“The Sargasso Prisoner” – an opera in progress,
based on a Novel by Jean Rhys
Presentation by the team
This Opera gives a voice to Bertha, the “Paper Tiger Lunatic” of Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea. The originality of Rhys’ work is to move to the centre stage that which had been relegated to the wings in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre: that is, Rochester’s supposedly mad wife, locked away in the attic of his manor.
« He hates me now. I hear him every night walking up and down the veranda. Up and down. When he passes my door he says. ‘Good-night, Bertha.’ He never calls me Antoinette now. He has found out it was my mother’s name. – it cannot be worse, I said. » (Penguin, 1968, p. 93-94).
Reduced to a shadowy, gothic ‘detail’ in Brontë’s Victorian romance, Jean Rhys brings this figure to the fore and provides the textual conditions for her emergence as a person. Bertha is thus brought to life as she transforms her inner world into language. Her absence becomes presence; that which is invisible and marginalized in Brontë’s novel becomes visible and the centre of attention for Jean Rhys.