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The Other Side

The Other Side

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Siobhan Dooley. Originally submitted for English Literature at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Mr. Phillip Mallet in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Siobhan Dooley. Originally submitted for English Literature at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Mr. Phillip Mallet in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
The Other Side
The complex relationship between Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Rhy’s Wide SargassoSea turns our reading experience on its head. We find ourselves re-reading the onein light of the other, caught between two sides. In Jane Eyre, the islands are far away and we do not question the origins of the jewellery and silks that adornBlanche Ingram, the gold in Rochester’s breeches pockets or the unexpected wealthleft to Jane Eyre. However, re-reading Jane Eyre through the lens Rhys provides inWide Sargasso Sea, we are made fully aware that the backdrop to CharlotteBrontë’s world is built upon wealth obtained from the British Empire’s colonies.Moreover, just as the British assumed ownership of the wealth of its colonies, itsliterature assumed the representation of its inhabitants. Foreigners were either viewed as exotic beings to liven up dull parties or savages that needed to be lockedaway. They were always the exact opposite of what it meant to be white, civilisedand British; for instance, Rochester declares Jane Eyre to be ‘the antipodes of theCreole’, Bertha. Jean Rhys, writing as a white Creole living in England, challengesVictorian Britain’s ownership of the stories of the colonies’ inhabitants. Shequestions whether Jane is the ‘antipodes of the Creole’, linking the CreoleAntoinette to a British Jane in the modern reader’s mind with their similar  backgrounds and their shared search for selfhood. Rhys also re-appropriates theimagery of slavery employed throughout Jane Eyre to strengthen the similarities between the two protagonists. Moreover, she challenges the two-dimensionalrepresentation of foreigners in Jane Eyre with the complexities of the truth, but presents a similarly limited depiction of English people through the painting of theMiller’s daughter. Wide Sargasso Sea provides one of those rare moments whenempire and colonialism are clearly brought into focus and we, as readers, can no1
 
longer read Jane Eyre and only see the English side. Lurking in the corners of Thornfield, there is always the other side, always.
 It has been claimed that empire and colonialism are at once everywhere and nowhere in Victorian fiction: always present, but rarely brought into focus.
With this claim in mind, consider what Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea bringsto our understanding of Jane Eyre.
‘You don’t like, or even recognise the good in them […] and you won’t believe inthe other side’.Annette Cosway Mason‘There is always the other side, always’.Antoinette Mason, née CoswayIn a letter to her friend, Jean Rhys writes of her first encounter with CharlotteBrontë’s
 Jane Eyre;
she recalls the ‘shock’ she felt as an ‘impressionable’ sixteenyear-old, having only just arrived in England, at the world Charlotte Brontë hadcreated, a world that convinced the reader and made ‘the poor Creole lunatic all themore dreadful’.
1
 Shock quickly turned to indignation, and Rhys, after re-reading
 Jane Eyre
, concluded: ‘That’s only the one side- the English side’.
2
Arguably, it is therefore Rhys’ intention in
Wide Sargasso Sea
to present ‘the other side’, asking the reader to engage in ‘the act of looking back, of seeing with fresheyes, [and] of entering an old text from a new critical direction’.
3
Its intent is not to
1
The epigraphs and all quotations from
Wide Sargasso Sea
are taken from Jean Rhys,
WideSargasso Sea
(London: Penguin, 2000), 28 and 106 respectively.
(
Jean Rhys’ reaction to
 Jane Eye,
as paraphrased and quoted here, is found in:Jean Rhys,
'Letters 1931-66' 
ed. Francis Wyndham and Diana Melly (London: Penguin books, 1985), 296.
2
Ibid, 296.
3
Judie Newman ed.
The Ballistic Bard ( 
London: Hodder Headline, 1995), 13.
2
 
replace a lie for the truth, but only present and bring into focus ‘the other side’, thecolonial side of 
 Jane Eyre
.
4
In this essay, we will first examine how
Wide SargassoSea
insures that the reader is fully aware that the backdrop to Charlotte Brontë’sworld is built upon wealth obtained from the British Empire’s colonies. It then brings the reader to the realisation that this world not only possesses its colonies’material wealth, but also assumes the representation of its inhabitants.
5
Theserepresentations are then questioned and explored in
 Jane Eyre
through the ‘newcritical direction’ provided by Rhys
.
In
Wide Sargasso Sea
, as Antoinette walks along the dark passages of the Englishhouse in her dream, she hears ‘a clock ticking’ (p.54). This in itself is notextraordinary, but consider the passage as a whole:Then I heard a clock ticking and it was made of gold. Gold is the idol theyworship (p.154).The use of the conjunction to link two independent clauses in such a strange waycould be interpreted as a sign of Antoinette’s madness. However, there is lucidity inher ‘madness’ as she brings the clock into the foreground, and with it the questionof where the gold comes from. In
Wide Sargasso Sea,
gold is linked with treasure-hunters and Jamaica (p.139), and therefore, the reader might be inclined to believe
4
The phrase ‘the other’ is derived from the Postcolonial theory. See also:Robert Young,
 Postcolonialism
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
5
This line of argumentation concerning the colonial wealth of Brontë’s characters and therepresentation of ‘the other’ has already been covered; however, it is my intention toexpand it and offer new observations. I am indebted to the following authors: Newman,
The Ballistic Bard,
13-25.John McLeod,
 Beginning postcolonialism
(Manchester: Manchester University Press,2000), 139-169.Gayatri Spivak, ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism’ in
“Race”, Writing and Difference
(London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), 262-280.
3

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