The Imagined Worlds of Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

The majority of the comparisons of Brontë's novel to that by Rhys concern the ways characters in Wide Sargasso Sea differ from their depictions in Jane Eyre. The differing, if obviously related, characterization of Rhys' Bertha/Antoinette to Brontë's madwoman in the attic has prompted most discussion, but critics also emphasize the modern novelist's rewriting of her predecessor's Rochester and Grace Poole. Readers also compare Antoinette Cosway to Jane Eyre herself.

In contrast, Colette Lindroth compares the essential difference of the imagined worlds in which the action of each novel unfolds. According to Lindroth, although both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea "deal with social injustice and the issues of feminism," they do so in "entirely different" imagined worlds:

Clearly, Brontë sees a world in which, however gross the injustice, remedies exist and the individual has value. Good is good, evil is evil in Jane Eyre; Jane's sacrifices, her courage, her passionate espousal of virtue and justice win out in th eend and Jane triumphs. . . . For Rhy's characaters, good and evil and indistinguishable. Behaviour is unmotivated and incomprehensible, humanity mysterious and opaque, misfortune inevitable. Struggle is useless since there is no place like Brontë's English countryside where justice can triumph. Jamaica is a lost Eden was based on social injustice to begin with, and England is a cold "cardboard house where I [Bertha] walk at night." The struggle which gains so much for Jane would be useless here. [89]

One of the chief sources of such difference lies in Brontë's Christian beliefs, which pervade plot and imagery. Furthermore, whereas the author of Jane Eyre believes in a moral universe, Rhys, a disillusioned modern, clearly does not. Another, more ambiguous difference between the worlds of the two novels appears in class attitudes: Whereas both Jane and Brontë accept Victorian England's sharply delineated social hierarchy as natural and inevitable -- modern readers may even find Jane's condescending, dismissive attitude toward servants shocking -- Rhys's views are much less certain.


Lindroth, Colette. "Whispers outside the Room: The Haunted Fiction of Jean Rhys." Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys. Ed. Pierette M. Frickey. Washington, D. C.: Three Continents Press, 1990. 85-90.

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Last modified 7 January 2004