The Caribbean fashioned Rhys's sensibility and she remained nostalgic for the emotional vigor of its black people. But the conflict between its beauty and its cruel history became internalized within her own self destructive personality.
In the 1960's Rhys gained international recognition with the publication of her most admired novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. The novel had its origins early in life. As a young girl when Rhys read Charlotte Bront's Jane Eyre, she began to imagine the Caribbean upbringing of the character Rochester's infamous Creole wife, Bertha Mason. The result is one of literature's most famous prequels, an aesthetic experiment in modernist techniques and a powerful example of feminist rewriting Wide Sargasso Sea gives voice to a peripheral character and transforms her tragic demise into a kind of victorious heroine. But this is un-typical of the feminist writers of the by-gone era where literature writing and reading by women was quite to the contrary where heroines were depicted in a more positive light. Feminist writing has had a long development. Nineteenth-century English women writers sought and created the sense of literary community by reading one another's books (Shattock p.8). They studied closely books written by their own gender and developed a sense of comfortable familiarity with the women who wrote them. There were very intelligent women reading other intelligent women who were also perceptive critics of each other's work and conveyed their views sometimes in personal correspondence and other times in published reviews. Those reading the books felt they knew the authors. There was a sense of community with women readers of fiction and the emergence of female heroines as role models. Even so, there was a certain fascination in searching for the women behind the books since very few people knew them personally and the professional writers did not live in the public domain. They were not university members and did not visit social clubs and societies, gave no lectures, their association with politics were minimal, travel opportunities were limited and their personal lives were the subject of gossip mainly derived from the work they produced. In the nineteenth century although their contribution to journalism was increasing, they conducted the work from home. The twentieth century female writer was much more emancipated, free to characterize her heroines in any way she chose. They portrayal of male characters had no restrictions. Rhys does not hesitate to depict her protagonist and her husband in extreme ways.
Returning to the theme of dominance and dependence, ruling and being ruled, Rhys narrates the relationship between a self-assured European man and a powerless woman. The character of Antoinette Bertha Cosway, a West Indian, provides a vehicle for Rhys to examine the conflicting cultures. Her black playmate called her a "white nigger" during her childhood. She marries Edward Rochester a domineering Englishman and follows him to his native country. In the same way Bertha in Charlotte Bront's Jane Eyre ends up confined in the attic of a her husband's country house Antoinette too finds herself in similar circumstances. Many reviewers have examined the "feminine" and "masculine" aspects of Jane Eyre. The novel has been found to evoke 'charm' and 'power' (Boumelha p.2). Some consider its strengths