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Wide Sargasso Sea: A Novel Paperback – August 17, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0393310481 ISBN-10: 0393310485 Edition: Reissue

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (August 17, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393310485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393310481
  • ASIN: 0393308804
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1966 Jean Rhys reemerged after a long silence with a novel called Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys had enjoyed minor literary success in the 1920s and '30s with a series of evocative novels featuring women protagonists adrift in Europe, verging on poverty, hoping to be saved by men. By the '40s, however, her work was out of fashion, too sad for a world at war. And Rhys herself was often too sad for the world--she was suicidal, alcoholic, troubled by a vast loneliness. She was also a great writer, despite her powerful self-destructive impulses.

Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress who grew up in the West Indies on a decaying plantation. When she comes of age she is married off to an Englishman, and he takes her away from the only place she has known--a house with a garden where "the paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest tree ferns, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched."

The novel is Rhys's answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë's book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell--that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester's terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys's imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Sea follows her voyage into the dark, both from her point of view and Rochester's. It is a voyage charged with soul-destroying lust. "I watched her die many times," observes the new husband. "In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty."

Rhys struggled over the book, enduring rejections and revisions, wrestling to bring this ruined woman out of the ashes. The slim volume was finally published when she was 70 years old. The critical adulation that followed, she said, "has come too late." Jean Rhys died a few years later, but with Wide Sargasso Sea she left behind a great legacy, a work of strange, scary loveliness. There has not been a book like it before or since. Believe me, I've been searching. --Emily White


“Working a stylistic range from moody introspection to formal elegance, Miss Rhys has us traveling under Antoinette's skin. It is an eerie and memorable trip.” (The Nation)

“The novel is a triumph of atmosphere—of what one is tempted to call Caribbean Gothic atmosphere…It has an almost hallucinatory quality.” (New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is written as a prequel to Jane Eyre and tells the story of Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester's "mad" wife.
This intimate point of view puts the reader in the skin of the character, but can be a bit confusing because we cannot always rely on the veracity of the narration.
Joanna Daneman
It's not a terrible book, but really, there are such better things you can do with your time - like watch TV, or read just about anything else.
Matthew M. Howell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Daneman #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Jean Rhys, the troubled author who was far ahead of her time in the 1920's, felt a strange kinship with Antoinette or Bertha Mason, the madwoman locked in the attic in Bronte's "Jane Eyre." From the first time Rhys read "Jane Eyre" she knew she would someday write her story because she felt she'd lived it.
Like Antoinette, Rhys grew up in the Caribbean, a troubled and hermetic world of Creoles, colonists and former slaves. Antoinette is truly a loner--the reversal of family fortunes causes her to be rejected by her own people, and despised by those who previously were on a lower rung of society. Throughout the novel, Antoinette is used, buffeted and never in charge of her own life. She feels that, as a woman, she is an object, not a person. As a woman, she is not in charge of her ultimate destiny, and this provides the conflict for the novel. Her madness is only an extension of this isolation and rejection.
What makes Rhys a masterful novelist is her use of conversation and immediate events to describe the world in which Antoinette lives. There are no long passages of exposition; we see the world only through the eyes of the characters, mostly at the same time that they experience it. However, the immediate events and conversation or narration are so cleverly constructed that the reader sees through the narrator's eyes and can really see and feel the surroundings. This intimate point of view puts the reader in the skin of the character, but can be a bit confusing because we cannot always rely on the veracity of the narration. The point of view itself switches in the novel from first person to third person, in the second part, and back to first in the third and final portion, where Antoinette is locked in the attic.
The novel is in no way a re-write or version of "Jane Eyre.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
Jean Rhys may be one of the greatest underrated writers of the century. Wide Sargasso Sea is her masterpiece. In a short 140 pages, Rhys creates a multi-layered story that deserves a few re-readings in order to fully appreciate it's scope.
It's not "anti"-Jane Eyre, it is an exploration of that theme Bronte created but never examined- the madwoman in the attic. Rochester is not "evil"- he is a confused, weak man who blindly follows the values of his society (money, emotional repression), and is in fact portrayed to be a victim of them. That is what makes this story a tragedy; the oppressors are not hellions, they are simply ignorant and arrogant.
There are so many themes in this book it is impossible to touch upon them all; men & women, slaves & slave-owners, rich & poor, industrial & rural, the known & the unknown, the conqueror & the colony.
The first part is narrated by Antoinette Cosway, her memories of growing up in post-Emancipation Jamaica. It is written as though we have direct access to her thoughts, or she telling us her memories verbaly. The prose is rythmic, not static. The second section is mostly narrated by Rochester, his voice is a little more restrained, he is prissy and frustrated and confused as he describes their marriage and life in the Islands. Sometimes Anointette (whom Rochester has re-named Bertha) breaks his narrative and we are shown her own growing frustration and desperation. The last section brings the story to England- a few paragraphs are given to Grace Poole, then it is Antointette's now "mad" voice as she is locked in the attic.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Allison on December 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
This beautifully written novel is as haunting as they come. It takes time to understand the rhythms of Rhys's prose, but it's worth the effort. Although I firmly believe that the book should be read separately from Jane Eyre (which I equally love), I also think that it adds another layer of depth and richness that Bronte would have appreciated. The idea that Mr. Rochester had a vindictive side in his youth is balanced by the fact that he loses his eyesight in the end of Jane Eyre. Jane's own decision to leave him seems even more justified, and his humbleness upon her return more genuine.
But apart from the Jane Eyre factor, this is a mysterious and exotic novel of passion, fear, and betrayal. I have always wondered why Rochester hated Antoinette so much after he married her, and I have heard that it was because Rhys believed that everyone fears the depth of his/her own passion, and Rochester could not face the passion that Antoinette aroused in him. I think that Rhys explores this controversial theme with amazing finesse. The completeness of Rochester's revenge, as well as Antoinette's powerlessness to protect herself, is both heartbreaking and riveting to the end.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By JLind555 on January 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
'Jane Eyre' was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager and if I had read 'Wide Sargasso Sea' right after reading 'Jane Eyre', I would have hated it for deconstructing the heroic image of Mr. Rochester. I'm glad I discovered WSS much later. It's an intriguing, fascinating study of Mr. Rochester and his first wife, Antoinette Mason, the prototype of the 'mad wife in the attic' who played a minor but vital part in 'Jane Eyre'.

Antoinette's mother descends into madness following the loss of the family estate to a slave rebellion. To shore up the family fortune and save her from becoming an old maid, and thus a burden, she is married off to Mr. Rochester, newly arrived from England, who knows nothing about her mother's insanity. WSS shows us the other side of Mr. Rochester that Jane Eyre couldn't or wouldn't see: his coldness, his selfishness, and his opportunism. We can understand how, as he did in 'Jane Eyre', such a man would lie to an innocent young woman about his marital status and nearly trap her into unwittingly participating in a sham marriage. Rochester is attracted to Antoinette at first; he is dazzled by her beauty as well as her money and eager to marry her. Once the honeymoon phase is over, he is unable to adjust to his surroundings. Jamaica is antipathetic to everything he grew up with, it's wild, untamed, a study in extremes, anathema to a tidy, organized, narrow-minded European, and Rochester is the typical insular-minded Englishman who despises what he is unable to understand.
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