A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Category Archives: Jean Rhys

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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May: Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

In May The Year of Feminist Classics group will be reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Jodie, as my co-host, and I, believe that reading these books together will lead to a nice juxtaposition and complimentary view of feminism in literature, and the position of women from different backgrounds as portrayed by novelists. Today, I will post an introduction to Jane Eyre . The introduction post to Wide Sargasso Sea will follow shortly. I believe this month’s reading can be approached in several manners, and I welcome each and any of them: You can read Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea separately, or in comparison with each other. You could start chronological, and read Brontë’s work before reading Rhys’ interpretation, but you could also read them the other way around, and juxtapose Rhys’ interpretation with Brontë’s earlier portrayal. I am curious to see what you will come up with! In a week or so, I will put up some discussion questions, hopefully covering both books separately and in comparison with each other.

I am looking forward to discussing both books with you in the upcoming weeks! Feel free to contact me with suggestions for discussion topics, or guest posts.