Unit 8 Essay
When Jean Rhys read Jane Eyre, she became preoccupied with the figure of Bertha Mason. In her letters to Francis Wyndham and others, she repeatedly voiced her desire to write the story of Bertha. In an interview with Elizabeth Vreeland, Rhys once remarked, “I thought I’d try to write her a life.” Today, critics agree that Rhys’s novel is more than an adaptation of Jane Eyre, more than a footnote to one of Bronte’s characters. It is, rather, seen as a thorough revision of Bronte’s story, one that fundamentally changes its meanings. The novel, originally published in 1966, was written in a period when many were thinking about the colonial legacy of Britain’s past, and when revision and revisionism were felt as appropriate responses to Britain’s recent history. In academic circles, the later 20th Century saw the rise of so-called postcolonial criticism, which also emphasized a critical relationship to the texts of the colonial period. One of its founding texts was entitled The Empire Writes Back (Bill Ashcroft et al., 1989); obviously riffing on the popularity of the Star Wars films, the book suggests that the literary model for responding to colonialism is “writing back” to it, or “re-visioning” it. In this reflection, you will be asked to think about Rhys’s novel as “writing back” to Bronte’s original text, and not simply as filling in its blanks (of the missing narrative of Bertha’s life).
By December 18th, post your final exam essay on the following topic:
What does Rhys’s novel reveal about the relationship between Women and Empire, at least as it is represented in literature?
Points to consider: how does Wide Sargasso Sea revise (re-vision) the way you read Jane Eyre? How does Rhys’s novel “write back” to Bronte’s text? What are the most important adjustments Rhys makes to Bronte’s novel? What do these changes make you think about the place of women in an imperial society?