Self Incrimination – Mary Torjussen

Self Incrimination

Mary Torjussen, author of GONE WITHOUT A TRACE, picks her favourite novels for our regular blog piece.

Posted on October 31, 2016 in Guest Author, Self incrimination
Tags: Author Content, Mary Torjussen, jane austen, psychological thriller, self incrimination, wide sargasso sea

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, has long been a favourite of mine, though the image of Edward Rochester, stern and forbidding, always raised some difficult feelings in my younger, newly feminist self. If ever there was an erotic novel for women, Jane Eyre was it. The ending, of course, denied us the exuberant finale demanded by erotica, given the implication of impotence in the older Mr Rochester, and the drag queen party did little to excite me, but still, fantasies are fantasies and are as much to do with ignoring certain things as they are to do with focusing on others.

Years later, by chance, I read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a novel which explores the back story to Jane Eyre. It tells the story of Bertha, the mad woman in Rochester’s attic and reading it was like being kicked in the stomach. No matter what I’d thought of Rochester – and, believe me, I’d thought about him a lot – I’d never really considered his wife, Bertha. I’d completely accepted his side of the story and had actually felt sorry for him.

What had I been thinking of to not realise his cruelty? Hadn’t I spared one thought for the poor woman, locked up in the attic with only Grace Poole for company? I hadn’t given her one second of consideration, hadn’t thought how she’d feel, a stranger in a strange land, its cold climate matched only by a cold and unforgiving husband.

It’s one of our most basic fears that we should be unacknowledged, that no-one should know of our existence, that our utter, all-encompassing misery should be ignored. That Bertha’s own husband had propagated that ignorance seemed suddenly appalling. That I hadn’t acknowledged her myself was unforgivable.

Wide Sargasso Sea was so important to me as a writer. It showed me the importance of a back story, of knowing your characters and allowing them to determine plot. Jean Rhys took my favourite novel, Jane Eyre, and told me more about the characters than Charlotte Bronte could. In writing the backstory to a nineteenth century classic, she created a twentieth century classic and I believe to know the full story, the two should now always be read together.

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