Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Mad Woman in the Attic

The Book Babes had their first get together of 2009~! It has been a while since the last meeting with the cookie exchange right before Christmas, December 23rd. Little did we know it would be a while until we saw our friend. She spent the holidays and a month after in the hospital, but she is out now and she looks fabulous. We had our first meeting at Johnny Carino's. Please, we really hope they do not go out of business. Who else makes their incredible Italian Nachos, margaritas, chocolate cake, and wedge salad? We get the nachos with everything on them and Debbie eats the jalapenos! This economy really bites.

We picked 18 books for the year and we will pick one at the end of each meeting and hopefully we will use my homework to talk about each book.

Our first book is the "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys. This book is basically a prequel, I guess, to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It is based on Mr. Rochester's wife locked in the attic. Okay, I have to be honest here. I have never been able to finish Jane Eyre. I would get through the first few chapters and that would be it. My daughter was in a musical version of Jane Eyre but I hardly think that qualifies for knowing the story. And there has to be about 20 versions of it on film, none of which I have seen. It is embarrassing sometimes admitting to my ignorance. I did not even remember that his wife has a name, Bertha Mason.

I found an online version of Jane Eyre to find out about this wife in the attic. Jean Rhys creates the story of the half Creole, half white woman. I have to admit, I was shocked to hear that. Half Creole? I know at one time the British empire was vast. (The sun never sets on the British empire and all that rot.) I guess that might explain the setting. Slaves were freed in the British empire in 1833, and Wide Sargasso Sea is set in 1839, years after emancipation and times are hard for the freed slaves.

I wanted to read what Charlotte Bronte tells about Bertha.

"Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of 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 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! But I owe you no further explanation. Briggs, Wood, Mason, I invite you all to come up to the house and visit Mrs. Poole's patient, and MY WIFE! You shall see what sort of a being I was cheated into espousing, and judge whether or not I had the right to break the compact, and seek sympathy with at least something human."

"In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. 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 wild animal; but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark , grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face."

"She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband, and corpulent besides; she showed virile force in the contest--more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was."

He says he does not hate her because she is mad. From the little I have read so far, it seems as if Rochester is as trapped in a culture as woman are usually described as being in. In Pride and Prejudice, you feel for the family of women because of the laws and how they seemed to conspire against women and how trapped they must have felt to not be married by a certain age and simply become a burden, a nuisance to their family. Rochester, being the second son, was not going to inherit but his father and brother felt no compunction in coercing a marriage and it seems tricking Rochester into marriage.

Charlotte Bronte's description of Bertha Mason is so descriptive. I loved the quote: "What a pygmy intellect she had, and what giant propensities!" When you truly try to picture he r, she is frightful.

So, I am anxious to read the story Jean Rhys creates. What point of view will she take? How will she portray Rochester? Yes, I hope it is a good story.


Jeanne said...

I loved Jane Eyre. I have read the book at least 10 times. Oddly I came across the story in a Readers Digest book - you know, the one that comes with like 4 stories? I think I still have that book. I even did a monologue out of it for a scene in drama in high school. I was always impressed with Jane's ability to continue calmly in spite of all the tragedy, in spite of her feelings. It's a good book Kat. And I didn't know about the prequel, so I might read it too. Yay! A new book!

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

I read the chapters about Bertha right at the wedding and they were good, and then because I am childish, I jumped to the back to see how it ended~! I will be posting as I read the Wide Sargasso Sea, so perhaps we can have an online book club. We can make you an honorary Book Babe.

I found a great web site on Victorian era authors and it was fascinating. One paragraph can have a whole essay on it~! There are so many literary and Biblical references I do not get, but I did like the story, so I will be reading it.

Jeanne said...

I'm going to check online at my local library to see if the book is there. I love the library. They have a phenomenal one here. I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

I would love to be an honorary Book Babe! Whoohoo!

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

Our next meeting I think is March 10th, so you can e-mail me your favorite quotes and your rating, etc., and I can bring it to the next meeting. Don't worry about finishing the book though, not sure the last time all of us finished one~!