My rating 3/5
One word Interesting
‘Genre’ Post-colonial, parallel novel
*IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CHARLOTTE BRONE’S JANE EYRE THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Set in the West Indies, we are introduced to Antoinette, a Creole heiress. She meets an Englishman who is never named; however, we know that this is Mr Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She tells us about her childhood and how her mother was mentally ill and of her mentally disabled brother’s death. We learn that she is to marry the Englishman (Rochester), and it is an arranged marriage. Flickering between the Englishman and Antoinette we learn about their attitudes to each other and eventually Antoinette cracks. With the history of mental illness and her own tender mind, she ends up paranoid and distraught at her already failing marriage. The Englishman is the worst possible husband; he changes her name to Bertha and ends up taking her to England. She is locked up by the Englishman, who tells her she is mad, his string of relationships and the abuse she suffers leads her to decide to take her own life. The book ends with the fire that is described in Jane Eyre.
Wide Sargasso Sea is a parallel novel in response to Jane Eyre, Rhys sets out to defend Antoinette from the discrimination and negative portrayal of her. The reader immediately identifies with Antoinette and you find yourself on her side. She is pushed into her insanity by being forced into marrying an uncaring husband. Rhys does not defend her actions; after all she is actually ‘mad’ and does some awful things herself, however by learning Antoinette’s whole story as imagined by Rhys you can understand why she does what she does.
I really enjoyed this story. While I have read Jane Eyre, I didn’t enjoy it as much as one perhaps should enjoy such a classic. I didn’t trust Rochester and was heartily disappointed when they married. I was always curious what Bertha’s full story was, and this imagined response, I feel, fits in perfectly. I have never looked at Bertha the same since I read this book.
I love how Bertha loses her ‘mad woman in the attic’ role and has become a real person to the reader, she is no longer the enemy but the victim. Her race is not held against her as a reason for her madness, but an actual understandable progression into paranoia and depression are presented. I think Charlotte Bronte, if she were alive today, would have enjoyed seeing this response to her novel.
Whether you have read Jane Eyre, if you only know a tiny bit about Jane Eyre or you didn’t even know Jane Eyre existed read this book, read it with Jane Eyre and consider both ‘sides’ of the story. I find I prefer Rhys’ version!
(Click on the picture for link to the amazon.co.uk page)