The Role of Beauty in Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea

Tatiana Kuzmowycz '06, English 156, Brown University, 2004

Jean Rhys contrasts the rational, controlled nature of Rochester to the wild, emotional nature of Antoinette. Antoinette often finds solace and reward in nature, whereas Rochester finds nothing but secrets and unanswerable questions. Enticed by nature, Rochester seeks answers but receives none. He desires dominance, as we see in his control of Antoinette and her financial assets, and he becomes frustrated when he cannot understand nature's beauty. Thus, he detests beauty because his rational mind cannot interpret the intangible. However, his wife, Antoinette, and his future wife, Jane, both adore and understand nature, highlighting the differences and potential conflicts between Rochester and his loves.

It was a beautiful place- wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I'd find myself thinking, 'What I see is nothing -- I want what it hides -- that is not nothing'. [p.87]

I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it. [p. 172]


Rochester initially appreciates the beauty and secretiveness of nature, however, this appreciation turns to hatred. Does his hatred for nature go hand-in-hand with his hatred for Antoinette? How and why does his view of nature and Antoinette change throughout the novel?

Does beauty make Rochester uncomfortable? Is he threatened by beauty, especially his wife's beauty?

How is Antoinette similar to Rochester's later love, Jane Eyre? Do they both experience the beauty of nature in the same manner? Are they both more emotional than Rochester?

Rochester emphasizes the difference between inward and outward beauty on page 87, wanting to grasp the internal loveliness of nature. Does he search for inward beauty with either Antoinette or Jane, or does he become frustrated by his inability to understand them? Do Jane or Antoinette look for further beauty within Rochester?


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

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Last modified 7 January 2004