The Liberating Force of the Carnival (esque) in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

Ahlem Louati


Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) is a postmodern revisionary rewriting of Charlotte Brontë’s canonical novel Jane Eyre (1847) in which the postcolonial woman novelist liberates the female cultural Other from the confines of imposed voicelessness and savage madness. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque that sanctions a “licensed misrule,” this paper seeks to study the ceremonial subversion of Rhys’s carnivalistic text in which she turns the Brontean world on its head, redeeming the Creole Bertha Mason from her readerly representation as “the madwoman in the attic” to acutely defy the licensing systems of power. First, it will look into the Rhysian precocity to rattle the reliability and authenticity of the Brontean nation and narration, creating a polyphonic narrative that serves the politics of liberation in its endeavour to release and foster multiple voices. Investing in relativity, her narrative dismantles the monologic and monolithic ‘Truth’ of the official work, opening the floor to the free-floating articulation of different realities. Second, it will closely examine Antoinette/Bertha as a carnivalesque-grotesque character. The latter resorts to degradation manifested in her exaggerated verbalization of her deviant sexuality which is openly articulated instead of being repressed on the one hand; and to laugh that mocks the hegemonic patriarchal and colonial/imperialist discourses on the other hand. 


liberation, carnival, carnivalesque-grotesque, inversion/subversion, Wide Sargasso Sea.

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