I’m trying to do these weekly, but I need to do a special edition for Australia Day on Wednesday, as it’s only fair to give Stan Grant’s book the space it deserves.
This week I finished Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ incredible book where she takes Rochester back to Jamaica and his marriage to Antoinette. I found the Penguin Classic version in a great second-hand book shop here in Ballarat, That Little Bookshop, it’s the same edition I read years ago when I was studying my Open University course. If you’ve not read the book and you find yourself with a heavily annotated, analysed to the nth degree, please do yourself a favour – just read the book first. Then go back and read all the analysis, there are so many plot points mentioned throughout it, it’s a total spoiler fest. Why can’t these be at the end of the books, not in the introduction?
Close reading is a wonderful skill, but I think any piece of art needs to be taken at its own value first. When you’ve read a book, watched a movie, or TV (episode or whole series), or look at a painting, or experience an object; enjoy it for what it is. Inhale it first, then go back to revisit all the themes and get more out of it the second or third time around.
Books morph and develop overtime with re-reading, in the same way watching a film as a child, then again as an adult, we will feel differently about the layers of interaction happening on and off screen. It’s funny, we have to experience life only as it unfolds for us. It is only ‘things’ that we can go back review in-depth, but we will still bring ourselves as we are on that day to any analysis. Even with therapy and counselling, we’re relaying an incident through the layers of our life and time between the experience and the telling.
Wide Sargasso Sea needs to be read with Jane Eyre. I loved it when I read it in 2000, but I relished it more after having read(-ish) Jane Eyre last week. I’ve also watched two movie adaptations, (2011 with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender and 1996 with Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt). While Bertha / Antoinette is a pivotal character in Jane Eyre, she’s very much in the background, her presence mostly felt through suggestion, only until she’s needed in Jane’s story. Fleshing out one of the most enigmatic characters in English Literature would not have been an easy task, one of the earliest examples of fan-fiction, Wide Sargasso Sea is rightly recognised as extraordinary in it’s own right.
I’m not going into the plot points of Wide Sargasso Sea, but having been in the tropics, Rhys gets the energy sapping temperature and cloying humidity just right. Then you have to think about the layers and layers of clothing worn in the 1830s. We had a heat alert pushed to our phones today, part of the reminders given was to wear loose clothing. Thank goodness we’re not in corsets and stays.
I’m glad that I first read this book on it’s own, loved it and was able to revisit it again after spending time with Jane. It was a small reminder that every life touches and has a ripple effect through others.
The above image is on the cover of the Penguin Classic published in 1997, reprinted in 2000.