Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

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Places Discussed

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*England. Although only the brief third section of the novel actually takes place in England, the country’s influence reverberates throughout. All the people in power are English: Antoinette’s father, stepfather, stepbrother, and husband; Aunt Cora’s husband; the island police; and the people in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Antoinette admires an English girl in a painting called “The Miller’s Daughter” but identifies with Tia, an African American girl. Antoinette cannot believe that England is real, just as Christophine does not believe its reality because she has not seen it. Christophine prophetically calls it a “cold thief place.” Even when Antoinette is taken to England, it seems real to her only once, when she is allowed to visit the countryside and see its grass, water, and trees. Otherwise she compares the house in which she is imprisoned to “cardboard” and thinks that she and her husband became lost on their way from the West Indies. For Antoinette, England is a cold place, and she is left longing for the passion and beauty of the West Indies.

*West Indies

*West Indies. Island chain separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean from the Atlantic Ocean, colonized by European powers. Antoinette blames her lack of identity on having grown up there. Her husband mistrusts his bride because of her foreign ways and blames the islands for tricking him into a loveless marriage. In contrast to England, the West Indies are warm and seductive, with the power to make people behave irrationally. Antoinette’s final desperate act is an attempt to return home.


*Jamaica. Island in the West Indies taken from the Spanish by the British, who made fortunes using slaves to raise sugarcane. Since emancipation in 1834, many freed slaves have grown to hate their impoverished former masters. Antoinette’s deceased father is a decadent, rich Englishman, her mother a beautiful young Creole from Martinique. After her father’s death and emancipation, the former slaves poison Antoinette’s mother’s horse, call the women “white cockroaches,” and burn their home. The English people in Jamaica scorn and gossip about the family.


Colibri. Jamaican estate where Antoinette spends her childhood. Like its row of royal palms which have been either cut down or have fallen, Antoinette is proud but lost. The warm, wrought iron handrail in front of Colibri comforts her, but the orchids in the overgrown garden seem like snakes and octopi. Despite the comforts of the isolating sea and mountains which surround Colibri, the stones which cannot be stolen or burned, and a big stick, her widowed mother’s focus on her sickly younger brother makes Antoinette feel unloved. The beauty and returning wealth of the place frighten the wild girl and help bring about Colibri’s destruction, just as Antoinette’s beauty and inheritance destroy her.

*Spanish Town

*Spanish Town. Town near Kingston where Antoinette lives with Aunt Cora after Colibri burns. The convent there, especially its cool stones and shadows, provides Antoinette some safety and security, though the threatening half-caste children and English people who gossip about her mother’s insanity grieve Antoinette. In Spanish Town, Antoinette’s mother marries Mr. Mason, just as Antoinette marries the groom arranged for her by Mr. Mason’s son. Unlike her mother, who dances gaily at her wedding to a wealthy man, Antoinette does not want to marry the strange, young Englishman who Aunt Cora and Christophine believe is only after her inheritance.


*Martinique (mahr-teen-EEK). French-ruled Windward Island near Antoinette’s honeymoon island. A former slave of Antoinette’s mother, Christophine is a strong woman feared by the indigenous population, of which she is a member, and is rumored to practice a form of...

(This entire section contains 995 words.)

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magic called obeah. When Antoinette’s marriage erodes, the servant offers to take her to Martinique. The English husband refuses out of fear that there she may find someone else and be happy. Martinique is an island of mystery, sexuality, and tolerance, a place the English despise and fear as they do both Christophine and Antoinette’s mother.


Granbois (grahn-BWAH). Shabby white summer home inherited from Antoinette’s mother, located on an unnamed Windward Island near Martinique, probably based on the island of Dominica, where Jean Rhys was raised. Granbois is the setting of Antoinette’s disastrous honeymoon; she loves the place until her husband’s betrayal makes her hate it. The bathing pool where she throws rocks at a crab is a happy place, contrasted to the pool at Colibri, where Tia mocks her and steals her clothes. In Granbois Antoinette shows some self-confidence, feels almost at home and safe except at night, when she dwells on insanity and death and compares herself to the moths that fly too close to the candle’s flame and are burned to death. Antoinette’s husband is attracted to the beauty of Granbois yet feels that the place and its surroundings have a personal grudge against him. In contrast, the more realistic Antoinette asserts that Granbois is impartial and indifferent. He finds its colors too bright, its jungle hostile and threatening, and the perfume of its night-blooming flowers too sweet. He wants to conquer its wildness and penetrate the secret of its beauty but fails to do so, just as he fails with Antoinette. Instead, out of revenge, he decides to destroy her psychologically. Though he softens as they leave Granbois and pities the little white house struggling against the “black snake-like forest,” he asserts that the dark forest always triumphs, just as he has triumphed over Antoinette. Not only have his greed, intolerance, and lack of love destroyed Antoinette, but also they have damaged him.

*Sargasso Sea

*Sargasso Sea. Region of the North Atlantic between the Caribbean Sea and the Azores islands in whose comparatively warm and calm waters large amounts of seaweed float. Although mentioned only in the title, the Sargasso Sea symbolizes Antoinette’s rootlessness and her husband’s feelings of being smothered and trapped by her.

Form and Content

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In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s characters fall into mental instability as a result of the rejection and isolation that dominate their lives. Rhys does not give a sentimental version of her characters’ declines but offers a detached journalistic account from two perspectives. The novel is divided into three sections. Section 1 is narrated by Antoinette, who describes the rejection that penetrates her early childhood. She also narrates section 3, which further depicts isolation as she is placed in an alien environment in England. Section 2 is narrated by her husband, Rochester, who offers his perspective on the peculiarities of life in the islands and of life with Antoinette. This shift in narrators is effective because it allows readers to understand each character’s dilemma.

To set the atmosphere of rejection, Rhys opens the novel with Antoinette describing the attitudes of the Spanish Town residents toward her mother, Annette. Many factors contribute to Annette’s nonacceptance by the local residents, who believe that Annette is out of place because she was born in Martinique rather than Jamaica. They believe that she is far too young for her husband, so they question her motives for marrying him. They also talk about Pierre, her son, who was born with a mental disability. In addition, because the wounds of slavery have not healed, enmity exists between former slaves and landholders. Annette had been accustomed to social status when her husband’s plantation had been prosperous, so the isolation drives her to madness.

The impact of the rejection goes beyond Annette. Her daughter, Antoinette, is also ostracized by the community. As the narrator of section 1, she describes the relationships of the community toward her mother and herself as well as the relationship between mother and daughter. After the loss of Coulibri, the family estate, and of Pierre, Annette completely rejects her daughter. Antoinette is sent to a convent, where she experiences a life that is totally unlike the one she knew at Coulibri. Catholicism contrasts sharply with the superstition and magic she had learned from Christophine, her family’s housekeeper. Antoinette feels confusion, another factor contributing to her isolation. Section 1 ends after Antoinette attends her mother’s funeral. Throughout the narration of this opening segment, Rhys depicts a childhood in which rejection and isolation are the dominant factors. The result is that Antoinette is unable to communicate; she does not know how to give of herself to others.

Antoinette seeks companionship and an end to her isolation by “buying” a husband from Britain. Rhys has this gentleman narrate the second section of Wide Sargasso Sea. Rochester’s narration reveals his struggle to maintain his identity in this new environment, which initially entrances him but which also clashes with the values of his upbringing. Rhys establishes characters who contribute to their own undoing; blame is not assigned to others. Antoinette’s inability to communicate leads her to use extreme methods in an effort to overcome her isolation. Rochester’s inability to be flexible in adapting to a new way of life creates a further barrier to communication.

Section 3 is narrated by Antoinette, who describes her isolation in her husband’s British estate. Instead of Rochester being the alien in her island environment, she is now the alien in his homeland. Her madness becomes complete in these final years of isolation.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys speculates about the history that evolved the characters in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Brontë’s Rochester is a neurotic, embittered man who keeps his unstable wife closeted in the attic. Wide Sargasso Sea ends where Jane Eyre begins.


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Jean Rhys’s works are known for depicting females as spontaneous and fragile and males as cold and destructive. In Wide Sargasso Sea, however, to distinguish between the oppressors and the victims is difficult. Both genders seem to be at the mercy of their environments. Annette is the victim of historical prejudices resulting from the abolition of slavery. Antoinette is the victim of growing up in a family that was filled with rejection, leaving her unable to communicate with others. Rochester is the victim of being reared in European society and then being transported to a new environment where he is surrounded by the freedom of island culture. Each character must struggle to survive in difficult or unfamiliar conditions.

Rhys avoids sentimentality for her victims and reports journalistically. In isolation, the female characters struggle to form some sense of self-identity, but they seem always to be grasping for smoke. Rhys seems to suggest that women too often base their identities on their ties with others. Women pursue dependent roles and seem to lack identity in isolation. With an absence of self, women are continually grasping and often slide into mental instability.

Some critics claim that Rhys writes of cold-hearted men who take advantage of weak, dependent women. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester takes Antoinette’s dowry and shares a passionate beginning with her before turning away from her, leaving her in a state of imbalance. Rhys, however, does not paint Rochester as a cold, heartless character. She places Rochester in an alien environment and then depicts his state of loss. He is continually investigating his new environment, continually questioning his emotions in regard to Antoinette, continually trying to explain himself in letters to his father. The struggle to maintain his European culture in the free island atmosphere is not easy for him. Rhys, however, gives him the strength to recognize the problem. He realizes that he is out of place in the island environment and returns to England. His strength is in recognizing the cause of his confusion and in having the independence to return. Women, who are dependent on others, seem to lack the ability to step out of confusion.

Antoinette lacks any sense of self, which requires years of communication with others to develop. She has never learned to communicate. She relies on money to acquire a husband, rather than relying on her own personality or character. She relies on an aphrodisiac to seduce her husband rather than believing she can accomplish the seduction herself. Each of these decisions reflects Antoinette’s lack of self-esteem. Rejection has made her unknown to herself. The irony in the story is that self-identity is acquired from interaction with others, yet that same interaction often results in loss of identity. To maintain balance is difficult for everyone, regardless of gender.

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys does not place the blame for women’s passivity, lack of identity, or disorientation on men. She instead creates characters who are responsible for their own fates. In showing the negative consequences of depending on others for identity, Rhys encourages the development of a strong sense of self. She punctuates that personal goal with doubt, however, by emphasizing that people are products of their environments.

Historical Context

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Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea between 1945 and 1966. Critic Elizabeth Nunez-Harrell writes in ‘‘The Paradoxes of Belonging: The White West Indian Woman in Fiction,’’ that the novel is a ''response to the nationalistic mood in [the West Indies] of the late 1950s and 1960s.’’ During this time period Jamaica became independent of Britain (in 1962). Dominica, the country of Rhys's birth and the setting for Part II, did not become independent until 1978. In these times of change, which also saw a large influx of West Indian immigrants into England, the relations between whites and blacks were often tense, erupting sometimes into violence. Not addressing these questions directly, Rhys chose to set her novel between 1839 and 1845. Slavery had ended in the British colonies in 1833, so these years were also ones of change.

In deciding to tell the ''true story'' of Bertha Mason, the Creole madwoman in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Rhys confronted directly English stereotypes about the Caribbean and also how white and black West Indians viewed the English. Interestingly, Rhys changed the time setting. Bronte's novel is set in the late 1700s, before the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. By moving the setting, Rhys places her characters in a much more volatile time period. The West Indian planters who had made their fortunes cultivating sugar with slave laborers were impoverished by abolition. Their property values plummeted, and they found it difficult to secure a labor force to work their declining estates. White West Indians had threatened secession from England over the question of emancipation. In his history of West Indian slavery, Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams quotes one Jamaican planter as saying, ‘‘We owe no more allegiance to the inhabitants of Great Britain than we owe our brother colonists in Canada ... We do not for a moment acknowledge that Jamaica can be cited to the bar of English opinion to defend her laws and customs.’’ In other words, white Jamaicans did not want to accept British sovereignty, and felt that England had no right to abolish slavery in their land. Meanwhile, new English colonists were able to make a fortune buying up devalued West Indian estates. As is apparent in Mr. Mason's and Edward Rochester's attitudes toward the former slave owners in the novel, the new arrivals felt morally superior to the West Indian whites who had supported a system of human bondage. However, as the former slave Christophine notes in Wide Sargasso Sea, abolition and the new colonists did not bring blacks complete freedom: ‘‘'No more slavery!' She had to laugh! ‘These new ones have Letter of the Law. Same thing. They got magistrate. They got fine. They got jail house and chain gang. They got tread machine to mash up people's feet. New ones worse than old ones—more cunning, that's all.'’’ In fact, immediately following emancipation, the British put an apprenticeship system into effect. The freed slaves were forced to stay with their former masters and accept whatever wages the masters chose to pay. Steep fines and imprisonment awaited those blacks who sought greater freedom. The new white colonists tried to create a greater divide between blacks and whites. In Rhys's novel, Antoinette and Pierre have many part-black half-siblings, children of their father's frequent liaisons with black women. Their mother Annette welcomes these children and accepts them into her home. Mr. Mason, however, tries to put a stop to this interaction. Antoinette recalls that Mr. Mason tried to instill in her shame for having black relatives. Similarly, Rochester is repulsed after he sleeps with a black servant. Having sex with her, he feels, puts him on the same level as the immoral old slave owners.

These three distinct groups—white West Indians, black West Indians, and English colonists—uneasily inhabited the small islands of the English-speaking Caribbean. In the years following abolition, black rebellions frequently erupted, and the white governors were often accused of treating their black subjects too harshly. Rhys's ancestors watched their plantation burn down shortly after emancipation. Rhys, too, would have been aware of the debate surrounding what was known as the Governor Eyre controversy. In 1865, Jamaican Governor Eyre quelled a black rebellion using an extreme amount of force. Eminent English writers immediately began debating over what was the correct way to protect the white minority interests in the overwhelmingly black Caribbean. Novelist Charles Dickens supported Eyre, believing that any white violence was justified for fear of potential black violence. Scientist Charles Darwin, on the other hand, believed that Eyre's barbarity could never be justified. What is important to remember is that Jamaica and other far-flung British colonies were significant in England. The English discussed how best to govern these colonies and theorized about the racial differences of their inhabitants. One thing that Rhys contends with in her novel is how the Caribbean is perceived through various forms of English discourse. In deciding to tell the ‘‘true story’’ of a Creole subject whom readers knew only through Charlotte Bronte's eyes, Rhys lets the colonials talk back.

Literary Style

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Point of View
The novel is divided into three parts. In the first, Antoinette is the only narrator. In the second part, Rochester takes over, but his narrative is interrupted briefly by Antoinette. In the third part, the English nurse Grace Poole is the narrator until Antoinette regains the narrative voice. This first-person narration is significant because it lets the reader see the world through the subjective gaze of flawed characters. In Parts I and II, Antoinette reveals her own naivety by relating her story. She so obviously does not understand the world she has been born into. Why her mother rejects her, why Tia will refuse to shelter her in the midst of the riot at Coulibri, and why Rochester will reject the gift of her love are all mysteries to this uneducated, ignorant, and yet sympathetic heroine. Watching Antoinette struggle to belong and witnessing her repeated rejections through her eyes, the reader cannot help but pity the fragility of Antoinette's position. However, when Rochester takes over the narration, as Sanford Sternlicht argues in his chapter on the novel, ''It is as if the author is allowing the accused to convict himself on his own testimony.'' As the ''villain'' of the novel, the man who eventually causes Antoinette's insanity and locks her away, Rochester is ostensibly an unsympathetic character. He unwittingly reveals his racism by recording his reactions to the black people he meets. His greed, his lack of respect for his wife and her culture, his willingness to blame anyone and everyone for his life's disappointments become apparent as he tries to portray himself as a victim of circumstance. Despite this, in his narration Rochester reveals himself to be a passionate man, who, blinded by prejudice, is denying his own happiness as well as his wife's. Grace Poole, the alcoholic nurse hired to care for Antoinette in England, is an equally subjective narrator. So caught up in her desire to escape the pressures of the outside world, she cannot comprehend the tragedy of Antoinette's imprisonment. When Antoinette once again takes over, Rhys succeeds in presenting the world through a madwoman's eyes. In a letter, Rhys had noted, ''A mad girl speaking all the time is too much!’’ In splitting the narrative, though, Rhys shows how all perspectives are limited, if not by madness then by prejudice, self interest, and ignorance.

The setting of Wide Sargasso Sea is a very important factor in the novel. The Sargasso Sea evokes both fear and tranquillity. Rachel Carson describes how the Sargasso holds ‘‘legendary terrors for sailing ships’’ but also how its skies are ‘‘seldom clouded.’’ In the novel, the Caribbean seems to be both paradisiacal and threatening. The lush growth, the vibrant colors, make Antoinette feel as though she is growing up in the Garden of Eden, but that the Garden has ‘‘gone wild.’’ The wildness seems to encroach on the inroads civilization has made. Rochester imagines that the ''honeymoon-house'' is being invaded by the ever-growing forest. The heat and color of Jamaica and Dominica are also contrasted to the cold grayness of England. The time setting of the novel is another crucial factor. Though Rhys decided to write the ‘‘true story'' of Charlotte Bronte's character, Bertha Mason, Rhys broke from Bronte by moving the time setting from the late 1700s to the 1840s. This shift allows her to depict a volatile time period. Slavery had recently been abolished in the Caribbean, and the economic repercussions of emancipation changed Caribbean society. This is evident in both the decay of Coulibri, a once-rich plantation, as well as in the riot staged by black workers afraid that they will soon be replaced by East Indian laborers.

SymbolismWide Sargasso Sea is filled with recurring symbols. Coulibri, the big plantation house that is burned to the ground by black laborers, is a symbol of slavery and oppression. Thornfield Hall, Rochester's English estate, is equally a symbol of oppression, but of a different sort. Locked in the attic, Antoinette sees Thornfield Hall as the symbol of her husband's power over her. Burning it down, she symbolically reaches out to the blacks who burned down her childhood home. Clothes are also important symbols in the novel. When Antoinette puts on Tia's dress, she feels as though she has put on Tia's skin. Antoinette imagines that her white mother and their white neighbors see her as a ‘‘white nigger.’’ Later in life, Antoinette wears the white dress that Rochester likes in an attempt to make him love her. But Rochester, noting that the dress does not fit Antoinette correctly, sees this as yet another way that his wife is different and doesn't fit into his English ideals. After she has gone insane, Antoinette asks her keeper again and again to let her wear her red dress. The red dress symbolizes both her infidelity—she wore a similar dress when her lover Sandi visited her—and the fire and warmth of the Caribbean. She imagines, as she sees the dress on the floor, that it is a fire spreading across the room. This reminder of the Caribbean inspires her finally to burn down Thornfield Hall and to figuratively return to the place of her youth.

Literary Heritage
Critics argue about which literary heritage Rhys draws upon in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea. Some, like Sandra Drake, argue that Rhys uses a particularly Afro-Caribbean tradition in her novel: ''This reading is sustained by the centrally Afro-Caribbean structure of the novel, by the quintessentially Afro-Caribbean figure of the zombi, and by the Africa-derived beliefs about the relations between the living and the dead that the concept of the zombi—the living-dead—incorporates.'' Drake believes that the novel favors an Afro-Caribbean worldview over a European one, and that Rhys challenges her readers to reject the Western idea that African beliefs are ''foolish.'' Others see Rhys, who left Dominica as a teenager and only returned for one brief visit, as belonging to the European Modernist tradition. Mary Lou Emery finds, however, that such categories ''limit our understanding of her work.'' She argues instead that the modernist writer, the West Indian writer, and the woman writer can be seen as complimentary categories that help shape each other. The power of European influence on Rhys's novel can certainly not be denied. She did, after all, choose to write the ''true story'' of a character she borrowed from one of the best known nineteenth-century English novels, Jane Eyre. The mixture of African and English elements seems finally to best represent the literary heritage of the West Indies, where so many different cultures intermingled over centuries of colonization.

Media Adaptations

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Wide Sargasso Sea was adapted as a film in 1993 by Carol Angier, John Dugian, and Jan Sharpe. The Australian film stars Karina Lombard, Rachel Ward, Michael York, Nathaniel Parker, and Naomi Watts. The sexually explicit nature of the film earned it an NC-17 rating, but an edited R-rated version is also available through New Line Home Video.

The composer Gordon Crosse wrote a musical score called Memories of Morning: A Monodrama for Mezzo-soprano and Orchestra in 1973 that is loosely based on Rhys's novel. The score is available through Oxford University Press.

In 1996, Australian composer Brian Howard adapted Wide Sargasso Sea into a chamber opera.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Allen,Walter, review, in New York Times Book Review, June 18, 1967, p. 5.

Alvarez, A., ‘‘The Best Living English Novelist,’’ in New York Times Book Review, March 17, 1974, pp. 6-7.

Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, Penguin Classics, 1985.

Carson, Rachel, ''The Sargasso Sea,'' in Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticisms, edited by Judith L. Raiskin, W. W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. 117-19.

Drake, Sandra, '''All that Foolishness/That All Foolishness': Race and Caribbean Culture as Thematics of Liberation in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea,’’ Critica, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall, 1990, pp. 97-112.

Emery, Mary Lou, ‘‘Modernist Crosscurrents,’’ in her Jean Rhys at World's End: Novels of Colonial and Sexual Exile, University of Texas Press, 1990, pp. 7-20.

Erwin, Lee, '''Like in a Looking Glass': History and Narrative in Wide Sargasso Sea,’’ Novel, Vol. 22, No. 2, Winter, 1989, pp. 143-58.

Frickey, Pierette M., "Introduction," in Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys, edited by Pierrette M. Frickey, Three Continents Press, 1990, pp. 1-13.

Nunez-Harrell, Elizabeth, ‘‘The Paradoxes of Belonging: The White West Indian Woman in Fiction,’’ in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, Summer, 1985, pp. 281-93.

Raiskin, Judith L., "Notes," in her Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticisms, by Jean Rhys, edited by Judith L. Raiskin, W.W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. 20, 149.

Raiskin, Judith L., "Preface," in her Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticisms, by Jean Rhys, edited by Judith L. Raiskin, W. W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. ix-xii.

Ramchand, Kenneth, An Introduction to the Study of West Indian Literature, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1976, pp. 91-107.

Rhys, Jean, ‘‘The Bible Is Modern,’’ in Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticisms, edited by Judith L. Raiskin, W. W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. 148-49.

Rhys, Jean, ‘‘Black Exercise Book,’’ in Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticisms, edited by Judith L. Raiskin, W. W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. 155-56.

Rhys, Jean, ‘‘Selected Letters,’’ in Wide Sargasso Sea: Backgrounds, Criticisms, edited by Judith L. Raiskin, W. W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. 132-45.

Rhys, Jean, Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography, Harper and Row, 1979.

Sternlicht, Sanford, ‘‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’’ in his Jean Rhys, Twayne, 1997.

Thorpe, Michael, '‘’The Other Side': Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre,’’ in Ariel, Vol. 8, No. 3, July, 1977, pp. 99-110.

Williams, Eric, ''The Slaves and Slavery," in his Capitalism and Slavery, The University of North Carolina Press, 1994, pp. 197-208.

Further Reading:
Ramchand, Kenneth, ‘‘Wide Sargasso Sea,’’ in Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys, edited by Pierrette M. Frickey, Three Continents Press, 1990.
Ramchand argues that Wide Sargasso Sea truly is a West Indian novel. However, he believes that ‘‘to say a novel is West Indian is not to deny its accessibility to a non-West Indian, nor indeed to deny the validity of a non-West Indian's reading.’’
Sternlicht, Sanford, Jean Rhys, Twayne, 1997.
This critical biography of Jean Rhys provides information on Rhys's life as well as an analysis of each of her works. The chapter on Wide Sargasso Sea describes the novel's major themes.
Thomas, Sue, The Worlding of Jean Rhys, Greenwood Press, 1999.
In this book, Thomas explains that she ‘‘wanted to begin to understand Rhys's locations, the manner in which she situates her authorial and narrative voices politically and ethically in relation to the worlds of her fiction and autobiographical writing.’’


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Anderson, Sherwood. “The Book of the Grotesque.” In Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Penguin Books, 1992. This first chapter gives a thorough explanation of “grotesqueness,” the inability to communicate with others. The rejection that results further strengthens the barriers against communication. Anderson’s explanation facilitates an understanding of the characters in Wide Sargasso Sea.

Angier, Carole. Jean Rhys: Life and Work. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. These seven hundred pages give a thorough discussion of Rhys’s early life, her schooling, her clash of cultural backgrounds, her chorus line experience, her self-inflicted isolation, and her relationships. Angier connects Rhys’s life with those of the characters in her books.

Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. Hite maintains Rhys’s assertion that the advancement of some groups of women necessitates the deprivation of other women.

Howells, Coral Ann. Jean Rhys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Howells calls Wide Sargasso Sea Rhys’s “most rebellious text.” In discussing Rhys’s revolt against, yet ambivalence toward, Brontë’s Victorian novel, Howells contends Rhys’s novel is not easily classified.

Hulbert, Ann. “Jean Rhys: Life and Work.” The New Republic 206 (February 17, 1992): 38-41. This lengthy article reviews the biography of the same name by Carole Angier. Much information is given about Rhys’s life and about the characters in her novels. Rhys claims, “I have only ever written about myself.”

James, Louis. Jean Rhys. New York: Longman, 1978. A well-detailed account of Rhys’s great-grandfather provides insight to Rhys’s “fidelity to experience.”

Nasta, Susheila, ed. Black Women’s Writing from Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia. London: Women’s Press, 1991. One chapter in this anthology explores the “devastating results when the mother-bond is denied” and another establishes Rhys as the literary foremother of following generations of Caribbean women writers.

Rhys, Jean. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. New York: Harper & Row, 1931. This second novel by Rhys is the story of Julia, who marries in order to escape Britain and to go to the Continent. After the collapse of her marriage, Julia goes from man to man and takes up drinking. Julia tries to grasp the essence of herself but finds her hands empty. Other novels by Rhys include Quartet (1928), Voyage in the Dark (1934), and Good Morning, Midnight (1939).

Thurman, Judith. “The Mistress and the Mask: Jean Rhys’s Fiction.” Ms. 4, no. 7 (January, 1976): 50-53. Analyzes Rhys’s depiction of women as underdogs.

Wolfe, Peter. Jean Rhys. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Approaches Wide Sargasso Sea both autobiographically and historically, examining the artistry of Rhys’s content and form.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide