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Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Jean Rhys
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Mar 2000 Penguin Modern Classics

Her grand attempt to tell what she felt was the story of Jane Eyre's 'madwoman in the attic', Bertha Rochester, Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea is edited with an introduction and notes by Angela Smith in Penguin Classics.

Born into the oppressive, colonialist society of 1930s Jamaica, white Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent beauty and sensuality. After their marriage, however, disturbing rumours begin to circulate which poison her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is inexorably driven towards madness, and her husband into the arms of another novel's heroine. This classic study of betrayal, a seminal work of postcolonial literature, is Jean Rhys's brief, beautiful masterpiece.

Jean Rhys (1894-1979) was born in Dominica. Coming to England aged 16, she drifted into various jobs before moving to Paris, where she began writing and was 'discovered' by Ford Madox Ford. Her novels, often portraying women as underdogs out to exploit their sexualities, were ahead of their time and only modestly successful. From 1939 (when Good Morning, Midnight was written) onwards she lived reclusively, and was largely forgotten when she made a sensational comeback with her account of Jane Eyre's Bertha Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea, in 1966.

If you enjoyed Wide Sargasso Sea, you might like Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, also available in Penguin Classics.

'She took one of the works of genius of the nineteenth century and turned it inside-out to create one of the works of genius of the twentieth century'

Michele Roberts, The Times

NOTE: The book is a 2000 reissue of a 1997 edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (30 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141182857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141182858
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The novel is a triumph of atmosphere--of what one is tempted to call Caribbean Gothic atmosphere. . . . It has an almost hallucinatory quality. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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First Sentence
They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The madwoman from the attic is rescued 11 Feb 2002
This novel not only gives a voice to Bronte's madwoman from the attic, but it shows the woman as the true underdog she is --doubly oppressed by race and sex. A white Creole, the heroine Antoinette comes from an impoverished former slaveholding family on a Caribbean island, and as such is hated both by the black population (who continue to be exploited despite the formal abolition of slavery) and by the rich English "newcomers." After the death of her father and stepfather, and after her mother has been driven mad by their desperate citcumstances, Antoinette is sold, for the price of her dowry, to a young Englishman who wants to make a quick fortune. Rochester (who is never named and whose identity can only be guessed from the plot), is at the same time attracted and intimitated by her independence and exotic beauty, but soon the lush beauty of Antoinette's island turns into a nightmare for him too, as he is drawn into a net of lies and intrigues. Not willing nor able to listen to her side of the story ("There always is the other side," she once says to him), he begins to hate Antoinette with a hatred so fierce that it drives him to crush her personality until the point of madness.
In this novel, identity is never a simple and stable thing, and this is as true for Rochester as it is for Anoinette and the black servants who work for them. Despite the antagonistic feelings they all have for each other, there is a subtle mirroring taking place, blurring the distinction between "you" and "me", "them" and "us.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting prequel to Jane Eyre 22 Dec 2011
By James

This book was written as a prequel to Jane Eyre (JE). It focuses on Rochester's first wife, JE's `madwoman in the attic'. In chapter 27 of JE we are given a brief back history of this woman and of how Rochester came to marry her, but this is recounted by Rochester himself: we never get to hear from her, despite her importance in the plot of JE. By contrast, in WSS Jean Rhys makes her the centre of the story as Antoinette Cosway; the name `Bertha' by which she is known in JE is foisted on her, against her will, by Rochester; this is one of several ways in which Rochester appears in WSS as an oppressive and bullying man. After she and Rochester marry she develops some disturbing behaviour symptoms which eventually turn her into JE's `madwoman', but WSS implies that this behaviour is not (as Rochester claims in JE) hereditary but instead is the result of his poor behaviour towards her. The story in WSS takes us through her life from a young girl to her eventual suicide; the bare details of the suicide are recounted in chapter 36 of JE, but WSS provides an explanation based on Antoinette's gathering despair at her treatment and her hopeless predicament.

Writing a prequel or sequel to any famous and widely admired book is bound to annoy some people who fear that the original work is being exploited, or that its themes and characters are being distorted. There is evidence of this in some of the readers' reviews of WSS. The most frequent complaint is from reviewers who object to WSS on the grounds that it turns Rochester from (what they see as) JE's romantic hero into a villain.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning 31 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is stunning, intricate and heart-breaking. It is far more than just a prequel to 'Jane Eyre' (indeed, its anachronisms demonstrate that this is not what it aspires to be); it is an intimate study of the troubled race relations of the West Indies, a torturous depiction of marital betrayal and a devastating exploration of the causes and effects of mental break-down. In much of the novel, Rhys writes - unusually - from the perspective of her male protagonist as well as the female and the interplay between the two voices is fascinating, as is the deeply uncomfortable non-story of how Bertha got her name. Read this when you have the time to be immersed completely in the scents and customs of Jamaica, which Rhys conjures perfectly.
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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving 25 May 2001
By A Customer
Antoinette, like most of Jean Rhys's other female characters, is a woman that hovers between two worlds: black and white, English coldness and tropical warmth,sanity (accepted behaviour) and madness. Although given a poignant voice, she is helpless because she doesn't know how to use it. She goes mad insofar as madness is silencing her voice and retreating more and more inside herself - and letting others speak for her. She is the perfect victim, as she doesn't distinguish the boundary between love and madness anymore. Unlike Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, to which I think this novel is an answer, this woman has loved deeply and has suffered a great deal on account of that love through no fault of hers. Madness is the result of prolonged emotional distress, and comes as the only outcome when she ceases struggling against her bleak reality and can't face it anymore. Having read this book after Jane Eyre, I can't help but feel that at least Antoinette had the chance to have the voice she never had in Charlotte Bronte's novel. At last, the story told on the silenced madwoman's point of view!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
a really good book, even though i had to ready for one of my university module. the reminders to jane eyre are clever and the style makes the book easy and quick to read
Published 16 days ago by fritze
4.0 out of 5 stars The Wide Sargasso Sea
I have been attending a study course on 'Jane Eyre' and the Wide Sargasso Sea is a pertinent part of the study. I enjoyed the book.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. J. B. Watson
4.0 out of 5 stars It glimpse into the life of the first Mrs Rochester
I've wanted to read this for a while and finally got around to it. I found it very useful as I am studying empire at the moment and it helped my to get a feel of how life... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Turty
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful - don't waste your time reading it....
So disappointed with this book. Felt it was totally disjointed, none of the characters made me feel sympathetic towards them. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Fok
3.0 out of 5 stars The Literary Coelacanth
In 1938 great excitement was caused in the world of natural history by the discovery of the coelacanth, a species of fish which was previously known from fossil remains but was... Read more
Published 2 months ago by J C E Hitchcock
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE it
This is a great read for any Jane Eyre lover. Rhys adopts the famous characters, Bertha Mason and Rochester, from Charlotte Brontes novel and gives an insight into the woman before... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Tobchipbob
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic re-interpretation
I love Jane Eyre but I like this even more. It delves into the back story of Antoinette/Bertha and gives a sympathetic view of the 'mad woman' from Jane Eyre. Read more
Published 3 months ago by BBarker
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely writing
This is one of those novels I'd heard about but never read, so when my daughter studied it for her English A-level and said it was good, I thought I'd read it myself. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Phil O'Sofa
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
If you've read jane eyre, this book is a must to read. The writing is exceptional and the story line gives us a new incite into Antoinette and Rochester's life before Jane.
Published 6 months ago by Gwen
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story
A lively story about the difference between two races and how each hated the other. Again a good story and a book I couldn't put down.
Published 7 months ago by Honeybun
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