Book #94-Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

An isolated young Creole girl is living in Jamaica in the mid 1800’s.  Her widowed and mentally unstable mother is struggling socially and financially until she marries a wealthy Englishman.  This happiness is short-lived when a group of former slaves arrive and set their home ablaze inadvertently resulting in the death of an already ailing younger brother, sending the mother over the emotional edge.

The book’s central character, Antoinette seems destined to follow in her mother’s emotional path after she is mislead into a loveless marriage arranged by her step brother.  A free spirit yearning for the love she has never been given, she gives herself fully to a man who has no intention of reciprocity.  Such a sad life with promise quashed by a man whose intent is purely financial.

Christophine, from Martinique, as was Antoinette’s mother Annette, becomes a servant when Mr. Cosway brings her to Annette in Jamaica as a wedding gift.  She stays on when the Mason family return to the estate and is very protective of both mother and daughter.  Shunned by the local Jamaicans, she empathizes with the family and is distrustful of the Masons and later, Antoinette’s husband.  Outspoken and direct, she is feared by many, but her attempts at  protecting the fragile bride Antoinette ultimately fail.

The unnamed husband of Antoinette is  a detestable Englishman looking for financial freedom and finding it through his arranged marriage.  He looks down on the local Jamaicans as well as to his wife and staff and believes life in England is the only acceptable one.  Of course, before departing he has a dalliance with a servant, insults Christophine, disregards a possible half brother-in-law and ignores his new bridge.  This was a man easily detested.


He served the food with such a mournful expression that I thought these people are very vulnerable.  How old was I when I learned to hide what I felt?  A very small boy.  Six, five, even earlier.  It was necessary, I was told, and that view I have always accepted.  

The cold light was on her and I looked at the sad droop of her lips, the frown between her thick eyebrows, deep as if it had been cut with a knife.  As I looked she moved and flung her arm out.  I thought coldly, yes, very beautiful, the thin wrist, the sweet smell of the forearm, the rounded elbow, the curve of her shoulder into her upper arm.  All present, all correct.  As I watched, hating, her face grew smooth, and very young again, she even seemed to smile.  A trick of the light perhaps.  What else?

Chatting with Jean Rhys would be a thrill.  Her early life was surely the basis for much of Wide Sargasso Sea and I’d love to hear some of those details.  Her writing talent is quite evident and  perhaps she’d share some of that ability over a nice lunch with rum punch.

My rating for Wide Sargasso Sea  is a 9 out of 10.

To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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Next up, Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net…


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