Wednesday, December 26, 2007

One Thought Leads to Another

Another thing we did in Chicago was see the musical Wicked. Maybe you’ve already seen this; apparently millions of people have, but we had not. We all enjoyed it, though some problems with the acoustics prevented me from understanding all the words (especially Glinda’s) so I think I missed some of the plot details. No matter – the staging was so interesting that I didn’t care.

The main point of this show (and of the novel on which it’s based, Wicked, by Gregory Maguire) is that the character that we’ve long considered a villain, the Wicked Witch of the West, is not a villain at all, and has good reasons for her actions. This premise reminds me of one of my favorite books, Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, which was first published in 1966. I thought it might be out of print, but find it available in paperback at Amazon.

Wide Sargasso Sea tells us that a character we’ve long considered a villain (Mr. Rochester’s first wife, imprisoned in the attic of Thornfield Hall) is not a villain at all and has good reasons for her actions. Rhys re-imagines Mrs. Rochester as an abused wife (mistreated by both Rochester and her own brother), and gives her a name, Antoinette, just as Maguire has named the Witch Elphaba (naming is the first step towards humanizing a character). I loved this book when I first read it years ago. It helps to read (or re-read) Jane Eyre first, as the two stories intertwine very closely, and it’s fascinating to see Jane and Edward Rochester through Antoinette’s eyes. Literary scholars consider Wide Sargasso Sea as “post-colonial” because Antoinette is Creole, and Rhys was born in Dominica. The book is taught in some college literature classes, but isn’t widely read by the general public these days. I think it’s a neglected classic.

Lots of things I do remind me of books I’ve read. I’m going to start writing more posts about this. I’ll try to keep it interesting. Let me know if it isn’t.


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