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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Antoinette Cosway is a beautiful young Creole heiress growing up in Jamaica just after the Emancipation Act of 1833. Her parents are ex-slave owners whose plantation, Coulibri Estate, is now in disrepair. She lives with her widowed mother Annette and her handicapped brother Pierre. The servants gossip cruelly about the Cosway’s discreditable reputation. The one exception is the servant Cristophine, a Martinique woman who has been overseeing and protecting the Cosways.
Annette does not spend much time with her daughter. This leaves Antoinette to her only childhood friend, Tia. Once, however, when Antoinette and Tia go swimming together, Tia betrays Antoinette and steals her pennies and her dress. Antoinette returns home in Tia’s dress, which Annette sees as a disgrace.
Rather abruptly, Annette marries a man from England named Mr. Mason. He has Coulibri renovated and believes he can live there in control of the servants. The racial tension is high, however, and one night the freed blacks stage a protest outside the house. They are carrying torches and end up setting the house on fire. Pierre is fatally injured, Antoinette takes ill for several weeks, and Annette’s smoldering insanity fully manifests itself as a result of the traumatic event. Mr. Mason abandons them, traveling away from Jamaica for months at a time.
Antoinette’s Aunt Cora enrolls her in a convent school. There she is educated alongside other Creole girls. When she is seventeen Mr. Mason visits more frequently and plans to present Antoinette to his English friends.
Antoinette is now married to an Englishman. He and Antoinette go to a honeymoon home called Granbois, which had belonged to Antoinette’s mother. The Englishman married Antoinette for money. He did not know her or her family. Mr. Mason’s son, Richard had arranged the marriage.
At Granbois, the man is uncomfortable with the exotic surroundings and the gossiping servants. Christophine is there and he sees her as a threat to his authority over Antoinette. His relationship with Antoinette is unstable. It becomes worse after he receives a letter from Daniel Cosway stating that Antoinette and her family are insane. He then begins to see what he thinks are signs of her madness.
Antoinette wants her husband to love her again. She asks Christophine for help. Christophine practices obeah and reluctantly gives Antoinette a drug to make the man desirous. That evening Antoinette tries to explain her side of the story behind Daniel Cosway’s letter. They argue and he begins calling her Bertha because it is a name he likes. Finally, they go to Antoinette’s room. There he drinks drugged wine and becomes ill. The servant Amelie who has often flirted with him comforts him. They sleep together right next to Antoinette’s room.
Antoinette has heard everything and leaves the next morning. She goes to Christophine. When she returns to Granbois, she goes to her room and gets drunk. She and her husband fight and she bites his arm. Christophine then gives Antoinette’s feelings a voice as she reproaches the man for causing Antoinette to break down. She tells him to leave Antoinette with her and to go back to England. He decides to leave for England with Antoinette.
Antoinette is locked in the attic of the man’s home in England. Grace Poole is the woman hired to watch her. Antoinette goes from violent to melancholy. She doesn’t realize she is in England and has nostalgic memories of Jamaica. She dreams of sneaking downstairs and setting the house on fire. Finally, she takes a candle descends the stairs.