Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Christophine, Annette's servant and Antoinette's nurse, is one character where a first-person point of view might have helped. (For first person narratives, we get Antoinette, Rochester, and (drum roll)…Grace Poole. Grace Poole. Sigh.)
On the one hand, Christophine seems to be a benevolent force in Antoinette's life. She becomes a substitute mom when Antoinette's mother goes off the deep end. When Antoinette and Rochester's marriage hits the rocks, Christophine is filled with earthy nuggets of inspiration like, "A man don't treat you good, pick up your skirt and walk out" and "Have spunks and do battle for yourself." (This woman deserves her own VH1 Celebreality show.) And, for Antoinette, Christophine represents somebody who's completely comfortable with her racial identity, and contributes to Antoinette's own identification with black Caribbean culture.
And yet…why is Christophine such a shady character? It may have something to do with the fact that she was imprisoned for practicing obeah, called voodoo in the French colonies (see our discussion of obeah in "The Supernatural," under "Themes," for more on why obeah was considered politically dangerous). The fact that she's from Martinique, a French colony, makes her doubly suspect in the English colonies where the novel takes place. Despite Antoinette's rapturous devotion, we get glimmers of a woman who doesn't seem to have Antoinette's best interest at heart.
Why, for example, was Mr. Cosway so fond of her, giving her a house of her own near Granbois? Why does Christophine stick around with the Cosways when Mr. Cosway dies? Why didn't she come in to say good night to Antoinette on the night the estate burned down? Why does Christophine give Antoinette the obeah powder when it's pretty obvious from what Antoinette says that she has every intention of drugging Rochester, regardless of whether he accepts her explanation or not? And why is everyone, black and white, so afraid of Christophine? We never find out exactly why Christophine was jailed, and both Antoinette and Rochester note in their narratives that Christophine is constantly mumbling things that they don't understand. Is Rochester right? Is Christophine just out to exploit Antoinette for her money?
Whether you believe in Christophine's obeah powers or not, she's a formidable character, definitely not to be taken lightly.