I finished Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys on Sunday and I really liked it, so I wanted to share a small review with you all. It’s a text I had to read for my university course, and it’s based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It looks at the story of Bertha, the Jamaican women Mr Rochester keeps in the attic, and trust me, you don’t have to like Jane Eyre to like this, because I really didn’t like Jane Eyre.
The story begins by looking at Antoinette’s home life. Antoinette is Bertha’s real name in Jean Rhys’ version of the story, and it emerges that Mr Rochester calls her Bertha because he learns Antoinette shares the name with her mother, who eventually goes insane. She has a troubled life, constantly being condemned by Jamaicans for being a ‘white cockroach’, and when Antoinette’s brother dies in a fire set by angry locals, Antoinette’s mother begins to go insane.
It is her sudden marriage to Mr Rochester which sees the beginning of Antoinette’s madness. I think it’s interesting to think about this text in modern day. The story is meant to be set in the early 19th century, and people have very ignorant views about mental illness, as you would expect. The characters say that Antoinette was destined to be mad since ‘it runs in the family’, but this isn’t necessarily true. It brings up the question: what part is genetics and what part is environment?
Mr Rochester certainly helps in pushing Antoinette to insanity. You get his perspective, but I never like his character in the novel. Perhaps that was Jean Rhys’ intention. He treats Antoinette horribly and he doesn’t make any effort to understand her or her culture. I think it’s him rather than genetics which pushes Antoinette to madness, and it definitely humanises the picture of Bertha which I’m told is shown in Jane Eyre (I didn’t read up to Bertha’s introduction, since I already disliked the novel long before that point).
Rhys also displays a wonderfully vivid image of Jamaica, with its exotic location and as a complete contrast to Rochester's England. You really get a feel for Antoinette’s surroundings, and I love that about the novel. I think she’s done her research well.
Overall I really liked Wide Sargasso Sea, and I would recommend it as a short, sweet and interesting read.
What have you been reading recently?