A More Complex Picture of Insanity

Sarah Barrett '04, English 156, Brown University, 2004

This book is a detailed and intricate portrait of one of Jane Eyrešs more one-dimensional characters. In Jane Eyre, Bertha Masonšs insanity is hinted to be inherited from her mother. In this passage, her mother shows a loss of self-control, but this instance could not as easily be construed as insanity as Berthašs lack of self-control in Jane Eyre. Her irate words to her husband are inappropriate, but it is debatable whether they are warranted, and whether she still has a sense of right and wrong.

Wide Sargasso Sea, "She left him, she ran away and left him alone to die," said my mother, still whispering. So it was all the more dreadful when she began to scream abuse at Mr. Mason, calling him a fool, a cruel stupid fool. "I told you," she said, "I told you what would happen again and again." Her voice broke, but still she screamed, "You would not listen, you sneered at me, you grinning hypocrite, you ought not to live either, you know so much, don't you? Why don't you go out and ask them to let you go? Say how innocent you are. Say you have always trusted them." [p. 40]

1. What is the difference between Antoinettešs motheršs insanity and that of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre?

2. What is the difference between the mother and daughter of Wide Sargasso Sea?

3. Is this at all a normal way for a wife to treat her husband in these times?

4. Do these two women fall into any Victorian stereotypes?


Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.

Main Web Page Caribbean Jean Rhys Discussion questions

Last modified 19 January 2004