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JEAN RHYSS WIDE SARGASSO SEA

JEAN RHYS
Jean Rhys (24 August 1890 14 May 1979), born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams, was
a mid-20th-century novelist from the Caribbean island of Dominica. Educated from the
age of 16 in Great Britain, she is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966),
written as a prequel to Charlotte Bront's Jane Eyre
Early life
Rhys was born in Roseau, Dominica, an island of the British West Indies. Her father,
William Rees Williams, was a Welsh doctor and her mother, Minna Williams, was a third-
generation Dominican Creole of Scots ancestry. Creole was broadly used in those times
to refer to island white people, whether they were of mixed or non-mixed blood.
Rhys was educated in Dominica until the age of 16, when she was sent to England to live
with her aunt. She attended the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, where she was
mocked as an outsider and for her accent. She attended two terms at the Royal Academy
of Dramatic Art in London by 1909. Her instructors despaired of her ever learning to
speak "proper English" and advised her father to take her away. Now unable to train as
an actress and refusing to return to the Caribbean as her parents wished, she worked with
varied success as a chorus girl, adopting the names Vivienne, Emma or Ella Gray.
After her father died in 1910, Rhys apparently experimented with the prospect of living
as a demimondaine; she became the mistress of a wealthy stockbroker, Lancelot Grey
Hugh ("Lancey") Smith. Though a bachelor, Smith did not offer to marry Rhys and their
affair soon ended; he continued to be an occasional source of financial help. Distraught
by events, including a near-fatal abortion (not Smith's child), Rhys began writing and
produced her novel Voyage in the Dark. In 1913 she worked for a time as a nude model
in Britain.
During World War I, Rhys served as a volunteer worker in a soldiers' canteen. In 1918
she worked in a pension office.
Marriage and family
In 1919 Rhys married the French-Dutch journalist (and spy) and songwriter Willem Johan
Marie (Jean) Lenglet, the first of her three husbands. She and Lenglet wandered through
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Europe, living mainly in London, Paris and Vienna. They had two children, a son who
died young and a daughter; they divorced in 1933.
The next year she married Leslie Tilden-Smith, an editor. They moved to Devon in 1939,
where they lived for several years. He died in 1945.
In 1947 Rhys married Max Hamer, a solicitor and cousin to Tilden-Smith. He spent much
of their marriage in jail having been convicted of fraud; he died in 1966.
Writing career
In 1924 Rhys came under the influence of the English writer Ford Madox Ford. After
they met in Paris, Rhys wrote short stories under his patronage. Ford recognized that her
experience as an exile gave Rhys a unique viewpoint, and he praised her "singular instinct
for form". "Coming from the West Indies, he declared, 'with a terrifying insight and ...
passion for stating the case of the underdog, she has let her pen loose on the Left Banks
of the Old World'. It was Ford who suggested she change her name to Jean Rhys (from
Ella Williams). (At the time her husband was in jail for what Rhys described as currency
irregularities.) She moved in with Ford and his longtime partner, Stella Bowen. An affair
with Ford ensued, which, in fictionalized form, she portrayed in her novel Quartet.
With Voyage in the Dark published in 1934, Rhys continued to portray the mistreated,
rootless woman; here as a young chorus girl grown up in the West Indies who now finds
herself in England and alienated. In Good Morning, Midnight published in 1939, Rhys
used modified stream of consciousness to voice the experiences of an aging woman.
In the 1940s Rhys all but disappeared from public view; from 1955 to 1960 she lived in
Bude in Cornwall, where she was unhappycalling it "Bude the Obscure"before
moving to Cheriton Fitzpaine in Devon. After a long absence from the public eye she
published Wide Sargasso Sea in 1966, having spent years drafting and perfecting it.
Begun well before she came to Bude, the book won the prestigious WH Smith Literary
Award in 1967.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys returned to themes of dominance and dependence, especially
in marriage; here she depicted the mutually painful relationship between a privileged
European man and a woman made powerless on being duped and coerced by him and
othersquite a different perspective on the "madwoman in the attic" than that drawn in
Jane Eyre. Diana Athill of the Andr Deutsch house gambled on publishing Wide
Sargasso Sea, she and the writer Francis Wyndham helped revive widespread interest in
Rhys's work.
Later years
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From 1960, for the rest of her life, Rhys lived in Cheriton Fitzpaine, a small Devon village
she once described as "a dull spot which even drink can't enliven much".
Characteristically, she remained unimpressed by her belated ascent to literary fame,
commenting, "It has come too late." In an interview shortly before her death Rhys
questioned whether any novelist, not least herself, could ever be happy for any length of
time. She said: "If I could choose I would rather be happy than write ... if I could live my
life all over again, and choose ... She died in Exeter on 14 May 1979, at the age of 87,
before completing her autobiography, which she had begun dictating only months earlier.
In 1979, the incomplete text appeared posthumously under the title Smile Please: An
Unfinished Autobiography.
In 2012 English Heritage marked Rhys's Chelsea flat at Paulton House in Paultons Square
with a blue plaque.

WIDE SARGASSO SEA


Wide Sargasso Sea is a 1966 postcolonial novel by Dominica-born British author Jean
Rhys, who had lived in obscurity after her previous work, Good Morning, Midnight, was
published in 1939. Wide Sargasso Sea "re-noticed" Rhys, and became her most successful
novel.
The novel is a prequel to Charlotte Bront's famous 1847 novel Jane Eyre. It is the story
of Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in the Caribbean
to her unhappy marriage to a certain English gentlemanhe is never named by the
authorwho soon renames her, declares her mad and then requires her to relocate to
England. Caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she belongs neither to the
white Europeans nor the black Jamaicans, Rhys's novel re-imagines Bront's devilish
madwoman in the attic. As with many postcolonial works, the novel deals largely with
the themes of racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation.
Plot
The novel opens a short while after the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery in
the British Empire on 1 August 1834. The protagonist Antoinette relates the story of her
life from childhood to her arranged marriage to an unnamed Englishman (implied as Mr
Rochester from Jane Eyre). As their marriage progresses, Antoinette, whom he renames
"Bertha" and confines to a locked room, descends into madness.
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The novel is split into three parts. Part One takes place in Coulibri, Jamaica and is narrated
by Antoinette. Describing childhood experiences, she reviews several facets of her life,
including her mother's mental instability and her mentally disabled brother's tragic death.
Part Two alternates between the points of view of her husband and of Antoinette during
their 'honeymoon' excursion to Granbois, Dominica. Likely catalysts for Antoinette's
downfall are the mutual suspicions that develop between the two and the machinations of
Daniel, who claims he is Antoinette's (illegitimate) brother; he impugns Antoinette's
reputation and mental state and demands hush money. Antoinette's old nurse
Christophine's open mistrust of the Englishman and his belief in the hateful accounts
about Antoinette aggravate the situation; then he openly becomes unfaithful to her. Her
increased sense of paranoia and the bitter disappointment of her failing marriage
unbalance Antoinette's already precarious mental and emotional state.
Part Three is the shortest part of the novel; it is again from the perspective of Antoinette,
now known as Bertha. She is now largely confined to 'the attic' of Thornfield Hall, the
Rochester mansion she calls the "Great House". The story traces her relationship with
Grace, the servant who is tasked with guarding her as well as her ever more disintegrating
non-life with the Englishman as he hides her from the world. He makes empty promises
to come to her more, but actually sees less of her as he ventures off to pursue relationships
with other womenand eventually with the young governess Jane Eyre. Voicing her
thoughts in stream of consciousness and believing it her destiny, Antoinette/Bertha
decides to take her own life.

POSTCOLONIAL LITERATURE
Postcolonial literature is a body of literary writing that responds to the intellectual
discourse of European colonization in Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Pacific and
elsewhere. Postcolonial literature addresses the problems and consequences of the
decolonization of a country and of a nation, especially the political and cultural
independence of formerly subjugated colonial peoples; it also covers literary critiques of
and about postcolonial literature, the undertones of which carry, communicate, and justify
racialism and colonialism. But most contemporary forms of postcolonial literature present
literary and intellectual critiques of the postcolonial discourse by endeavouring to
assimilate postcolonialism and its literary expressions.

CRITICAL APPROACH
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Post-colonial literary criticism re-examines colonial literature, especially concentrating


upon the social discourse, between the colonizer and the colonized, that shaped and
produced the literature
An exemplar post-colonial novel is Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), by Jean Rhys, a
predecessor story to Jane Eyre (1847), by Charlotte Bront, a literary variety wherein a
familiar story is re-told from the perspective of a subaltern protagonist, Antoinette
Cosway, who, within the story and the plot, is a socially oppressed minor character who
is renamed and variously exploited. As such, in post-colonial literature, the protagonist
usually struggles with questions of identity social identity, cultural identity, national
identity, etc. usually caused by experiencing the psychological conflicts inherent to
cultural assimilation, to living between the old, native world and the dominant hegemony
of the invasive social and cultural institutions of the colonial imperialism of a Mother
Country.
The author Jean Rhys made a significant contribution to postcolonial literature in her
novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which describes a Creole woman whose British husband
mistreats her based on his perceptions of her cultural heritage.

PERSPECTIVES ON COLONIALISM AND POSTCOLONIALISM


Common perspectives on colonialism show how colonialism usually works through the
use of brutal force employed by one country to exploit another community and obtain
economic wealth through abuse of native people.
The post-colonial perspective emerged as a challenge to this tradition and legacy; it
attempts to illegitimize the idea of establishing power through conquest. A relatively new
emerging academic concept in relation to postcolonial studies is the Stranger King
concept.

CRITIC'S POINT OF VIEW


What qualifies as postcolonial literature is debatable. The term postcolonial literature has
taken on many meanings. The four subjects include:
1. Social and cultural change or erosion: It seems that after independence is
achieved, one main question arises; what is the new cultural identity?
2. Misuse of power and exploitation: Even though the large power ceases to control
them as a colony, the settlers still seem to continue imposing power over the
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native. The main question here is who really is in power, why, and how does an
independence day really mean independence?
3. Colonial abandonment and alienation: This topic is generally brought up to
examine individuals and not the ex-colony as a whole. The individuals tend to ask
themselves; in this new country, where do I fit in and how do I make a living?
4. Use of English language literature: It may be asked if the target of post-colonial
studies, i.e. the analysis of post-colonial literature and culture, can be reached
neglecting literary works in the original languages of post-colonial nations.