Contrasting Conversations with Rochester in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre

Bryce R. Covert '06, English 156, Victorians and Moderns, Brown University, 2004

When rewriting Brontë's novel Jane Eyre from the perspective of Rochester's supposedly mad wife Bertha Mason, Rhys contrasts aspects of Jane with aspects of Antoinette, her version of Bertha. The witty and moral debates which Jane and Rochester engage in Brontë's novel are reflected in many discussions that Rochester has with his new wife, Antoinette. But whereas Brontë's conversations are based on rationality and reasoning and are often religious in subject, Rhys has both her characters talking in slightly obscure language and with more of an emphasis on superstition and voodoo, or obeah it is called in the novel. Rhys uses the world and the people of the Caribbean to create a mood of mysticism and confusion.

But at night how different, even her voice was changed. Always this talk of death. (Is she trying to tell me that is the secret of this place? That there is no other way? She knows. She knows.)

"Why did you make me want to live? Why did you do that to me?"

"Because I wished it. Isn't that enough?"

"Yes, it is enough. But if one day you didn't wish it. What should I do then? Suppose you took this happiness away when I wasn't looking. . . "

"And lose my own? Who'd be so foolish?"

"I am not used to happiness,' she said. "It makes me afraid."

"Never be afraid. Or if you are tell no one."

"I understand. But trying does not help me."

"What would?' She did not answer that, then one night whispered, "If I could die. Now, when I am happy. Would you do that? You wouldn't have to kill me. Say die and I will die. You don't believe me? Then try, try, say die and watch me die."

"Die then! Die!" I watched her die many times. In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty. Only the sun was there to keep us company. We shut him out. And why not? Very soon she was as eager for what's called loving as I was -- more lost and drowned afterwards.

She said, "Here I can do as I like," not I, and then I said it too. It seemed right in that lovely place. "Here I can do as I like." [92]


1. Antoinette talks a lot in the first part of the book about fear and death, but the two don't seem to be connected. She never really states what she is afraid of, and we are lead to believe that her idea of death is not that of most people, but something else. What is the death that she is talking about in this passage? What death does Rochester mean, when he says that she died in his way rather than hers?

2. How does this conversation, and others like it, between Antoinette and Rochester contrast with those between Jane and Rochester? What are the differences in subject matter, language, points of argument, etc.? How does this fit into Rhys' portrayal of Antoinette/Bertha vs. Brontë's Jane?

3. In this passage, we can see Rochester buy into some of the mysticisms and language of the culture of the Caribbean when he talks about the deaths of Antoinette. How is Rochester's language different in Rhys' version than in Brontë's? What effect does this create for us?

4. How is nature used? Here we see the sun personified, as nature often is in this novel. Nature often reflected the emotions of the characters in Brontë's novel; how does Rhys use the lush scenery of the Caribbean in her version?


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

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Last modified 7 January 2004