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Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 30 Mar 2000


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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: 13 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Elise Wetz on 11 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stephen King on 1 Aug. 2004
Format: Paperback
Great novels should subvert certain traditions and conventions and Wide Sargasso Sea certainly does that. It provides the voice of 'the other', the unknowable mad wife, Bertha in Jane Eyre. Rhys' response to Jane Eyre is to provide us with a haunting, unnerving account of Antoinette, Bertha's real name. It has no chapter division and moves from one narrative voice to another without warning. This supports the overall theme of displacement and dreams. The issues of race and gender are accurately portrayed as more complex than black and white, male and female. Slavery and freedom are highlighted not just in the emancipation act but also in asking us who are now the real slaves, the former slave owners. Much of the character description is given through Antoinette's stream of consciousness and dialogue which must have been a shock to its English audience in the sixties when people were not that well-travelled. Overall, from its opening page providing hints of a dark past and a possibly thwarted future to its Thelma and Louise like ending this book holds us in suspense and makes us rethink assumptions held by many to this day.
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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 May 2001
Format: Paperback
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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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By James on 22 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
WARNING: A PLOT SPOILER IS INCLUDED IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH

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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