, baleful power, an uncanny capacity to effect metamorphoses. This discursive witchcraft may be seen as an exacerbation of what Deleuze and Guattari identify as the primary function of language, the transmission of order-words. Language, they argue,

is neither informational nor communicational. It is not the communication of information but something quite different: the transmission of order-words, either from one statement to another or within each statement, insofar as each statement accomplishes an act and the act is accomplished in the statement. (1988, p.79)

Every statement, not just commands and orders, is a speech-act and an act of power which produces transformations, as when a judge's sentence simultaneously transforms the accused into a convict. If the primary function of language is the transmission of order-words, which are implicitly committed to the imposition and perpetuation of a collective order, then the first condition of language is indirect discourse:

[w]e believe that narrative consists not in communicating what one has seen but in transmitting what one has heard, what someone else said to you. Hearsay. [...] It is in this sense that language is the transmission of the word as order-word, not the communication of a sign as information. (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988, pp. 76-77)

Thus, there is no such thing as individual enunciation; enunciation always "implies collective assemblages" (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988, p. 80).

Daniel Cosway's letter illustrates this definition of language as the transmission of mots d'ordre. It is a speech-act in the sense that it makes a decisive contribution to Antoinette's transformation into the cultural construct of the other, and the metamorphosis is almost instantaneous: in the scene following "Rochester's" perusal of the letter, she is seen to have deviant behaviour by "Rochester's" European standards; she slaps Amélie (62) and tears a "sheet in half, then each half into strips" (63), a clear echo of the tearing of the wedding veil in Jane Eyre. Such behaviour is presented not so much as a confirmation of Daniel's allegations as a direct consequence of them. The letter is also an order-word in that it emanates from and relays "collective assemblages", English norms and knowledges. Although Daniel belongs to the world of the subaltern, he assumes, in order to win his point - he is trying to get some money out of "Rochester" - or because, being "half-way house" (59), he is stuck in the no man's land of mimicry, the ideological assumptions of the metropolis. Logically enough then, most of his statements are derived from hearsay - "next thing I hear from Jamaica", (60) - and he encourages "Rochester" to turn to hearsay for confirmation of his own order-word: "Ask the older people sir about his disgusting goings-on, some will remember" (60). Or more likely, some will tell "Rochester" what others told them. With its manipulative intent, its entreaties, its imperative forms, its indirect discourse and with the transformations it generates, the letter is a dramatization of the power of language and of language as power, while Antoinette's othering is exhibited as the product of "collective assemblages", those coercive ghosts which haunt and compel any individual enunciation and are reverberated in order-words.

4. "Delirious" secrecy

"In Gothic", David Punter argues, "we are all suffering from delirium [...] for delirium is merely the experience of being at the mercy of conflicting and unassimilable impressions" (1996, p.186). Jean Rhys introduces delirious lines of flight into the closely-knit and compelling systems of representation of the metropolis. She exploits the affinity of the Gothic with epistemological uncertainty to disrupt normative discourses, whose stable identifications prove inadequate in the colony. The text gestures towards realms of experience which resist interpretation, towards a reality that is just beyond the control of imperialism. The novel's multi-voicedness constantly brings into play conflicting views and interpretations which never converge towards any final truth, Annette's English husband consistently misreads the world and Antoinette's husband, the most delirious character of all, can only register the confusion of his groping mind: "as for my confused impressions they will never be written. There are blanks in my mind that cannot be filled up" (46). The fever that weakens his senses when he arrives in Jamaica is but a symptom of his realization that Jamaican reality cannot be fully incorporated into the bulk of prior knowledges, and the Gothic topos of the secret is the only means available to him to designate the unknown, the unthought, the unassimilable. When he discovers Granbois for instance, "Rochester" clearly enters uncharted territory:

[i]t was a beautiful place - wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I'd find myself thinking, "What I see is nothing - I want what it hides - that is not nothing" (54).

In these lines, one can easily detect the imperialist impulse of conquest. The hidden secret is what the colonizer covets, but it is also what is yet to be mapped out, what is yet to be named. The generic word "secret", a kind of vacant or gaping signifier, and the phrase "not nothing" bear witness to the loopholes in the dominant idiom and in the metropolis's mapping of the world.

Thus, the island's geography resists or exceeds map-making and "Rochester" can only lose his way in the Gothic maze of the forest (65-66). There, delirium or the epistemological crisis he experiences reaches a climax: he is seized by hallucination and comes upon the remnants of a paved road, which he welcomes as the vestige of prior colonization, a familiar landmark in this otherwise unknown territory. However, Baptiste will deny that there ever was such a road (66). "Rochester" can no longer "think or plan" (65), can no longer draw the line between what is and what is not, and the truth is forever out of his reach: "How can one discover the truth I thought and that thought led me nowhere" (65).

In Wide Sargasso Sea then, the secret is not the socially unacceptable but what European knowledge systems cannot account for. "Rochester's" only groundbreaking discovery is that the secret will always elude him. At the end of his narrative, he spitefully admits that he hates Antoinette: "for she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it" (111).

Incapable of deciphering the secret, "Rochester" appropriates it as he appropriates Antoinette and takes the cryptic, locked-in treasure to England where, he expects, new and equally distorting textualizations will arise, new constructions of otherness will emerge: "I too can wait - for the day when she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a legend. Or a lie" (112). And his prophecy comes true since, in Part Three, Grace Poole informs us that, in spite of "Rochester's" precautions, rumours, divorced from the truth as they should be, are being circulated (115).

For Jane Eyre's unspeakable secret, Jean Rhys substitutes the unnameable. She does not give the secret away; she just brings it to the verge of the articulate, for naming the unnameable would amount to repeating previous violations, the kind of violation perpetrated by Jane Eyre for example, whose Eurocentric construction of otherness acquires, at the close of Wide Sargasso Sea, the status of "a legend. Or a lie".


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Pour citer cette ressource :

Sylvie Maurel, "Across the «Wide Sargasso Sea»: Jean Rhys’s Revision of Charlotte Brontë’s Eurocentric Gothic", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mars 2008. Consulté le 16/06/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-postcoloniale/wide-sargasso-sea-jean-rhys/across-the-wide-sargasso-sea-jean-rhys-s-revision-of-charlotte-bronte-s-eurocentric-gothic

A lire en ligne

- "Le double visage de Christophine Dubois, nourrice et "Obeah woman" dans Wide Sargasso Sea de Jean Rhys", un article de Florence Labaune-Demeule à lire dans la revue Cercles N°15 (2006).
- "Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea: From the Meshes of the Sargasso to Subversive Countersignature", un article d'Eileen Williams-Wanquet dans la revue Alizés.
- "Wide Sargasso Sea et Jane Eyre ou de la répétition extratextuelle", un article de Richard Vidaud dans la revue Alizés.