Jean Rhys “Wide Sargasso Sea”
My expectations were not high, however. I was excited about the Jane Eyre BBC adaptation, and when it turned out to be outstanding and very loyal to its source material, I was keen to watch the prequel that they advertised afterwards. I was not as impressed. I found it dull and could not really connect with Bertha.
As it turns out, after reading this novella, the BBC adaptation was as loyal as the Jane Eyre’adaptation. It was sexy, colourful, brooding, exotic and menacing, and whilst I did not appreciate this at the time, I do after reading this. Unfortunately, this loyalty means the shortcomings of the TV adaptation are also true of this novella. It is quite difficult to feel for the heroine, like we are clearly supposed to, and the author opts to make Rochester (who, interestingly, is never named) out to be a villain, and her madness is entirely his fault.
It is a plausible exploration that aligns itself with Victorian gender politics; when women were sent to lunatic asylums for as little as depression, and then sent mad inside of them. Actually, it is highly relevant, and it gives the reader a completely different view of Bertha’s story. This is a double edged sword though. As interesting as it is, and perhaps right, in many respects, it is pretty difficult to grasp the characterisation of Rochester in this manner for all the people that adored his character in Jane Eyre.
Besides the character of Bertha, and the fact that this novella is a prequel, it can firmly stand on its own. Not, perhaps, as a story or something to be enjoyed, but for the thematics and how the language complements them. The narration is riddled with imagery, foreshadowing and sheer elegance. It deals with gender politics, Victorian martial laws, colonialism, race, and of course, psychology. Having said that, I would recommend reading ‘Jane Eyre’ before embarking on this, as much of it would be lost if you have not read Jane Eyre first. It also may soil your view on Rochester for Jane Eyre and give away plot details which would ruin the novel for you considerably.
If you have read Jane Eyre, I would not say that this is vital, but if you are curious about Bertha’s character this novella fleshes her out a bit, though there is still something about her that is lacking. I felt more sympathy for her in Jane Eyre without all of this background to be honest.