In the following dialogue, Christophine and Rochester argue over Antoinette's physical and psychological state. Rochester has been demanding of Christophine clues into Antoinette's personal and family history as a means of evincing her current decline in health and general hostility towards him. Although Christophine reveals some of the history of the Cosway family, she uses this conversation to tell Rochester to his face what she perceives to be the true source of Antoinette's distress, namely his manipulative and generally misogynistic behavior towards her. However, although we learn more about the particular inflections of Antoinette's complex relationship with Rochester, we also get a closer view of Antoinette's connection with Christophine. We learn about Christophine's role as confidant, caretaker, spiritual healer, etc. that seem to echo in part Antoinette's descriptions of Christophine as a maternal figure found earlier in the novel. What is striking about their separate accounts of their relationship within the Cosway household is that they seem to reveal a deeper, racial relationship underpinning their domestic rapport (i.e. a relationship defined by their respective racial identities as white and black creoles).
"You haven't yet told me exactly what you did with my -- with Antoinette."
"Yes I tell you. I make her sleep.
"What? All the time?"
"No, no. I wake her up to sit in the sun, bathe in the cool river. Even if she dropping with sleep. I make good strong soup. I give her milk if I have it, fruit I pick from my own trees. If she don't want to eat I say, 'Eat it up for my sake, doudou.' And she eat it up, then she sleep again."
"And why did you do all this?"
There was a long silence. Then she said, "It's better she sleep. She must sleep while I work for her -- to make her well again. But I don't speak of all that to you."
"Unfortunately your cure was not successful. You didn't make her well. You made her worse."
"Yes I succeed," she said angrily. "I succeed. But I get frightened that she sleep too much, too long. She is not beke like you, but she is beke, and not like us either. There are mornings when she can't wake, or when she wake it's as if she still sleeping. I don't want to give her any more of -- of what I give. So," she went on after another pause, "I let her have rum instead. I know that won't hurt her. Not much. As soon as she has the rum she starts raving that she must go back to you and I can't quiet her. She says she"ll go alone if I don't come but she beg me to come. And I hear well when you tell her that you don't love her -- quite calm and cool you tell her so, and undo all the good I do." [150-151]
How would you characterize Christophine's relationship with Antoinette as she describes it here (i.e. as a maternal figure, spiritual counselor, and physical healer)?
How might Christophine's account of their relationship differ from Antoinette's representation of it earlier in the novel?
What does Christophine's self-representation in this passage tell us about her understanding of race relations in the West Indies? What does it possibly divulge about Antoinette's understanding of race relations?
Is Rhys's representation of Christophine controversial in any way? Is there a dangerous cultural essentialism lurking beneath Christophine's otherwise liberated femininity?
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.
Last modified 9 January 2004