“After I read Jane Eyre I was haunted and then- then – afterwards when I read the prequel I was disappointed because there was so much missing, but I was thrilled.” – Hermione Wilds, Bertha’s Journal
The opening quotation sums up my feelings after reading Jane Eyre and then Wide Sargasso Sea. Bertha’s Journal is one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking books I’ve read this year. I probably would not have come across it had the author not contacted me to send me a copy as she believed we had shared literary interests and that I would enjoy it. And I did! What piqued my interest at first was it was considered as a sort of sequel to Jane Eyre, and it contained elements of both Jane Eyre and Wide Sea Sargasso in it.
Bertha is the “madwoman in the attic” in Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This novella depicts Bertha’s descendants in future England (in the year 2050) discovering her diary, the diary she kept while being confined to the attic at Rochester’s house.
Bertha’s diary is exploratory and melancholy; a woman trying to determine who she really is, a quest not helped by Rochester:
“But I am Bertha and Antoinette: butterfly and pupa. This text I can write. I can write my way out of it.”
“What irony is this? This equality you do not want? But to distance yourself. To distance yourself until I craved the mere sight of you. And then, then when I had reached such depths I hardly knew myself, then you let go.”
The writing was very atmospheric and melodic. For me, I was reminded of the pull that Jane Eyre has for me and so many others. I think, as odd as it sounds, after reading this book I will be able to appreciate Jane Eyre even more.
What this book and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ stressed to me was there are always two sides to every story. Highly recommended.
Side note: Additionally, this book contains excerpts of interesting conversation between a Victorian era teacher and her student on literature and the writing process. I never expected I would want to re-read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness again but after reading some literary criticism in this book I am really considering a re-read.
You can find Hermione Wilds on Twitter: @herziloph