'Le Revenant': Baudelaire's afterlife in Wide Sargasso Sea

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It is well known that Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea reclaims Bertha Mason, the Gothicised ‘other’ of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This article reveals that, in doing so, Rhys’s novel also makes use of another canonical text: Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. Baudelaire’s poetry is of crucial significance to Wide Sargasso Sea, providing Rhys with an early title for her novel (‘Le Revenant’), with plot elements of Part II of the novel, and with elements of her characterisation of the Rochester figure. Of particular significance to Rhys are the poems in Baudelaire’s ‘Black Venus’ cycle that present a Gothicising, exoticising and sado-masochistic representation of his mixed-race mistress Jeanne Duval. Reading Baudelaire alongside Rhys casts new light on Rhys’s complex identification of the white Creole woman with blackness, her use of the Caribbean practice of Obeah, her conceptualisation of the zombi as a figure of both violence and resistance, and her critique of the white European man’s exoticising and racially-othering perception of the Caribbean. In using Baudelaire, Rhys places modernist and postcolonial perspectives and techniques in productive counterpoint: she draws on the lush rich languor of Baudelaire’s poetry and his challenge to staid bourgeois sexuality, but she also challenges that modernism, subjecting it to a critique that is just as powerful as her critique of Jane Eyre.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)665-688
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Modernism
  • Jean Rhys
  • Charles Baudelaire
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Obeah
  • Les Fleurs du mal


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