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(Image source: Repeating Islands,

 August 24,1890-May 14,1979

Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendolen Rees Williams. She was born in Dominica. Rhys is the daughter of a Welsh doctor and a white Creole mother. She later moved to England when she was sixteen to become educated at an all-girls school in Cambridge. Jean Rhys drifted into a series of jobs before becoming a writer at age 30; chorus girl and an artist's model. In the 1920s she traveled around as a Bohemian artist. During this period, Rhys lived in near poverty. She soon became interested modern art and literature. Her experience of feeling displacement during this time has influenced her writings.

Wide Sargasso Sea is an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. This Victorian novel was published in 1847. Jean Rhys rewrote to portray the character of Bertha in Jean Eyre to be a strong yet vulnerable Antoinette Cosway. Jean Rhys transforms the fear of a foreign woman and makes the insane Bertha into a real woman with hopes and desires giving the mysterious character a real background and explanation of herself and giving her a voice. Bertha/Antoinette becomes a likable character with meaning. Jean Rhys gives Antoinette the power to tell her story with the first person narrative of Antoinette's character. With Wide Sargasso Sea the reader is able to sympathize with the misunderstood character. For more of Antoinette's perspective click here.
Still of Rochester and Antoinette in the TV film Wide Sargasso Sea

For more adaptations on Wide Sargasso Sea click here

An analysis of each character's role in Wide Sargasso Sea.

A discussion of Rhys' stylistic and structural choices for each narrator.

A look at the novel's setting & time period, as well as character perspectives on setting.

Information on the novel's significant themes: hatred, madness, safety, gender & sexual relations

Information on some of the novel's symbols & motifs: alcohol, fire, laughter, magic/"obeah", mirrors & looking-glasses

Discussion Questions

I.) Wide Sargasso Sea is a re-telling of a part of Jane Eyre. How has Rhys changed the story? What themes are the same or different? How does having read the Brontë novel affect reading the Rhys novel? Is Rhys' depiction of Antoinette a sort of redemption?
II.) Do you think the term “Mad Woman” is a fair label? Does it show any bias in that no men are ever considered “mad”? Who’s to blame for Antoinette and her mothers' insanity? What role does their marginalization play in this sense of insanity?
III.) What role does setting play in the novel? That is to say, how significantly do you feel the characters are shaped and influenced by the place they come from?
IV.) Do the characters of Jane and Antoinette have any similarities? If so, what? What are their major differences? What attracts Rochester to each of the women?
V.) Are there any elements of Antoinette/Bertha's character, or the story of Jane Eyre that you feel Rhys fails to explore? What would you add to Wide Sargasso Sea, if anything?