Before I start this book review I want to point out I have actually read this book three times, the first after reading Jane Eyre, the second for University as part of Post Colonial Studies and this third time as part f the 1000 and one books challenge and each reading was completely different, I hope this review which will mention all three will be interesting to you all.
First let me point out his version I have has lots of extra material, it has glossaries, historical and author facts however if you just want to read for pleasure it might be worth getting a different version as it can be a little distracting.
The first time I ever read this book I read it directly after reading Jane Eyre, and I primarily felt pity for Jane even though she does not feature in this book. The suffering she had inflicted upon her through no fault of her own coloured my reading of this book and I found myself angry at Rochester for his weakness and apathy.
The second time I read it I was at university and it was part of the Post Colonial Studies reading list, this made me read it critically looking at it in terms of slavery etc, and I actually felt sorry for Rochester and Bertha by the end of that reading. Both of them were at the mercy of their families and society, they had no options in life and were expected to follow the instructions of their families who made the match for their own financial benefits not caring less about the two people who would be forced to spend the rest of their lives together.
This third time I read the book I actually feel incredibly sad for both Bertha and Rochester, it was a match that could never really have ever worked but any chance they did have was destroyed by the interference of others for their own agendas. The relationship is like a car crash happening in slow motion, you can see the collision is imminent yet you hope that one or the other will swerve at the last minute but in the midst of the impact you realise that the debris spreads far and wide.
Although this is classed as the prequel to Jane Eyre I do recommend reading them separately and leaving time between the two, the Rochester Jane Eyre meets only exists because of the Rochester Bertha marries and the two are of course inter linked but the two relationships themselves and the styles the stories are written in are very different and going straight from one to the other will colour your view.
The descriptions of the landscape and the way of life is enchanting, one can see the contrast between the lush, vibrant Caribbean landscape of Bertha’s childhood and the grey desolate surroundings of Thornfield, and one does question if this actually adds to her madness, if others had not interfered, if the passion they had experienced in those first few nights had been left untainted, would she have remained sane? Her mothers madness seemed to have been brought on by the tragedy of her brothers death, so it is not clear if hereditary madness was already in the family. In some ways rather than providing a clear explanation of the back story Rochester and Bertha’s marriage it opens a the way for a myriad of other questions and possibilities.
I have to say I struggle to mark this one because once you have studied a book it is harder to simply enjoy it as a story, I think I will give it a 4 out of 5 only because for me personally there are a couple of threads I would like a little more detail on.