The first thing I’d point out is that Miss Rhys is very likely one of the first to present a classic novel that can possibly be considered fanfic. The first time it hit me was with the name of Grace Poole, towards the end of the book, and clues come together as we see Antoinette’s husband insisting upon calling her Bertha, and the background name of the Masons, though we are carefully never given the name of Mr. Rochester until the very end.
I must say that I truly enjoyed this rather brief novel, in that the level of insight into the characters was handled exceptionally well by Jean Rhys. Against the backdrop of a tropical island that steams in racial hatred that is either masked by condescension or openly aggressive, there is the struggle between the sexes as the main character fights to control her own life yet must submit to the power still wielded by the men in her life. Under this pressure, and with the ghost of her mother’s own madness shadowing her, Antoinette is brought down.
Rhys has given us a new view of Charlotte Bronte’s story from the madwoman’s perspective, also going back to her childhood to assemble a reason for the way she has ended up in Bronte’s England, locked up in the towers of her husband’s estate. It is an interesting story, either read completely apart from its parent narrative or as its prologue.Rhys’s own background is brought in as the base of her character.
From what I understand, this is Rhys’s last novel and the one that brought her recognition for her talent in bringing vibrant characters into a controversial situation while keeping it a fairly simple narrative plot. Her writing style is something I really respect, and though I’m not nuts about using someone else’s characters, I well understand the appeal for both Rhys and her readers. Jane Eyre is a wealth of character and questions, fully open to this sort of development.