Review: Wide Sargasso Sea

Second in my short “catch-up” reviews. I finished Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, 31 Aug, 2019.

This short novel is a companion piece to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, following the childhood and early adulthood of the woman who is known as Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. (There are some slight spoilers for Jane Eyre below; I’ve tried to keep them small and to a minimum, but reader beware) According to Rhys, her real name is Antoinette Cosway, and she is the creole daughter of an European family who has fallen into poverty after the elimination of slavery in Jamaica. Her mother remarries a Mr. Mason, and Antoinette is educated at a convent, and then married to “him” (Mr. Rochester is never named), a relationship that is fractious and full of conflict and even hatred from the beginning.

I was intrigued by Wide Sargasso Sea both because I love retellings and re-imaginings and books related to other books, and because I liked the idea of giving Bertha a well-rounded storyline and the chance to be redeemed a bit. And the novel certainly does attempt that, presenting Antoinette as a complex character living in a complex time, and dealing with postcolonial and patriarchal themes. But ultimately, I just didn’t like it much. As it’s been a year, I’m afraid I cannot remember why in any great detail, but I found Antoinette unsympathetic, and the portrayal of the black Jamaican people rather cringe. Antoinette might have been dealt a bad hand, but she didn’t help matters, either. Indeed, she often does the one thing that would make whatever situation she’s in worse. Her final actions of the novel don’t feel poignant or triumphant, but petty.

Reading Jane Eyre through the lens of today does make Bertha seem maligned, but Rhys’s novel ultimately doesn’t do the rehabilitative work it purports to do. (Imho).

Have you read this? What did you think?


Review: The Mill on the Floss

This is the first in a series of catch-up posts, as I review the classics I’ve read in the last year and not discussed yet (i.e. all of them). These will be shorter and less in-depth than usual, both so that I can get through my backlog quickly and because it’s been a while since I’ve read these books!

The Mill on the Floss was my fourth George Eliot novel, and my least favorite so far. According to Goodreads, I finished it 31 August 2019. I gave it three stars.

Mill follows siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver, the children of a small-town mill owner. There are several time jumps, so in all we cover about ten years of their young lives, as they move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. When they are adolescents, their father loses the mill and they teeter on the edge of poverty. Tom and Maggie both do their parts to keep the family afloat, relying on their mother’s several sisters and their more prosperous husbands for help. The Goodreads review, with its talk of “Maggie being torn between three men” makes it sound rather dramatic and even melodramatic, but the focus is actually on Tom and Maggie’s relationship, and on the community in which they live (although there are some dramatic moments towards the end, but spoilers). As with all Eliot novels, the plot is quiet and slow-paced (not a bad thing!), and the focus is on the character and thoughts of each person. Maggie and Tom are both incredibly vivid, as are their parents and aunts and uncles. This was Eliot’s second book, and you can see her improvement in developing incredibly life-like characters and group dynamics.

While I consider Mill to be an objectively masterful work, I didn’t love it. My biggest problem was Tom, and his relationship with Maggie. Tom is one of those people who can only see the world in black and white, and I find that kind of rigidity generally drives me crazy. And, of course, as it was so well portrayed, it bothered me even more. I spent a lot of the book wanting to slap Tom a couple of times and give him a talking-to. Maggie is a precious darling, who is much more creative and flexible in her thinking, but this leads her and Tom to be rather constantly in conflict. Poor Maggie just wants someone to love her, but Tom makes his love always conditional on her behavior, which doesn’t often meet his exacting standards. Like I said, this dynamic is SO well done, and Eliot certainly doesn’t condone Tom’s behavior, but it just happens to be one that I dislike reading, so that diminished the enjoyment for me.

That said, I have friends who LOVE Mill, so I would encourage you to give it a try, at least. And I’m eager to pick up the next Eliot novel (Romola!).

CC Spin #24…the winner is…

Number 18! My decision to double up on a couple of books I really wanted to get to soon paid off, and I’ll be reading Romola, by George Eliot! I’ve been wanting to get to this book for literally a year, and I’m so excited that I have this push to get on with it already—just as soon as I finish Ivanhoe. Looks like classic historical fiction is this months reading theme.

Classics Club Spin #24

Hey guys! I hope you all are doing well. The last six months have been insane (as they have been for you, I’m sure), but I’m slowly coming back to some of the things that have fallen by the wayside, like this blog. I’m hoping to do a number of reviews soon, as I have a pretty long backlog. But to get started, I’m excited to participate in the Classics Club Spin #24! Find out all about it here:

I totally wanted to participate in Spin #23, but I didn’t see the announcement until after the number had been picked, so I did my own little spin in May by asking my boyfriend to pick a number for me instead. I ended up reading A Tale of Two Cities and really loved it! Review coming eventually.

Phew! Will I ever not be long-winded in my intros? (no, sorry)

My spin list this time has some books I’m hoping to read soon, and some others that strike me as interesting. I’ve put my three highest-interest books in there twice.

  1. Histories by Heroditus
  2. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  3. Confessions St. Augustine
  4. The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsinay
  5. Revelations of Divine Love Julian of Norwich
  6. The Worm Orobouros by Eddison
  7. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
  8. Evelina by Frances Burney
  9. Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
  10. Weiland by Charles Brockden Brown
  11. Revelations of Divine Love Julian of Norwich
  12. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  13. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  14. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  15.  Romola by George Eliot
  16. Weiland by Charles Brockden Brown
  17. The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
  18. Romola by George Eliot
  19. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Writings by Washington Irving
  20. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy