The novella's protagonist and a character based on the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys imagines the past of Brontë's deranged maniac, whom she depicts with sympathetic understanding. When the work begins, Antoinette is a lonely young girl growing up in post-Emacipation Jamaica. After an escalating series of violent encounters with the newly-freed blacks on the island, Antoinette and her family of white Creoles are forced to flee from their estate. The tumult and trauma drive Antoinette's mother over the edge, and, with no living blood relations, Antoinette is pushed into a marriage with a nameless Englishman (Brontë's Mr. Rochester). The rest of the tale describes how life with an uncomprehending and unloving husband sends Antoinette, like her mother before her, to the brink of madness and beyond. She is also called "Bertha" and "Marionetta" by Rochester.
Annette Cosway Mason
Antoinette's gorgeous but troubled mother. She is the much-younger second wife of Alexander Cosway, and later of Mr. Mason. A white woman born in Martinique, Annette has never been accepted by the black Jamaicans. Cast as an outsider, she feels alternately abandoned and persecuted, and her instinct for self-preservation ultimately leads to her mental breakdown. After the fire that destroys her family home, she attempts to kill her husband and is locked away for the remainder of her days. She apparently dies when Antoinette is at school, but the exact cause of her death is never made clear, and later even the timing of her passing is called into question. A frighteningly spectral presence for most of the book, Annette shows signs of mental illness almost from the first page. Her ultimate fate is therefore unsurprising.
Antoinette's sickly younger brother who, although he can neither walk nor speak distinctly, is nevertheless Annette's favorite child. He is badly burned in the fire that engulfs Coulibri and dies shortly thereafter. It is never made explicitly clear what is wrong with Pierre, although Daniel insists he was an "idiot from birth," and there are further suggestions that generations of incest lead to the birth of this "cretin."
The dark-skinned, fiercely loyal servant who was given to Antoinette's mother as a wedding gift many years before the novella takes place. She wears a black dress, heavy gold earrings, and a yellow handkerchief tied in Martinique fashion with two points in front. The other islanders - black and white alike - will have nothing to do with her because she is known to practice the dark art of obeah, which at one point she uses to try to help Antoinette reclaim her husband's love. Throughout the work, Christophine exhibits an emphatic independence. She actually encourages Antoinette to leave Rochester, and stands up to him until he takes his wife back to England. Christophine, also referred to as "Josephine" and "Pheena," is Antoinette's only real protector.
Antoinette's father, and also the sire of Pierre, a son also by the name of Alexander, Sandi, and possibly Daniel, although he vehemently insisted that was not the case. When the novella begins, Alexander has died, apparently of alcohol poisoning, and left his family impoverished. A slaveholder and philanderer who squandered his fortune, Alexander was rumored to have madness in his genes. According to Daniel, he died a "raving" lunatic.
A neighbor of the Cosway family and the "only friend" of Antoinette's mother. He is the owner of the property Nelson's Rest, which is said to be haunted after his suicide very early in the work. Distant relatives, also with the name Luttrell, later stake claim to his property.
A servant of the Cosway family at Coulibri. Godfrey stays on with the family after Mr. Cosway's death, but Annette distrusts his motives for doing so because he is the one who finds her poisoned horse. "The Lord make no distinction between black and white, black and white the same for Him," Godfrey says at one point.
A boy servant who leaves Coulibri when the Cosways fall on hard times, but returns after Annette marries Mr. Mason, much to Antoinette's delight. His real name, apparently, is "Disastrous Thomas."
The sole friend of Christophine and the mother ot Tia. She is a black servant but does not hail from Jamaica.
Maillotte's daughter who becomes Antoinette's friend and playmate until she steals her pennies and dress one day when they are swimming. After that incident Antoinette does not see Tia again until the night of the fire. Then, catching sight of Tia and her mother on the fringes of the crowd, Antoinette runs toward them but Tia stops her in her tracks by hurling a jagged rock at her face. Antoinette can only stare at her former friend as if "in a looking-glass."
The white Englishman Annette marries early in the story. Antoinette does not like him and feels that he does not understand the family's precarious position at Coulibri. In fact, his incredible naïveté puts the family at great risk; believing the newly-emancipated negroes to be as harmless as lazy children, he refuses to leave Jamaica with his new bride. After the fire, Annette apparently tried to kill him and he has her locked up. Then he leaves Jamaica for long stretches of time, returning occasionally to give Antoinette gifts and to tell her that he has arranged for her to enter the marriage market. Mr. Mason convinces Rochester to come to Jamaica from England, but dies before his arrival in the West Indies.
The son of Mr. Mason by his first wife. After his father's untimely death, Richard assumes the responsibility for negotiating the financial aspects of Antoinette's marriage settlement. Aunt Cora reprimands him for giving Rochester all of Antoinette's inheritance, leaving her with essentially no wealth of her own. Christophine similarly implies that Richard's is not a good man acting in his stepsister's best interests. Later, after Antoinette and Rochester have returned to England, Richard Mason visits Antoinette but hardly recognizes the disheveled madwoman she has become. Enraged that he has allowed her to be locked up for so long, Antoinette flies at him with a knife, in a scene directly from Jane Eyre.
Antoinette's aunt, although it remains unclear if the two are related by blood or by marriage. Aunt Cora is never specifically said to be Annette's sister, but Mr. Mason implies this by saying that Cora should have done something to help when the Cosways fell on hard times. Antoinette explains that Aunt Cora's slave-owning husband disliked them and refused to let her write or visit. After his death, Cora returns to the West Indies, where she does her best to care for Antoinette in particular. She strongly disapproves of Richard Mason's plan to marry off her niece without legal protection, but there is very little she can do about it. Old and ailing, she gives Antoinette a silk bag containing her rings in case the girl ever needs her own money.
The groom engaged my Mr. Mason after he marries Annette and commences the restoration of Coulibri. He is a loyal servant and risks his life to help the family escape from the burning house.
Another of the servants employed by Mr. Mason to work at Coulibri. She proves to be a traitor to the family when the negroes rise up against them; knowing about the planned revolt she leaves Pierre to die in his burning bedroom but escapes herself.
Annette's beloved green parrot. Coco perishes in the blaze at Coulibri; symbolically he cannot fly to safety because Mr. Mason has clipped his wings.
Antoinette's mixed-race half-brother whom she refers to as "Cousin Sandi." He is one of Alexander Cosway's bastard sons. Sandi comes to Antoinette's rescue when she is threatened on her way to the convent school. Daniel tells Rochester that Sandi and Antoinette have a history of incestuous intimacy. Antoinette neither confirms nor denies this, but she does remember fondly how Sandi taught her to throw rocks at the monster crab in the pond. Later, once she is imprisoned in the attic room in England, Antoinette has a fragmented memory/hallucination in which Sandi comes to visit her and kiss her farewell.
Louise de Plana
One of three sisters (the other two are named Hélène and Germaine) who are students at the convent school Antoinette attends in Spanish Town. The siblings are held up as models of comportment to the rest of the class. Louise, the most beautiful of the three, takes Antoinette under her wing and teaches her about the way of life in the convent.
Mother St. Justine
The lead instructor at Mount Calvary Convent. She gives lessons on the lives of the saints and on good manners and hygiene. The girls, however, find her to be "not very intelligent"; they refer to her behind her back as "Mother Juice of a Lime."
Sister Marie Augustine
Another of the nuns at the convent. She comforts Antoinette after her hellish nightmare.
The man Antoinette marries, who actually remains unnamed for the duration of the novella. Despite this, he narrates most of the second part of the text, and from his story it quickly becomes clear that he is based on the hero of Jane Eyre. Rochester, an Englishman, travels to Jamaica at the urging the Mason family, who pressure him into a hasty marriage with Antoinette. He complies, largely because he needs the tidy sum of money they are offering him; as his father's second son, he stands to inherit nothing under the law of primogeniture. Immediately upon arriving in the Caribbean, he catches fever, and he suggests that this also has something to do with the rapidity of his nuptials. Soon after the wedding, he decides that he has made a terrible mistake, as he comes to believe that he has been tricked into marrying a girl with bad blood in her veins. Rochester retaliates for this perceived deception by taking his cruelty out on his new wife. His behavior causes her to have a mental breakdown, after which he takes her back to England and locks her in the attic of his mansion.
A young female servant who accompanies Antoinette and Rochester on their honeymoon. Amélie's knowing looks and mischievous snickers unsettle the newlywed couple, particularly Rochester, who assumes that she must know he has been somehow duped into the marriage. At one point Amélie suggests that Rochester is tiring of the honeymoon, and Antoinette slaps her. Amélie fights back, calls Antoinette a "white cockroach," and shortly thereafter retaliates by having sex with her mistress's husband. Rochester offers her money the morning after, and Amélie says she is going to use it to start a new life in Rio.
Also called "Caro," she is, according to Rochester, "a gaudy old creature in a brightly flowered dress, a striped head handkerchief and gold ear-rings." Apparently a friend of Antoinette's, Caroline offers the honeymooning couple shelter in her house during a rainstorm when they are on their way to Granbois. Rochester refuses, but Antoinette accepts.
A young man Rochester speaks to in the village of Massacre, en route to the honeymoon cottage. Young Bull is a porter who is helping to transport the couple's luggage. "This a very wild place - not civilized. Why you come here?" he asks.
Another luggage porter and native islander. Rochester asks his age and Emile responds by saying that he is fourteen; then almost immediately he changes his response to fifty-six. Rochester uses this as proof that "these people are not civilized." The Norton edition of the novel points out that this discrepancy makes sense, however, if Emile were born on February 29 in a leap year.
The elderly caretaker of the honeymoon cottage at Granbois. He seems deeply troubled by Antoinette's plight, although he always shows the requisite deference to Rochester's authority.
A young servant girl at Granbois. Always underfoot, she frequently giggles at inappropriate moments, and is generally immature. Rochester considers her a "savage," yet expresses regret when he misses the opportunity to say "goodbye" to her.
A negro boy servant at Granbois who almost collides with Rochester at one point.
Another negro servant girl at Granbois.
Possibly a zombie that Rochester sees when he gets lost in the woods. When she sees him she screams, drops the basket she is carrying, runs away, and disappears.
Cousin Julia, Cousin Ada, Aunt Lina
Guests, apparently relatives of Antoinette, present at the wedding ceremony.
A solicitor and acquaintance of Rochester's in Spanish Town. Mr. Fraser writes a letter to Rochester detailing Christophine's practice of the darks arts.
A half-caste man who claims to be one of Alexander Cosway's illegitimate children. Fiercely bitter because Alexander would never recognize him as such, Daniel writers two letters to Rochester providing an exaggerated and one-sided account of the family's troubled history. Rochester goes to visit him in his shack on one of the Windward Islands. During this visit, Daniel says that his real name is "Esau" and further claims to be a deeply religious man who is just carrying out his Christian duty.
Christophine's son and the only one of her three children to appear in the novella. He arrives when Antoinette is visiting to consult her nurse about how to get Rochester to love her again. Christophine tells Antoinette that Jo-jo is "nothing but leaky calabash," so she had better leave or everyone will know about her marital difficulties.
"A half-savage boy," according to Rochester, who follows when he and Antoinette leave Granbois to return to Spanish Town and then England. The boy cries because he wants to go with Rochester and has learned English for this purpose, but Rochester will not allow it.
Evidently Rhys's version of Brontë's Mrs. Fairfax, she is the housekeeper at Rochester's estate in England. Mrs. Eff does not appear in the story but is mentioned in passing by Grace Poole.
A character directly imported from Jane Eyre, Grace is the servant hired to watch over Antoinette day and night in the attic. She is well paid for her silence, but apparently does talk about her captive charge to Leah - this conversation opens the third part of the book. Grace has a fondness for drink, and when she passes out Antoinette is able to steal the key from around her neck and venture downstairs into the house.
One of only three servants at Rochester's English estate who know about Antoinette's presence in the attic.
Wide Sargasso Sea Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Wide Sargasso Sea is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think this is the case. That night she dreams for the third time that she has stolen the keys from Grace and ventured into the main part of the house. She takes a candle with her and goes to "a large room with red carpet and red curtains" where...
Fire serves as a symbol of rebellion in the novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. The fire at Coulibri is caused by an act of retribution.... it is an act of defiance carried out by the black community. Antoinette's world changes as a result of the fire, and...