Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorites. I remember so much about the first time I held the book in my hands and fell completely head over heels in love with Victorian literature:the time, the feel of the period and Bronte's writing.
Wide Sargasso Sea is ambitious; I can't imagine wanting to take a famous book and writing the prequel.It takes a lot of guts to take this on.
In WSS, we uncover the story of the "mad" woman in the attic of Thornfield Hall where Jane comes to live. Discovering who Antoinette, Mr. Rochester's wife, is or was is quite scary. Scary in that this era of history dictated who or what you would be for the most part. Mental illness was not understood and a woman's role in the world was determined from birth and family circumstance. Once branded as
'mad' there was little hope for a recovery. The treatment of those experiencing mental breakdowns was appalling and most likely contributed to a worsening condition. ie. King George the Third.
Antoinette (or Bertha as she is later called by Rochester) is really quite ordinary at first and a victim of her surroundings and family. The experiences she is exposed to as a young child, I am sure traumatized her for life. Her relationship with Rochester and his treatment of her, are triggers for future behavior that could have been avoided in my opinion.
My impression was that her madness was not a given until others decided that it would be her destiny. She is quite normal and wonderful even though at an early age, her mother descends into a severe depression. I ended up despising Rochester, despite his ignorance, for being influenced so strongly by others and his belief that she was born to be mad.
It will be interesting for me to see how this novel colors my next reading of Jane Eyre. A great companion to one of my favorite novels.