Every once in a while, I stop to think about the neglected characters in various novels who exist only as plot devices. What are their stories? If you saw the novel through their eyes, what would it be like?
Therefore, ever since I heard the premise of Jean Rhys's novel, I was eager to read it. Bertha, Mr. Rochester's first wife, must have had a life other than as the "madwoman in the attic". I do not know if Charlotte Bronte ever thought about it, but Ms. Rhys obviously did, and this compellingly readable novel is the product.
The language is beautifully evocative. I could see the West Indies, even though I have never been there. I could see, hear and smell the tropical countryside (very much like my homeland), at once breathtakingly beautiful, compellingly seductive and strangely frightening-like Antoinette. Especially to the eyes of an Englishman whose green meadows and rolling fields hold no secrets.
Yes, the countryside is beautiful... but dangerous, since you can get lost in it. It may suddenly cloud over and start to rain, and you may find yourself in the burnt-out ruins of a country house populated only by ghosts of dead slaves and murdered slave-owners.
The characterisation is perfect. Rhys draws each character, including the minor ones, with a few deft brush strokes. Rochester, for all his faults, comes across as sympathetic, a victim of his times and society: the "evils" he does are part of his social makeup. And Antoinette is a masterpiece-inseparable from the landscape she inhabits. As we progress through the novel and she slips more and more into madness, the narrative also matches her mental state. In fact, the third part is downright creepy.
However, I am still plagued by a niggling doubt... would this novel be effective for someone totally ignorant of Jane Eyre
Oh well...maybe the question is irrelevant.