Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea book coverJean Rhys (1890-1979) was born in Dominica in the West Indies, although she lived most of her adult life in England and in Paris. Her first stories came out of her experience of the bohemian lifestyles of the Parisian Left Bank in the 1920s. But for her most acclaimed work, Wide Sargasso Sea, set in the West Indies of the 1830s, she returned to the places of her childhood. The novel was published in Britain in 1966 after a long period of silence, when the literary world assumed she was dead. It brought the 76 year old Jean Rhys critical acclaim, prestigious literary awards and much needed cash!

Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre

To understand Wide Sargasso Sea, it helps for students to know the story of Jane Eyre, which was written by Charlotte Brontë almost 120 years earlier. Set against Brontë’s novel, Wide Sargasso Sea rewrites the story of Bertha Antoinette Mason, the first wife of Mr Rochester, who was imprisoned in the attic of his house, Thornfield Hall. (See Texts in detail > Jane Eyre.)

Jean Rhys, like Antoinette (as she calls her), was a white Creole from the Caribbean. (See Social / Political context > Creole identity and language). She had been profoundly affected by the tale of ‘the first Mrs Rochester’ and she was occupied for many years in her reconstruction of a story which is glimpsed only through the gaps and colonial assumptions of Jane Eyre.

Jean Rhys

Jean RhysFind out about Jean Rhys' turbulent life and the circumstances in which Wide Sargasso Sea was written. Read more . . .

Context of Wide Sargasso Sea

DominicaWide Sargasso Sea  is heavily influenced by a variety of cultural factors, specifically by Jean Rhys' native Caribbean. Read more . . .

Dive in to the Wide Sargasso Sea text guide

Synopsis and commentary - Offers a summary of the text, an explanation of any words, phrases or references you might find difficult or obscure, many cross-references to other parts of the guide and various tasks and exercises allowing you to work further on the text on your own behalf. Read a chapter by chapter summary and commentary on Wide Sargasso Sea.

Characterisation - Find out about the main protagonists in the novel and analyse their characters.

Themes and significant ideas; Imagery, metaphor and symbolism - Research themes, ideas and imagery that feature in the book.

How to do well in your Wide Sargasso Sea essay

Decide what the key words of the question are, and underline them.

If you are asked to analyse an extract, read it through two or three times.

Do not adopt the first possible approach - be willing to dispute the terms of the question if you are given the opportunity.

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