I have finally read Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea
, about twenty years after first reading Jane Eyre
. It is a very
good book (novella). I want to address it in three ways: as fan fic, as colonial literature, and in dialogue with Jane Eyre
Briefly--because this case is open-and-shut: yes, it is fan fic. This point is fuzzy to Francis Wyndham, who wrote the introduction to the Norton Critical Edition.* The book is not, he tells us, "literally" the story of Mrs. Rochester: "it is in no sense a pastiche of Charlotte Brontë and exists in its own right, quite independent of Jane Eyre
" (6). He is correct that the story stands by itself. A reader with no prior knowledge of Jane Eyre
could follow it perfectly readily, with perhaps slight confusion over the minor characters one gets glimpses of near the end.
However, it is literally the story of Mrs. Rochester. Of course, it is. It calls her, and many other characters, by name. It does make some changes to Jane Eyre
, notably in setting the story a little later, but in fan fic terms, we would simply call this AU, and fairly light AU: it doesn't change any of the fundamental dynamics of the story; it simply adds to them. It need not be a mere "pastiche" of Brontë's work to qualify as a literal extension of Jane Eyre
. It is fan fiction, and it is high literature. It is high fan fiction literature.
* I forgive Wyndham's fan fic blindness since his introduction is apparently quite old. I feel a little more dubious about the editing of the Norton edition per se, which includes few perspectives more recent than the 1970s.( Colonial Literature--with spoilers I guess )