Re-reading Wide Sargasso Sea

I first read Wide Sargasso Sea because I had to. It was a set text for my English A-level. I loved it then, even though I’d fallen out of love with reading (I loved the idea of reading, of being seen as a person who read, but not the reading itself. The activity had been ruined, alongside many others, by the obsessive compulsions which had by that point taken over my teenage life).

I couldn’t have told you why I loved it. I felt sorry for the first Mrs Rochester, as one is supposed to, and angry for her, too. I liked the heat and colours of the book, the intensity, the feeling of remaining in a very small space however far you travelled. I found the rhythms of Antoinette’s voice, set against the drab entitlement of Rochester’s, perfect in their disorder. She got inside my head. Such a sad book and it felt like a sanctuary.

Our A-level teacher was a feminist. She used the title Ms and the boys would linger over it – Mzzzzzzzz, like the buzz of a bee – in an attempt to undermine her. A whole bunch of them, 18, white, middle-class and male, and already disturbed to meet a woman who wouldn’t define herself according to which man, husband or father, presumed to own her. We’d sit around the table, drawing spidergrams based on each character (poor Annette, poor Antoinette, surrounded by serious men with surnames – Cosway, Mason, Rochester – who would not listen). Then some boy would raise a hand to ask a question – was the treatment of women really so awful? – and he’d never, ever forget to slip in that little, buzzing reminder of misplaced pride at his male heritage. We’ll use the name you ask for, Mzzzzzz, but what we call you is not what we’re thinking. Always remember that. Continue reading

Bridget Jones and the delicate art of being a flawed female

Yay! Bridget Jones is back! Finally me and my fellow middle-class mediocrities can breathe a huge sigh of relief. I start to worry when we don’t have enough fictional characters around to legitimise a strictly circumscribed, unimaginative range of female flaws. But now it’s all sorted. All that stuff we worry about – when we’re not worrying about “proper” things, that is – well, we no longer have to worry about worrying about it (we still have to do the primary worrying, mind, but we’ve been let off from extending it into the meta-worries). So from now on, let’s not feel bad about feeling bad about wearing massive pants – let’s just dwell on the pants themselves! And as for not being thin – well, there’s nothing remotely odd about fixating on that. We all do it (unless, unlike Bridget Jones, we are actually fat. Should that be the case, then to all intents and purposes we don’t exist). Continue reading