There are many commentaries on the red dress in Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea but few touch upon the temporal displacements initiated by its presence. First the dress and its sensory impact:
The scent that came from the dress was very faint at first, then it grew stronger. The smell of vetivert and frangipanni, of cinnamon and dust and lime trees when they are flowering. The smell of the sun and the smell of the rain.
Primordial markers of sun and rain are set in a context of foreshadowing the coming fire (the red dress is assimilated to a dream of flames). But there is also a retrospective aspect that is set up by a question of knowing how much time has passed. What is intriguing is the answer that is more than a simple enumeration of the passage of units of time. It is also a looking forward to burial. It is within the context of such temporal considerations that the senses sharpen and the faint scent grows stronger. The passage before the scent magic reads:
“Nobody’s hidden your dress,” she said. “It’s hanging in the press.”
She looked at me and said, “I don’t believe you know how long you’ve been here, you poor creature.”
“On the contrary,” I said, “only I know how long I have been here. Nights and days and days and nights, hundreds of them slipping through my fingers. But that does not matter. Time has no meaning. But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning. Where is it?”
She jerked her head towards the press and the corners of her mouth turned down. As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the colour of fire and sunset. The colour of flamboyant flowers. “If you are buried under a flamboyant tree,” I said, “your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.”
She shook her head but she did not move or touch me.
There follows the passage about the dress and scent which then in turn triggers a flash back. And of course it is the mastery of Rhys to contain this in a first person narration and provoke an identification with this special type of time travel even if you never have seen or heard of delonix regia.
And so for day 1253