I spent more time trying to locate a copy of Wide Sargasso Sea than I did reading it (finally found a decent copy at a used book store; it’s a twentieth century classic so I don’t know why there isn’t at least one copy in every bookstore around). I first became aware of the novel while working in an undergraduate literature class on influential women writers. I tend to come down hard on novels that lift characters from classics and tell their new or continuing story. Mostly, those sentiments are directed towards the multitude of “sequels” to Jane Austen’s novels that have taken over bookstore shelves in the last ten years. But the approach in Wide Sargasso Sea is one that I actually have a great deal of respect for and what Jean Rhys was able to do in the novel is amazing.
While I appreciate the way she was able to address what was happening in the colonies of the West Indies through the character of Bertha, the “madwoman” in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s famous Jane Eyre, I wish that I had the chance to read it as part of one of my college courses. I couldn’t help but feel it’s a book that needs to be read and discussed with people in that kind setting. There are so many aspects of the story that I just know I ended up overlooking. I at least wish that I had chosen to re-read Jane Eyre first but alas, I didn’t and I had to settle for what I could remember after almost fifteen years (but Jane Eyre was never one of my favorites; I never understood the appeal of Rochester and try my best not to judge Jane for going back to him).