I.1. Female Roles in British Victorian Society 7
I.2. The Governess 9
I.2.1. The Victorian Governess Novel 11
I.3. The Relationship of the Other and the English in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea 12
CHAPTER II: The Image of the Other Woman in Jane Eyre 17
II.1. Gender Hierarchy and Class Oppression 21
II.2. Analogies between Male Domination and Colonial Domination 23
CHAPTER III: The Image of the Other Woman in Wide Sargasso Sea 26
III.1. Postcolonial Cultural Identity and Hybridity 29
III.2. Creole Cultural Identity and In-Betweenness 31
III.3. The Effect of the Other on the Identity of the Coloniser 33
A typical Postmodernist mode of creating new texts and identities is the rewriting of earlier works of literature, also called intertextuality. Intertextuality is a reference of a text that is mirrored and reflected in another text, and also one of the central ideas of cultural postmodern and contemporary literature. The author creates a new original work of literature with the use of another existing text the author is influenced by. The two texts stand in relation to one another in an interdependent situation in order to produce meaning. In this case, I would like to mention the relationship of the two novels, Charlotte Bront’??s Jane Eyre (1847), and Dominician author Jean Rhys’s postcolonial novel, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), the most prominent fictional extension of Jane Eyre.
Postcolonial cultural identity have an especial importance in the Caribbean due to the region’s unique history as a habitat for very different kinds of immigrants and their varying cultures from different parts of the world. Thus links from the Caribbean literary tradition can be drawn to several distinct literary traditions, as Wide Sargasso Sea naturally links to the English literary canon through its reference to Bront’??s novel. In the case of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bront?? creates a white, middle class female identity represented in the character of Jane, and a possible subconscious instance, a Creole identity in the form of Bertha Mason. Jean Rhys, on the other hand, rewrites Jane Eyre from the point of view of the Creole identity. In the representation of Bront??, Bertha Mason, locked away, isolated and rejected, is a symbol of the colonial Other, as Imperial England feared an psychologically ‘locked away’ the other cultures it encountered during colonisations. Rhys rewrites Bertha Mason as Antoinette Cosway, who is portrayed as a Caribbean social and racial complexity, thus Wide Sargasso Sea constitutes a rewriting of the Self and Other in terms of postcolonialism. For the healing of the colonised personality, the colonial Other becomes the postcolonial Self.
The purpose of my thesis is to analyse the colonial status of the female protagonists of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, and the phenomenon and effects of postcolonialism presented in the novels, since these notions can be recognised in both of them. The main focus of my analysis will be the female characters Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre, and Antoinette Cosway from Wide Sargasso Sea. Furthermore, the novels share the same male protagonist, Rochester, who I will be also discussing subsequently. The presence of colonialism can be found in his character, especially by his approach towards the female protagonists. To ensure accuracy, I have limited myself to take the British Victorian society and the postcolonial approach to the novels as the theoretical base of my analysis. The theoretical base is essential to examine and discuss the phenomenons in both of the novels. In the part of British Victorian society, I will be discussing contemporary women’s roles and lifestyles particularly, and in further details their manifestations in Jane Eyre, as it is especially important to analyse the role of the governess and how it is represented in Victorian governess novels generally. I would like to point out similarities by examining and comparing the status of Victorian governess seen as Jane’s position in the novel. The observation of gender hierarchy and class oppression allows the discussion of the novel from a postcolonial perspective as well by comparing Jane and the other foreign women, especially Bertha, as a coloniser and colonised Other. The contrast of the coloniser and colonised can also be seen in the analogies of Rochester’s masculine domination and colonial domination.
In further chapters, I will also link the postcolonial phenomenons of Wide Sargasso Sea, since this novel gives the base of postcolonialism in the form of Antoinette, who represents many aspects of colonisation. Particularly the concept of cultural identity is a complex issue and has been one of the central concerns of postcolonial literary criticism. Creoleness can have a major impact on a person’s cultural identity, as one is contrasted with sometimes very different cultures in terms of their own identity. Gender also plays an important role in the formation of one’s cultural identity. Especially in the case of female identity, it is the form of conforming or not conforming to the expectations other people in the society have for an individual. At the end of the thesis, I will compare the characters of the main analysis status and attitude to show the differences of the coloniser and colonised.
CHAPTER I: Colonisation and the Concept of the Other in the Institution of Marriage from a Victorian and 20th-century Perspective
The Victorian era of Britain was characterised by rapid changes and developments in nearly every sphere of life. The main change, which affected and altered the country’s mood was especially the change of population growth and location by colonisation. The expansion of Britain with the colonisation of the Caribbean islands and other subsequent British colonies had a great impact on the culture and identity of the British Empire. This resulted in the reinforcement in the distinction between the multicultural British subjects and the racially, culturally and religiously homogeneous Britons who possessed the quality of Englishness. The demacration within the empire also allowed the British to deny the darker parts of their national history.
Postcolonial theory is concerned to analyse and theorise the permanent impact of nineteenth-century European colonialism. Several conclusions can be drawn from the central features of postcolonial theory. One of its central feature is that it examines the impact of the European conquest, colonisation and domination of non European people and cultures. It concentrates on the domination of the coloniser and its use of power to control the colonised in occupied territories. Colonial discourse theorist Edward Said discusses postcolonial theory in his books Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993). Said analysed the various cultures that were affected by the nineteenth-century imperial expansion, and argued that the West produced the other cultures as an Other to a Western norm. For example, these other cultures were represented as not only different from British culture, but also as negatively different. Other people were described as lazy, degenerate and uncivilised as opposed to the civilised, hard-working British.
Sander L. Gilman in his book, Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness (1985), explains that racial stereotypes have been often connected to images of pathology. A group’s history becomes uniqe and different from others on the basis of a mutually defined sense of identity which creates cohesion. The sense of difference between the self and the Other is built on the basis of ‘Xenophobia’ which is inherent in all groups: nearly all groups are inclined to define themselves as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’ (Gilman, 1985, p. 129). The Western definition of the ‘racial’ Other has been bound to the black, who stand for the antithesis of whites. Unrealistically, blacks are linked with qualities of Otherness, among other things like moral and physical sordidness, disorder and danger. Moreover, there is an association of the black with the ‘myth of mental illness’ in the West: the idea of racial difference is indicated in the defining group’s label as ‘mad’, because of the presumption of the sanity as ill tendency of the black Other. European ‘healthiness’ has been fundamentally opposed to the colonial Other’s tropical world which ‘ill’ black becomes ‘infectious’ among white colonists (Gilman, 1985, p. 129-130).
Said suggests that nations could be viewed as narratives in which they represent themselves. The superiority and desirabilty of Englishness found a narrative voice in the English novel as a central message. According to Said, English novels proved ‘immensely important in the formation of imperial attitudes, references, and experiences’ (1993, p. xii). Englishness quickly became the dominant narrative of the entire British Empire, since the English novel dominated the literary scene in both Britain and its colonies throughout the nineteenth century (Said, 1993, p. xiii). As he notes, ‘never, in the novel, is that world beyond seen except as subordinate and dominated, the English presence viewed as regulative and normative’ (Said, 1993, p. 75).
Postcolonial theory covers a very wide range of theoretical concerns and critical perspectives. To be more specific, colonialism can also be viewed from its gendered nature, which is examined by postcolonial feminist theory. It studies how women and men are positioned in a male dominant society, and how both of the genders are presented in colonised territories and in western locations. Stevi Jackson and Jackie Jones’s Contemporary Feminist Theories (1998) is a collection written by feminists based in Britain that features Sara Mills’s Post-colonial Feminist Theory in which she makes note of how men used power in colonial territories. Men used their power to be with other colonised women while women were expected to be faithful to their husbands in England and abroad. The sexual fantasies of Victorian Englishmen were not in accordance with the established Victorian morals in the way they acted on them. That is, British men took advantage of their power and their position to gratify themselves and had sexual relationships with natives of the colonised territories as they were being positioned high on the hierarchal ladder (Jackson & Jones, 1998, p. 100). John McLeod discusses power, marginalisation and the oppression of women in his book, Beginning Postcolonialism (2000). He explains that both feminism and postcolonialism ‘share the mutual goal of challenging forms of oppression’ (McLeod, 2000, p. 174). McLeod also includes a major key concept here, the term patriarchy. Patriarchy refers to ‘those systems ‘ political, material and imaginative ‘ which invest power in men and marginalise women’ (McLeod, 2000, p. 174). He explains that patriarchy refers to male power over women, and is connected to feministic thoughts about how women are made to feel oppressed and subordinated (McLeod, 2000, p. 173). Connected to partiarchy, another concept of postcolonial feminist theory is double colonisation. It refers to the ways in which women have simultaneously experienced the oppression of colonialism and patriarchy. McLeod notes that ‘Colonialism can add other kinds of patriarchal systems to an already unequal situation’ which means that in the same time women are being doubly oppressed by patriarchal ideology and imperialistic ideology (2000, p. 177, original emphasis).
The postcolonial feminist perspective makes it possible to examine how character pairs such as Jane-Rochester and Bertha/Antoinette-Rochester from Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea are represented in the notion of colonisation, and in this way, positioned as a woman and a man in their relationship and marriage. However, it is essential to examine the gender roles in British Victorian society at first, for the sake of a substantiated comparison of the novels the era they are situated in. The examination will concentrate on particularly the female roles to compare the status of the protagonists of the two novels, which then can be contrasted with the image of the colonised Other and the coloniser that I will be discussing in part three of this chapter.
I.1. Female Roles in British Victorian Society
There are inadequate associations with the Victorian era of British history, such as ‘prudish,’ ‘repressed,’ and ‘old-fashioned’. This age saw great expansion of wealth, power and culture, and therefore it is considered as a long period of peace, prosperity with refined sensibilities. The Victorian period is dated between 1837 and 1901 with wide-ranging, fundamental social changes. At that time, the population of England represented various classes, occupations, and ways of life.
Until the Victorian era, the vast majority of women devoted themselves to housework and running the household, but from this time, they were also part of the ‘external’ workforce. Dr Lynn Abrams in Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain (2001) points out the changes in the private and public sphere: ‘New kinds of work and new kinds of urban living prompted a change in the ways in which appropriate male and female roles were perceived’ (Abrams, 2001, p. 1). She also describes the separate spheres that included the private sphere of the home and hearth for women, and for men the public sphere of business, politics and sociability. The notion of the separate spheres ‘came to influence the choices and experiences of all women, at home, at work’ (Abrams, 2001, p. 1). Abrams also notes that ‘the ideology that assigned the private sphere to the woman and the public sphere of business, commerce and politics to the man had been widely dispersed’ (2001, p. 1). In further details, Dr Nancy Reagin describes in her essay, Women as ‘the Sex’ During the Victorian Era (n.d.) how Susan Kent observes the separate spheres’ framework in Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914 (1990): ‘Men possessed the capacity for reason, action, aggression, independence, and self-interest [thus belonging to the public sphere]. Women inhabited a separate, private sphere, one suitable for the so called inherent qualities of femininity: emotion, passivity, submission, dependence, and selflessness, all derived, it was claimed insistently, form women’s sexual and reproductive organization (Kent 30)’ (n.d.). The nineteenth-century society came to regard women as ‘the Sex’ because ‘women were so exclusively identified by their sexual functions. (32)’ (Reagin, n.d.). In parallel, women’s fashion became more sexual, that is, to emphasise the waist and buttocks, and thrust out the breasts by wearing corset and crinoline. ‘The female body was dressed to emphasise a woman’s separation from the world of work’ (Abrams, 2001, p. 3). The ideal woman of the time was not weak or passive but rather busy with her moral duty towards the family and society. She was an able figure who gained strength from her moral superiority.
Marriage was considered as the supreme means of livelihood for women in the nineteenth century. It was simply a necessity for survival, thus normally they did not have an option not to marry. No matter what they desired, they relied on their husband economically. Women had to control their sexuality and as a potential wife, they were expected to be innocent and virgin. Men, on the other hand, were not expected to be chaste and pure, as the potential husband had the freedom to participate in premarital and extramarital sexual relationships. Reagin analyses women’s sexuality in the second paragraph of her essay in which she notes that ‘Such a biased idea was one of many double standards in Victorian society, which demanded unquestionable compliance from women and none from men, since the women were thought to be controlled by their sexuality and were thus in need of regulation’ (n.d.). After marriage, women were under the complete supervision of her husband by law. In another essay, Women’s Status in Mid 19th-Century England (n.d.), Helena Wojtczak describes that women ‘had to obey men, because in most cases men held all the resources and women had no independent means of subsistence’ (Wojtczak, n.d.). In case of an unhappy relationship, women could not divorce from their husband, and even if she ran away, the police would capture and return her to the husband who could imprison her as a last resort. This was all sanctioned by the law, custom and history, and also approved by society in general. Wojtczak focuses on moral inequality by stating that ‘Mere adultery was not grounds for a woman to divorce a man; however, it was sufficient grounds for a man to divorce his wife’ (n.d., original emphasis).
Motherhood was considered as ‘a substitute for women’s productive role’ (Abrams, 2001, p. 6). It was no longer a reproductive function, but also symbolised as a domestic ideal, including the mother and her children, which meant emotional fulfilment for women. Motherhood was becoming a social responsibility and it could not be combined with paid work. Working-class mothers were considered as neglectful and irresponsible, while they strove to earn their daily steady income to combine the demands of childcare and putting a meal on the table. Abrams explains that ‘Motherhood was expected of a married woman and the childless single woman was a figure to be pitied. She was often encouraged to find work caring for children – as a governess or a nursery maid – presumably to compensate her for her loss’ (2001, p. 6).
I.2. The Governess
The phenomenon of the governess was created by the middle- and upper-class for educating girls at home. In 1851, the number of governesses in Britain was calculated at 21,000. The governesses’ role was such an employment category for women that required higher position in birth, mind and manners to fit for their position. However, they were considered inferior in wordly wealth, which followed humiliation and psychological cruelty they had to endure. Philip V. Allingham describes the status, position, life and role of the governess by taking Ronald Pearsall’s Night’s Black Angels: The Forms and Faces of Victorian Cruelty (1975) as a base of his essay, The Figure of the Governess, based on Ronald Pearsall’s Night’s Black Angels (2000). Allingham states that ‘Because the supply of goveresses was far greater than the demand, many of the more desperate girls would do the job for nothing, just to get a roof over their heads’ (2000). He continues saying that ‘The duties of a governess, especially one employed by a family of the commercial middle class (which often delighted in degrading someone of superior ‘breeding’), were dreary and disenchanting. As a special treat, the governess might be allowed to enter the parlour, but she would take her meals in the schoolroom’ (Allingham, 2000). It can be said that the governess was at the same level of children and servants if not lower. For men, she was a tabooed woman, and from superior oppression, tradesmen took revenge on governesses who were also treated as spite of the upper classes.
Governesses would be tormented by refusing to do her lessons, playing with the children and in the worse case, throwing her tools and belongings into the fire. Larger children might even assault their governess and in the worst case they might try to harass her sexually. However, it has to be noted that not all employers were tyrants, and cruelty was often a matter of self-protection on the part of the governess. There were parents who were wise enough to ‘treat their governesses with kindness, for the employers’ cruelty could rebound on their own children’ (Allingham, 2000). Altogether governesses were not treated as bad as the lower classes, because ‘the practitioners of the profession were never treated with the gross brutality which factory girls, apprentices, and mine-workers habitually endured’ (Allingham, 2000).
Loneliness and neurosis was the result of social isolation. The proportion of governesses among inmates of lunatic asylums were quite high, therefore it was necessary to verify the relationship between the governess and the pupil. There were moves to change the governess’ destiny more pleasant and less burdensome. The aim of a governess was to start a school of her own, but failures generally outnumbered successes.
I.2.1. The Victorian Governess Novel
The governess was a common figure of the period and the novels including governesses can be connected to the general anxiety of middle-class female employment and in particular, governess work. Governesses began to debate from the 1840s focusing on their situation, social positions, terms of employment and salaries. The novels had a substantial part in their debate, giving a focus on the state of these women.
As for the characteristics of the governess novel, its important feature is that it portrays progress towards maturity or improvement on the part of the governess heroine who is often an orphan and stands alone in life. Cecilia Wads?? Lecaros discusses the novel’s structure and plot in her essay, The Victorian Governess Novel: Characteristics of the Genre (2005) based on part of the introductory chapter of her book, The Victorian Governess Novel (2001). She describes that the heroine is ‘not necessarily a faultless or particularly splendid character, but a protagonist on whom the narrative is centred and with whom the reader’s sympathy lies’ (Wads?? Lecaros, 2005). Furthermore, she notes that ‘The heroine generally encounters a number of painful situations that are connected with her position as a governess. Usually she faces trouble in relation to her employers or her pupils, and servants and visitors often make her miserable’ (Wads?? Lecaros, 2005). Concerning the movement of the heroine, in some novels she stays in one particular place in the major part of the novel, and in others she goes through different situations. Cecilia Wads?? Lecaros explains that ‘A convincing development in character could be achieved by moving the heroine from one situation to another’ (2005). In relation to other female members of the household, the governess’ position is also determined by them, and she is at the centre of attention since she is a middle-class wage-earner woman. This dependent and wage-earner position resembles a domestic servant but other similarities can be noted with the mistress of the house because of her middle-class background. However, because of her accomodation and salary, she is still considered as a servant by her employers rather than equal. Usually female rivalry, as an important theme, is present.
The theme of reversed fortune is dominant in these novels. Although a majority of the novels represent shocking conditions of the governess, there are exceptions such as pleasant employers, and most novels contain a maternal character or a future husband who helps the governess through her difficulties.
I.3. The Relationship of the Other and the English in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea
In Jane Eyre, the conflict between European and West Indian consciousness is a conflict between conventional attitudes and emotional excesses on the surface level. In Wide Sargasso Sea, this particular conflict is worked out through the same fatal relationship but from various points of view. In contrast to Jane Eyre, the conflict of the two cultures becomes the crucial subject of the narrative and of its psychological, social, historical and geographical aspects. The escalation of the conflict is contributed by an important device of characterization in the novel, the so called ‘projective method’ of landscape description.
The wintry landscapes that form the setting of Jane Eyre are contrasted with the typical Romantic topography of the summery climate of the West Indies. Much of the own nature of Rochester becomes revealed with his response to the surrounding environment: his sobriety reflects his fear of passion and dependence on the security of the civilised world, while Antoinette’s love of the Caribbean landscape corresponds with her passionate emotions. The changing attitudes to particular places reflect the development of the mutual relationship of Rochester and Antoinette. Antoinette’s statements represent confidence and identification: ‘This is my place and everything is on our side’; ‘This is my place and this is where I belong and this is where I wish to stay’ (WSS, p. 67, 99), but on Rochester’s side, it shifts to estrangement: ‘I feel very much a stranger here,’ (…) ‘I feel that this place is my enemy and on your side’, to which Antoinette responds: ‘You are quite mistaken (‘). It is not for you and not for me. It has nothing to do with either of us. That is why you are afraid of it, because it is something else’ (p. 117). Rochester’s feeling of uneasiness originates from the experience of a particular environment as something else which results in the inability to accept the other: the other landscape with the other culture and the other individual.
As Edward Said’s remark was previously mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, there was a process of constructing English cultural identity where the natives and the colonised were seen as Other and the English as superior. This particular manifestation can be seen in Rochester’s definition of Antoinette as a colonial Other, one who is uncultured, narrow-minded and uneducated. During the couple’s discussion of England in one scene, Mr. Rochester notices Antoinette’s inability to describe or give any true facts of his beloved homeland, he reflects to her lack of knowledge: ‘She was undecided, uncertain about facts ‘ any fact. (‘) hardly able to believe she was the pale silent creature I had married’ (p. 80). He becomes irritated and angry by his wife’s ignorance of England, when Antoinette speaks of it as a land of gloom and coldness. Rochester concludes that Antoinette is uncultured and unrefined because of the lack of knowledge on her husband’s powerful and civilised country. As Said stated, the judgment of the Other was opposed to the powerful, cultured and morally righteous English people. Antoinette is considered as a mere Creole in Rochester’s colonialist eyes. The wide gap between them also comes from the fact that Antoinette has a limited knowledge of the world, as she does not know much about her own homeland either when she is asked about the island’s snakes. Rochester, thus, categorises her as a colonial subject, as Other.
Antoinette’s rage can also be seen as her own way of rejecting Rochester’s dominance and the many years of being colonised. She refuses being prevailed over her by raging and screaming at her husband. In Colonialism/Postcolonialism (2005), this certain attitude is explained by Ania Loomba that ‘within the frameworks of psychoanalytic discourse, anti-colonial resistance is coded as madness’ (p. 119). Antoinette realises that Rochester is trying to colonise her by overpowering and dominating over her. As a coloniser, Rochester also wants to change her to act and behave as a Victorian lady who stays at home and obeys only him. Loomba points out that changing the mentality of the colonised has been one of the aims of colonisation which involved the alteration of their mind and led to madness, since it ‘dislocated and distorted the psyche of the oppressed’ (2005, p. 123).
Although Rochester explains that ‘disgust was rising in me like sickness’ because of Antoinette’s free sexuality and promiscuity, he gives himself the right to attend to his sexual needs by committing adultery as a man in a patriarchal institution (WSS, p. 114). Colonisers showed power and authority of the patriarchy by having sexual encounters with natives, as Sara Mills remarked (Jackson & Jones, 1998, p. 100). This authority can be seen in his exercise of his colonial power by satisfying his sexual needs with native Am??lie, knowing well that his act can hurt Antoinette. He shows no regrets or remorse for his action, ‘I had not one moment of remorse. Nor was I anxious to know what was happening behind the thin partition which divided us from my wife’s bedroom’ (WSS, p. 127).
As mentioned before, Rochester can be recognised as a double coloniser from the postcolonial feminist perspective because he tries to be in control and oppress Antoinette. Rochester is considered to be a double coloniser since his power comes from both patriarchal and colonial ideology. He has control over his wife’s wealth and changes her identity by oppressing her and labeling her mad. Rochester sees Antoinette as uncultured and uncivilised, one who has different values and behaviour which is against his morals and principles, when he perceives her as Creole, not English (WSS, p. 61). Thus it can be concluded that Antoinette, as McLeod implies, is living under the negative effects of both patriarchy and colonialism (2000, p. 175).
McLeod notes that ‘Names are often central to our sense of identity’ (2000, p. 167). As Antoinette remarks ‘Names matter’, and throughout the novel, we can see her becoming more and more confused by her identity (WSS, p. 162). Mr. Rochester and Antoinette fail to understand each others’ culture and behaviour, thus the couple is led to a loveless marriage by this lack of understanding, where they hurt each other by attacking the other verbally and at times physically. Mr. Rochester calls Antoinette by other names even though she makes it clear that she wants to be called by her real name, ‘not Bertha’ (p. 123): ‘Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by other name’ (p. 133). By not calling her by her real name and not showing love and affection in words, Rochester confuses Antoinette’s identity as well as her mental state in the end: ‘What am I doing in this place and who am I’? (p. 162).
In Jane Eyre, there are hints of ambiguity of Bertha’s race even in Rochester’s account of the time before their marriage. Although, after Rochester describes Bertha as ‘tall, dark, and majestic,’ he immediately continues: ‘Her family wished to secure me, because I was of a good race’ (p. 305). In this context the phrase suggests that Bertha may not be of as good race as he. Rochester’s phrase acquires significance in the historical context of a colony where blacks outnumbered whites by twelve to one, and where white planters practiced an accepted routine of forcing female slaves to become their concubines. *p. 105 Richard Mason unnecessarily declares Bertha is the daughter, as Richard Mason oddly and apparently unnecessarily declares in his official attestation to her marriage with Rochester, “of Jonas Mason, merchant, and of Antoinetta Mason, his wife, a Creole” (p. 318).
Rochester’s comparison of the two women distinguishes the bestial Creole from the human Englishwoman. Once at Thornfield, Jane encounters Mr. Rochester who later serves as the most significant indicator of difference between Jane and Bertha/Antoinette. While the colonised Bertha/Antoinette can be successfully imprisoned by Rochester in a room on the third floor of Thornfield, Rochester cannot force Jane to stay once she discovers his disastrous marriage. In the final chapter of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette recalls offering all she has to Rochester in exchange for her freedom and being denied (WSS 115). However, Jane never needs to ask Rochester to release her, and instead is described as a ‘resolute, wild, free thing’ who leaves without his knowledge (JE 357). In both texts patterns of English freedom arise as Rochester and Jane are both able to break away from unhappy situations in their lives. Rochester is able to escape his miserable marriage to Antoinette by locking her in a ‘cardboard world’ (WSS 115) where he can ”wait ‘ for the day when she is only a memory to be avoided, locked away, and like all memories a legend. Or a lie” (WSS 113). He is able to live the life of a bachelor, roaming Europe and taking mistresses, while disowning both his wife and their marriage. Jane is similarly able to escape from her awkward and unhappy situation at Thornfield after her illegitimate marriage to Rochester is halted, by sneaking away in the early morning unbeknownst to the house (JE 360).
In the final chapter of Jane Eyre, Jane’s narrative voice resounds with her newfound marital serenity. 96 She and Rochester are finally able to be together as Jane’s social rank and intellect are found to be congruent with Rochester’s. She has finally achieved independent wealth to complement her preexisting marks of Englishness: birth, education, modesty, and intellect. Jane exemplifies the British restraint Rochester possesses in Wide Sargasso Sea, and repeatedly asserts their intellectual compatibility saying, ‘I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him’ (JE 199). While Rochester describes Bertha as having a ‘nature wholly alien to mine,’ (JE 434) he claims Jane as his appropriate bride ”’because my equal is here, and my likeness,” (JE 285). It is their shared Englishness ”that paves the way for a ‘happilyeverafter’ conclusion premised on notions of a natural law of cultural and spiritual compatibility and ‘congruous union.” However, this ending can come about only after the removal of the colonial contagion (Bertha) from Rochester and Jane’s relationship. Although Rochester’s blindness and amputated hand can be seen as the scars he must bear as a consequence of his involvement in the colonial project, Bertha’s death also signals the beginning of Rochester’s repentance and absolution from colonial sin. Not only does he pledge ”’to lead a purer life than I have done hitherto,” (JE 497) but he atones for the threat his Creole marriage posed to the hegemony of the Empire by having a purely English son with Jane, thereby defending and perpetuating the imperial patriarchal order.
It is this emphasis on English domesticity that gives the myth of Englishness its power: claiming it as something solely for the nationstate ‘ never imperial ‘ and unattainable for the colonial Other. Both Jane and Rochester are rewarded for their homogenous union and for policing the borders of Englishness with the return of Rochester’s eyesight so that he may bear witness to the continuation of the English patrilineal order which his former marriage nearly jeopardized (JE 501). Through this symbolic act of healing, Bront?? conveys the power of Englishness to erase traces of colonial contamination.
CHAPTER II: The Image of the Other Woman in Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bront’??s novel, Jane Eyre narrates the story of a character’s internal development as she undergoes a succession of encounters with the external world. It emphasizes love and passion, represents the notion of lovers destined for each other, and it uses mysterious, supernatural, horrific and romantic elements. It also contains elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core. Furthermore, the novel explores classism, sexuality, religion and proto-feminism.
Jane Eyre is set in the 19th century England, and it tells the story of Jane Eyre, an orphan. The whole novel is narrated by the protagonist, Jane, who grows up in an obnoxious family, then spends the rest of her childhood in Lowood School due to being rejected by her relatives. She also explains further her adulthood, how she became a governess at Thornfield Hall, and got into a closer relationship with her employer, Edward Rochester. Soon, Jane has more complications and obstructing problems than she had thought. One of the nuisances becomes Bertha Mason, a Creole woman locked up in a mysterious room of Thornfield Hall. It turns out that she is the wife of Mr. Rochester, and also called as the ‘madwoman in the attic’.
Colonialism is present in the figurative use of race in Jane Eyre. The figure is enacted on the level of character, representing a Jamaican black woman in the case of the novel. This new reading of the novel emerges by exploring the authorial choices of Bront?? as the decision to have a Creole madwoman as Jane’s foil. Since the reinforcement of English superiority was considered normal during the nineteenth century, a reading through the lens of Englishness could suggest that Bront’??s aim was to highlight Jane’s Englishness with the choice of a Creole woman. In this way, Bront?? confronts the non-figurative reality of British race relations. In a literary criticism, Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of ‘Jane Eyre’ (1990), Susan L. Meyer notes that the ‘figurative use of blackness in part arises from the history of British colonialism: the function of racial ‘otherness’ in the novel is to signify a generalized oppression’ (p. 250). She continues stating that ‘Bronte makes class and gender oppression the overt significance of racial ‘otherness,’ displacing the historical reasons why colonized races would suggest oppression, at some level of consciousness, to nineteenth-century British readers’ (Meyer, 1990, p. 250). The metaphor of slavery can be considered as the identification with the oppressed, as an implicit critique of British domination. Also, the historical alliance between the ideology of male domination and the ideology of colonial domination resulted in a very different relation between imperialism and the developing resistance of nineteenth-century British women to the gender hierarchy.
The portraying of the colonial Other involves the silencing of the voice and speech of the oppressed. Bront’??s link to a culture of silence speaks for her decision to keep Bertha silent aside from her lunatic laughter and bestial manifestations. Spivak touches upon this culture of silence when she discusses the ‘subaltern’ as being a position without identity and the inability of action. She states that the subaltern cannot represent itself through a narrative voice but is always being represented by others and pushed into the dominant preexisting metanarrative ‘ in this case, British imperialism. Thus, Jane and Rochester are both given a voice as they represent the metanarrative of British imperial history, while Bertha is condemned to subalternity and silence. Eliana Ionoaia explains this notion in her essay, The Creolization of the Self ‘ From Jane Eyre to Wide Sargasso Sea (2008) in the followings:
In Jane Eyre, a silence is created where Bertha’s voice should be heard, however the Creole woman’s voice is missing from the text and the space is filled by the voices of Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre. The muted voice of the Creole woman, a victim of twofold domination ‘ on the one hand, from the colonial social structure and, on the other hand, from the Creole male ‘ identified as a lunatic in Jane Eyre (‘) (p. 137).
Colonialist and anti-colonialist* messages can be recognised and considered as a theoretical approach to the novel. Common ideas suggest that the colonised are inferior, immoral, savage and uncivilised. The postcolonial approach to Jane Eyre should begin with considering some of the following questions suggested by Karin Jacobsen and Mary Ellen Snodgrass in their critical essay, A Postcolonial Approach to the Novel (n.d.): ‘What does the novel reveal about the way cultural difference was represented in Victorian culture? What idea does the text create of ‘proper’ British behavior’? (n.d.). Answers to these questions can be discovered by examining the foreign women, especially Bertha Mason and the ‘colonialist’ Jane.
Creating a prototype of the proper English woman is one of the colonialist goals of the novel. The ideal is created by contrasting Jane with other foreign women in the text. For example, French C??line Varens and her daughter, Ad??le are constantly criticised throughout the novel for their materialist and superficial nature. These traits reveal in such use of expressions of Rochester, when he says that ‘she charmed my English gold out of my British breeches’ pocket’ (JE, p. 139). Jane’s final comments about Ad??le also suggest that ‘only through a good English lifestyle has Ad??le avoided her mother’s tragic flaws’ (Jacobsen & Snodgrass, n.d.): ‘a sound English education corrected in a great measure her French defects’ (JE, p. 450).
Bertha Mason represents British fears in the form of an insane Creole woman, whom her husband, Edward Fairfax Rochester, keeps locked up on the third floor of his mansion. The imprisonment in the attic refers to colonialist tyranny where Bertha functions as the victim of colonialism. Rochester associates the two of the most common nineteenth-century black stereotypes with Bertha: madness and drunkness. Bertha’s inside is just like her outside; Bront?? reduces her to a ‘foul German spectre ‘ the Vampyre’ (JE, p. 284). Her vampiric appearance suggests that she is sucking the blood and vitality away from Rochester. Jacobsen and Snodgrass explain that ‘Their arguments suggest Rochester isn’t as innocent as he claims; as a colonialist, he was in the West Indies to make money and to overpower colonized men and women’ (n.d.). In addition, Joan Z. Anderson states in her essay, Angry Angels: Repression, Containment, and Deviance, in Charlotte Bront’??s Jane Eyre (2004) that ‘Bront?? utilizes the metaphor of race to signify the oppressor throughout the novel, paradoxically, she also uses racial otherness to characterize and essentially vilify Bertha Mason–a woman no longer in any position to oppress anyone’ (2004).
In the following passage, the basic concept of racial Otherness can be recognised as Jane describes the features of Bertha to Rochester:
It was a discoloured face ‘ it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!
Ghosts are usually pale, Jane.
This, sir, was purple: the lips were swelled and dark; the brow furrowed; the black eye-brows widely raised over the bloodshot eyes (JE, p. 283-284).
This passage clearly shows that Bertha is stereotypically marked as non-white with the emphasis on her coloring. The attributives, ‘discoloured’, ‘purple’, ‘blackened’, and the reference to rolling eyes and to ‘swelled’, ‘dark’ lips all strongly suggest that she is certainly not ‘pale’. The discoloration of Bertha’s ‘blackened’ and inflated lineaments implies colonial sickness and contamination. Moreover, Bertha’s features are emphasised and based on Jane’s use of the word ‘savage’, and the redness which she sees in Bertha’s rolling eyes suggests the drunkenness which, following the common racist convention, Bront?? has associated with blacks.
Bertha’s madness is compared to an animal which was captured and locked up in its attic prison. She is monstrous, bestial and uncivilised who is only capable of ‘snarling, canine noise’ (p. 210). Bertha possesses both canine and feline tendencies as a ‘tigress’ and a ‘clothed hyena’ (p. 212, 293) who remains untamed even in isolation, as it turns out when she attacks her brother, Richard Mason and sucks the blood out of him. She refuses to be controlled: she displays almost equal stature and masculine force of her husband’s, she even fights with Rochester. In the middle of her essay, Anderson characterises Bertha’s embodiment of unwomanliness and masculinity as ‘the unfeminine aspect of both anger and madness which threatens masculine control of Victorian society’ (2004). Bertha is not submissive, thus she must be contained.
Jacobsen and Snodgrass explain that ‘Jane’s position is more conflicted than Rochester’s’ because ‘as a woman she is also a member of a colonized group, but as a specifically British woman, she is a colonizer’ (n.d.). Jane emphasises the colonised status of women when she claims that Rochester’s smile was as a sultan would ‘bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched’ (JE, p. 269). Bront?? marks Jane as morally and racially superior to Bertha, although Jane feels sympathy towards her. She can govern herself, has learned to self govern and ‘follows the dictates of her society which tells her to ‘flee temptation’ (340). Much of what places Jane above Bertha hinges on the vociferous repulsion that female sexuality elicits in Victorian society’ (Anderson, 2004). Anderson also explains that ‘Bertha’s construction as ‘black’ associates her with imperialist beliefs of lasciviousness’ and with ‘xenophobic anxieties . . . aroused by Bertha’s foreign heritage’ which connect to beliefs of ‘racially inflected sexuality’ (2004). Jane represents the civilised female, which is confirmed by her whiteness.
II.1. Gender Hierarchy and Class Oppression
Bront’??s narrative represents some of the suffocating restrictions imposed upon nineteenth-century women and none of her females achieves true independence or freedom. In Jane Eyre, Bront?? responds to the seemingly inevitable analogy in nineteenth-century British texts that assert the need for white male control which Susan L. Meyer describes with an analogy between the degradation of both white and black women, and the shared oppression of hierarchies of social class and gender. She states that ‘Bront?? uses the analogy in Jane Eyre (…) to signify not shared inferiority but shared oppression. This figurative strategy induces some sympathy with blacks as those who are also oppressed, but does not preclude racism’ (Meyer, 1990, p. 251).
Meyer continues saying that ‘Bronte does not use slavery as an analogy for the lot of the working class but for that of the lower-middle class, for those who are forced into ‘governessing slavery’ as Rochester puts it (p. 270)’ (1990, p. 257). Jane experiences the dehumanizing regard of her class superiors at Thornfield Hall only when Rochester arrives with his ruling-class company, thus at this point her governessing becomes like slavery. Before this, Jane was treated as a social equal around her. When she first arrives, Mrs. Fairfax helps Jane remove her bonnet and shawl, and her pupil, Ad??le is too young and also of too dubious an origin to treat her governess with superiority. Meyer explains that Bront?? constructs a utopian atmosphere which is not dominated by class hierarchy between the three of them. In this passage, after Mrs. Fairfax marks Jane as her companion, she clearly excludes the working class from this classless utopic world: ” but then you see they [Leah and John] are only servants, and one can’t converse them on terms of equality: one must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one’s authority’ (JE, p. 97).
Parallels can be drawn between slavery and Jane’s social position as one of the disempowered lower-middle class. These analogies are drawn by Jane not in response to the work she has to perform as a governess but in response to the humiliating attitudes of her class superiors. From childhood, Jane feels like a slave which is expressed in a rebellious behaviour in her tenth year, just like Bertha who after ten years in her third floor room ‘br[eaks] out, now in fire and now in blood’ (p. 210). Postcolonial critics argue that Jane can only achieve self-identity by the sacrifice of Bertha, the foreign woman. Still as an adult, Jane also feels like a degraded slave when she realises the economic inequality between her and Rochester, who overstocks her with valuable gifts after the engagement. When Rochester tells her she will cover her face with a veil at the wedding, she claims that she will feel like ‘an ape in a harlequin’s jacket’ (p. 259). The racist nineteenth-century association of blacks with apes assumes that Jane refers to Bertha’s black face under the veil. Meyer notes that ‘Bront?? uses the emotional force of the ideas of slavery and of explosive race relations following emancipation in the colonies to represent the tensions of the gender hierarchy in England’ (1990, p. 259).
In the novel, analogies can be seen between dark-skinned peoples, the black slaves that are associated with oppression, and those oppressed by the hierarchies of social class and gender in Britain. The historical presence of colonialism and slavery can be associated with the narrative function of the dark-featured Bertha, however, the association between blacks and apes ‘ as mentioned before ‘ indicates that these analogies are not free from racism. The use of slave as a metaphor would naturally imply the oppression of the non-white races subjected to the British Empire, although there is the opposite context in the novel, which can be observed in the descriptions of Blance Ingram.
Class oppression is especially represented by the character of Blanche Ingram with her ‘dark and imperious eye’ (JE, p. 185). Interestingly she shares many similar features with Bertha Mason. Blanche’s darkness is emphasized with her ‘olive complexion, dark and clear’, ‘hair; raven-black’ (p. 159), and as Jane notes she is ‘dark as a Spaniard’ (p. 173). The odd phrase ‘dark and imperious’ signifies connection to inferior and dark races, but in the case of Blanche’s description with the use of the word ‘imperious’ points to her ruling-class sense of superiority which evokes the contact between the British and their dark-skinned imperial subjects. Meyer explains that ‘In that contact, it was not the dark people who were ‘imperious’, that is, in the position of haughty imperial power, but the British themselves’ (1990, p. 260). By examining further the qualities of darkness and imperiousness in Blanche, she notes:
‘imperialism brings out both these undesirable qualities in Europeans ‘ that the British have been sullied, ‘darkened’, and made ‘imperious’ or oppressive by contact with the racial ‘other’, and that such contact makes them arrogant oppressors both abroad, and, like Blanche, at home England’ (Meyer, 1990, p. 260).
Although the ‘spotless white’ dress she wears, her mother’s calling ‘my lily-flower’ (JE, p. 173, 178), and the meaning of her name ‘ white, Blanche does not embody ideal white European femininity, but rather ‘the contagious darkness and oppressiveness of British colonialism’ (Meyer, 1990, p. 260).
Blanche, as well as Bertha, also represents a type of fallen women in some respects. It can be recognised from her social status and position, which demands to ‘prostitute’ herself for material gain ‘ much like C??line Varens. However, she has a respectable place, she exists within patriarchal restrictions, and her social position requires a profitable marriage. Anderson describes that there are certain shared characteristics between Blanche Ingram and Bertha Mason, such as the ‘function as marital commodities in the upper-class marriage market, and as such both hold social positions that require them to marry’ (Anderson, 2004). She continues saying that ‘Although Blanche is not physically imprisoned by four walls, she possesses few more options than does Bertha.’ (Anderson, 2004). However, the failed engagement with Rochester conceivably comes from the fact that Rochester associates Blanche Ingram with his detested wife.
II.2. Analogies between Male Domination and Colonial Domination
Jane Eyre carries the ideological context of the historical alliance between the ideology of male domination and the ideology of colonial domination. In the part of the novel when Bertha sets fire on Thornfield Hall signifies the slave uprisings in the British West Indies, where ‘slaves used fires both to destroy property and to signal to each other that an uprising was taking place’ (Meyer, 1990, p. 254). ‘When Bertha escapes from her ten years’ imprisonment to attempt periodically to stab and burn her oppressors’, Meyer notes, ‘she is symbolically enacting precisely the sort of revolt feared by the British colonists in Jamaica’ (1990, p. 254). The destruction of life and property is portrayed in Rochester’s narrative of fiery and bloody weather conditions that he experienced in Jamaica. The description of the third floor comes along with the metaphor of the Rochesters, who represent the English ruling class. Bertha’s room, on the other hand, signifies the history of slavery and crimes committed by a violent race. Bertha Mason represents the colonial revolutionary who cleans away social oppression with fire.
As previously mentioned, the image of slavery is closely involved in colonialism. This particular image can be seen in Rochester’s narration to Jane: ‘Hiring a mistress is the next worse thing to buying a slave: both are often by nature, and always by position, inferior; and to live familiarly with inferiors is degrading’ (JE, p. 311). In this part, Rochester tells how he acquired a West Indian fortune by marrying a Jamaican wife, and subsequently lived in Jamaica for four years. Rochester knows what he is talking about when he discusses what it is like to buy and live with slaves. As a wealthy white man living in Jamaica before emancipation with his fortune the product of slave labor, he would undoubtedly have had slaves to wait upon him. When he compares his relationships with women to keeping slaves, he also draws a parallel to his own history as a slave master.
Rochester asserts the potentially oppressive power of his position which is emphasised in his begriming past. The imagery of slavery is also used by Bronte to represent Jane’s lesser power in the relationship with Rochester. She associates Rochester’s masculine power with not of a British but of an Eastern slave master dominating over Jane. At one point, the novel uses strong and shocking imagery of slavery describing the position of women enslaved in Eastern harems and sultans who reward their favourite slaves with jewels. Rochester compares himself to ‘the Grand Turk,’ declaring that he prefers his ‘one little English girl’ to the Turk’s ‘whole seraglio’ (p. 269), to which Jane responds with spirit:
‘I’ll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio. … If you have a fancy for anything in that line, away with you, sir, to the bazaars of Stanboul without delay; and lay out in extensive slave-purchases some of that spare cash you seem so at a loss to spend satisfactorily here.’ (JE, p. 269).
The novel compares Rochester’s dominant position to a sultan, rather than to a white-skinned British slave master as he became sullied by the contact with the foreign Other that the British were afraid of. The oppressive aspect of the Other, non-British and non-white is marked in this case, rather than the history of British colonial oppression.
The domination of the coloniser and the oppression of the colonised can also be recognised between Edward Fairfax Rochester and Richard Mason. In Imperialism, Reform, and the Making of Englishness in Jane Eyre (2008), Sue Thomas explains that these phenomenons can be recognised in the character differences between English gentleman Rochester and plantocracy-class Creole Richard. She notes that ‘Rochester is positioned as manly, active, and adult in relation to the feminized and passive Richard’ (Thomas, 2008, p. 38). Rochester describes that Richard once had a ‘dog-like attachment’ (JE, p. 305) towards him which assumes that Rochester was the master of Richard. Jane sees it in the same way when she claims that ‘the contrast could not be much greater between a sleek gander and a fierce falcon: between a meek sheep and the rough-coated keen-eyed dog, its guardian’ (p. 190). Rochester shows bullying masculine force and despises Richard’s effeminate masculinity. Thomas explains that ‘Jane is sexually attracted to the imperial masculinity that Rochester embodies for her, yet repelled by his despotic tendencies, which Bront?? figures as the contaminating effect of Bertha’ (2008, p. 39).
CHAPTER III: The Image of the Other Woman in Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys’s postcolonial novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, serving mainly as a prequel of Jane Eyre, describes Antoinette Cosway’s life before and after her marriage to Edward Rochester, and later on her life as Bertha Mason. The novel is set in mid-19th century, and it tells the story of Antoinette Cosway, daughter of a white Creole plantation who have lost their wealth and status in society due to the Emancipation Act. The first part of the novel is narrated by Antoinette which is a reminiscence of her childhood at the Coulibri Estate in Jamaica. Rejected by her mother, Annette, she seeks solace in the nature surrounding her, thus she becomes alienated from the rest of the society. Part two of the novel is mostly narrated by Rochester, who has just married Antoinette in Dominica. They spend their honeymoon in Granbois, where Rochester starts to feel like an outsider, and begins to despise his wife and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Antoinette begins to lose grip of her sanity and eventually becomes estranged from her own self. In the third part of the novel, Rochester has taken Antoinette to England. He locks up Antoinette in the attic of Thornfield Hall in the care of Grace Poole. In the end, as a consequence of this treatment, she has completely lost her identity as Antoinette Cosway and has transformed into Bertha Mason, the ‘madwoman in the attic’.
As it was previously mentioned, Wide Sargasso Sea belongs to postcolonial literatures, however, to define postcolonialism briefly is challenging because it is such a complex concept in itself. One of the reasons of its complexity is that versatile nations and cultures are categorised under the term. Connected to this, postcolonial literatures serve the base of the study of the effects of colonialism. Beyond their particular and distinctive regional characteristics, these literatures are common in the experience of colonisation from which they emerged in their present form out of. From the assumptions of the imperial centre, they emphasize their differences and assert themselves, thus making them distinctively postcolonial. In terms of postcolonial literary criticism, the Caribbean is a slightly specific area due to its unique history and hybrid nature. It is indicated in its population, as nearly the whole of the West Indies are not native and have immigrated there from somewhere else, either voluntarily or involuntarily. For the purpose of this thesis, I will only consider and include from the whole spectrum of postcolonial literary criticism the Caribbean postcolonial literature, since my analysis is primarily concerned with it.
There is a common tradition in postcolonial literature to ‘write back’ against the English canonical text with the re-telling of a story from a different point of view. Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is an example of this tradition. As Rhys’s novel can be considered partly as an adaptation of Jane Eyre, it is quite obvious that it could not have been written without its pretext.2 Nibras Jawad Kadhim in his research, Double Exile: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (2011), points out an important notion that is connected to the ‘write back’ tradition presented in Wide Sargasso Sea. The novel serves as the voice of the silenced, also known as the Other. In narratives, the Others are characters from other ethnicities who become silenced and set up in opposition to the English ones. In Jane Eyre, the Other is represented in the form of Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha. Kadhim explains that the Others are ‘different and, therefore, unable to claim the English identity as their own’, and continues saying that they are also unable to ‘break from the complications of their ethnic background to create an independent self’ (2011, p. 589).
With the colonising of the West Indies and other Caribbean islands, the British also sought to express the distinction between the subordinated colonised and the homogenous Britons endowed with pure ‘Englishness’. The abolition of slavery enabled liberation among the population of the Caribbean islands, but on the other hand, it was resulted in the loss of their Englishness by colonial contamination. In the English narrative, the superior and desirable ‘Englishness’ finds a voice. Kadhim states that ‘the construction and protection of English identity becomes a major theme of many nineteenth-century English novels’ (2011, p. 590). The characters of the English authors are chosen on purpose to present and emphasize the distinction between the English normative and the colonial Other. In Jane Eyre, this is indicated in Bront’??s choice of Bertha, a West Indian Creole woman, as a contrary to Jane. While Jane’s character features English attributes such as healthiness, chastity and modesty, Bertha is portrayed as a mad, blatantly sexual, violent Creole who needs restraint. In this way, Bront?? can highlight the English superiority and ‘Englishness’ of Jane as opposed to the chosen Caribbean woman. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys shows resistance towards the ‘Englishness’ found in Jane Eyre by disapproving the distortion of the Creole character, which creates the concept of colonialism.
Rhys felt compelled to write her own vision of the story in the form of Wide Sargasso Sea. As Kadhim explains, she was ‘haunted by the figure of the first Mrs. Rochester whom one knows only by Rochester’s biased, racist and repulsively gendered descriptions of her’ (2001, p. 590). Bertha is defined as a monster by her English husband and she only gets to express herself by roaring, grunting and laughing manically in Jane Eyre. Rhys wanted to change Bertha’s unexplained and seemingly unwarranted rage and madness by giving her a voice that is used to be silenced. With the rewriting of Bertha’s story, Rhys tells the life of the West Indian Creole from another perspective. She takes the mysterious Other out of the hegemony of the English imperial narrative, and demonstrates how the Other, the different could abandon her marginal role and become essential and central. Rhys explained her impulse to rewrite Jane Eyre in an interview:
When I read Jane Eyre as a child, I thought, why should she [Bront??] think Creole women are lunatics and all that? What a shame to make Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, the awful mad woman, and I immediately thought I’d write the story as it might really have been. She seemed such a poor ghost. I thought I’d try to write her a life.1
Wide Sargasso Sea presents the problem of individuals who are trapped between two cultures, thus unable to identify fully with anyone. In Jane Eyre, because of her Creole origin, Bertha is silenced, mistreated and dehumanized, and presented as the madwoman in the attic. But with the rewriting of Jane Eyre, Rhys gives a story, life and voice to the marginalized Bertha. In this way, Rhys confronts the English colonising culture, and encourages the reader to view Bertha as the tortured victim and Rochester as a cruel coloniser. Bertha becomes a sympathetic character from this point of view, and she is no longer the raving mad woman whose illness runs in the family. Kadhim explains that with this rewriting Rhys ‘wants to relate the other side of the story as she believes Jane Eyre to be ‘only one side- the English side’ of the story’ (2011, p. 591).
In a chapter of A Breath of Fresh Eyre: Intertextual and Intermedial Reworkings of Jane Eyre (2007) by Margarete Rubik and Elke Mettinger-Schartmann, Wolfgang G. M??ller states in his essay, The Intertextual Status of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea: Dependence on a Victorian Classic and Independence as a Post-Colonial Novel (2007) that ‘One of the fascinating aesthetic paradoxes of Wide Sargasso Sea is that it is inseparably joined to Jane Eyre and yet as a work of art it is a completely original creation’ (2007, p. 66, original emphasis). It is derived from the Victorian classic, and it shares elements of the plot with the re-using of characters from the earlier novel in Rhys’s own version. This implies the recognition of the notion of intertextuality between the novels as well. Intertextual links are commonly found in postcolonial literature, as the newly independent nations strive to create and assert a culture of their own. In the case of Wide Sargasso Sea, one of the links are the description of a very different image of Rochester and the first Mrs. Rochester than that portrayed by Bront??. M??ller remarks that by giving a new title to her novel, Rhys ‘obviously wanted to forestall the impression of a simple identity of her protagonist with Charlotte Bront’??s’ (2007, p. 66). He also adds in connection with Rochester that ‘Nothing remains in the revisionary text of the Byronic romantic charisma with which Charlotte Bront?? had endowed him.’ (M??ller, 2007, p. 66). These particular intertextual links lead to the notion and presence of cultural identity represented in Wide Sargasso Sea in the portraying of Antoinette and Rochester that I will be discussing in part two and three of this chapter.
III.1. Postcolonial Cultural Identity and Hybridity
In postcolonial literatures, the concept of cultural identity can be considered a central theme, as it inherently includes the notion of belonging. The conception of cultural identity played a crucial role in all the postcolonial struggles. The colonised and coloniser’s identity is an important distinction in postcolonial cultural identity, as well as the hybrid forms in between these two categories, such as white Creole. Postcolonial literature often associates itself closely with the literature of the oppressed, therefore it is important to note that the literature of the oppressor can also be considered postcolonial equally. Naturally, a person’s cultural identity is greatly affected by whether they identify themselves with the oppressor or the oppressed. Although there can be seen binary opposites between coloniser and colonised, and reasonably between white and black, it cannot be stated that there is no variation between these categories, in addition to the categories of hybrid cross-over between these two opposites. It became one of the central concerns of postcolonial literary criticism to discuss these clear-cut categories, both the in-between position of hybrid forms and the actual terms as well. Relating to the subject, I will consider some of the central theory and terminology.
Stuart Hall, in Cultural Identity and Diaspora (1990) describes two different aspects of cultural identity. The first cultural identity defines an individual who lives among other individuals that share the same culture, history and ancestors. That is, it can be viewed as ‘being’, with a sense of unity and commonality. The second one is centered around the so called ‘becoming’, the constant transformation of their history, which means the process of identification that shows the formation of identity. From this second position of cultural identity, we can understand the critical character of the colonial experience (Hall, 1990, p. 223-25).
Bill Ashcroft explains the concept of representation in his book, Post-Colonial Transformation (2001), and draws a parallel between imagination, creation and cultural identity. He states that ‘Cultural identity does not exist outside representation’ (Ashcroft, 2001, p. 5). In this case, representation means that individuals can express themselves through their actions and constant statements about who they are. As Hall also emphasised in his work, one’s identity is also a product of one’s surroundings, even though one’s identity is highly personal and individual. In the postcolonial context, conflicting cultural setting can also challenge one’s identity, to which individuals respond in very distinct ways. Also, there are strategies by which cultural identity is represented. In the colonial context, this aspect of representation is about the position of the colonised by the coloniser. However, the colonised struggle to authorize themselves, the coloniser marks them as subordinate, inferior and marginal. Thus postcolonialism and postcolonial literature can be seen as a struggle for power between the coloniser and colonised. In this power struggle, the notion of division between self and other appears as otherness or alterity3, which has been one of the central concerns of postcolonial literary criticism.
Due to the hybrid nature of the Caribbean region, postcolonial cultural identity considers the notions of place and sense of place particularly important. Silvio Torres-Saillant explains in his book, An Intellectual History of the Caribbean (2006), that the native inhabitants, the Caribs, were made to work, and the severe labour quickly decreased the native population when European settlers first arrived in the Caribbean. Later, the consequent labour shortage was altered by the importation of African slaves to work in the emerging plantations on the islands (Torres-Saillant, 2006, p. 16). This resulted in a significant impact on the cultural identities of the region’s population, which created the cultural process of the Creole society, Creolisation. In The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995) edited by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, extracts from various theorists can be found, including from The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770’1820 (1971) by Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Brathwaite describes creolisation as ‘a way of seeing the society, not in terms of white and black, master and slave, in separate nuclear units, but as contributory parts of a whole’ (Ashcroft et al., 1995, p. 203). In this way, the descendants of English settlers in the Caribbean, or white Creoles, included parts of both the English culture and the indigenous culture of the colonised in their cultural identity. That is why Creole population can be positioned between two cultures, creating a unique cultural identity separate from both.
Postcolonial literary criticism has adopted the term hybridity to describe the recreation of cultural identity. Hall explains that, especially in the Caribbean, identities are ‘constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference’ (1998, p. 235). Hall puts it as a ‘a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being”, thus the concept of hybrid identity is not a fixed one but goes through transformation in constant motion (1998, p. 225). In this sense, a hybrid identity cannot be defined through one’s history alone. In relation to the surrounding environment, matters of similarity and difference must be taken into account.
III.2. Creole Cultural Identity and In-Betweenness
Just as Rhys never feels fully belonged but displaced in the world, this also appears in her unsure place in literature. Critics discussed her controversial literary identity, whether she is an English or a West Indian writer and whether her work should be considered Caribbean. The double marginalisation of her identity derives from the fact that she is neither considered alongside Caribbean writers, nor is she considered among European women writers.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys challenges cultural definitions and gives a particular emphasis to double culture as a source of deep anxiety. This emphasis comes from the fact that she is of European descent, yet born and brought up in the Caribbean, therefore her world was also shaped by the ambiguity of being an insider and outsider in both of the metropolis, England, and the colony, the West Indies. This feeling is represented in her novel in the way of Antoinette’s dislocation as a white Creole. The cultural identity of a white Creole is a complex one as they can also belong to the ranks of the coloniser. However, Antoinette has integrated parts of the black Caribbean cultures into her cultural identity as well, since she grew up in the Caribbean among the predominantly black population and has not visited the colonial centre. The landscape of her home island has also become an integral part of her identity, and being removed from that landscape causes her great discomfort. The strength of this effect is shown as Antoinette feels like a part of her is missing when she is not in the Caribbean.
Naturally, there is a difference between the white Creole experience from that of the black Caribbean. Kadhim takes Rhys’s opinion about the attitude towards the Creoles as the basis of his discussion about the social position of the Creoles. He states that they are ‘in Rhys’s opinion, misunderstood and maligned both by the blacks of the Caribbean islands and by the wealthier white Europeans who come to settle in the West Indies after slavery is abolished’ (Kadhim, 2001, p. 591). Kadhim also explains the severe conflict between the white and the black populations of the West Indies. He notes that although the Creoles were educated to consider England as home, ‘they were also culturally marked and excluded as inferior colonials’ (Kadhim, 2001, p. 591). They were also racially privileged in relation to the subaltern Africans at the same time.
In-betweenness, which is a state of alienation or loss of identity, can be caused by hybridity, as the process of hybridity causes the individual to become an outsider in both cultures. Overcoming the effects of in-betweenness by one’s cultural identity can be an extremely difficult process for an individual. Being rejected by a community that has become fused into one’s identity can have a devastating effect on their cultural identity since belonging to a society is an integral part of who we are. A clear example of in-betweenness is the heroine of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Cosway, who is born in the middle of the conflict between the white and black populations of the West Indies. She is the daughter of a white Creole woman and a former slave-owner of English descent in Jamaica, which only fuels the hostility of the islanders. After the liberation of the black slaves by the Emancipation Act in 18335, the family sank into poverty, and while carrying the stigma of slavery, they are still viewed as a family of colonisers. In this way, as an impowerished white Creole from a slave-owning family, she is rejected and left alienated in between the island’s black and white populations. On the basis of her mother’s Creole nationality, she is excluded from the fortune-seeking English community. The black community does not accept her because she is white, neither she fits into the world of the whites because they consider those of mixed races as inferior to themselves. Therefore it can be concluded that she does not belong anywhere.
At the beginning of the novel, the problematic nature of the white Creole is emphasised in Antoinette’s explanation of her lonely, isolated existence: ‘They say when trouble comes, close ranks. And so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks’ (WSS, p. 15). Antoinette becomes a double outsider as a white Creole, she is considered as ‘white nigger’ for the Europeans and ‘white cockroach’ for the blacks as she explains to Rochester in the novel:
‘ a white cockroach. That’s me. That’s what they [the blacks] call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I’ve heard English women call us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all (WSS, p. 93).
These two phrases contain the paradox of the double-exiled Creole. Antoinette is forced to see herself as Other because she is scorned by both the black and white cultures, although she is able to move between both of them. She is doubly exiled and has no place to truly belong because she is not English enough for England, nor Caribbean enough for the Caribbean. Therefore the white Creole cannot be considered to be a member of either culture anymore. The sense of belonging is absent in her case, although on the other hand, in-betweenness is present which drives Antoinette into madness.
III.3. The Effect of the Other on the Identity of the Coloniser
The coloniser becomes transformed into a hybrid when being influenced by the local culture. Sander L. Gilman notes that the formulations of stereotypes for individuals and groups and attributes construct the repressed mental representations as people’s response. Since difference helps to draw an imaginary line between the Self and the Other, it is central to one’s identity. However, it can also threaten order and control while this difference distinguishes the Self from the Other. When the sense of order and control between the Self and the Other alters, it results in the disintegration of one’s identity the individual has created and internalized. ‘Stereotypes arise when self-integration is threatened,’ as Gilman claims: ‘We project that anxiety onto the Other, externalizing our loss of control. The Other is thus stereotyped, labeled with a set of signs paralleling (or mirroring) our loss of control’ (Gilman, 1985, p. 18, 20). The ‘good’ Other is ‘which we fear we cannot achieve,’ as opposed to the ‘bad’ Other that assumes the negative stereotype is the one that ‘we fear to become’ (Gilman, 1985, p. 20). The ‘bad’ Other is the antithesis of the self, by which the self is defined, loaded with our anxiety of the loss of self-integration. Attributes assigned to the Other by individuals or groups are based on not only ‘models from the social world’, they are also derived from specific historical contexts and they are perpetuated by a culture: ‘Every social group has a set vocabulary of images for this externalized Other’ (Gilman, 1985, p. 20).
In Wide Sargasso Sea, the cultural difference is clearly visible between the Creole and the coloniser in the characters of Antoinette and Rochester. As Rochester’s English self encounters the racial Other in the West Indies, his narrative reveals himself as the alien Other in the foreign land with a series of shocks and discomfort caused by nervous confrontations between the Self and the Other. Rochester finds himself an object of strangeness and fear when he arrives at a village with a descriptive name, Massacre. He experiences these feelings when the first little boy he smiles at cries at the very sight of him, and recognises that women outside ‘looking at us but without smiling’ (WSS, p. 60-62). Rochester is constantly annoyed by being watched by the Creoles, as he is displaced in a distant, lonely place. Sometimes his disturbance simply comes from the unknown anxiety of being watched: ‘I woke next morning in the green-yellow light, feeling uneasy as though someone were watching me’ (p. 76). He confesses to Antoinette that he feels ‘very much a stranger’ there and the place is not on his side but on Antoinette’s (p. 117). However, as the people of the place see Rochester as a white colonist or simply a stranger, they are also subject to the gaze of Rochester as well. His gaze is the one that differentiates himself from the tropical world and its inhabitants, and as he perceives differences in the foreign land of the West Indies with the start of his passage, he draws and imaginary line demarcated by difference. Although Rochester is not fully recovered from fever, he refuses to take shelter from the rain in Caroline’s house at Massacre, due to his knowledge of or bias against racial otherness. Moreover, he expresses his antagonism toward not only the islands but also his newlywed before reaching Granbois. When she notices Antoinette for the first time, he criticizes her as the racial Other, dissociated from his English self: ‘Long, sad, dark alien eyes. Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either’ (p. 61). In the world of difference as an alien, Rochester finds himself displaced and helplessly situated in the heart of the hostile tropics, ‘That green menace’ (p. 135).
Rochester’s loose contact with the motherland England poses a threat to his self-integration, and together with other factors worsens by his lingering uneasiness about the green world of the West Indies. As a second son, Rochester has received nothing from his own family, thus as a penniless son, he manages to acquire all of Antoinette’s wealth in a land far away from England. Only by writing to his father and by establishing connections with the Englishmen in the tropical land like Richard Mason and Mr. Fraser, his fragile tie with the motherland is sustained. When he arrives in Jamaica, he also suffers from the attack of fever that makes him disabled and disoriented: ‘I have had fever. I am not myself yet’ (p. 61). All of these form the roots of Rochester’s anxiety in a land, foreign and unknown to him. His Self becomes vulnerable when he finds himself endangered by a world of difference, populated by people he does not know and dominated by languages he does not understand: ‘everything round me was hostile’ and ‘whatever they were singing or saying was dangerous. I must protect myself’ (p. 135). The only solution for Rochester is the retreat to England, and he has to maintain his sense of Englishness, preventing it from any containment or disintegration before he makes it possible. He projects his anxiety, his fear of the loss of control onto the Other and evokes in his mind negative representations of the Other in so doing. Coming back to Gilman’s explanation, the white colonist Rochester selects models from the history of European medicine that categorizes the Other as the diseased while creating images he fears to be.
In this thesis I have analysed women’s position and status in the Victorian era, and I also examined its manifestations in Jane Eyre in the form of a postcolonial approach. I have mainly concentrated my analysis on the novel’s female protagonist, who behaves as a coloniser, and another female character, who represents the colonised. I have, however, also included relevant points of discussion on other ‘coloniser’ characters, such as the male protagonist as well as another female character.
In the 19th century, there were certain spheres of life. Men belonged to the public sphere of life because they were independent and possessed an active and decisive attitude, while women belonged to the private sphere because they were dependent and possessed qualities of femininity. Thus men were superior and women were inferior.
By examining the historical background of society and particularly the governess, I have also examined it from a postcolonial perspective with examples from Jane Eyre. The relationship between men and women can be seen as the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised. In the novel, Edward Fairfax Rochester represents the dominant male coloniser, while her insane wife, Bertha Mason represents the inferior female colonised. These traits can be found throughout the novel in their manner, civility, status and origin, which are confirmed by stereotypes as well. Jane, on the other hand, possesses an inferior status as a woman and a governess but as a coloniser she becomes superior towards the colonised. Her whiteness and qualities signify that she is portrayed as the proper English woman, not like Blanche Ingram. As she possesses higher position in society, she may seem to be the ideal white woman by her appearance. However, Lady Ingram’s external features suggest that she is of another origin and still acts like an imperious coloniser.
I have concluded that male domination and colonial domination share the same analogy which is confirmed by the examples of certain relationships. The relationship between Rochester and Bertha is represented as the English ruling class above the savage people and so is the same in the case of Rochester and Richard. Jane is attracted by Rochester’s dominant behaviour, however she degrades herself to a slave in different situations making herself feel sympathy towards the colonised ones.
1 Harrison, R. N. (1988). Jean Rhys and the Novel as Women’s Text, 128. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.hu/books?id=6nLcmpn89JkC&lpg=PP1&hl=hu&pg=PA128#v=onepage&q&f=false
2 To define adaptation, it is essential to observe what literary theory and criticism indicates with this word usually, and in this case what to narrow the term for. It is called so as all kinds of versions and changes of a specific text, for example a rewriting in the same genre of a given text. Every adaptation (let it be of whatever nature) requires one (or several) ‘predecessor’, pretext or source text to be derived from. It is a conscious activity of an author during which a sovereign, ‘new’ work is created from the source text, that wants to distance itself from its origin in a paradoxical way.
3 Alterity is derived from the Latin alteritas, meaning ‘the state of being other or different; diversity, otherness’. The term was adopted by philosophers as an alternative to ‘otherness’ to register a change in the Western perceptions of the relationship between consciousness and the world. In post-colonial theory, the term has often been used interchangeably with otherness and difference. However, the distinction that initially held between otherness and alterity ‘ that between otherness as a philosophic problem and otherness as a feature of a material and discursive location ‘ is peculiarly applicable to post-colonial discourse. The self-identity of the colonizing subject, indeed the identity of imperial culture, is inextricable from the alterity of colonized others, an alterity determined, according to Spivak, by a process of othering. The possibility for potential dialogue between racial and cultural others has also remained an important aspect of the use of the word, which distinguishes it from its synonyms. Ashcroft B., Griffiths G., Tiffin H. (1998). Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, 11-12. (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
4 The political struggle of colonized peoples against the specific ideology and practice of colonialism. Anti-colonialism signifies the point at which the various forms of opposition become articulated as a resistance to the operations of colonialism in political, economic and cultural institutions. It emphasizes the need to reject colonial power and restore local control. Ashcroft B., Griffiths G., Tiffin H. (1998). Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, 14. (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
5 In 1833, the Parliament abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. Johnson, R. (2003). British Imperialism, 16. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Caribbean/West Indian, centre/margin (periphery), class and post-colonialism, colonial discourse, colonialism, counter-discourse, creole, creolization, diaspora, discourse, dislocation, feminism and post-colonialism, hegemony, hybridity, marginality, metropolis/metropolitan, native, Other/other, othering, post-colonialism/postcolonialism, primitivism, savage/civilized, slave/slavery, subaltern, subject/subjectivity.
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