A Language of Loneliness: Spatial Confinement and the Revolt of Textual Selves in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea

T. C. Nivedita


Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, positions itself as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre that attempts to address a gap in the nineteenth-century narrative. Rhys superimposes the twentieth-century imperatives of postcolonial, gender, and feminist theories onto the historically revered — yet politically contested — space of Brontë’s novel. The re-visioning in Wide Sargasso Sea thus inscribes feminist and postcolonial concerns into the Victorian narrative and offers the text a renewed narrative conscience informed by the characters’ personal, cultural, and spatial experiences. From the contemporary vantage point of enforced isolation, Wide Sargasso Sea’s intricate engagement with the notion of space and mobility (or lack thereof) is accentuated. This paper identifies spatial confinement and consequent isolation as recurring and determinant factors in instituting the identity and selfhood of women. Drawing upon the theoretical framework crafted by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their seminal text The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, the present study identifies Antoinette as the product of the material and metaphorical confinement to which she is subjected. It constitutes confinement, as articulated in Wide Sargasso Sea, as the convergence of a triadic conception of the term and argues that Rhys’s depiction of Antoinette is centred on the character’s material entrapment and cultural isolation, which, in turn, are emblematic of the woman writer’s loneliness within a decidedly ‘masculine’ literary enterprise. This triadic formulation is articulated in this paper, first, by examining Antoinette’s physical engagement with space as a woman, before exploring the fundamental intersectionality of the experience as a result of her Creole identity. Finally, these feminist and postcolonial perspectives converge within the textual space, which becomes the ground where women enact their defiant revolts.


spatial literary studies; gender studies; Jean Rhys; neo-Victorian literature; 20th-century literature

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