*WARNING! May contain Jane Eyre spoilers* Continue at your peril if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, and don’t know the story. In fact if the above is true, then probably go and read it.
The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which is a prequel to Jane Eyre. It was an intriguing read, all about the back story of how Mr Rochester managed to end up with a secret wife in his attic. Which is, I suppose, quite a pertinent question.
It really turns the original story on its head. Whereas Bronte portrays Mrs Rochester as some kind of possessed demon-freak, selfishly coming between the innocent lovers living downstairs, Rhys takes a step back, and tries to explain the backstory to all this horrible mess.
I mean hang on, right? This guy keeps his wife locked in the attic, and yet Bronte still seems to think he’s good husband material? Wide Sargasso Sea makes it sound more like a kidnapping case.
The story is set mostly in the West Indies, where Antoinette is growing up. (She’s not even actually called Bertha. Bonkers). It’s all happening in a time just after slavery has been abolished, and so there’s a lot of unrest, and nobody’s doing any work, because they can’t afford to actually pay the amount of people they were enslaving. There’s a lot of racial tension, and she ends up having a pretty traumatic childhood. Followed by what I think most would assess to be a pretty traumatic marriage.
It’s a Raises quite a few issues about mental health and the unfair demonization – I think most people would be pretty derailed after the treatment she’s had. I mean, she doesn’t even know she’s in England!
So is Mr Rochester the victim of an unfair marriage arrangement? Or did he bring his “curse” upon himself?