Historical Background of
Wide Sargasso Sea
By Malka Hirsch
Authors background
 Wide Sargasso Sea was
Written in 1966 by a
Dominica born author
Jean Rhys.
 She was born in 1894
and moved to England
when she was 16 years
old (1910).
 Upon her arrival Jane
Eyre was one of the first
novels she read.
Rhys’s life difficulties
 Rhys never adjusted to the
move from the west indies to
 Rhys always felt cold and
removed and imagined that the
character Bertha Mason from
the novel Jane Eyre must have
felt the same.
 Rhys had chronic financial
difficulties, she was marries
three times and two of her
husbands spent time in jail.
She was also a heavy drinker
Reasons for writing her Novel
 The portrayal of Bertha in Jane
Eyre always disappointed her.
 Since she came from the west
indies and had difficulties
adjusting in England the story
had special significance to her.
 Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso
Sea as a response to
stereotypes informed by
Bronte’s nineteenth century
English culture and social
 Rhys’s many difficulties led her
to empathize with all kinds of
human suffering regardless of
the cause.
 Rhys develops the complex
character of Antoinette
Cosway, who Bronte describes
as a mere lunatic in the novel
Jane Eyre.
 Rhys’s empathy for
Bertha/Antoinette leads her to
chose Bertha Mason’s ill fated
marriage as a perfect subject
to explore. Rhys takes the
reader deep through her
psyche as a way to better
understand Bertha/Antoinette
and the cause of her madness.
Colonialism in Jamaica
 Rhys and her character Antoinette both grew up in the
British controlled colony of Jamaica.
 The British Empire formally ruled Jamaica from 1670 as
a result of the Treaty of Madrid.
 Sugar became a luxury
commodity ever since the
development of large
scale sugar plantations
during the 1640’s.
 There was a high
demand for sugar after
the British Empire seized
control of the Island.
 By 1750 Jamaica was the
most important British
colony in the west indies.
 In 1834 the British
parliament abolished all
forms of slavery in their
 The sudden loss of a
large slave population
was devastating for the
Jamaican economy.
Antoinette: Life in the West
 Antoinette, the narrator
for the first half of the
story describes the
difficulties of growing up
in the 1830’s in Jamaica.
 There was a strong
feeling of isolation and
loneliness that she
experienced as a white
Creole child in a
predominantly black West
 Antoinette’s character’s family
were once rich and owned
many slaves, but experienced
a decline in their fortunes and
status after the abolition of
 One night locals surrounded
her house and burnt it down
leaving both Antoinette and her
mother scarred.
 Antoinette was so traumatized
that she is forced to go to a
convent to recover. On the
other hand the extent of the
trauma leads her mother to go
Antoinette: Marriage to
 Antoinette’s step father
arranges her marriage to
Rochester when she is 17
years old.
 Rochester moves to
Jamaica to be with her
and early on they are
happily married.
 When Rochester leans
about her mother's
insanity he distances
himself from her and their
marriage deteriorates.
 As a result of a distanced
marriage Antoinette
begins to drink and
attempts to use Voodoo
to renew his interes.
 Rochester tries to subdue
his wife but none of his
tactics work, so he
decides to take her back
to England and lock her
in the attic.
Works Cited
• Lagretta, Lenker T. "Cyclopedia of Literary Characters."
MagillOnLiterature Plus. Salem Press, Feb. 1998. Web. 10 Apr.
• Meyers, Linda J. MagillOnLiterature Plus. Salem Press, Mar. 1995.
Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
• Mikolajek, Stanley J. "The History of Jamaica: From Colonialism and
Slavery to Emancipation and Independence, Page 8 of 8."
Associated Content from Yahoo! - Associatedcontent.com. 4 Feb.
2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.
• Stiffler, Tiffany E. "Masterplots." MagillOnLiterature Plus. Salem
Press, Nov. 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
• Ziskin, Alan. "Identities & Issues in Literature;." MagillOnLiterature
Plus. Salem Press, Sept. 1997. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.

Historical Background of Wide Sargasso Sea