Annotated Bibliography: [3.5 Sources for Evaluating Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre]
In part because of my Women in Literature class last Fall (coincidentally, also with Dr. Rebecca Nesvet), I was very much interested in looking at mental illness, disability, and, especially, the part(s) that
Bertha Mason Antoinette [Cosway] plays in not only Jane Eyre, but also in the (sort of) prequel by Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (Which I am citing as half of that “.5” source referenced in the title of this post; the other is the tale of Bluebeard).
That said, I hope these sources will be helpful to anyone who plans to look at Antoinette and the trope of “the madwoman in the attic.”
My annotated bibliography follows under the cut.
Adjarian, M.M. “Between and Beyond Boundaries in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea.’” College Literature, 22.1 (1995): 202-209.
JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
Adjarian provides an interesting term to describe Antoinette from Wide Sargasso Sea, which she also applies to Bertha Mason from Jane Eyre: “inbetween.” S/he hints at Antoinette’s status as a double or echo of her mother, and how she “never gets to see herself constituted as a whole, autonomous self in her mother’s eyes,” and brings into question the binary in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea of “exotic” vs. “colonial society,” both of which Antoinette and her family fall under. Adjarian also brings up the “inbetweenness” of Antoinette’s racial identity, and how she doesn’t really fit in with white people or black people, and–this is especially important–how she can enjoy some of the privileges of white people, but not without judgement or consequence, and how she may also partake in some of the customs of her Jamaican heritage, but similarly not without judgement or consequence. This source, I think, will be useful to anyone who wants to look at the effects of Antoinette’s (Bertha, in Jane Eyre) genetic background, and, specifically, her race, and what that does to her even before she is locked up in the young Englishman’s mansion. Less helpful, in my opinion, are Adjarian’s points on the use of the first-person in Wide Sargasso Sea–at least when it comes to looking at his/her points on Antoinette’s inability to fit in anywhere she goes.
Jafari, Morteza. “Freud’s Uncanny: The Role of the Double in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.” Victorian Newsletter 118 (2010): 43-53. EBSCOhost. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
Another article that looks at doppelgangers and doubling, Morteza’s article is intriguing. While it specifically references Jane Eyre (and Wuthering Heights), it also references Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a work that we talked a little bit about when we were discussing Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Morteza argues that Jane has several different doubles, suggesting even that the first instance of such doubling occurs in her childhood in the red room at the Reed household. There is this idea that Jafari cultivates in her/his article that if one cannot fit into the confines of the mold that society requires one to fit into, then one must be tied down “because [one] cannot ‘sit still.’” S/he goes on to indicate that Bertha Mason similarly does not fit into that mold, and suggests that she and Jane are meant to be reflections of each other: Jane, the representation of how one is supposed to act; Bertha, the representation of how one wants to act. There is one very interesting passage Jafari cites from Gilbert and Gubar, which says that for every instance Jane suppresses rage or rebellious feelings, Bertha acts out. I think that passage in particular would be a really cool one to look at and dissect.
Perrault, Charles, ed. George G. Harrap & Co Ltd. The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault: “Blue Beard.” London: 1922. The Gutenberg Project. Digital edition.
The story of Blue Beard is not directly related to Charlotte Bronte’s most memorable novel, but it certainly may serve as a comparative tale for the subject matter this collection of sources reflects. The story is about a mysterious man with a blue beard and a (rumored to be) dark past who wants to marry one of his neighbor’s two daughters. The younger girl accepts his proposal, but discovers Blue Beard’s terrible secret after the two wed, and must be punished for it. The girl’s two brothers come to the rescue before anything bad happens, and everyone except Blue Beard lives happily ever after. One way that this story may be helpful is as a backbone for evidence of the “madwoman in the attic” trope, which is incorporated in Jane Eyre with the character that Rochester names Bertha Mason. Even though all of the “madwomen” in the Blue Beard story are (spoiler alert) dead by the time the main character discovers them, there is still this eerie idea of a man locking up his wife (wives) and either killing them himself or leaving them there to rot, which is definitely a reading that can also be applied to the way Rochester treats Bertha.
You may read the story in its entirety here (it’s short).
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982. Print.
Wide Sargasso Sea, like the Blue Beard tale, does not count as a “whole” source, given that it is more like supplementary material to the original story of Jane Eyre. Jean Rhys has concocted a “prequel” to Charlotte Bronte’s novel, but the success of Wide Sargasso Sea relies on its ability to be taken as a stand-alone novel that may be better understood with a background knowledge of Jane Eyre. This novel tells the story of a Creole girl named Antoinette Cosway whose family used to be slave owners. Antoinette’s mother suffers from alcoholism and (possibly) a mental disorder which may or may not be hereditary; Antoinette is said to have gotten it as well, later on. A young Englishman marries her for her family’s wealth, and while he is kind to her at first, the facade decays and he becomes violent and wrathful toward her. He ends up taking her back to his home in England against her will, where he locks her up in the attic and where she spends the rest of her days with a caretaker, until she sets the place on fire and jumps from the upper levels to her death. This is a story that provides an imagined backstory for Bertha Mason–one that, perhaps, provides a few better reasons for Bertha’s actions than Rochester and Jane’s reactions and observations of her in Jane Eyre.
Rodas, Julia Miele. “Bronte’s JANE EYRE.” Explicator 61.3 (2003): 149-151. EBSCOhost. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
While Miele’s article is extraordinarily short, it is very insightful on the topics of alter egos and doppelgangers in Jane Eyre, especially in the frame of looking at Bertha as Rochester’s double (in addition to the typical view of Bertha as Jane’s double). As much as Bertha may represent the “dark side of Jane,” so-to-speak, Miele argues that she also fills a role as a double for Rochester, her husband. Miele starts off by quoting the physical details used to describe a couple of the more minor characters in the novel, Blanche Ingram and Grace Poole, going so far as to call the former of these Bertha’s doppelganger. She also points out that Jane constantly confuses Bertha and Grace Poole for one another, and uses this as evidence for those two being doppelgangers as well. Next, Miele looks at the physical descriptors and names used to talk about Rochester, and points out how he is put into a similar position that he puts Bertha into: the sort of “demon” or “monstrous” one. Lastly, she says that Rochester and Bertha’s tendencies to act out violently are especially telling, and she compares Rochester’s physical deformities at the end of the novel to the madness of Bertha throughout. Perhaps the biggest flaw with Miele’s article is that it is much too short; I would have liked to read more on what she has to say on how Bertha and Rochester may be considered doppelgangers, and whether or not she would have made some kind of comparison between their circumstances in life.