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Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea
Ed Hotchkiss
Ed Hotchkiss

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While in the great nature-island of Dominica, I discovered the country’s most well-known author is Jean Rhys, who was of Welsh & Scottish descent and moved to England at age 16. She only returned to Dominica once, even though it had a huge influence on her beliefs in social justice. She was an outsider in traditional British society with a funny accent, an artistic bent and a free spirit who never fit in. In her mid-thirties she began writing novels with protagonists similar to herself. For the next 15 years, she published five books with critical acclaim, then dropped out of the public eye. She was eventually contacted by someone who wanted to do a radio production of one of her books and encouraged her to write again. In 1966, at age 76, she published Wide Sargasso Sea, a feminist and anti-colonial prequel to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. In her version, the “crazy lady in the attic” is a woman from an unidentified Caribbean island. In Jane Eyre, the husband is an ambiguous figure, but in Rhys’ book he is cruel with great familial power under the patriarchal system of the era. I found the parts dealing with racism and post-slavery culture to be most poignant. Sometimes, it was slow but interesting to read long stretches of Creole dialogue. The huge Sargasso Sea is east of the Caribbean and the U.S and has no land borders. It possesses deep blue water with exceptional clarity with strong currents and is used as a metaphor in this book and many other works of art.

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