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Wide Sargasso Sea (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Jean Rhys
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 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: 12.9 x 1.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,565 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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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
84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The madwoman from the attic is rescued 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
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting prequel to Jane Eyre 22 Dec 2011
By James
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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15 of 15 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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sargasso Sean 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
fantastic, quick delivery service, great packaging, money's worth.
Published 1 month ago by Venetia
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Bronte
It somehow doesn't compare to Jane Eyre. A lot of it doesn't tie in with Jane Eyre properly, and it paints Rochester as being a rotter. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Willywagglesdagger
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A*
Published 1 month ago by tazbride
3.0 out of 5 stars Was really enjoying it and then it sort of lost ...
Was really enjoying it and then it sort of lost credibility. Plot too obvious I think. Only read it for a course.
Published 2 months ago by couture Kate
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and interesting take on the 'mad wife in the ...
An excellent and interesting take on the 'mad wife in the attic' from Jane Eyre. Rhys provides the background to Rochester's first marriage and the madness that haunts him.
Published 2 months ago by L. Scott
1.0 out of 5 stars A "classic" read? Maybe.
I have started to read this book on four occasions at various times, all have been failures. I simply cannot get the characters, their relationships or the timescale of the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by PBatBP
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it.
Fantastic book, loved studying it.
Published 3 months ago by Sophie
4.0 out of 5 stars was absolutely beautiful. Atmospheric and very believable
I had to study 'Jane Eyre' as part of my degree and I must say, I am not a fan of Bronte's work. However, the imagined prequel ' Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys, was absolutely... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Calico Pye
5.0 out of 5 stars if you have read and enjoyed Jane Eyre you will enjoy this
This the story of Mr Rochester's first wife, if you have read and enjoyed Jane Eyre you will enjoy this.
Published 3 months ago by Lionel Leahy
5.0 out of 5 stars A Summer Read is all You Need.
A jolly refreshing adaptation of Edward Rochester and a thoroughly recommended read; the handy pocket size is just right and fits into any handbag too.
Published 4 months ago by Barbara
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