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Wide Sargasso Sea Hardcover – July 1, 1999
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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
About the Author
Jean Rhys was born in Dominica in 1894. Coming to England aged 16, she drifted into various jobs before starting to write in Paris in the late '20s. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie was written in 1930. Her early novels, often portraying women as underdogs out to exploit their sexualities, were ahead of their time and only modestly successful. From 1939 onwards she lived reclusively, and was largely forgotten when she made a sensational comeback with Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966. She died in 1979.
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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.
Am still firmly convinced that "Reader, I married him" is the best line in literature.
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.
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When we finished reading Jane Eyre in my British Literature class, and my teacher told us one of our final project options would be this book...Read more