Page 26. " they were waiting for me under the sandbox tree. "

The sandbox tree, native to the West Indies, can grow up to 100 metres tall and is cultivated for shade. The native Caribbean people, the Caribs, used to make poison for their arrows from its sap (and used the arrowroot, mentioned on page 24, as an antidote).

Page 26. " he had a white skin "

The boy is an albino.

Page 27. " Your mother walk about with no shoes and stockings on her feet, she sans culottes. "

Literally, this means without knee breeches, and refers to Annette's lack of stockings (as a nineteenth century 'English' woman, she would hardly have worn knee breeches), but in the French Revolution the phrase 'sans culottes' referred to the working class radicals who wore trousers rather than the knee breeches favoured by the upper classes. Sansculottism remains a term for extreme egalitarian republican sympathies.

France had colonies in the Caribbean, and the Revolution had a massive impact on the area. For information on this, read A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), a collection of essays edited by David Barry Gaspar and David Patrick Geggus.




Page 27. " She have eyes like zombie and you have eyes like zombie too "

The concept of the zombie is integral to Wide Sargasso Sea. In 'The Glittering Coronet of the Isles', the book that Rochester finds at Granbois, a zombie is an integral part of belief in obeah, and is 'a dead person who seems to be alive or a living person who is dead', a statement which bears similarities to Antoinette's belief in there being two deaths, the real, or spiritual, one, and the one 'everyone knows about': physical death. According to West Indian Voodoo, a dead person can be revived by a sorcerer, who will then give this zombie a new name. From that point on the zombie is enslaved to the sorcerer. When Rochester starts referring to Antoinette as Bertha she says 'that's obeah too'.

Page 29. " convent "

Creative Commons AttributionConvent - Credit: OliBac, Flickr
Mr Mason, as an Englishman, would likely have been Protestant. However, Antoinette's mother is from French Martinique, and Catholicism is the national religion of France. Her family had Jacobite sympathies (see p.95), another fact that suggests her Catholicism. Although Jamaica was a British – and therefore Protestant – colony, there were Roman Catholic convents.

The British 'Act of Toleration' of 1688 afforded 'liberty of conscience to all persons except Papists', and Catholicism was essentially outlawed until 1792, when Catholics were granted some freedom of worship. From 1798, Catholic missionaries were sent out to the British West Indies. See Floyd McCoy's article on Catholicism in Jamaica.

It was relatively common for girls of Antoinette's class to be educated at a convent. Rhys herself was. Indeed, apart from home schooling, it was one of the only forms of women's education at the time, particularly in the more limited educational sphere of the Caribbean.

Page 29. " St Rose, St Barbara, St Agnes "

St Rose is either Saint Rose of Viterbo or Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint of the Americas. Given the stories of beauty, riches and the love of rich young men, it is more likely to be Rose of Lima, who was so beautiful that she disfigured herself.

St Barbara was a 3rd century saint, persecuted by her pagan Father.

St Agnes was born to a noble Christian Roman family. When she refused to marry Prefect Sempronius's son he wanted her put to death. Under Roman law, a virgin could not be executed, so Sempronius tried to have her raped.  But her hair grew to cover her body and those who tried to rape her were struck blind. Sempronius then ordered her burned to death, but the pyre would not light and she was beheaded instead.

Page 29. " Here Theophilus is a rose from the garden of my spouse, in whom you did not believe. "

Theophilus means 'Friend of God' in Greek.

Saints and nuns are married to Christ.

Page 30. " Also deportment "

 Deportment refers both to acceptable behaviour and the fashionable and acceptable way to hold one's body. It was taught to young ladies in Europe of suitable rank, both through schooling and through conduct manuals.

In the nineteenth century, conduct manuals for young women, dictating acceptable feminine behaviour, were popular and influential, and were detested by proto feminists such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who lambasts the genre in her epic Aurora Leigh: ‘I read a score of books on womanhood / To prove, if women do not think at all, / They may teach thinking’ (I, 427).

The Young Lady's Own Book, a typical nineteenth century conduct manual from 1832, containing a chapter on deportment, is available on Google books.

For a history of deportment, tracing the changes in desirable deportment from medieval times, see here.

The Hulton Archive at Getty Images contains interesting photos of deportment lessons in the 1950s.

Page 30. " mine does not look like yours, whatever I do "

This, the comment Antoinette makes earlier about her hair growing back darker, and Rochester's identification of her look as distinctly un-English, suggests that Antoinette may have some black ancestry. This would not be uncommon for a white Creole family.

Page 30. " she spoke slowly and, unlike most Creole girls, was very even tempered "

The term Creole is used to describe anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, who was born and raised in the Caribbean. Both hot climates and black ancestry were believed to make one quick tempered.

Page 31. " her black curls which smelled of vetiver "

Vetiver is a fragrant tropical grass. The fragrance of the oil extracted from its root is categorized as deep, sweet, woody, smoky, earthy, and balsam, and is often used in perfume.


Page 31. " offer up all the prayers, works and sufferings of this day "

Creative Commons AttributionDevotion - Credit: millicent_bystander, Flickr
The line is from the prayer of morning offering.

In the Roman Catholic church, the Morning Offering is a prayer said upon waking in order to consecrate the day to Jesus.

The morning offering was popularised in the Catholic Church by Fr. Francois Xavier Gaulrelet and his movement, the Apostleship of Prayer, founded in 1844, although it had existed beforehand. Despite the anachronous dates, Antoinette appears to be reciting Fr. Francois Xavier Gaulrelet's Morning Offering to the Sacred Heart:

O Jesus, I offer You my prayers, works, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Your Most Sacred Heart. Amen.

During the mid-twentieth century, a nun wrote to Pope Pius XII pointing out that the prayer's exclusion of the concept of joy was not very Christian, and the prayer was changed to 'our prayers, works, joys and suffering'.

See Joseph Albino's article on the Morning Offering for more details. 

Page 32. " But after the meal, now and at the hour of our death, and at midday and at six in the evening, now and at the hour of our death. "

The times of day would be prayer times in the convent.

The Hail Mary contains the line 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death'.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia contains an article on the Hail Mary.

The Hail Mary is an integral part of the Rosary:

Page 32. " Sister Marie August says thoughts are not sins, if they are driven away at once. "

Catholic doctrine defines sin as a morally bad act - it is how one reacts to thoughts, rather than the thought itself, that defines sin.

Page 36. " So it was all over, the advance and retreat, the doubts and hesitations. Everything finished, for better or for worse. "

'for better or for worse' echoes the words of the Church of England marriage service, and offers a hint as to what has occurred in the narrative gap between parts one and two.

Page 36. " So this is Massacre. "

Massacre is a real place in Dominica. Various stories surround its name. One concerns the murder of Indian Warner (son of Sir Thomas Warner, first English governor of St Christopher's and Nevis) by his white half-brother, Philip, governor of Antigua. Another concerns the alleged massacre of native Caribs by white settlers in the place in 1674.

Google Map


Page 36. " She wore a tricorne hat which became her "

The three-cornered tricorne hat was popular  in Europe during the late 17th century and 18th century, falling out of style shortly before the French Revolution. Originally military uniform, it was often also worn by civilians. Antoinette, however, is rather behind European fashion.

The tricorne hat's popularity in Europe was due to the fact that its brim guttered rain away from the wearer's head, a benefit that would also have been appreciated in Domenica, parts of which get over 350 inches of rain a year.

Page 39. " None of the furtive shabby manoeuvres of a younger son. I have sold my soul or you have sold it "

According to the British laws of primogeniture, all the father's property would be inherited by the oldest son. Younger sons could not depend upon inheritance, and had to earn their own living or marry well.

Rochester refers to the Faust legend – Faust sold his soul to the devil for knowledge. Christopher Marlow's Doctor Faustus and Goethe's Faust are reworkings of this legend.



Page 40. " There was a large screw pine to the left "
screw pine
Creative Commons Attributionscrew pine - Credit: Damien Dempsey
The many branches of the pandanus often curl around, thus the name screw pine, although it is not actually a pine tree.
Page 42. " two glasses of rum punch were waiting for us "

Rum is distilled from sugarcane, the Caribbean's main crop, cultivated on plantations like Coulibri.

Rum was originally drunk by slaves, who distilled it from molasses, a by-product of sugar refinement. It takes a long time to go off, and thus became phenomenally popular among sailors and pirates.



Page 43. " A Seville orange tree grew by the steps "
seville orange tree
Creative Commons AttributionSeville orange tree - Credit: Keith Roper
The Seville orange tree produces a bitter fruit.
Page 43. " Byron's poems, novels by Sir Walter Scott, Confessions of an Opium Eater, some shabby brown volumes, and on the last shelf, Life and Letters of ... The rest was eaten away. "

Lord Byron's poems were incredibly popular in the 1810s and 1820s, so much so that he is often regarded as the first celebrity. Major works include Childe Harold and Don Juan. Byron was a scandalous and exotic figure. He had many affairs, including, allegedly, an incestuous affair with his sister. Exiled from England for this reason, he travelled extensively and died of a fever in Greece whilst campaigning for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Sir Walter Scott wrote historical adventure romances, including such famous works as Ivanhoe (1819), Waverley (1814), The Heart of Midlothian(1818) and The Bride of Lammermoor (1819). He was the first English language novelist to achieve major international fame.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater was written by Romantic writer Thomas De Quincey in 1821, and was an immediate success. It detailed De Quincey's laudanum and opium addiction.

These books were the bestsellers of their time – a period several decades earlier. Together with the detail that one has been eaten away by mould, this suggests that the house has been abandoned for a long time.

Byron's poems were not officially collected together until John Middleton Murray's posthumous Collected Works in 1832. In line with Rhys's desired effect of abandonment, it is more likely that Rochester is looking at a collection of various verse publications by Byron (although pirate collections probably existed) rather than the Collected Works.


Page 46. " à la Joséphine "

After Empress Joséphine, Napoleon's wife until 1810. She herself was Creole, coming originally from Martinique.

Joséphine de Beauharnais's style, particularly her white empire line dresses, were a massive influence on French regency dress.

As Josephine was divorced by Napoleon in 1810 and died in 1837, it is clear again that Caribbean Creole fashion is rather behind the European model it copies.

Page 46. " St Pierre, Martinique "
Remains of St Pierre, 1902
Public DomainRemains of St Pierre, 1902 - Credit: Angelo Heilprin

As the text says, the 'Paris of the West Indies'.

Much of French trade went through St Pierre, so it was ahead of the rest of the Caribbean in keeping up with French fashions. A successful trading port, its inhabitants could afford the finest clothes and European pleasures: it had a theatre modelled on the theatre in Bordeaux, and landscaped parks. Even its black population was reported to exude Gallic charm. According to a 1902 eulogy for the lost city, they were:

of the best class of negros, most of them having been educated in the schools of Paris

The city was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902. 30,000 lives were lost.

Page 46. " There were trailing pink flowers on the table and the name echoed pleasantly in my head. Coralita, Coralita "

Antigonon leptopus
Creative Commons AttributionAntigonon leptopus - Credit: Eran Finkle
 Coralita (Antigonon leptopus) is a twining vine with pink, coral-coloured flowers.


Page 46. " The food, though too highly seasoned, was lighter and more appetizing than anything I had tasted in Jamaica. "

Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Creative Commons AttributionJamaican Jerk Chicken - Credit: Naotake Murayama
 Dominican cuisine is milder than spicy Jamaican cuisine, although both use local spices heavily.  Much of the spiciness of Jamaican food is due to Indian influences, following the British import of Indian labour in the 19th century. Jamaican food is also notoriously hearty.

Page 47. " 'Carac-cracs,' she explained, 'they make a sound like their name, and crickets and frogs.' "

Probably a cicada, an insect similar to a cricket, found in tropical climates.