Emily Bronte: Book Reviews
Emily Bronte book reviews! After reading Wide Sargasso Sea, the prequel to Jane Eyre, the story requires an entirely new intepretatation.
The story of Jane Eyre can be approached from many different ways. There are several standard vantage points people take on the outcome of the novel. Some feel Jane and Rochester got to live "Happily Ever After", others believe the exact opposite took place. Some feel Bertha was an insane maniac; others feel there is more to the issue than that. Whatever your opinions may be, any digging into the meaning and interpretation of the points in this book can be all but turned upside down after reading the prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea. Afterwards, you will find yourself questioning the characters' ideals, motives, and the outcome of the story.
First lets compare the differences in personality the characters take on in the two novels. Lets start with Bertha, whom is Rochester's current wife in WSS, and by JE is the hidden secret in the attic. In JE, Bertha is a one-dimensional character, not much more than a symbol. She is the "bad guy" of the book, plain and simple. Bertha is used to try to make it difficult for Jane and Rochester to come together, and to add mysteriousness to Rochester's past. Conversely, in WSS, the author attempts to dig into the psyche of Bertha, to bring the real person up to the surface.
In the first few chapters of WSS, the childhood of Antoinette (whom later is known as Bertha) is shown as a very painful time for her. In one example, she has a falling out with her only friend due to their differences in race. Another example of her distress is the relationship Antoinette has with her mother. For example, when Antoinette went to visit her mother in the hospital, she was thrown to the ground in disgust. Antoinette's mother had no interest in seeing her, only in seeing her dead son.
Throughout the first part of the book, Antoinette loses her friend, her mother, her home, and her way of life. Watching your own home be burnt to the ground by the local inhabitants is enough to send anyone, Antoinette included, into seclusion. Even after being forced into a convent she pushes herself to work through it all.
Throughout Antoinette's life leading up to her death, she is portrayed in WSS as a heroine wronged by most of the people close to her, not the out of control monster we see in JE. It is true; she does do some questionable things through out the course of WSS. Antoinette is driven to drink, have affairs with other men, and at one point she nearly runs away. Yet any time she does something that may be unladylike, it is in response, and usually in defense, of some act Rochester committed towards her. When she he drank, it was to escape the pain he caused her. If Antoinette did have an affair, it was for the comfort Rochester refused her. Also, Rochester himself had no qualms whatsoever about sleeping around as well. It is very likely Antoinette was merely manipulated into the horrible acts she performs, rather than the mastermind behind them.
Another character that co-exists in both novels is that of Rochester. While JE depicts Rochester as having perhaps a selfish and abrasive personality at times in the ways he manipulates Jane, he comes off generally as a good man. WSS on the other hand paints Rochester as a hostile and an out of control instigator of nearly everything that goes wrong in the story. Nearly all the "wrongdoings" that Antoinette commits in WSS are due to Rochester's horrible treatment of her. It is he that forces her to drink, it is he who causes her to sleep with other men, and it is he who labels her as crazy by donning her the name Bertha. It can make one wonder if perhaps this pattern follows over into JE, and that Rochester is really the puppet pulling Bertha's strings, no matter how inconsequential Rochester's actions may be.
Even though JE herself has no real existence in WSS, Rochester's treatment of Antoinette throughout the novel makes one second guess how true the love is between Jane and Rochester. Rhys builds many parallels between Antoinette and Jane. Both wind up poor as orphans at a young age, and spend their teen years in a group home. Also, both would up inheriting large sums of money. Not to be forgotten, both wind up in the arms of Rochester. With both Antoinette's and Jane's lives being so analogous to each other, it is not a giant leap of faith to imagine that Jane's future may not be unlike that of Antoinette's.
After looking at how the characters have changed in WSS, it is equally important to examine how this affects the conjoining plot of the two novels. The point of WSS is to alter our views on many different aspects of JE. To do so, Rhys changes around some of the facts, and alter the plot accordingly.
While obviously it can't be considered a good thing to bite anyone, by changing Mason to Bertha's half brother in WSS, it makes the attack not as quite as detestable. There are other discrepancies as well added by Rhys to promote our sympathy for Antoinette. Once she is locked away at Rochester's estate, Rhys depicts her as relatively subdued, and not even fully aware of her surroundings. In fact, Antoinette did not even believe she was in England. This is a far cry from the howling maniac of JE.
One other huge important difference is the significance of Jane in Antoinette's life. Bronte uses Antoinette to try to keep Rochester and Jane apart. Antoinette acts out of jealousy, and tries to stop them at all costs, whether it is by showing up in Jane's room, or simply her existence being a hindrance. By Rhys's accounting of the story, Antoinette never even really acknowledges the existence of Jane, as far as up to her eventual death. Once again Rhys is trying to depict Antoinette in a much better light.
This leads into interpreting the ending of JE, and whether it was a "good" or "bad" ending. The most obvious change here after reading WSS is that the death of Antoinette is no longer a simple riddance of a mindless creature, but rather now is a sorrowful end to a woman who fought for equality. The burning down of Rochester's home is no longer just a random violent act, but the completion of a circle that was started when her own home was burnt down so many years ago. No longer is Bertha's death a joyous occasion but instead becomes an ominous sign of fate; that things are not well off at all. It is also a distinct possibility then that Rochester was not maimed for his treatment to Jane, but rather as fate's revenge for his handling of Antoinette. If indeed it is Jane's fate to wind up like Bertha, then this new marriage is doomed to fail as well.