Scholarly article on topic 'Recycling - A Contemporary Identity of The Past'

Recycling - A Contemporary Identity of The Past Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Anca Manea, Monica Eftimie

Abstract When postmodernism decreed that art has lost originality and can only be repetitious as well as that it should change perspective from the external reality to the text, writers began focusing on previously written texts as the core subject matter of their work. From this point of view, focus is placed on recycling, seen as a postmodern technique used to construct a new identity for the past under its different forms - as history, as writers and as text(s). Thus, the past is integrated into contemporaneity while constantly being reshaped by the many contemporary novels that look back on writers, novels and literary movements belonging to the past. Moreover, this dynamic and multifaceted dialogue between contemporary novels and past ones is also considered a means of providing the latter with historical continuity (by bringing them into the attention of contemporaneity) and the former with perspectives of canonical inclusion.

Academic research paper on topic "Recycling - A Contemporary Identity of The Past"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 63 (2012) 203 - 212

The 4th Edition of the International Conference: Paradigms of the Ideological Discourse 2012

Recycling - A Contemporary Identity of The Past

Anca Maneaa, Monica Eftimieb*

aPhD Candidate, "Dunarea de Jos " University of Galati, 111 Domneasca Street, Galati, 800201, Romania b PhD Candidate "Dunarea de Jos " University of Galati, 111 Domneasca Street, Galati, 800201, Romania


When postmodernism decreed that art has lost originality and can only be repetitious as well as that it should change perspective from the external reality to the text, writers began focusing on previously written texts as the core subject matter of their work. From this point of view, focus is placed on recycling, seen as a postmodern technique used to construct a new identity for the past under its different forms - as history, as writers and as text(s). Thus, the past is integrated into contemporaneity while constantly being reshaped by the many contemporary novels that look back on writers, novels and literary movements belonging to the past. Moreover, this dynamic and multifaceted dialogue between contemporary novels and past ones is also considered a means of providing the latter with historical continuity (by bringing them into the attention of contemporaneity) and the former with perspectives of canonical inclusion.

© 2012 TheAuthors. PublishedbyElsevierLtd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dunarea de Jos UniversityofGalati

Keywords: canon; history; writer; text

1. Introduction

This paper explores the practice of recycling as tackled in volumes such as Recycling Culture(s) (2008) edited by Sara Martinez and the online journal Other Voices 3, no. 1 (2007). Both collections of critical essays analyse the implications of recycling, considered a new cultural paradigm aimed at reviving and reinstating the value of culture in all its forms. Their perspectives will be taken as a starting point for the definition of recycling and the understanding of how it will be applied in the present study. Thus, in the Introduction to Other Voices 3, Tina Kendall and Kristin Koster outline recycling as "a material and aesthetic practice and a conceptual trope" [1] and also as "an important critical concept which allows us to define the structure of a cultural memory in crisis, and

* Anca Manea Tel.: +40-746-557-150 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Dunarea de Jos University of Galati doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.10.031

which might provide us with a method for its re-organization and re-conceptualization" [2]. Elsewhere in the volume, the contribution of recycling to literature and culture in general is considered in its most literal sense, namely re-using waste material, implying that "value is created out of the valueless; or, at least, that the object of recycling would have been lost or discarded had it not been retrieved and revived" [3]. Moreover, the same author argues that "Either cultural recycling retrieves and improves the lost which would otherwise have been wasted, or it is simply a new 'politically correct' term for the age-old and pre-environmental, but nevertheless aesthetically frugal, practice of imitation" [4]. Furthermore, the essays in Recycling Culture(s) try to demonstrate "how culture survives today by means of constant recycling, in an optimistic attempt to overcome its own decadence in the 21st century" [5] taking an interest in the recycling "of low culture by high culture" or "of historical remains and of trash culture" [6].

However, this theoretical outline seems to take matters to the extreme, positioning art side by side to the very real issue of environmental recycling instead of focusing on the metaphorical value of the concept. As far as this study is concerned, what is to be retained and (re)used from this brief presentation is the assumption that recycling transforms the past in such a manner that it becomes functional and viable within the new realities of the contemporary art scene, empowering both the raw material and the recycled one. Apart from this double-sided "outcome" of recycling and its subsequent analysis, emphasis will also be placed on the methods and means of integrating the past within contemporaneity.

The two novels taken into consideration, namely Wide Sargasso Sea (J. Rhys) and Possession (A. S. Byatt), write back to the established literary tradition / canon in the context of contemporary literature, subverting and reinforcing both poles of their refraction at the same time. Therefore, the past is not negatively criticized and discarded in favor of contemporary work, but objectively considered and paralleled to contemporary practices and perspectives, strengths, as well as weaknesses, being depicted through its re-writing. The analysis of the historical continuity of the past will focus here on history (understood as time periods but also as social, cultural and literary movements) and its representation, on writers whose literary techniques and styles have been integrated within these novels and on texts seen either as previously written ones or as the text of the present novels, itself recycled endlessly.

2. History: (Re)Presentation & (Re)Construction

The connection between history and fiction, the extent to which the former is transformed and altered by the latter, is one of the main concerns of the postmodernist discourse which "preaches in favour of the return to history (previously having been fought back by the modernist writing - in flight from chronology, from objectively representing that which lies beyond it and which interferes with one's private and intimate experiences)" [7] and highlights "the textuality of history (nourishing the comforting thought that one can easily intervene in the texts already written and can rewrite history, if not backwards, at least from a totally different perspective: that of a continuous present)" [8]. History is framed within fiction through what is known today as historiographic metafiction which questions the generic conventions of history and its fictional representations: "How do we know the past today? Through its discourses, through its texts - that is, through the traces of its historical events: the archival materials, the documents, the narratives of witnesses... and historians. On one level, then, postmodern fiction merely makes overt the processes of narrative representation - of the real or the fictive and of their interrelations" [9].

Wide Sargasso Sea and Possession take an interest in the Victorian Age, which is set both in England and outside its borders. This period is minutely and very realistically re-created through setting, language, historic documents and the characters' behaviour only to be thrown into question when reflected in the postmodernist mirror which exposes it as a recycled spin-off of individual, subjective and unreliable narratives. Instead of offering an insight into the past, these recycled narratives comment on the present and how it has been influenced by past attitudes and stories:

"Rhys's engagement with Victorian social and cultural mores in Wide Sargasso Sea anticipates the central theoretical and philosophical concerns that increasingly preoccupy contemporary British literature toward the end of the twentieth century. The so-called 'neo-Victorian' novels of A. S. Byatt, Peter Ackroyd, John Fowles, and others arise from a sense that engagement with the Victorian past is crucial to the redefinition of British national identity" [10].

Jean Rhys sets the action of her novel near the Jamaican capital, Spanish Town, during the first half of the nineteenth century when Jamaica was a British Colony. Therefore, as Creoles, Antoinette and her mother do not belong to any of the two worlds they are living in, expressed from the opening lines of the novel: "They say when trouble come close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, 'because she pretty like pretty self' Christophine said" [11]. This sense of displacement could be linked to Antoinette's questioning her own identity later in the novel, pointing to the relativity of the setting and time period evoked in the narrative: "It was a song about a white cockroach. That's me. That's what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I've heard English women cal us white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all" [12].

The first page of the novel also comments on the idea of the past to which the adjective "safe" [13] is attached, creating the bigger picture of that fiduciary past faithfully depicted by the nineteenth century realist paradigm: "When I asked her why so few people came to see us, she told me that the road from Spanish Town to Coulibri Estate where we lived was very bad and that road repairing was now a thing of the past. (My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in bed - all belonged to the past)" [14]. This past was so reliable, though, because no one questioned its history/histories, fault that might easily be repeated by the contemporary reader if he/she pays more attention to Antoinette, the sad story character, than to Antoinette, the first person narrator whose own implied subjectivity should not be overlooked. Moreover, Antoinette does not present only her perspective on the past but also her mother's (see the reported speech in the comment above) so this depiction should be regarded with a doubled incredulity. Additionally, the use of the Past Simple Tense in this statement sets apart the seemingly solid and unequivocal past from the ambiguous and allusive present to which Antoinette belongs, placing even more emphasis on the deceitful character of the narrative yet to unfold.

Victorian England remains an ideal to dream of until the third part of the novel but present, nonetheless, in the rest of the story through "real white people" [15] such as Annette's husband Mr Mason, his son Richard, their friends and Antoinette's husband. The Imperial English power of the time is depicted through the evident clash with the African, colonised population described as uneducated people who lead their simple lives according to superstitious beliefs and hatred for their colonisers. Theirs is not a sympathetic portrayal, this feeling of mistrust towards them being at its peak in the scene where Antoinette's black friend Tia rises against her:

"Then, not so far off, I saw Tia and her mother and I ran to her, for she was all that was left of my life as it had been. We had eaten the same food, slept side by side, bathed in the same river. As I ran, I thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her. Not to leave Coulibri. Not to go. Not. When I was close I saw the jagged stone in her hand but I did not see her throw it. I did not feel it either, only something wet, running down my face. I looked at her and I saw her face crumple up as she began to cry. We stared at each other, blood on my face, tears on hers. It was as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass" [16].

Racial profiling and prejudice impede sincere comunication between the two girls who, even if much alike and similar, are arbitrarily thrown into different sides of the barricade as suggested by the metaphor of the looking glass. What is insinuated in this quote and throughout the entire novel is that such a dénouement is not a free choice of either of them (Tia and Antoinette / African and Creole) but a direct result of the English interfering with their history.

The differences between the African and the English are further on exemplified in the parallel Antoinette draws between Myra, "She had thin arms and big hands and feet and the handkerchief she wore round her head

was always white. Never striped or a gay colour." [17], and The Miller's Daughter, "a lovely English girl with brown curls and blue eyes and a dress slipping off her shoulders" [18]. The latter, though, is just a painting and not an actual person, providing yet another commentary on the misleading character of history seen as his/her story. Considering the increased level of subjectivity and inaccuracy of painting, The Miller's Daughter becomes nothing more than an idealised version of England that should be looked at with a critical and questioning eye. Moreover, if thinking that painting is just old-fashioned photography, then one should take into account Linda Hutcheon's perspectives on the matter. In her opinion, photography and in this case painting, is a critical contextualisation and appropriation of the past and its representational practices [19], the danger lying in "its apparent transparency, but also in the pleasure it arouses in viewers without creating any awareness of its act of ideological constructing" [20].

Further on, under the guise of Antoinette's husband, Rhys obliquely comments on the power of fiction to accurately and objectively render reality, pointing once again to the contemporary "aura" that the nineteenth century characters and events have: "Reality might disconcert her, bewilder her, hurt her, but it would not be reality. It would be only a mistake, a misfortune, a wrong path taken, her fixed ideas would never change" [21]. The past seems more alive than never when cultural and racial prejudices are taken into consideration so that inserting contemporary issues into a nineteenth century plot succeeds without raising any questions at a first, superficial reading.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys highlights the fact that "There is always the other side, always" [22], that storytelling is subjective and multifaceted. As such, her negative portrayal of Victorian England is counter-balanced by Antonia Susan Byatt, who chooses to tackle the issue taking more into account the artistic and cultural value of this period than its injustices. In this regard, in Essays on the fiction of A. S. Byatt, Alfer and Noble (eds) appreciate that "The relation of our own present to the past (and its textual traces) is indeed not a mere subtext but the subject proper of many of her works and reviewers and critical commentators alike repeatedly emphasize Byatt's joyful yet erudite fictional analyses and negotiations of history and of literary history in particular" [23]. In Possession, the re-enactment of the nineteenth century is a very informed one, the past being accessed through various historic documents such as letters, poetry, diary entries, journals, foot-notes, all of which enhance the realism of the fictional world. A proof of the close attention given to the re-construction of the fictional world, as well as a means of subverting it, is the insertion in the letters even of the crossed out sentences, marked accordingly: "I write with a strong sense of the necessity of continuing our talk, and without premeditation, under the impression that you were indeed as much struck as I was by our quite extraordinary to ask if it would be possible for me to call on you, perhaps one day next week" [24]. Knowing, however, that the majority of these documents are just as fictitious as the world they re-create, outlines the main issues explored in connection to historical continuity: the extent to which fiction can truthfully and objectively represent history and the power of fiction to refresh the past through fictionalising its histories.

The Victorian subplot/world in Possession could be itself seen as double-layered with Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte on the one hand and the rest of Victorian characters on the other hand. Ash and LaMotte do not entirely belong this plot because, regardless of the Victorian style used in their letters and poetry, they display a contemporary awareness that surfaces both in their views on literature and in their relationship. More than once their letters become masked authorial intrusions, a means for Byatt to discuss matters such as truth, history, imagination and the creation process using a rich, sensuous and highly metaphorical language:

"The truth is - my dear Miss LaMotte - that we live in an old world - a tired world - a world that has gone on piling up speculation and observations until truths that might have been graspable in the bright Day spring of human morning [...] are now obscured by palimpsest on palimpsest, by thick horny growths over that clear vision [...] or, we might say, as the lovely lines of faith that sprung up in the aspiring towers of the ancient ministers and abbeys are both worn away by time and grime, softly shrouded by the smutty accretions of our industrial cities, our wealth, our discoveries themselves, our Progress" (my emphasis) [25].

The reference to the palimpsest (the postmodernist framework that accounts for the artistic exhaustion of originality) and its direct connection to the loss of truth (standing maybe for Lyotard's grand narratives called into question by the proliferation of history's many histories) cannot be regarded as a mere coincidence in this context but as a highly informed opinion on contemporary literary practices. Elsewhere in the letters, Ash / Byatt concentrates on the thin boundary between history and fiction and the degree to which each is empowered by the other: "So if I construct a fictive eyewitness account - a credible plausible account - am I lending life to truth with my fiction - or verisimilitude to a colossal Lie with my feverish imagination?" [26]. Moreover, this comment seems to be an extension of the two epigraphs to the novel, the story of the fictional eyewitness representing the "writer's own choosing or creation" [27] while the question on the authenticity of the lie echoes Browning's poem "Mr Sludge":

"How build such solid fabric out of air? How on so slight foundation found this tale, Biography, narrative?' or, in other words, 'How many lies did it require to make The portly truth you here present us with?'" [28]:

Even when the focus shifts from Ash's and LaMotte's literary creations to their relationship, Byatt still obliquely comments more on contemporary society and its representation of Victorianism than on the latter. The following excerpt, which challenges the generic conventions of Victorian love, is a case in point: "That was the first of those long strange nights. She met him with passion, fierce as his own, and knowing too, for she exacted her pleasure from him, opened herself to it, clutched for it, with short animal cries" [29]. In addition, when linked to the old-fashioned, passionless version of the contemporary couple, Maud and Roland, the irony and embedded criticism become obvious:

And very slowly and with infinite gentle delays and delicate diversions and variations of indirect assault Roland finally, to use an outdated phrase, entered and took possession of all her white coolness that grew warm against him, so that there seemed to be no boundaries, and he heard, towards dawn, from a long way off, her clear voice crying out, uninhibited, unashamed, in pleasure and triumph. [30]

This reversal of attitudes and behaviours between the Victorian and the contemporary couple reduces the differences between the past and the present, accounting for Byatt's "attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us" [31]. Therefore, the overall attitude towards Victorianism remains a nostalgic one, criticism being directed at contemporaneity and not at the past. In the essay "What's love got to do with it?", Jackie Buxton goes so far as to declare that despite the narrative shifts and the metafictional questions on the nature of fiction, Possession should be regarded as a Victorian novel "for it replicates the realism of its forbears in capturing the nineteenth century ethos" [31] and "because that is where its real passion - and its author's passion - lies. One world is obviously given ideological priority in this text, and it is the Victorian one, this literary Golden Age from which the present one is construed as a falling away" [32]. This perspective, however, should be seen as just one of the possibilities since accepting it as the main framework for Possession means ignoring the embedded dialogism between now and then, dialogism refracted by the postmodernist recycling of the past. Much as Victorianism is favoured and positively depicted, the novel's strength lies in the original combination of past and present language and literary techniques.

Historical continuity is further on expressed through the repetition of several patterns from the Victorian plot in the contemporary one: Blanche Glover, LaMotte's friend and Val, Roland's girlfriend, describe themselves using the same adjective, "superfluous" [33]; Christabel and Maud are both called "princess" [34] by their friends, Blanche and Leonora; Blanche describes Ash as a "Peeping Tom" [35] and later on, Roland finds himself in a similar situation: "So he went down on one knee on the putative drugget and put his eye to the huge keyhole

which glinted at him and disconcertingly vanished as the door swung back and he smelled wet, freshness, steam in cold air" [36].

The motif of the painting, as one of the many means of indicating the misleading character of history representation, appears in Possession as well, suggestive of this connotation being the description of Roland's two photographic copies of paintings illustrating Randolph Ash: "Manet's Ash was dark, powerful, with deepset eyes under a strong brow, a vigorous beard and a look of confident private amusement. He looked watchful and intelligent, not ready to move in a hurry" [37] and "The portrait by Watts was mistier and less authoritative. It had been painted in 1876 and showed an older and more ethereal poet, his head rising, as is common with Watts's portraits, from a vague dark column of a body into a spiritual light" [38]. The descriptions above do not resume to strict physical features but also to personality ones (intelligent, confident, watchful) indicating a double deceiving device. As such, the differences between the two portraits that illustrate the same person are created once by each painter's subjectivity and perspective on the painted subject and on life in general and then by Roland's own subjectivity, touched differently by each portrait.

3. Writers & Text(s) Rewritten

This part of the essay stems from a concept Byatt develops in Possession, which is ventriloquism, understood as a means of creating a literary continuum that effaces the boundaries between past and present writers and their texts. It is through ventriloquism that the style and literary beliefs of other writers come to be recycled, commented upon and rewritten from a contemporary perspective. Catherine Bernard takes up this issue and analyses it with reference to Byatt's and Peter Ackroyd's novels; in her opinion, ventriloquism is tangent proof that contemporary writers are at a loss as far as originality is concerned, theirs being but a pale imitation of a great past:

Today's great ventriloquists admit to being aesthetically possessed and condemned to be spoken by the past without necessarily succeeding in transcending it. Failing to forge a new language out of the voice of the past, the writer is doomed to remain an impostor, an impersonator merely adopting a series of stylistic postures. [...] The ventriloquist does not so much construct himself as other, as disembody himself, lingering thus as the empty echo of a once authentic voice which he however needs in order to flaunt his own emptiness. [.] Cultural commemoration has replaced invention. [38]

This negative perspective, however, will be used in this essay in so far as the methods it proposes to convey ventriloquism and therefore recycling: aesthetic possession, forging a new language out of a past voice, adopting stylistic postures, constructing oneself as the other. The blending of these techniques with the ends of recycling (reshaping the past so as to be suitable in the present) goes against the emptiness and cultural commemoration Bernard accuses contemporary novelists of.

The recycling of other writers' lives and artistic creations is most obvious in Byatt's novel Possession where the poets Henry Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte are reminiscent of real Victorian poets, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Their relationship, starting with a series of letters that moved on from writing issues to sentimental ones, is clearly the pattern that inspired the Victorian plot in Possession which initially takes an epistolary form. Further on, each chapter in Possession is preceded by one of Ash's or LaMotte's poems, Victorian as far as style, language and content are concerned, so that the parallel to the real nineteenth century poets be as close as possible:

They are and were there. At the old world's rim, In the Hesperidean grove, the fruit Glowed golden on eternal boughs, and there The dragon Ladon crisped his jewelled crest Scraped a gold claw and sharped a silver tooth

And dozed and waited through eternity

Until the tricksy hero Herakles

Came to his dispossession and the theft. [39]

This fragment, taken from Ash's "The Garden of Proserpina", opens the novel and frames chapter one, announcing Roland's theft of Ash's letter. Prolepsis is only one of the functions of these introductory poems; they also serve to revive contemporary readership's interest into reading Victorian poems which are shown to be complex works of art that prefigure all the intricacies of contemporary literature. One means of achieving this goal are the literary analyses inserted in the novel:

"Vico had looked for historical fact in the poetic metaphors of myth and legend; this piecing together was his 'new science'. His Proserpine was the corn, the origin of commerce and community. Randolph Henry Ash's Proserpine had been seen as a Victorian reflection of religious doubt, a meditation on the myths of resurrection. Lord Leighton had painted her, distraught and floating, a golden figure in a tunnel of darkness. Blackadder had a belief that she represented, for Randolph Ash, a personification of history itself in its early mythical days" [40].

Besides pointing to the richness of Victorian art, these "fake" poems become some sort of melting pots where issues such as writing, reading, inspiration and literature at large are being discussed illustrating the contemporaneity hidden behind nineteenth century lines. As such, postmodernist intertextuality is represented by "consequential stories where the Tree / Once stood in solitude and steady shone" [41], the poststructuralist ever flitting meaning suggested by "All these are true and none. The place is there / Is what we name it, and is not. It is" [42] and the thin boundary between truth and fiction resumed by the following:

"There is a place to which all Poets come [...] Some having battled monsters, some asleep Who chance upon the path in thickest dream, [.] The place is in a desert where men die From thirst in sight of it, nor know they see The true place, who have stumbled through a glare Of mirage upon mirage, vanishing Like melting ice, in the hot sun, or foam" [43].

Additionally, the names Maud and Roland are not innocent choices either, if we think of Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem "Maud" and of Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came". The latter is also retold in LaMotte's second fairy tale, "Threshold", whose beginning echoes that of Browning's poem. The hero's name is also Childe and he is given directions by an ugly old woman, a "crone" [44], who could be seen as the counterpart of "That hoary cripple, with malicious eye" [45]. What is more, accent is placed on the surrounding Gothic-like landscape in both the Victorian poem: "[. ] penury, inertness and grimace / In some strange sort, where the land's portion" [46] and the contemporary version: "The heath and moor were crisscrossed with little tracks, dusty and twisting between the heather and the bracken and the little juniper trees with their clinging roots" [47]. What seems more interesting, however, is the choice of this precise poem to rewrite considering that it too resulted from recycling:

"The poem takes its title from Edgar's song in Act III, scene four of Shakespeare's King Lear: 'Childe Roland to the dark tower came, / His word was still, 'Fiefoh and fum, / I smell the blood of a British man'". Edgar's 'song' follows upon a speech in which Edgar, disguised as the crazed beggar Poor Tom, laments his status by describing a journey that resonates with the ruined quest that Browning's Roland makes" [48].

Since Byatt did to Browning's poem what Browning did to Shakespeare's play, one can assume that she wants to draw attention to the cyclical quality of literature which makes it the result of endlessly rewriting the same topics (yet always differently); in this context, Byatt seems to suggest that dismissing ventriloquist writers as bad imitators means dismissing all literature as bad imitation. Therefore, value and originality should be looked in the methods and means of transmitting the message and not necessarily in the message itself. In this case, Browning's poem is recycled as the fairytale of an imaginary Victorian poetess, obliquely commenting on the reality of the fictional universe and adding another diegetic level to the narrative since Childe can also be read as another image of Roland depicted at the beginning of his own quest to find the truth about Ash and LaMotte.

Wide Sargasso Sea focuses more on how the reflection of the past into the present is interpreted, recycling the story of a character forgotten and ignored by both its author and readers: Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester's wife in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847). Wide Sargasso Sea becomes, thus, the territory where Bertha can claim back her history and the means to do so is to tell her own story from the beginning. Never once are Jane Eyre or Charlotte Bronte mentioned in Wide Sargasso Sea, but the latter abounds in allusions to the original novel, rewriting and remapping its metaphors to fit new purposes. Therefore, Rhys's novel retrospectively sheds new meaning on Jane Eyre but also on itself because it is only at the end that the connection with the previously written on becomes transparent and then while reinterpreting Bronte's novel, the reader has to reinterpret Wide Sargasso Sea as well.

The narration is broken into three parts, Antoinette, her husband, Grace Poole, then Antoinette again taking turns to narrate the events. The third part begins with Grace Poole relating the circumstances of her being employed to take care of Antoinette/Bertha. Grace disclosing her identity from the first line becomes the moment when everything up to this point and from this point on starts to be reconsidered in view of Jane Eyre. However, the last pages in Wide Sargasso Sea cast doubt on this connection because what happened during the fire at Thornfield Hall is recycled as Antoinette's recurrent dream. Though the facts are the same (numbered from 1 to 5 in the following quotes), the story is not, so their considering in parallel shows the extent to which subjectivity alters reality:

Jane Eyre

"for when Mrs. Poole was fast asleep, after the gin-and-water, the mad lady, who was as cunning as a witch, would take the keys out of her pocket (1), let herself out of her chamber [.] and then she got down to a lower story, and made her way to the chamber that had been the governess's - (she was like as if she knew somehow how matters had gone on, and had a spite at her) - and she kindled the bed there (2); but there was nobody sleeping in it fortunately. [...] And then they called out to him that she was on the roof; where she was standing, waving her arms, above the battlements, and shouting out till they could hear her a mile off; I saw her and hear her with my own eyes. [. ] I witnessed, and several more witnessed Mr. Rochester ascend through the skylight on to the roof: we heard him call "Bertha!" (3) We saw him approach her; and then, ma'am, she yelled (4), and gave a spring (5), and the next minute she lay smashed on the pavement" [49].

Wide Sargasso Sea

"In my dream I waited till she began to snore, then I got up, took the keys (1) and left myself out with a candle in my hand.[...] It was a large room with a red carpet and red curtains. Everything else was white. I sat down on a couch to look at it (2) and it seemed sad [...]. I wished to see it clearly so I lit all the candles, and there were many. [.] I saw the wax candles too and I hated them. So I knocked them all down. Most of them went out but one caught the thin curtains that were behind the red ones. [.] It was then that I saw her - the ghost. The woman with streaming hair. [.] I dropped the candle I was carrying and it caught the end of a tablecloth and I saw flames shoot up. [...] But when I looked over the edge I saw the pool at Coulibri. Tia was there. She beckoned to me and when I hesitated, she laughed. I heard her say, You frightened? And I heard the man's voice, Bertha! Bertha! (3) Someone screamed (4) and I thought, Why did I scream? I called 'Tia!' and jumped (5) and woke" [50].

In Jane Eyre this episode is twice filtered, first by the host of the inn then by Jane herself; in Wide Sargasso Sea, though, it is Antoinette who narrates, creating the illusion of accuracy. However, readers are warned not to fall into the fictional trap first by its being presented as a dream (and therefore not real) and then by inserting in it analeptic references such as those to Aunt Cora and to Tia, disturbing its chronological sequence. Additionally, the dream is revelatory to Antoinette as it is expressed in the last passage of the novel: "Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do" [51]. Though the assertiveness of this statement should be a clear indicator of what is going to happen next (thus, an open ending which is not so open), it is only another decoy used by Rhys, mocking those readers who, after reading a novel designed to raise questions about the authority of history and of fiction, still take for granted everything they read.

The narrative form also forwards the idea of a multifaceted truth, playing with readers' expectations in that it engenders multiple interpretations and perceptions of the same event, symbol, character or metaphor. If Antoinette symbolically prefigures Jane's fate, she also retraces her mother's destiny. Annette also married an English man whose incapacity of accepting his wife's Creole origin and therefore the differences between them led to Annette's spiritual and later real death (as she appeared in Antoinette's recollections of her childhood): "She did die when I was a child. There are always two deaths, the real one and the one people know about" [52]. Such symbolic repetition enhances the effect Rhys meant her novel to have: to make readers aware that there are always hidden truths about any truth, that no story is ever complete or completely objective.

4. Final remarks

All things considered, the historical past, its writers and its texts have been revisited and accommodated within the present in such a manner as to retain their individuality and value. While some critics view recycling as transforming that which would be lost, this study regards it as the means to ensure the continuity of the past, whose importance within contemporaneity is thus strengthened. Possession and Wide Sargasso Sea bring Victorian England and Victorianism into the present in an attempt to show how the latter is still very much influenced by the former. Criticising or praising this period, Rhys and respectively Byatt demonstrate how history is just a sum of subjective histories, laying bare the fictionality of their own fictional universes. Possession is filled with references to real Victorian poets and famous people whose language and behaviour is carefully reproduced. Fiction blends with reality but every time the plot becomes too "real", Byatt steps in and reveals the narrative architecture underlining it. Rhys reproduces entire fragments from Bronte's novel, showing that it serves to analyse not only what is told, but also the one who tells it. Jane Eyre is uncovered as the biased presentation of Jane's story just as Wide Sargasso Sea depicts only Antoinette's version of the same story. The transgression of characters from one novel to another points to the artificiality of both fictional worlds. As such, recycling becomes the manner in which these two novels begin a vivid and meaningful dialogue with the past with the aim of illustrating the latter's continuity into today's literary practices.


The work of both students is supported by Project SOP HRD - TOP ACADEMIC 76822.


[1] Bell, V. (ed.) (2007) Other Voices 3, Cultural Recycling, vol.3, no.1 [online] available from <> [April 20th 2012]

[2] Ibidem

[3] Ibidem

[4] Martinez, S. (2008). Recycling Culture(s). UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 4

[5] Ibidem, 5

[6] Praisler, M. (2005). On Modernism, Postmodernism and the Novel. Bucuresti: Editura Didactica si Pedagogica, 64 - 66

[7] Ibidem,

[8] Hutcheon, L. (1989). The Politics of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 36

[9] Shaffer, B. W. (ed.) (2005). A Companion to the British and Irish Novel 1945-2000. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 392

[10 [11 [12 [13 [14 [15 [16 [17 [18 [19 [20 [21 [22 [23 [24 [25 [26 [27 [28 [29 [30 [31 [32 [33 [34 [35 [36 [37 [38 [39

[40 [41 [42 [43 [44 [45 [46 [47 [48 [49 [50 [51 [52

Rhys, J. (2000). Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin Group, 5

Ibidem, 64

Ibidem, 5


Ibidem, 10

Ibidem, 24

Ibidem, 18

Ibidem, 18

Hutcheon, L. (1989). The Politics of Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 104 Ibidem, 123 Rhys, J. op. cit., 58 Ibidem Group, 82

Alfer, A., Noble, M. (eds.) (2001). Essays on the fiction of A. S. Byatt. Westport: Greenwood Press, 3

Byatt, A.S. (1990). Possession. London: Random Century Group, 5

Ibidem, 164

Ibidem, 283

Ibidem, epigraph


Ibidem, 283

Ibidem, 507

Ibidem, epigraph

Alfer, A., Noble, M. (eds.) (2001).op.cit., 98 Ibidem, 98

Byatt, A.S. (1990). op.cit., 216, 218

Ibidem, 44, 317

Ibidem, 47

Ibidem, 147

Ibidem, 16

Ibidem, 16 - 17

Bernard, C. (2003). "Forgery, Dis/Possession, Ventriloquism in the Works of A. S. Byatt and Peter Ackroyd" Miscelánea: A Journal

of English and American Studies 28 (2003), 16 - 19

Byatt, A.S. (1990). op.cit., 1

Ibidem, 3

Ibidem, 465

Ibidem, 465

Ibidem, 465

Ibidem, 150

Wu. D. (ed.) (2002). Victorian Poetry. UK: Blackwell Publishing, 85 Ibidem, 86

Byatt, A.S. (1990). op.cit., 151

Bloom, H. (2001). Robert Browning. New York: Chelsea House, 44

Brontë, C. (2001). Jane Eyre. New York and London: W-W- Norton & Company, 364 - 365 Rhys, J. (2000). Wide Sargasso Sea. op.cit., 122 - 124 Ibidem, 124