Sara Paretsky, the U.S. detective-novel author, creator of the famous female detective V. I. Warshawski (credited with transforming the role and image of women in the crime novel) wrote a brief essay on Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea for National Public Radio’s program You Must Read This! Here are some excerpts from the piece, which you can read in its entirety through the link below. The NPR website will also link you to the audio of the piece, so you can listen to Paretsky’s reading.
I have mixed feelings about so-called vampire novels — books that depend on someone else’s creation for their life. Shakespeare stole story lines without compunction. Lesser mortals retell Hamlet or Othello in a thousand different guises. Most vampire books make me impatient: I think to myself, take a chance, invent something of your own.
But I had a completely different reaction to Wide Sargasso Sea.
Rhys grew up in the West Indies and came to England as a young woman. She was a protege and lover of Ford Madox Ford in the 1920s, when she wrote a number of acclaimed novels.
Wide Sargasso Sea knits the colonial Indies to England, for Rhys as well as for the reader. Rhys makes you understand that the Madwoman in the Attic isn’t Bronte’s swollen, drunken avatar of passion. She’s a Creole, a woman of mixed European and African descent, like Rhys herself. The author understands how Europeans imagined West Indians — as sensual, almost animal in their passions. After reading this novel, we come to know Jane Eyre’s Madwoman as a woman who’s made mad by the bewildering white and male world in which she loses everything: her home, her beauty and, above all, her identity.
Ford said of Rhys that she had “a terrifying instinct for stating the case of the underdog.” Nowhere does she do it more powerfully than in Wide Sargasso Sea, nowhere is her prose more supple, more assured than here. It’s the kind of book that makes me despair of ever mastering my craft. You must read it.
Here’s the link ot the text and the audio: http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuar/.artsmain/article/5/1338/1553331/Books/’Sargasso’.Re-Imagines.The.Madwoman.Of.’Jane.Eyre’/
Photo by Ben Graville for The Independent at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/sara-paretsky-heartache-in-the-heartland-801488.html