Charlotte Bronte’s Bertha Mason and Menopause
Bertha Mason, the enigma of a character that perplexes many different critics across the globe. She is presented as an insane woman locked up in the attic of Edward Rochester’s house, but there is more to her character than what we see. I believe that Bertha Mason is not insane, I believe that she simply has a case of early on set menopause.
Bertha Mason was 27 when she married Edward Rochester, given the fact that she was five years his senior and he had been living with him for four years. (288) Cases of early onset menopause can happen at any age. Rochester didn’t have much trouble with her while courting her, and the problems he had with her were caused by her menopause as it took its toll on her. Early onset menopause can be induced by stress, smoking, and alcohol, which, according to many articles, “triggers hormonal imbalances in the body, leading to early menopause.” Bertha Mason was a woman in the 1800’s, a time when smoking and drinking were commonplace. And while it was not prudent for women to smoke, the men would have been contributing to the second hand smoke that Bertha was exposed to. Bertha was also probably under a lot of stress during her courtship with Edward, and during her marriage to him. While she was courting him, she was barely allowed to interact with him and had to keep herself demure and under the control of her family and his. This along with her unhappy and arranged marriage to a man shed never interacted with would have caused immense amount of stress for her and affected her hormone levels.
The symptoms for menopause include mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, decreased libido, trouble falling or staying asleep, and in some cases, depression. A key example of her symptoms happens when Rochester is awoken in the middle of the night by his wife’s screaming from down the hall while they are living in the Caribbean. The Caribbean is very hot, and this heat would not help Bertha’s hot flashes that occur during menopause, it would also explain why it was in the middle of the night when she screamed if she couldn’t get enough sleep. (287) When Bertha travels to England with Rochester, it is said that nobody could stand her moody outbursts or “absurd, contradictory, and exacting orders.” (287) These mood swings generally go one way, but it’s not as though she had many people she cared for to confide in when she was actually happy. Snapping at others or ignoring them entirely can be signs of depression, and with no one else to talk to that would help alleviate this, it could cause her to scream in frustration at her own mental state. Bertha’s symptoms of menopause contributed to her image as a mad woman and caused her life to go downhill.
Times in the 1800’s for women were tough. They was hardly any information on women’s health and any that were available were outdated, sexist, and some just plain wrong. It was common for women suffering from natural causes to be committed to an insane asylum. Bertha was deemed insane by doctors, but it is uncertain how much those doctors knew of women’s bodies or that they knew that menopause could start much younger than usual with the right circumstances. IT was common in those days that the only kind of good information a woman got about her body was through her mother. Bertha’s mother was absent most of her life, stuck in an insane asylum herself, so she was unable to tell her daughter about the signs and remedies for menopause. Since Bertha had no idea about the natural parts of her body, she could have become overwhelmed by them and induced even more stress and hardship on herself.
Bertha Mason may not have been the insane woman Rochester would like us to believe before he locked her away in the attic. He could have been emphasizing the effects that early onset menopause can cause in a woman uneducated in her own body. Bertha deserved love and compassion during the most difficult and trying times in her life, and Rochester only gave her more pain and suffering. Bertha had an illness that affects every woman, she only had the misfortune of developing it early and with a man who did not care for her.