Wide Sargasso Sea is on my list of books published in 1966 in 1001 Books... Already having read this I am not going to approach it again although it is short and an extremely rewarding read with its embedded literary connections. I will however crib the comments and add a few more from the 1001 Books comments.
Author Jean Rhys
Rhys was born in 1890 in Dominica in the Caribbean, Wide Sargasso Sea was published when Rhys was seventy-six. It is her 'literary response to Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre'. It explores the story of Rochester's first wife, the insane Bertha Mason whose mother was from Martinique and also the relationship between the Caribbean and Europe. Through the novel's three part structure Rhys makes connections between 'the story of Jane Eyre and the violent colonial history underpinning it.' In Rhys's exploration of the marriage Bertha is seen as a 'tragic victim of a complex historical moment.'
1001 Books comments that when Rhys wrote the novel she was ' an elderly woman existing in alcohol-soaked poverty in a primitive Devon cottage.' Born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams, she was educated from the age of sixteen in Britain while living with her aunt. Mocked for her accent and seen as an outsider she was unsuccessful in drama school and not wanting to return home became a chorus girl and began writing.
In 1919 she married the first of her three husbands, French-Dutch journalist and spy Jean Lenglet with whom she had two children, a son who died young and a daughter. In 1924 she met Ford Madox Ford in Paris who encouraged her and suggested she change her name. Lenglet was in prison due to currency irregularities and she began an affair with Ford after she moved in with him and his partner Elizabeth Bowen, fictionalised in her novel Quartet.
Rhys and Ford
Rhys and Lenglet divorced in 1933 and the next year she married editor Leslie Tilden-Smith and published Voyage in the Dark. They moved to Devon in 1939 and her next novel Good Morning Midnight was published. Disappearing from public view in the 40s, after Tilden Smith's death in 1945 she married in 1947 his cousin, solicitor Max Hamer. During this time she lived unhappily in Bude, Cornwall then in Devon. Hamer, convicted of fraud, spent most of the marriage in prison and died in 1966. It was in '66 after being absent from the public eye the Wide Sargasso Sea was published by Diana Athill of Ándre Deutsch after Rhys spending years working on it.
This review of the Jean Rhys biography The Blue Hour: A Portrait of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini sounds particularly interesting.