Jane Eyre’s story is incredibly well known, and the inspiring and trailblazing protagonist is as celebrated as ever. However, Jean Rhys’s novel, which is a prelude to Jane Eyre, shows how the perspective of a narrative account can entirely influence a reader’s understanding.
This Radio 4 dramatised version tells the story of Mr Rochester’s lesser-known wife, ‘the madwoman in the attic’. Although the original narrative romanticises Rochester and the love that grows between him and Jane, this moving rendition depicts Rochester’s romance and marriage to his first wife, the white Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway, who is of the Jamaican plantation-owning class. Mr Rochester marries her for her money but becomes increasingly distant and cold with her, refusing to call use her real name as it ‘is too much like her mother’s name’ – instead, he cruelly dismisses her identity by insistently naming her ‘Bertha’.
It is fascinating to hear the celebrated story from another perspective, from Antoinette and Rochester’s meeting, to their intense and tragic relationship, and culminating in her brutal imprisonment by Charlotte Brontë’s character Grace Poole. In the final scene, the two narratives meet, and so do two very different types of gothic.
Image: Ben Salter