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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: 12.9 x 1.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,071 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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They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 89 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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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By James on 22 Dec 2011
Format: Paperback

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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By catheart on 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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10 of 10 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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