Review of “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys

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This novel (novella?) is considered to be a prequel to Jane Eyre, and since I wasn’t particularly fond of Jane Eyre, I was also not looking forward to reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Luckily, Wide Sargasso Sea was much better than Jane Eyre.

I prefer Rhys’ writing style. I enjoyed the use of different perspectives and narrators. It seems much more modern. It was interesting to experience Rochester’s side of the story. While reading Jane Eyre, I was never fond of Rochester as a character. Reading Wide Sargasso Sea only further confirmed why I dislike him (although Wide Sargasso Sea isn’t necessarily “accurate”).

Most importantly, I was able to see the backstory of “the wildwoman in the attic.” Bertha, or Antoinette, is treated with no sympathy in Jane Eyre. I think that reading Wide Sargasso Sea was essential to understanding the character of Bertha, and also the character of Rochester. After reading the novel, I am much more sympathetic to Bertha’s situation than Rochester’s.

Although I am writing about the plot of this novel as though it is actually accurate to the cannon, Rhys did completely invent Bertha’s backstory. It uses the same characters from the novel, but is not based on any actual part of the novel. It is entirely her own creation. The reason I love the story is because it seems to accurately align with the story and the nature of the characters, and it takes readers away from England. I couldn’t stand to read another novel about the bleak English countryside. Wide Sargasso Sea takes place mostly in the Caribbean, and it is so refreshing.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Jane Eyre. I think it is important to read this after reading Jane Eyre, although it can probably be enjoyed as a stand alone novel. The story is beautiful, haunting, and heartbreaking. Wide Sargasso Sea is an entertaining novel, and is basically a form of literary, highbrow fanfiction. Check it out!

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Review of “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

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What can you say about a book that has been reviewed thousands of time, read by millions of readers, and is regarded as one of the most important works of British literature?

I didn’t like it.

Almost all of the negative comments that I have heard about Jane Eyre are complaints about the difficulty of the language. I didn’t find Bronte’s writing style difficult at all. It was dry at times, sure, but not difficult. Bronte’s language pales in comparison to Faulkner, whose prose can be both mind-bogglingly perfect and inscrutable. My issues with the book are related to Bronte’s ideology. 

I thought the book was overwrought and too drawn-out. I am sure that some readers will appreciate Jane and Rochester’s long and tedious courtship, but I found myself wishing that one of them was more assertive. I was annoyed by the classism that plagues that society, and extended to both Jane and Rochester (although this was a product of the time, I still grew tired of reading it). I was annoyed by the religiosity of the characters, because reading about stable religious faith is usually boring. I sometimes enjoy reading about faith, but that is if it involves doubt or some sort of moral dilemma. The moral dilemmas in this novel seem ridiculous. Ex. Should Jane abandon St. John in his mission work? Will she go to Hell if she follows her heart? It was insane! OF COURSE she should abandon St. John. She doesn’t love him and he doesn’t love her. The decision should have been simple, but Bronte chose to make it into a major plot point. I don’t think that it was important to the novel’s overall plot at all. It could have been easily cut from the novel. 

Most importantly, I disliked Jane as a character. She is supposed to be this great feminist hero, but she shows a startlingly low level of self-confidence. She seems to embrace the new idea of love/marriage that was gaining popularity of the time (marrying for love rather than money or social connections), but she also let herself be held down by notions of social class and morality. Jane is supposed to be a no-nonsense character. She is blunt and level-headed. But she also abandons Rochester when he reveals his “terrible secret,” which was quite unnecessary. She seems to reject many of the ideas held by those in her society (social class is important in marriage, men and women are not equal, etc), but for some reason she had to adhere to that one. She had to make Rochester’s secret into a bigger deal than it actually was. I’m not naive. I understand that in that time period, Rochester’s secret would be considered shocking and highly scandalous/immoral. However, if Jane loves Rochester enough to flout the will of God to marry him, you would think that she could have overcame the issue of false bigamy. But maybe that’s just me.

I have many more complaints, but they are not as important. This novel is undoubtedly important, and I could write just as endlessly about the many positive qualities of this novel, but I have found that incessant praise can grow boring. I have heard Jane Eyre praised much more than criticized, so I thought I would add my voice to the conversation. I’m sure that many people disagree with my review, so feel free to comment! I always love discussing literature. 

Reviews of Our Town and Their Eyes Were Watching God are forthcoming (I’ve read four books this week!)

– C 

Review of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Hello fellow readers!

I re-read The Great Gatsby for the third time this week. Somehow, though, I felt like I was reading it for the first time. I read the book quickly last year before watching the film adaptation (which I hated – the cinematography was too much), and I must not have read it closely. I took my time reading it this time, and was fascinated and impressed by Fitzgerald’s expertly-crafted sentences. Many people consider the book a simple book, or something that is meant for high school students to read (and that is the first time I read it), but the book is complex and showcases Fitzgerald’s mastery of the English language. I would read and re-read the same sentences over and over, trying to determine how he thought them up.

I have always loved The Great Gatsby. I love to hate the entitled, self-absorbed characters and their obsession with material things. I love the high dramatics. I love the representation of the 1920s. It is hard to not get sucked into the lifestyle portrayed in the book. I found myself drinking more wine when I was reading it, feeling myself drawn to the idea of drinking and partying.

I feel like I sometimes also get sucked into Gatsby’s idea of being able to relive the past. To Gatsby, the past and the present were not separate. He was constantly striving to obtain an ideal that had long since passed. He could never have Daisy back because what they had was in the past. He did not realize that things had changed drastically between them. This seems to be something that all people (especially me) experience from time to time. Through the lens of presentism, the past almost always looks better, more desirable. It led to Gatsby’s literal and emotional death.

I could write more about Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s marvelous writing, but who hasn’t at this point? It is perhaps the most widely-read and beloved novel in American Literature, and it didn’t reach that status by accident. The Great Gatsby is truly a wonder of a novel.  I recently finished a novel titled My Freshman Year, so expect a review of that soon. I am also currently reading The Grapes of Wrath and Jane Eyre (both for the first time, surprisingly), and expect to post reviews of both within the next week and a half. I miss getting to choose the books that I read, but at least I am reading many American classics this semester!

– C