Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

After publishing Good Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys dropped out of view and was nearly forgotten as a literary artist, but with the publication of Wide Sargasso Sea and the reissuing of her previous books, including hardback and softback editions in the United States, Rhys’s skills and talents were once more brought to the attention of readers in both countries and led some critics to call her the best living English novelist. Her fictions became the subject of serious critical study resulting in several scholarly books and many articles. Her importance rests on her skills and modernist novelistic techniques, where form not only shapes but also dictates meaning; on her use of wasteland images and existential themes similar to those of such major modern writers as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and the early T. S. Eliot; and on her unsparing rendering of the plight of women in a society in which their roles are secondary to those of men, anticipating the concerns of many women writers of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Rhys was a female voice speaking in a text that in 1939 needed decoding, a text the implications and complexities of which did not begin to be understood until more than thirty years after the publication of her early works and are still subjects of critical contention and admiration.