Published twenty-five years after Jean Rhys’s previous book, Wide Sargasso Sea was Rhys’s last novel. Different in some respects from the rest of Rhys’s work (Wide Sargasso Sea is set in the Caribbean, not in London or Paris, and occurs in the nineteenth rather than the twentieth century), Rhys’s last novel continues her passionate explorations into the lives of tragic heroines who are alone, outsiders, and underdogs. Continuing in a long tradition of women’s writing, Rhys explores the cultural alienation that results from imperialism and gender roles. Wide Sargasso Sea is Rhys’s revision of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre. The novel’s position within the literary canon is thus significant both as a continuation in the tradition of women’s writings and as a rebellion to a woman’s text within that tradition. Voicing approval and contempt, Rhys creates a dialogue with her literary predecessor.
Rhys grants Antoinette what Brontë denied Bertha, a voice. Rhys does the same for Jane Eyre’s Rochester. The two main characters in Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Cosway Mason and the unnamed Englishman, tell their versions of the tale in their own voices. Wide Sargasso Sea is in three parts: Antoinette’s childhood, the newlywed period, and Antoinette’s period of imprisonment in the attic of her husband’s English home. Of the three parts, the first and third are told in Antoinette’s voice. The second is told primarily in the Englishman’s voice but is interrupted by a brief section in...
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