A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea: Discussion questions

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Hi everyone – Iris asked me to apologise on her behalf for not having been able to post these sooner, but life got unexpectedly busy for her. But it’s never too late, right? Here are some possible discussion topics she and Jodie had planned for this month’s titles, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. As usual, feel free to incorporate as many as you want in a post or comment, to add questions of your own, or to approach the books from a completely different angle. Different perspectives are always welcome.
  • Do you think Jane Eyre is a feminism text? Which aspects of the story do you think could be read as feminist, and which do you think perhaps couldn’t?
  • How does Jane Eyre’s development as a (possibly) proto-feminist character narrative compare to the development of the other female characters in the novel?
  • Do you think any of the male characters can be read along feminist lines? Do you, for example, think that Rochester as presented in Jane Eyre fosters Jane’s growth towards becoming an independent woman? Do you think this is restrained to his treatment of Jane, or does it go for all women?
  • How did reading Wide Sargasso Sea change your perception of Rochester, or possibly even of Jane Eyre as willing to accept Rochester’s role as “victim”?
  • Do you think Wide Sargasso Sea can be read as a feminist text independently from Jane Eyre? Is it even possible to read the two books separate from each other?
  • The following are all quotes from Jane Eyre describing Bertha Mason:

    Edward Fairfax Rochester, of Thornfield Hall, in the county of —, and of Ferndean Manor, in —shir, England, was married to my sister, Bertha Antoinetta Mason, daughter of Jonas Mason, merchant and of Antoinetta his wife, a Creole, at —church, Spanish Town, Jamaica.

    ‘Bertha Mason is mad; and she came from a mad family’ idiots and maniacs through three generations! Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard! – as I found out after I had wed the daughter; for they were silent on family secrets before. Bertha, like a dutiful child, copied her parents in both points. I had a charming partner – pure, wise, modest: you can fancy I was a happy man. I went through rich scenes! Oh! My experience has been heavenly, if you only knew it!…You shall see what sort of being I was cheated into espousing, and judge whether or not I had a right to break the compact, and seek sympathy with something at least human.’

    ‘What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell: it grovelled, seemingly on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.’

    Did reading Wide Sargasso Sea change or add to your perception of Jane Eyre’s portrayal of Bertha’s ethnicity?

  • How do you feel about intersection of gender and ethnicity in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea? Do you think Wide Sargasso Sea supplements an omission in the original by providing an alternate reading of some of the characters’ lives? How do you feel about the way Jean Rhys went about this? Is her rewriting enough to address some of the gaps in Jane Eyre?
  • Do you think revisionist fiction has an important role to play as a feminist enterprise by addressing some of these gaps in early texts, which were often constrained by their societies and contributed to dehumanising certain groups of women? Do you see revisionism as a tool for questioning dominant narratives, even within feminist, and giving a voice to women who were previously voiceless? Why or why not?
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6 responses to “Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea: Discussion questions

  1. Pingback: A Year of Feminist Classics: Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea Discussion « The Bookworm Chronicles

  2. Pingback: BDSM and Money, Monkeys and Doves, Feminism in the Islands, and Dying Too Young | A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

  3. A Year of Reading My Own Books Blog June 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Hi: I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your great questions. First, thank you for suggesting WSS and Jane Eyre. I had never read WSS and hadn’t read Jane Eyre in so long and not in full form. I loved Jane Eyre, not so much WSS. I didn’t find WSS to be very feminist, especially when considered separately from Jane Eyre. When taken together, you realize that Rhys is working on an explicitly feminist project, giving one of literature’s most reviled women her own story. But singly, I thought WSS was more about race and class than gender. I should get over wanting to like characters, but nobody in WSS was particularly likeable. But it also makes me stop and think about the stifling nature of her life – no options, no hope, no escape but mental illness. I know there was a point in my life where I was making decisions that would affect the rest of my life and it was clear to me that there were just some paths that worked for others but never would for me. In particular, I need a lot of intellectual outlets – so, I’m a professor and I read a lot (and blog). Imagining a world without those activities – without books, probably gets me as close to understanding her story as I can get. Thanks again! This was a great month for the classics read, Ruby

  4. onereadleaf June 17, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    They’re a bit scattered and not as well-thought-out as I would like, but my thoughts on Wide Sargasso Sea are here. (a sequel to my Jane Eyre post, which I believe I’ve already linked….)

  5. Kaite O'Reilly June 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    I’m really enjoying your blog, so have nominated it for the Versatile Blogger Award. I write on process, fiction, and playwriting, and can be found at http://www.kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com
    Can’t wait for the next posts.

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