(K. Brent Tomer),
“THERE is always another side. Always,” notes Jean Rhys’s protagonist in “Wide Sargasso Sea” (1966). It seems like an obvious statement for a storyteller to make, but the idea of “writing back” was somewhat radical 50 years ago when authors in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean decided to use fiction to challenge the Eurocentric perspectives and colonialist themes dormant in Victorian and modernist classics. “Wide Sargasso Sea”, which approaches Charlotte Brönte’s “Jane Eyre” from the perspective of Antoinette Cosway, has endured as a landmark in the English-language canon for this reason.
It follows Antoinette, an isolated child, as she grows up on a crumbling estate in British Jamaica. Her father is an English slave-owner who, after the passage of the 1833 Emancipation Act, becomes impoverished and dies in debt. When Antoinette’s mother remarries, she is sent to a boarding school for creole girls where she becomes envious of the lighter-skinned pupils and rebuffs the friendship of her “coloured” cousins for fear of association. At 17, her wealthy stepfather arranges a marriage to an English gentleman, and it is at…Continue reading