book club: wide sargasso sea part I

As you know, Carla and Beca and I have started a little book club and we are so excited that so many people are joining us to read the first book, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. This post is meant as a place to get discussion about Part I of the book going. If you want to use twitter or your own blog to discuss, please do. Send me a link to your post and I'll add it to this post so people can see what others are writing about.

"There is always the other side."

Having recently read Jane Eyre, I'm already enjoying the idea that the shapeless, shunned woman in the attic from that book has been given a mother and a childhood in this book. I appreciate the glimpse into the conditions that shaped her life, terrifying though they were. I definitely feel that there were moments of total horror in the first part of this book and that it wasn't until the protagonist's dress was stolen that I started to get into the story and understand what was happening to this family. I have to say though that the language doesn't particularly move me. I didn't do a lot of recording of memorable quotes, because nothing really stood out to me.

There is one exception, which is when the protagonist makes friends with the girl (Tia) who has been taunting her and she writes, "Soon Tia was my friend and I met her nearly every morning at the turn of the road to the river. Sometimes we left the bathing pool at midday, sometimes we stayed till late afternoon. Then Tia would light a fire (fires always lit for her, sharp stones did not hurt her bare feet, I never saw her cry)..." I can't help but wonder about the line "fires always lit for her" given the trajectory of this part of the book. And I'm also moved by how terrible it is that she is forced to befriend her tormentor because it seems she has no other choice for companionship.

I'm not really a book review writer, and cobbling this post together has been really tough, so I'll let you take it from here. Thoughts? Favourite quotes? Interest in Jean Rhys herself? Jane Eyre vs. Wide Sargasso Sea: has this book changed the way you feel about Jane Eyre? Enjoying this book?

I'll do another post on the book next weekend (probably getting us about two thirds of the way through the book). Happy reading!


  1. I have to agree with you, I was not terribly moved by the writing style. It is very distant, and kind of stale. But, because of this, when the house was set on fire, I was all the more shocked. It even seemed like we, as readers, were supposed to be as distant as the "black people" were to the family.

    Ah, and the mother. She is horrible, but I don't really understand why she doesn't like her daughter. Antoinette says "when she realized I was of no use to her," but why. Yet, the brother has health issues, and he is doted upon.

    It seems like the writing style definitely keeps us at a distance and from the very start, until the very end of act one, tragedy was in the works. Why the family stayed, even after the mother marries a new man, doesn't make sense to me. I have more to say but after an 11 hour work day, I am exhausted!!!
    more to come!

  2. I agree that her writing isn't the kind that makes me addicted to a book, tearing through pages and desperate for more :) But the story/book did slowly grow on me and I became more interested, and distraught.

    It's interesting too - I read Jane Eyre years ago and LOVED it, but I don't remember it that well. Now after reading a bit about Rhys's reaction to the book, which was the impetus to writing Wide Sargasso Sea, I feel like I was missing something. The fact that Bronte stuffed poor Antoinette up in the attic without even a backstory or a name has me a bit taken aback. I'd go back and re-read it right now out of curiosity but I have about a bajillion other books waiting for me right now, so that will be for another time. I am grateful that Rhys has given Antoinette her own book though. I was really enjoying the introduction in my copy but it started giving too much of the plot away so I'll have to finish it after reading the rest of the book.

    Anyhow it's super late and my eyes are so heavy! Looking forward to more discussion later :)

  3. I couldn't agree with you ladies more. When I was reading this on the plane yesterday I realized what it is that makes it impossible for me to get into this book more: the short sentences! Every time I settle in I feel like the language spits me back out of the plot at every turn. Ugh. It's actually frustrating. BUT I still think it's a great idea to tell a story that was given no time in Jane Eyre. I agree, the fact that she's stuffed in the attic and that Rochester tries to remarry while she's still his living wife is totally an injustice. More later!

  4. You feel for the protagonist from the very beginning-- she is a lonely fearful child and without her mother's affection. On page 20 when she tries and smooth the frown from her mother's face-- that part broke my heart.

    sarah, i agree with what you said about Tia! the part that stood out to me the most was after the fire when she saw Tia and her mother and ran to her, "for she was all that was left of my life as it had been. We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her." "I looked at her and I saw her face crumple as she began to cry. We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass."

    That part gave me chills!!!

    I agree with you that you didn't have to read Jane Eyre to read this book but you might appreciate it better. This is the beginning. Her beginning finally told.

  5. I feel like this book should be packaged along with Jane Eyre - if you want the big love story, you have to take this too! Haha. Maybe I'm getting to uptight over a fictional character. Anyhow!
    Micaela, totally! That part with her mother was sad, and such a real moment. I definitely feel for this girl left all on her own (for the most part) for so long.

    And yes! The part at the end of the fire with Tia. I guess it was sort of a window into how much she's absorbed from the adults. I felt like she was angry at Antoinette not for any personal reasons but because of this hatred that her community has for Antoinette's family, which she has obviously internalized. That bit was totally heartbreaking, for both girls' sake.

  6. I've never read Jane Eyre. Go ahead, get out the pitchforks....but I am intrigued with this story.

    The disconnect people have with eachother is often times a fascinating as the connection/relationships people have.

  7. Wow, Sarah! I just caught up with all your posts about the book club. I would love to join -- been missing the discussion and sharing that we took for granted in University. This book looks great but looks like I might have to start with the next book. I'll see if I can track this one down though in the meantime! Thanks for inspiring me!


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