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Wide Sargasso Sea: A Novel Paperback – August 17, 1992
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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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Top Customer Reviews
I've read Jane Eyre (not required reading for Wide Sargasso Sea) and liked it, so decided to try Rhys again and was bowled over by this book!
If you want to be haunted by what you read to the point where the characters, imagery and overall feeling of the work follow you around for days afterward, Wide Sargasso Sea is the book for you. This is the Jean Rhys I was looking for. Hats off to her. Short, but tremendous.
Once I was aware that this book was a prequel to Jane Eyre about the mad, passionate first wife of Mr Rochester, nothing would keep me from it - outside of a penny-priced copy of it being available on Amazon and it spending months & months stowed away in my bookshelf. So, after much ado, I dove in. It's a little disorienting to read between its dual narration and Antoinette's aggressive, spiteful prose, but it also reminds me of Alice Hoffman's A Marriage of Opposites headstrong heroine and her plight to know herself and who to trust in an almost anti-paradise.
Rhys' prose is hauntingly evocative of the island setting. It equals the more famous descriptions of Joseph Conrad ("Outcast of the Islands", for example) and Richard Hughes ("High Wind in Jamaica"). It compares favorably with the writings of Victor Serge (read the chapter in, "Unforgiving Years" on the Mexican sojourn of the agent "D") and with the clash between the idealized vision of rural life held by the planter, Morin Dutilleul and Bossuet Metelus, the Obeah magician in Philippe Thoby-Marcelin/Pierre Marcelin's "The Beast of the Haitian Hills". Rhys easily ecplipses current-day South American writers of the "magical realism" genre (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for instance), who can only grasp at what Rhys has achieved in this novel.
With the exotic flora, weird sense of isolation, mysterious interpersonal interactions and vaguely portentious overtones attendant upon the well-established and foretold denouement, Rhys' book is simultaneously whistful and depressing. Having visited Jamaica and living in a rural home for about 6 weeks in 1969 (this being shortly after independence from the UK), I can attest to the continuity of perspective existing between the residue British-Jamaican whites and the "native" Jamaicans: these seemed to be grafted intact from the 1830-era of "Wide Sargasso Sea".
Unfortunately, the brilliance of the writing has not been a guarantor of commercial success and, as a result, this fine work has languished in relative obscurity.
Despite what another nearly forgotten author (L.P. Hartley in, "The Go-Between", 1953) wrote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there", Rhys demonstrates in "Wide Sargasso Sea" that, at least some continuity between past and present exists, in that nothing much changes with respect to individual's capacity to hurt others; Il en sera tourjours ainsi, I suppose.
Am still firmly convinced that "Reader, I married him" is the best line in literature.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed the idea of this book, being a big fan of Jane eyre.Read more