Jean Rhys obviously had Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in mind while writing Wide Sargasso Sea. Each novel contains events that echo other events or themes in the other. The destruction of Coulibri at the beginning of Wide Sargasso Sea reminds the reader of the fire at Thornfield towards the end of Jane Eyre. While each scene refers to events in its own book and clarifies events in its companion, one cannot conclude that Rhys simply reconstructed Thornfield's fall in Coulibri's. Though they exhibit some similarities, to directly compare these two scenes without considering their impact on the novels as whole works would be ridiculous. Each scene's main importance, and contribution to the overall intertextual meaning, lies elsewhere in the two works, not simply within the confines of the scenes themselves.
The similarities between the two fire scenes might lead one to suspect that they are in some way parallel, yet their differences discount this oversimplified view. Both fires are set by arsonists described as insane. Bronte's Bertha is "the mad lady, who was as cunning as a witch" (Bronte 435). Rhys's Antoinette recalls "a horrible noise sprang up" from the attacking freedmen, "like animals howling, but worse" (Rhys 38). This madness, however, serves different purposes for each scene. Bronte uses madness to further degrade Bertha to the level of bestiality and insanity, a theme which she develops from the very moment the character is introduced until her fiery death in the destruction of Thornfield. By reducing Bertha to a single dimension, Bronte uses Bertha not as a character but as a tool with which to manipulate the flow of the plot. Rhys, however, uses madness toward a diffe...
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Macpherson, Pat. Reflecting on Jane Eyre. London: Routledge, 1989.
McLaughlin, M.B. "Past or Future Mindscapes: Pictures in Jane Eyre." Victorian Newsletter 41 (1972): 22-24.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin, 1968.
Sarvan, Charles. ¡§Flight, Entrapment, and Madness in Jean Rhys¡¦ Wide Sargasso Sea.¡¨ The International Fiction Review. Vol 26.1&2:1999:82-96.
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