Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels, so I was extremely curious by Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s a compact read at only 129 pages, but explores so much within that space.
It’s a fascinating re-imagination of a character without voice; giving her power and a history through her own words and experiences, rather than through her husband. Post-colonialism is the main theme of the novel, and is well explored, filling a gap from the original story.
Madness is seen in the novel as something created from others; it’s a condition passed on, beginning from circumstance and the horrors of reality. Yet those around you see it as a curse, a failing of a person and a fate worse than any other. Names and naming are important in this too. Antoinette becomes ‘Bertha’ in her husband’s attempt to estrange her from her mother’s madness, but once he names her she is consumed by this new persona – and soon he is forced to name her mad too. Bertha is the mad child in the eyes of those around her, so can never be anything more. Once her husband has condemned her as such too, she is lost in his diagnosis.
The only disappointing part is the end. It’s very rushed, and the events that actually occur in Jane Eyre are only given a few pages. I would have liked a little more time spent on this part of Bertha’s life.
All in all, a brilliant re-imagining of a great classic.