Part two, section 16

Wide Sargasso Sea pages 92 - 104: Sunset scenery ... Christophine's departure

Synopsis of part two, section 16

Antoinette returns and, when he sees her, Rochester is shocked by the change in her. They quarrel violently. Rochester feels a strong sense of danger and antagonism in place and people. Christophine confronts Rochester about his treatment of Antoinette and we learn her perspective on the relationship. Christophine also rejects Daniel Cosway's version of events and gives information on Annette's condition.

Commentary on part two, section 16

  • The creole phrase Que komesse roughly translates as What trouble! James II
  • Passing a glass over water was a ritual of support for the Catholic King James II (and his descendants) who was deposed and exiled to France in 1688. His grandson, Charles Edward Stuart (known as Bonnie Prince Charlie), led a Jacobite uprising in 1745, but it failed and many of his supporters were exiled to the West Indies. Mention of this indicates Antoinette's antagonism to England
  • Antoinette sings a fragment of a Jacobite song about Bonnie Prince Charlie. Benky means crooked.
  • Antoinette's animalistic biting of Rochester echoes that of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre.
  • Christophines uses creole endearments for comforting a child to Antoinette. (See:  Social / political context > Creole identity and language)
  • Violence is a feature of Antoinette and Rochester's sexual passion. It indicates the nature of their feelings, as well as how women were commonly treated in that culture.
  • Prince Rupert of the Rhine supported the Stuart cause in the English Civil Prince Rupert of the RhineWar. Arriving in England in 1642 he became general of the Royalist army in 1644. After the defeat of the Royalists he became a privateer in the West Indies. Jean Rhys believed that this was another route by which Stuart supporters entered the culture of the area and were ancestors of some of the people. She also knew a black singer called Rupert of the Rine.
  • Christophine resents more than Rochester just marrying for financial gain. Her female perspective is critical of Rochester's patriarchal treatment of his wife – taking economic possession of her, treating her as a sex object and as a puppet to be manipulated.
  • Annette was repeatedly raped when incarcerated for her mental instability.
  • Christophine's doubt about whether there is only one spirit pinpoints the clash between the two cultures that Rochester and Christophine represent - the Christian (colonial) belief that there is one true God, and the Afro-Caribbean (pre-colonial) animist belief in many spirits, some of which may be malignant.
  • Under English law of the time, the property of married women belonged entirely to their husband.
  • Christophine refers to Dominica as being a free land because the slaves have been freed.
  • Rochester wants to confer with Antoinette's step-brother, Old Mason's son Richard, by his first marriage.
  • Christophine anticipates the plot of Jane Eyre when she accuses Rochester of acting as if Antoinette is mad.
  • In anticipating Rochester's deceit, Christophine associates him with Satan, described in the Bible as ‘the father of lies' (John 8:44).
  • Rochester's desire to sacrifice his eyes reminds the reader that Rochester will be blinded in the fire at Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre. It also echoes Jesus' hyperbolic image in the New Testament that it is better to lose an eye than for it to lead to sin (Mark 9:47).

Investigating part two, section 16

  • Why is Antoinette so distressed?
  • If you can, read chapter 25 in Jane Eyre. How does this argument between Rochester and Antoinette prefigure what happens in Brontë's story?
  • In what ways has Jean Rhys represented Rochester's interior confusions?
    • Think about the bits of text in italics.
    • Think about dislocations in time.
  • What is Christophine's opinion of Rochester and of his relationship with Antoinette?
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