CSLJ Book Club Jane Eyre Discussion – Day 4

For Day 4 of our discussion of Jane Eyre, let’s turn our attention to the “mad woman in the attic,” Bertha Rochester.

Some critics suggest that Bertha is a sort of shadow figure / alter-ego to Jane, acting out all of the anger and unrestrained parts of Jane’s nature that have to be locked away or destroyed in order for Jane to find her happiness as a Victorian wife or mother. Do you agree? Why or why not?

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You can also see the rest of our Jane Eyre Book Club posts and weigh in on the other discussion questions here.

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14 Responses to CSLJ Book Club Jane Eyre Discussion – Day 4

  1. Bertha, poor soul, was a pawn, used as bait because of her beauty. We don’t know anything else about her, really, because she has no voice.

    We know that she was doomed, regardless of who married her (or not), that she was beautiful, and that she brought out a lot of good in Rochester’s character: he never abandoned her, or put her into a horrible asylum.

    Locked away isn’t enough for Jane’s happiness – she has to die, Rochester has to be punished for the sins of wanting her dead and proposing bigamy. Perhaps he’s Bertha’s shadow-figure – needing to be cleansed of the passions and able to submit to Jane instead of being dominant?

    (I need to read the chapter on Jane Eyre in The Madwoman In the Attic… one of my never-ending projects is to read it through. Also should re-read Wild Sargasso Sea.)

  2. Bertha being Jane’s alter-ego- Bertha and Jane are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Bertha has one card to play and that is her beauty. I believe she was starting to go “crazy” but listened to her family for what to do when it came to her future. I believe she was able to hold on to sanity just long enough to accomplish what her family needed.

    Maybe Bertha is Rochester’s alter-ego in a sense, or maybe his punishment for only looking at Bertha’s physical attributes instead of delving deeper into her character before he married her. He may feel that her madness is just punishment for his part in the whole situation. That’s why he tries to save her in the end. Because by trying to save her, he will be able to save himself.

  3. I agree with Robin and Melanie I think that if Bertha is anyone’s alter ego she’s Rochester’s. Boy does he suffer for just being looped in by her beauty. I love though that when he tries to find his next bride he wants to make sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake.

  4. As a psych major, I am rather fascinated by Bertha Rochester. I would love to know what psychiatric disorder she actually had. I mean, Bronte suggests that there was a genetic component to her condition, telling us that Bertha’s mother was shut up in a lunatic asylum and that Bertha copied many of her mother’s behavior. Also that there was a younger brother who was a “a complete dumb idiot” and Mr. Rochester describes Bertha’s older brother, Mr. Mason as feeble-brained.

    But then, Rochester also suggests that Bertha’s condition was at least partially brought on by her own actions, that after years of drinking and unchastity, “her excesses had prematurely developed the germs of insanity,” perhaps suggesting that on top of whatever issues Bertha has genetically, she also had syphilis too and therefore her insanity was partially her fault(which to be fair is a little harsh, coming from a guy who slept around with French opera singers and other mistresses).

    Either way, I think I buy into the Jane / Bertha connection. I find the timing of things to be significant. When Mr. Rochester tells Jane about sleeping his way across Europe, Bertha sets his bed on fire. When Jane is agitated by Mr. Rochester dressing up like a gypsy woman and messing with her head, Bertha attacks Mr. Mason. When Jane is anxious about her wedding and annoyed that Mr. Rochester bought her a fancy and expensive wedding veil (over her objections), Bertha rips the veil but doesn’t touch anything else. And when Jane finds out that Mr. Rochester lied to her, Bertha goes into a rage and tries to attack him.

    I also think the incident in the red room when Jane is a girl connects them. Like Bertha, Jane is locked in a room after having what her relatives consider a passionate and violent outburst. The servants threaten to tie her down to a chain if she doesn’t contain herself – like Bertha is later on in the book – and then she has a fit, tries to escape and is pushed back into her prison – all of which echoes what Bertha endures later on.

    I also think the red color of the red room connects her to Bertha as a sort of foreshadowing, especially since Bertha is a creature of fire and will eventually die in flames.

    Then again, I can definitely see your points about Bertha being the shadow Rochester and she also works as a contrast to Blanche Ingram, who despite being named Blanche or “white” is described as dark and statuesque and being very similar to Bertha in terms of beauty and physique. Her arrogance and demanding nature and the fact that she is considered the sought after beauty of the group also mirrors the way Bertha was before she married Mr. Rochester. (This strikes me as interesting because it suggests that if Jane hadn’t come along, Mr. Rochester was still falling back on old patterns and preferences despite how much pain they had caused him in he past!)

    Bertha also is a great contrast to St. John Rivers too. Both St. John and Bertha are the obstacles to Jane and Mr. Rochester’s happiness but where one is associated with flames, the other is compared to ice.

    I don’t know if Bronte meant to have Bertha reflected in so many characters but I think it makes the book even more interesting to see glimpses of a hidden character in so many places.

    • “I also think the incident in the red room when Jane is a girl connects them. Like Bertha, Jane is locked in a room after having what her relatives consider a passionate and violent outburst. The servants threaten to tie her down to a chain if she doesn’t contain herself – like Bertha is later on in the book – and then she has a fit, tries to escape and is pushed back into her prison – all of which echoes what Bertha endures later on.”

      Great point!

  5. I can see your points for sure that she is connected with Jane. Maybe though you could still maybe connect her to both of them. I’m sure Rochester could have been upset with himself for his own sleeping around so burning the bed might be him burning away his past discretions. Mr Rochester is upset that Mason is there to expose his secret and Bertha attacks him. Though sadly that’s what nearly exposes him. Rochester would still be very worried that something could ruin their wedding and maybe “Bertha” only tears the veil because it is the item that he has bought without Jane’s permission and it was supposed to be such an item of purity and he would be ruining Jane’s purity. Also veils were supposed to protect the bride from evil spirits and Bertha doesn’t hurt Jane but just the veil. When Jane learns of his lies, he would be severely upset with himself and his deception so thus the attack upon himself. I would love to also know what exactly Bertha suffered from as well. I definitely agree with the syphillis part though.

    • Wow! Those are all really great points! So you see Bertha as sort of a physical representation of Rochester’s guilt and self-loathing for past mistakes? That’s a really interesting way to view the book. I know that Bertha is referred to as “a demon” at times but it sounds like you are suggesting that she is an outward expression of Rochester’s inner demons.

      Do you think that there was any specific reason that when grappling with his inner demon, Rochester lost his eyes and his hand? I am just asking because if Bertha is a shadow self to Rochester, instead of Jane, then it really ties into a certain Bible verse from the book of Matthew and it might be part of the reason why Bronte maims Rochester (especially considering the body parts involved).

      Matthew 5: 27 – 30

      “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

  6. I sadly hadn’t thought far enough along to as to why he is maimed so much in the fire other then maybe it was to be that it would be his penance for his “sins” but with that bible verse I think we have definitely cracked the code.

    • Bronte was the daughter of a clergyman so she would have been very familiar with the Bible so I can definitely see her evoking this verse, especially since it deals specifically with adultery. I did go back and check and the book says that it is Rochester’s left hand that was lost – not the right one that is referenced in the Bible. I am not sure if this is because Bronte wasn’t referencing this verse or if she got this one detail wrong but it is interesting that his left hand, the one where people wear wedding rings was the one he lost.

      Maybe there’s something to that – that he gave his hand away in marriage and the severing of that bond was painful and costly. It’s all very rich in meaning.

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