GOODREADS RATING: 3.6WH Smith Literary Award (1967)
W.H. Heinemann Award (1966)Wide Sargasso Sea is a counter-narrative to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, but a reader does not need to have read Jane Eyre in order to understand it.
Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting [female] characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind. —GOODREADS
Wide Saragasso Sea is set in the 1830’s in Coulibri, near Spanish Town, Jamaica and later moves to the 1840’s in Granbois, near Massacre, Dominica and Thornfield Hall, England.
Antoinette has voice in the beginning of the novel, but as her life gets more confusing and she finds herself in an arranged marriage, she loses that voice. Wide Sargasso Sea has several different points of view which help convey how Antoinette looses her voice as the novel progresses. While this is important, it also made the novel confusing because there was nothing denoting who was narrating each section and the reader has to use context clues to figure it out.
Antointte is also forced to surrender her money when she marries. Because Rochester marries her for her money, she loses control of it when she marries him.
Rhys illustrates the setting by using color and the descriptions are often uncanny. Much of the imagery, specifically regarding the weather, foreshadows what is to come in the novel.
I knew the time of day when though it is hot and blue and there are no clouds, the sky can have a very black look. —Rhys, 28
Rhys uses the contrast of “black” and “white” in association with positive and negative things—alluding to racial disparities. Rhys also uses colors through imagery to describe Antoinette’s emotions. Almost obviously, lighter colors are used in order to resemble Antoinette’s positive feelings.
The long brown room was full of gold sunlight and shadows of trees moving quietly. —Rhys 56.
Antoinette is deemed “mad” or “crazy” for her attitude and reactions when the context is not fully considered by other characters. It is likely easier for the other characters to label Antoinette “mad” or “crazy” than to attempt at understanding her full situation. It is also important to note that mental health was largely unconsidered during the time period this novel is set in.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech and book The Danger of A Single Story addresses the normalized ideas and patterns, or “single stories,” that are attributed to different parts of the world.
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… —ADICHE
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette, the unnamed man, Christophine, and Amélie have “single stories” about places they have not been to and only read or heard about. It is problematic for these characters to have single stories because they complicate their daydreams or thoughts with reality; this seems to be a downfall for some of them. Rhys arguably has these characters create single stories to show that any one place can be viewed longingly and still not meet one’s expectations upon arrival.
The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. —ADICHE
By creating “single stories” through day-dreaming, longing, and contempt for other places and cultures, the characters in the novel mistake the stereotypes they are familiar with for reality.
Most of the novel is in patios—a language based on English and Creole with West African influences. This made it difficult to understand the novel and character’s emotions sometimes.
The ambiguous ending left me feeling uneasy. I wanted to know more about the final scene and how it unfolded. Since this is a counter-narrative to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, I can assume it does not end the same way—making the ending more of a cliffhanger.
After being given voice in the novel, I wanted the other characters to come back and tell their perspectives of events. Perhaps the purpose of this counter-narrative is to give Antoinette voice and control over her final scene, which her counter-character in Jane Eyre does not have, but this made her seem less like a victim and more a madwoman.
Overall, I did not like the ending and wish it had been less ambiguous. However, as a postcolonial novel, an unresolved ending is powerful because it is a counter-narrative to the typical “perfect ending” found in many books today.
THE COLLECTED SHORT STORIES – 1987
TALES OF THE WIDE CARRIBEAN – 1985
LETTERS 1931-1966 – 1984
LET THEM CALL IT JAZZ – 1980
SMILE PLEASE: AN UNFINISHED AUTOBIOGRAPHY – 1979
SLEEP IT OFF LADY: STORIES BY JEAN RHYS – 1976
TIGERS ARE BETTER-LOOKING – 1968
TILL SEPTEMBER PETRONELLA – 1960
GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT – 1939
VOYAGE IN THE DARK – 1934
AFTER LEAVING MR MACKENZIE – 1930
QUARTET – 1928