Jane Eyre’s Offspring: The Backwards Birth of Wide Sargasso Sea

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


This paper looks at Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and its literary progeny Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys through the lens of postcolonial theory and scholarship on the female gothic. Rhys’ work is constructed as a deliberate 'Other', a ghostly and inverted double of Jane Eyre. I argue that the story, a retrospective prequel, presents a 'backwards birth', dispensing with the traditional Bildungsroman narrative of a journey towards enlightenment and maturity in favour of a devolution into madness, chaos and confusion. The heroine regresses from the freedom and open landscapes of the West Indies into the symbolic womb of the Gothic locked room. I examine death, life, dream spaces, and birth. The house and domesticity are connected to the colonial civilising mission, possession, slavery and servitude, and themes of mimicry and mockery (Cf. Bhabha) are played out in the doubling that Rhys’ story performs. Dream spaces highlight truth and reality vs lies and dreams, questioning memory and history. There is an acute anxiety about birth and motherhood in Jane Eyre, which Wide Sargasso Sea explores in the notion of monstrous motherhood and inheritance. I conclude by outlining the Victorian novel and Gothic genre's relationship to their distorted 20th century offspring.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
EventGothic and Uncanny Explorations - Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden
Duration: 10 Sept 201412 Sept 2014


ConferenceGothic and Uncanny Explorations


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