Part two, section 1

Wide Sargasso Sea pages 39 - 42: Everything completed ... The soothing calls of women

Synopsis of part two, section 1

Part two of the novel is told by Antoinette's unnamed husband. If we know about Jane Eyre, then we give him a name, Rochester. Jean Rhys does not do this; right through the story he has no name.

In this first section readers are dropped straight into Rochester's impressions of the place where he will spend his honeymoon. This is not Jamaica, but one of the Windward Islands, unnamed but resembling Dominica. In this first person narration, of course, we see this island and its people through his eyes only.

Rochester finds the place sad and alien, however, he seems to be suffering from a combination of culture shock and the after-effects of fever. He is also wondering if he has done the right thing in marrying Antoinette. There are intimations in fragments of an unwritten letter that he has a difficult relationship with his father in England.

Commentary on part two, section 1

  • Rochester recalls, rather ironically, the words of the Anglican marriage service: ‘For better, for worse, For richer, for poorer…' Liturgy The solemnisation of matrimony:The declarations
  • The mango tree has large, sweet tasting yellow-green fruit.
  • Someone of mixed Anglo-European and African descent was described as half-caste.
  • Massacre is a village north of Roseau on Dominica. The place name is another that hints at a buried history. The massacre the name records concerns the killing of a group of Caribs in 1674 or 5.
More on the Carib massacre: Among them was the illegitimate mixed race son of Sir Thomas Warner, the Governor of St Kitts. His name was ‘Indian' Warner, a reference to the ethnic origin of his mother, a Carib woman. His killer was suspected to be Colonel Philip Warner, his half-brother. ‘Indian' Warner chose to live as a Carib and often acted as an intermediary between them and the English.

Judith Raiskin, in her edition of Wide Sargasso Sea writes that ‘the reference is significant because “Indian Warner” represents in Caribbean history and mythology a position between two cultures, a space of alienation and possibility'. This history, hidden from Rochester, connects to the theme of racial identity that threads the novel as a whole.     

  • The Windward Islands are a group of islands in the Lesser Antilles. They include Dominica, Martinique, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.
  • The estate mentioned is Granbois, Annette's family estate. Jean Rhys' father bought an estate, Amalia, high up in the mountains of Dominica, like this one. Jean Rhys wrote later that she tried to instil her own love for her birthplace into her description, although she shifted the location of the honeymoon to Dominica.Lady in riding habit
  • A lady's riding habit was usually a suit of a dark colour with a skirt made especially for riding side-saddle.
  • A tricorne hat has a three cornered brim. This was a fashionable style in the eighteenth century and it seems to have been retained in the islands into the 1830s.
  • Rochester is becoming suspicious that Antoinette may be of mixed race rather than a purely English creole.
  • Rochester's superior English attitude to the place and its people is encapsulated in his assessment that the patois spoken is degraded. He realises that the language Antoinette and Caroline speak together is not European French. However, his negative description does not recognise that it is the language of the island and as such reflects its history and experience of colonisation. It is significant that Antoinette, as a Creole herself, is able to speak it. The French legacy in Dominique is also shown in the French names given to some of the servants including Amélie and Emile.Women carrying items on their heads, photo by Angela Sevin, available through Creative Commons
  • The blue cloth is used to make a pad for the top of Emile's head so that heavy loads can be carried. African people carry loads in the same way.
  • The mention of a cock crowing is a biblical reference which raises the idea of betrayal. It refers to an episode in the New Testament when, before the Crucifixion, Peter, one of the disciples, denied three times that he knew Jesus Christ. Luke 22:60-61
  • The French phrase bon sirop translates literally as ‘good syrup'. It probably advertises a nice, sweet drink.

Investigating part two, section 1

  • Make notes on Rochester's attitudes in this section to:
    • Antoinette
    • The place and its people.
  • Make a list of words / phrases which suggest the marriage has not started well.
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