Jean Rhys was a bit of a character and this novel, set in the Caribbean she grew up in, features a misunderstood woman who falls victim to both her Creole upbringing and the man she marries.
The basic premise is that this is a prequel to Jane Eyre but written 120 years after it. It’s not essential to have read Eyre before you tackle Sargasso, but it will make a lot more sense if you do, particularly part 3. In fact, it was one of the rare moments in my life where I was actually glad I’d read Jane Eyre. The others were when I realised I didn’t still have it left to read.
Anyway, this is a tragedy from start to finish and Rhys does an excellent job of creating an aura of gloom, despondency and creeping madness right from the start. There’s virtually no joy in it, and you get this sense that whatever positives there may be in the lives of the characters, it’s only a matter of time before everything caves in.
Antoinette, for that is the name of the future Mrs Rochester, has a sad childhood with a mother who is not quite there in more ways than one. As a Creole, she doesn’t fit in any category and this sense of isolation plagues her right through the novel, even when Mr Rochester finally arrives and, suddenly, we find her married.
The marriage is obviously one of societal (read, financial) convenience and what little passion there is between them soon evaporates leaving behind a thin crust of bitterness and mistrust. This is the main theme of part 2.
Part 3 sees us in England and, having shown us the world according to both Mr and Mrs Rochester, we now find ourselves seeing things from the point of view of Grace Poole, Rochester’s housekeeper, who is tasked with caring for the mad woman now confined in Thornfield House, Rochester’s residence in the UK.
I enjoyed this principally because the development of novel-writing in between Eyre and Sargasso meant that the character of Antoinette was much more fleshed out than I found any character to be in the original. For me, this has rescued Eyre for me and means that, if ever I read it again, I will do so with more insight than previously. This is a good thing, I think.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings