Wide Sargasso Sea and other writing from the Caribbean

Caribbean literature

In examining the literary context for Wide Sargasso Sea, most attention has been paid to its relationship with an important nineteenth century text, Jane Eyre, on the one hand and twentieth century modernist writings on the other. However the novel can also be set alongside work by other writers from the Caribbean.

Wide Sargasso Sea and the 1960s

Although Wide Sargasso Sea took at least two decades to write, it was coming to fruition in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was a time of substantial immigration to Britain from the West Indies.

Chinua Achebe, photo by Stuart C Shapiro, available though Creative CommonsIt was also a time when writers in English from other parts of the former Empire were coming to prominence and finding a British readership for their experiences of colonisation. Things Fall Apart (1958), by the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, is one of the most important examples of these writings.

It would be difficult to say that the novel was directly influenced by these developments in the wider culture. However, they indicate a new climate for the reading and reception of Jean Rhys' work and of this novel in particular.

A distinctive voice

As with Rhys, European modernism has influenced other West Indian writers. The novelists Wilson Harris and Edward Braithwaite, as well as the poet Derek Walcott, have found models in European writers like Joseph Conrad and T.S.Eliot. They have re-used forms and techniques to represent their versions of Caribbean culture and the experience of colonialism. The fictions of Wilson Harris show similarities to Jean Rhys' writings in that they use a dreamlike quality to explore doubled identities and cultural diversity. The work of these writers helped to constitute a West Indian movement which became established in the 1950s.

Caribbean influence on Rhys

The Orchid HouseJean Rhys herself kept in touch with what was happening in Dominica through her friendship with the writer and editor Phyllis Shand Allfrey. Allfrey wrote a novel about the island called The Orchid House (1953) and sent Jean Rhys a copy. Critics have identified in that text some connections to Wide Sargasso Sea and there are certainly two characters in it called Baptiste and Christophine.

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