Tuesday 27 March 2012

Before Jane Eyre...

I've always found Charlotte Brönte's Jane Eyre (1847) to be one of the most intriguing stories I have ever read. Jane lives a strange and hard life and yet she finds the courage and compassion to open her heart to Edward Rochester. And he's the real reason why this story is so intriguing. I don't even know how to explain why this isolated, selfish, unloving man is so very interesting that as soon as he appears in the story, my attention goes to his every move, his every word... and Jane Eyre becomes secondary.

Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855)

Another intriguing character in Brontë's novel is Bertha Mason, the 'madwoman in the attic'. In fact, she is Edward Rochester's wife, and the reason why Jane and Edward cannot start a life together. Have you ever wondered who this woman really was? How did she meet Edward Rochester and how did she end up as a mentally ill, suicidal madwoman in the attic of Thornfield Hall? So did I, and I never knew that the answer already existed.

In 1966, Dominica-born author Jean Rhys wrote The Wild Sargasso Sea to act as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. It tells the story of the first Mrs. Rochester, Antoinette Cosway (later named Bertha Mason, as Mason was the name of her stepfather). Antoinette is a white Creole heiress who meets Edward Rochester, although he is never named in the novel, decides to marry him and follow him to England. Racial inequality, the harshness of relocation from beautiful Jamaica to dark and dreary England and her unhappy marriage cause her already frail health to worsen and she eventually descends into madness.

The novel is only one person's interpretation of who Charlotte Brontë's madwoman in the attic could have been, giving the anonymous, isolated woman an identity and a history. The story has spoken to the imagination of many, and Rhys' novel has tranformed for the screen more than once. One of the most recent TV adaptations was created in 2006, starring Rebecca Hall as Antoinette and Rafe Spall as a very young Edward Rochester. You can watch it on Youtube:

I'm not completely convinced by this story, probably because I can't imagine that Edward Rochester was ever as young as he is here. In my head, Mr. Rochester will always look like Toby Stephens...

Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens as Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester in the BBC's adaptation of Jane Eyre (2006)

No comments:

Post a Comment