Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is the reason I’m re-reading Jane Eyre right now. The book is written from Bertha Rochester’s point of view (remember Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife?) and it’s fantastic!
I had the book sitting around on my shelf, not being read, until a friend mentioned how much she liked it. So I picked it up. Holy cow. It was awesome.
And also crazy. I mean, it is crazy. The book explores how the circumstances around a person can really drive them off the deep end. Antoinette (Bertha) grows up in Jamaica, after slavery has been abolished, but only just. So she grows up a white girl in a neighborhood that legitimately regards her and her race as the devil. Also, her mom goes mad while Antoinette is still a small girl. She has no friends, no parents to speak of, and everyone regards her with suspicion. Then she is run out of her home, goes to a Catholic school for a while, and ends up married off to an Englishman she’s never met. And while the marriage is a little rocky at the start, once Rochester realizes she has a family history of insanity, he turns against her and drives her completely mad.
I don’t know whether this story is meant to teach anything (except don’t make people go crazy), but it’s a wonderful spin on Brontë’s characters, and it weaves you in a spell that makes you feel like you’re gasping for air and sanity yourself. I thought it was excellent, and I would recommend it to anyone who ever wondered about the crazy woman on the third floor. ♦