Antoinette's Fear of England in Wide Sargasso Sea

Sherry Lewkowicz '06, English 156, Brown University, 2004

In Part Two of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, the character Antoinette describes her visit to Josephine, a former slave from whom she seeks motherly guidance. Although Antoinette's British husband narrates most of Part Two, this scene is told by Antoinette. Her unique voice and sensibility contrast with her husband even more because of this juxtaposition. This passage also conveys Antoinette's fears about going to England with her husband. She seems to sense already the isolation she might find in such a strange and foreign land. Antoinette longs to see England optimistically, but finds anxiety encroaching upon her hopeful thoughts:

I have been too unhappy, I thought, it cannot last, being so unhappy, it would kill you. I will be a different person when I live in England and different things will happen to meŠ.England, rosy pink in the geography book map, but on the page opposite the words are closely crowded, heavy looking. Exports, coal, iron, wool. Then Imports and Character of Inhabitants. Names, Essex, Chelmsford on the Chelmer. The Yorkshire and Lincolnshire wolds. Wolds? Does that mean hills? How high? Half the height of ours, or not even that? Cool green leaves in the short cool summer. Summer. There are fields of corn like sugarcane fields, but gold colour and not so tall. After summer the trees are bare, then winter and snow. White feathers falling? Torn pieces of paper falling? They say frost makes flower patterns on the window panes. I must know more than I know already. For 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. But my dream had nothing to do with England and I must not think like this, I must remember about chandeliers and dancing, about swans and roses and snow. And snow.

"England," said Christophine, who was watching me. "You think there is such a place?" [Rhys, 66-67]


1. How does Rhys's reference typical Victorian concerns in this passage? Does she intend for Antoinette to provide readers with a non-British view of Industrialization? Is she exploring a culturally relative perspective on Industrialization because she finds Brontë's outlook limited in its scope? If so, why does Rhys feel it is important to see the Victorian era as it affected the world and not only England and industrial nations?

2. How does Rhys foreshadow the misery Antoinette will find in England? Why does she choose such dreamlike language to describe the way Antoinette imagines England and in particular, her bedroom there? How does the otherworldly nature of Antoinette's thoughts ("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") help to convey a sense of Antoinette's imagination, as well as her fragility?

3. How does Christophine's question help to further the unreality that Antoinette feels towards the idea of a life with her husband in England


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

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Last modified 7 January 2004