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Though perhaps a small detail, it is important to note that Wide Sargasso Sea does not really end with a suicide. Antoinette’s fiery death is in the form of a dream; she is very much alive at the end of the novel but intends to make a reality of her dream, which I explained earlier in this chapter is a symbolic rewriting of the text in order to give a voice to the Other. One could theorize that Rhys did this purposefully to avoid giving Antoinette the same literal end that Bertha had, and this changes the “role” that Spivak describes of Antoinette killing herself so that Jane can remain the heroine. In fact, though we are in England in part three of Wide Sargasso Sea, Jane is absent with the exception of one possible glimpse of a girl in a white dress (182). The fact that Rhys excludes Jane from her work makes way for a new heroine, one with more diversity.
All this being said, Spivak’s arguments could still have merit based on the fact that Rhys’ critique of Jane Eyre and her attempt to give a voice to the Other are wellintentioned, but do not succeed. Part of Spivak’s opinion of postcolonial critique is that the theorists that try to liberate the Other only intensify its position as subordinate. But even if Rhys fails in her efforts to make the Other a self (if that were ever her intention), she succeeds in that she influences the way readers will interpret Jane Eyre. Once Rhys introduced Antoinette to literature, she cannot be taken out. After reading Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette’s story will come to mind when the reader revisits Bertha of Thornfield Hall in the pages of Jane Eyre.
Again, I will point out that critics are divided on whether or not the girl in the white dress is actually Jane; I leave open the possibility that she is Jane, for in Jane Eyre Jane stays in Thornfield Hall and fears the ghost (Bertha) that haunts the place.
Jean Rhys says of her heroine, “When I read Jane Eyre as a child, I thought, why should she think Creole women are lunatics and all that? What a shame to make Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, the awful madwoman, and I immediately thought I’d write the story as it might really have been. She seemed such a poor ghost. I thought I’d try to write her a life.” 42 Rhys does not allow the madwoman to stay in the attic of the Victorian novel, as she had for so many years, leaving the reader horrified at her monstrosity and thus sympathetic to Rochester and his independent Jane, who is seen as
Caribbean fiction, seen as Jane’s unhappy double, to make us question our interpretation of the classic text and bring to light the anguish of forced silence, dislocation, and cultural difference.
Creolizing the Canonical Text: Condé’s Caribbeanness in La migration des cœurs
In regard to the French literary canon, many theorists view Maryse Condé as a postmodernist. While modernism focuses on a fragmented view of history and sees art as the separator between the heroic individual and bourgeois society, postmodernism focuses on collectivity and diversity, and often integrates popular culture into literature.
In postmodern fiction, there is also a tendency to remove the seriousness from a situation, rendering it parodic. John McGowan makes this distinction between postmodernism and modernism: “Unlike the heroic modernist, who created works out of pure imagination, the postmodern artist works with cultural givens, trying to manipulate them in various Harrison, Jean Rhys and the Novel as Women’s Text, 127-128.
ways (parody, pastiche, collage, juxtaposition) for various ends. The ultimate aim is to appropriate these materials in such a way as to avoid being utterly dominated by them.” In the Caribbean writer’s case, the dominant material is Western history and literature. Condé’s work is often tinged with irony, and she does not focus on one particular character but rather juxtaposes multiple (and diverse) characters in a cultural framework such as the Caribbean to illustrate the difficulties the characters may encounter in a culture which is not Western but is dominated by Western ideals. These elements align themselves with the above characteristics of postmodern literature.
Furthermore, the emphasis Condé places on the culture rather than the individual distances her from modernists such as André Gide, who concentrate on the individual;
and the ironic nature of much of her work separates her from realists such as Flaubert.
Critic James Arnold explains why realism does not fit into a literature that is seen as Other: “The hypothesis of a liberating postmodernism leads us to tactics used to subvert the master plot of colonial narrative, in which Europeans are the agents and Africans and their Creole descendents are mere instruments in the working out of History. It is in this sense that poetics of realist fiction are especially dangerous for the West Indian writer.” In the Antilles, the European tradition and island culture are inextricably linked. This idea may often be disconcerting for Caribbean writers who, understandably, associate Europe with colonization and oppression. For example, Glissant laments the fact that the history Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth, The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 324.
James Arnold, “The Novelist as Critic,” World Literature Today: A Literary Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma (WLT), 67, no.4 (Autumn 1993): 714 of Martinique is really a manifestation of French history, centered on references to
slavery and colonial culture:
S’obstiner à découper l’histoire de la Martinique sur le modèle de l’histoire de France (siècles, guerres, règnes, crises, etc.), c’est aligner si manifestement la première sur la seconde qu’en réalité on en vient à camoufler par là le fait principal de cette histoire martiniquaise : sa surdétermination. Le rapport trop évident aux périodes de l’histoire de France est une ruse de la pensée assimilée, relayée par les « historiens »
martiniquais : il dispense d’avoir à fouiller plus avant.
To persist in categorizing Martinican history according to the French historical model (centuries, wars, reigns, crises, etc.) is to align the first so closely to the second that in fact by this means you ultimately camouflage the main feature of such a history of Martinique : its overdetermination The overemphasis on links with periods of French history is a trap created by an assimilationist way of thinking, spread through Martinican historians who do not bother to dig any deeper. 45 Despite the aversion critics have to this fact, the European model has taken hold in the culture by instilling French and English education in the Antilles and teaching European history, language and religion to the people. The unfortunate result is that the islands experienced, to use a famous Glissantian term, a Caribbean “non-history” (non-histoire).
In other words, because the Caribbean was dominated by Western culture, which used the need to “civilize” and “educate” as a justification for colonization, the history of the Caribbean remained untold. It becomes, then, the responsibility of the Caribbean writer to give a history to the Antilles. Revealing the history of a non-Western Other is also
connected to postmodernism, as John McGowan point out:
Within such a view, what is distinctive about postmodernism is not something new but our attention to and interest in features of the past that until recently were most often ignored. Postmodernism, then, is just part of the very complex rereading of history taking place in the current climate of a critical questioning of the Western tradition. 46 Many Caribbean writers, such as Aimé Césaire and Edouard Glissant, have given their islands a history by distancing themselves from the West and attempting to Glissant’s Le discours antillais, 155, and Glissant’s Caribbean Discourse, 88.
Groden and Kreiswirth, The Johns Hopkins Guide, 328.
decolonize their lands through writing. By coining such terms such as Antillanté, 47 which involves living the Caribbean experience, including its Creole language; and Négritude, the search and affirmation of one’s African identity (as well as the identity of peoples from other non-homogeneous cultures), Caribbean writers give their native lands a past and a literary voice that they were originally denied.
Despite these efforts to create distance from the West and establish Antillean autonomy, shedding European influence is not an easy task. Caribbean literature emerges from a historical nightmare, that of colonialism, and therefore it can be difficult to remove Europe from the (con)text. One method writers have used to fight back is to consume the influence; they re-write the canonical texts and, in so doing, reverse the colonial power. This serves both to question the validity of the classic texts as well as to give a voice to the forgotten Other such as Caliban in Césaire’s version of The Tempest or Antoinette/Bertha in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Critic Theo D’haen details how the
Other is virtually ignored in the European text:
In the single instance in Shakespeare’s play that Caliban himself tries to tell his own story, he is immediately silenced and his ‘his story’ is overwritten by Prospero…And in Jane Eyre the story of Bertha Mason is told by Rochester, and only takes up a few pages in what is a long novel. In other words, in all of these works Europe’s Others are always and uniquely represented as such in the words through the eyes of characters that explicitly represent themselves as incarnations of Europe’s self. 49 “Glissant’s concept of Antillanité is deeply rooted in the vécu antillais – the reality of the Caribbean lived experience. The fact that the Caribbean community has embraced the word Antillanité and that it has become a part of the current lexicon is an indicator of its importance in the Caribbean community.” Debra Anderson, “Decolonizing the Text: Glissantian Readings in Caribbean and African-American Literatures,” PhD diss., Louisiana State University, 1995, 32.
“…the form of the new lexeme marvelously embodies what we have been calling the tension between assimilationist and counter- assimilationist world view.” Davis, Gregson, Aime Césaire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 12.
D’haen, Theo, “Caribbean Migrations: Maryse Condé on the Track of Emily Brontë,” in Histoire jeu science dans l'aire de la literature, ed. Sjef Houppermans, Paul J. Smith, Madeleine van StrienChardonneau (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi; 2000), 203.
Maryse Condé uses this method of re-writing in La migration des cœurs, which is modeled after Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. However, her approach is different than that of, for instance, Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, for Condé shows little discord with the classic text, and instead embraces the work. This is illustrated through the novel’s dedication: “A Emily Brontë qui, je l’espère, agréera cette lecture de son chef-d’oeuvre.
Honneur et respect!” (To Emily Brontë, who, I hope, will approve of this interpretation of her masterpiece. Honor and respect!). La migration des cœurs is a way for Condé to insert her text into a literary tradition, thus attributing her work to a canonical text, a text that is written by a British woman writer.
Condé is an interesting writer to study for many reasons. She has made several places her home, from her native Guadeloupe to the colonizing country of France, continuing on to the idealized continent of Africa and to the New World of the United States. She has spent time in many other Caribbean islands such as Jamaica and Martinique. In her prose, Condé does not hesitate to take her characters on similar journeys, and this element of her work separates her from other Caribbean writers, though making it no less of a Caribbean work. Condé is also a unique Caribbean writer in that she is reluctant to align herself with any particular literary theory or movement.
She is unwilling to join a particular school of thought but instead wrestles alone with the complexities of living in a postcolonial society. In an interview with Marie-Agnès Sourieau, she describes how the various literary terminology can have a stifling effect on
Dès 1972 j’ai fait paraître un article, peut-être le premier article sérieux que j’ai écrit, qui s’intitulait « Pourquoi la Négritude ? ». Pour ce qui est de la « Créolité » c’est la même chose : je ne veux pas qu’on me définisse et qu’on m’impose un canon littéraire. Je pense que je suis un être complexe de par ma situation colonisée, de par une série d’influences qui font ce que je suis, et qu’il faut donc me laisser absolument libre d’exprimer les facettes de ma personnalité.