Christophine Wide Sargasso Sea
Wide Sargasso Sea, a novel of racism, feminism, greed, misery and madness, written by Jean Rhys in 1960 this story tells a tale of main character Antoinette Cosway, her life growing up and the paths taken by herself and made by others around her. The author decided to pen this book due to her fondness for Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Bronte and this was meant as an unofficial prequel to the ever popular story, also starring Mr Rochester and Antoinette as Bertha” the madwoman upstairs”.
At the time when Sargasso sea was written Jean Rhys was in the stage of an alcoholic and spent much of her time secluded on her own drinking substantial amounts and taken an antisocial personality.
It has been argued that whilst in this state she laid down words to create this masterpiece and it can be said that the comparison between the mad woman in the attic to the alcohol abusing author was very close indeed and may have had some influence in the way that this piece was written. Whilst being born in Dominica and her mother being Creole it is not difficult to see the link which could be tied to her, understandably she had a lot of experience in this sort of environment and this shows dramatically when one reads this book as we are given a vivid picture of all descriptions and it is clear that she is no stranger to he way of life in those times.
This novel holds very strong issues focusing on the post-colonial era which in turn brought around much racism and feminism. Rhys acknowledges these factors very well and we realise very early on the effects that the emancipation act created in Caribbean islands such as Jamaica. For a large majority of the story is told through the eyes of Antoinette Cosway starting as a young naÃ¯ve girl growing up, subjected to things which perhaps one may argue that a small child should not be however later in the novel she does become older and we notice her beginning to understand the life which she lives. We also notice a change in narrative style as it switches to her husband Mr Rochester; this gives us the insight from both sides of the tale. Without all the strong characters involved this story would not hold so much power, it is only through Rhys’ superior story telling techniques that we really step into this environment and witness it for ourselves.
One strong personality who is extremely close to Antoinette is her precious family servant brought into the family by her father as a gift for his wife, Christophine. This event was prior to slavery being abolished, from this we are already given an insight into this woman’s personality. By simply sticking with the family through their tough times we see that she is a loyal person and obviously holds some feeling towards the family. Annette also states that if it wasn’t for Christophine then the family may of never survived. Although it is not immediately apparent that Christophine is integral to the story, gradually upon reading you slowly realise the importance of her role not just to the Cosway family but on a very personal level with Antoinette herself. When reading first time it is easy to miss how much Christophine actually cares for this younger girl as we are hearing everything from a child’s point of view and it is understandable that these good turns may not mean a lot to her at this stage of her life. On numerous occasions we recognise that the family servant is more of a parent than Antoinette’s mother Annette, who increasingly becomes more and more ill as time goes by. The fact that Antoinette doesn’t have father either means there are two roles open to fulfil and for that moment in the first part Christophine achieves that successfully. This shows our first scene of feminism as we witness a strong woman playing a fatherly part for Antoinette. Examples of this can be found (pg11) when Christophine and Annette have an argument regarding Antoinette’s ruined dress and Christophine intervenes by shouting “It shameful. She run wild, she grows up worthless. And nobody care.” This comment is far from one which a servant would make and the argument is one which would usually take place between husband and wife, this shows what effect Christophine has on the family. As Annette becomes more troubled this pushes Antoinette away and feeling unloved she sleeps over the other side of the building in a room next to her older friend, we begin to realise how the two begin this strong bond.
Christophines description on page 7 is very brief and more about appearance and perception from others above anything else and we are left to make our own conclusion of the woman through the text. She is a woman who keeps to herself but we are never sure if that is by choice or other reasons. She has three children and has never married, a wise choice by her which we further discover when thinking of Antoinette’s later misfortunes. She never married in a bid to hold onto what ever money she possessed, “I keep my money, I don’t give it to worthless man.” (pg 69 Pt 2)
Christophines motherly advice is shown throughout the story and like a mother we witness her becoming annoyed with Antoinette when she disregards her words (Pt2 P51), “Christophine was angry. She said it was very bad to sleep in the moonlight.” This Proves that her knowledge and advice does not fall on deaf ears.
Christophine’s obeah meant she had an air of threat around her and this may have been the reason she only had one friend. People that knew she performed this were very wary in her presence and in turn showed some kind of respect towards her, as with fear comes an appreciation of ones danger. She kept the servants in line and anyone that stepped out of line would face a backlash from her tongue, we see this when Amelie glances in Antoinette’s direction slyly, Christophine responds by saying “Amelie. Smile like that once more and I mash your face like plantain yuh hear me?”, to which Amelie replies “Yes Christophine”, and retreats.
The language shown portrays that Christophine is definitely higher in the food chain and more superior and it also signifies her need to protect Antoinette. Unfortunately with power also comes jealousy and this also may have had an effect on Christophines life in interacting socially with other islanders as she was loyal to the family in their time of need, people often questioned this. This led to rumours suggesting that the only way a penniless woman such as Annette Cosway could get a wealthy man lik Mr Mason to marry her is through obeah. This was all said behind her back of course, a conversation witnessed by Antoinette which went “It’s evidently useful to keep a Martinique obeah woman on the premises.” (pg 14 pt 1)
These rumours offended Antoinette ad led up to a growing feeling of hate and eventually the fire where Pierre was supposedly killed.
A short while after the fire we learn that Antoinette’s mother continues to get ill and eventually passes away , however we do not read much emotion regarding the death and any feeling that she may have had was quickly overlooked and never . . . . . . . . . . upon.
After reading we can easily assume that by this time she has already been pushed away many times and has come to terms with the fact that she was never going to receive love ahead of her brother Pierre and had therefore substituted her mother for the warming, caring figure which was Christophine. After this their bond grew ever stronger and they were reunited on Antoinette’s and Rochester’s honeymoon. This is the first time we come across someone who possesses a genuine dislike for Christophine. As their marriage never really starts off on the right foot Rochester can never quite get over the closeness which they share, he cannot grasp her as a person or anything she stands for. He feels this way about the whole island but for some reason picks her out as a target and a vent for his negative feelings. As her personality is not to get involved she distances herself from the relationship but never strays too far from her surrogate child Antoinette to find her for motherly care. Infact there are only a couple of instances Christophine does leave the side of Antoinette, one of these being when she leaves to board at the convent. We are led to believe the reason for these absences are simply because she knows, through intuition, that she is able to look after herself through this period; and is right, again.
The relationship between Christophine and Rochester is not good but always full of emotion. We know that she is not keen on him as she sees that “he love money”
In her eyes he is not good enough for her and she’s is caught between the two. Previously on countless occasions we experience Christophines strong side, the provider, the carer and the protector. Knowing that Antoinette had feelings for this man and did not want to lose her money put her in difficult predicament, which would mean that no matter how she felt about the situation she would always do what was right for Antoinette. And so we were to witness the witness of this once strong figure. Rochester was the only person able to bring this side out of her. This theory is evident in the beginning of part two when Christophine tells Antoinette she wants to leave the honeymoon home as she feels uncomfortable. For a woman who stuck by her family which hold no blood ties to her after the emancipation act was published this issue must have struck a chord inside her. Also when Antoinette asks her to make Rochester love her again my using obeah she eventually caves in. Knowing that it would not work and could even be dangerous, a moment of weakness is shown.
This stands as more proof of a parental relationship and shows that she’d do almost anything for her. So Christophine over the many years, just one companion, one love which we know about even considered Antoinette more precious over her own children calling her son Jojo “a leaky calabash” (pg73 pt2).
If the book had ended before the heartbreak of Antoinette we could have been forgiven for calling Christophine, Antoinette’s guardian angel but as it unfolds it is here that we understand that she is a mortal after all.
As Antoinette’s “life” comes to an untimely end as soon as Christophine decides there is nothing more she can do for her little girl when Rochester threatens her with the Spanish town magistrate.
Although deep down she realises that she is running out of options we as the reader are given an inside look into the thoughts of Rochester and the impact which Christophine’s words have on him. This is emphasised by the way the text is constructed as if the words are echoing inside Rochester’s head giving strong meaning to her accusations. This evidence just shows how much of a character she is and that even an individual who dislike her have no choice but to listen and be in awe of the truth that she beholds.
Christophine plays one last role in Antoinette’s head even at a time when she is just a memory. In her dream at Thornfield house she visions her life flash before her and Christophine is present within these pictures. This shows us the importance she held in her life and that no matter what she would never be forgotten for all that she had done for her adopted child.