Coco and Antoinette: A Parallel

It is clear to me that Wide Sargasso Sea was written by Jean Rhys to make a clear statement about the unfair representation of the Caribbean and its peoples in Jane Eyre. This statement is decidedly anti imperialism and highlights the subtly racial stereotyping found in Jane Eyre. This is evident in the way she highlights the social struggles left over from competing British and French colonization and slave emancipations, and in the way Antoinette’s descent into madness and ultimate death is hastened by her removal from her home and intentional isolation from society by her husband. Antoinette’s death is sad but easily predictable by the trail of breadcrumbs Rhys leaves throughout the text to foreshadow it. We are a story about Coco’s change after Mason’s arrival, namely that, “After Mr Mason clipped his wings he grew very bad tempered, and though he would sit quietly on my mother’s shoulder, he darted at everyone who came near her and pecked their feet” (25). It is important to note that Coco’s wings were clipped by her mother’s husband and that Rhys notes it is bad luck to see a parrot die. This serves as forshadowing for Antoinettes fiery suicide at the end of the novel. Like Coco with his clipped wings pecking at feet, Antoinette’s loss of freedom as she is locked away in the third-storey room only further enraged her, pushing her to act out in violence “…once to secrete a knife with which she stabbed her brother, and twice to possess herself of the key to her cell, and issue therefrom in the night-time” (129). These violent outbursts do not gain her the freedom she seeks and continue to escalate to the point of Antoinette lighting her prison on fire and throwing herself from the roof. We are given an image of Antoinette straddling the roof “waving her arms, above the battlements, and shouting… She was a big woman, and had long black hair: I could see it streaming against the flames as she stood… she yelled, and gave a spring, and the next minute she layed smashed on the pavement” (131). This scene brought to mind her mother’s beloved pet parrot Coco’s final swan song off the deck of her family home in Dominica where Antoinette tells us, “I opened my eyes, everybody was looking up and pointing at Coco on the glacis railings with his feathers alight. He made an effort to fly down but his clipped wings failed him and he fell screeching. He was all on fire… I heard someone say something about bad luck and remembered that it was very unlucky to kill a parrot, or even to see a parrot die” (25). Like Coco, Antoinette had he wings clipped by her husband, who’s racist tendencies colored him against her from the start and led to him locking her away from the world in his home. Anointte seeking death over spending another second imprisoned by the white man she was convinced to marry strengthens Rhy’s stand against imperialism. It makes a statement that, like Antoinette, the Creoles would rather see death then be forced under the thumb of the white men that enslaved them.

Rochester: Real or Fake?

Rochester: Real or Fake?

After finishing both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, I have decided that I like the latter more than the former. I feel like some will judge me as an English major that prefers Rhys to Bronte but I do. Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea is mentally and emotionally all over the place. At the close of section 2, he is thinking to himself and decides, “I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.”  Rochester is preparing to leave the island with his mad bride and to think back on this journey that led him to this is fascinating. Rochester in Jane Eyre is calm, assertive, and self-assured, but Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea is paranoid, insecure, and irrational. A complete stranger claiming to be his wife’s illegitimate brother send him a letter telling him she is mad. Rochester believes him. He has felt so insecure and on the outside of some conspiratorially secret since he arrived that when this man offers him an answer he jumps at the chance to believe it. Rochester has felt like an outsider since he married his wife and he doesn’t know why his marriage isn’t what he wants it to be, so he decides to believe a stranger who claims his wife is crazy. “How can one discover the truth, I thought, and that thought led me nowhere. No one would tell me the truth. Not my father nor Richard Mason, certainly not the girl I had married. I stood still, so sure I was being watched that I looked over my shoulder. Nothing but the trees and the green light under the trees.” This quotation further illustrates Rochester’s paranoia and his belief that everyone is hiding some truth from him. Which Rochester is his true self. Is Rochester truly the put together gentleman as he appears in Jane Eyre or is he simply better at disguising his deep-seeded insecurities and paranoia that are so apparent in Wide Sargasso Sea? This would help readers to understand his actions in Jane Eyre towards his ‘wife’ Bertha. Thinking that it is ok to lock her up and pretend she doesn’t exist. Perhaps he is really trying to lock up his past when he was paranoid, insecure, and naïve towards his life.

 

Flipping “The Other” in Wide Sargasso Sea

Parts 1 and 2 of Wide Sargasso Sea are spent in the Caribbean Islands, primarily Jamaica and later Trinidad. From here we sit and view the englishmen and women of Bronte’s novel as Rhys does. Only in the final part of the book do we visit Rhys’s England. By this point we find ourselves attached to the Caribbean as Rhys and Antionette are, leaving us longing to return to the lush and wild lands across the sea.
We are introduced to Jamaica through the eyes of a very young, very lonely Antionette. Her family and community at large seem to range from ignoring her to openly despising her, following her home whilst throwing jeering names and punishing her with rocks and isolation. We are not openly explained as to why, beyond her mistake of being born to the ‘wrong’ crowd, as it were. So, alone and lonely, she turned to the wilderness for comfort, seemingly her only comfort. Still, the place was not entirely kind to her. Shortly after losing her only companion, Tia, over a disagreement and a stolen dress, she goes deep into the forest. There she encounters the dangerous parts of nature — snakes, poisonous ants, even the very grass itself seems to reach out and cut at her. Her only response? “It’s better than people”(Part 1, page 16). From this rather ugly introduction we grow to love the natural world as she does, understanding it as being more alive than some of the human characters. There is also the community of Jamaica and it’s relationship to the environment. Despite being a ‘civilized’ society, the people of the Caribbean retain a deep spiritual root to the natural spirits, best seen here in the reaction to the death of the parrot that belonged to Antoinette’s mother. The parrot burns to death in a fire meant to kill Antoinette and her family, which was lit by the collective township. The township closes in on them with great voracity until they all witness the parrot try to escape and fall into the flames. After this rather brutal death scene, the violence of the townsmen seem to dissipate. They are overcome with the spiritual significance of this act of violence and we the audience feel the heaviness. We understand their suffering, mainly Antoinette’s, not as onlookers but as one of the community.
After this deep and introspective dive into caribbean culture, part two comes as a jarring shift in perspective. We shift from Antionette to ‘the man’ who we can assume to be Rochester from Bronte’s novel. Here he is a younger man, the second son of well to do englishman. He marries (now adult) Antionette and the two go off together to Trinidad for their honeymoon. From there on we truck along as he grumbles and grouses about both the tiniest and largest of details. This is especially true for his wife, whom he admits “[he] did not love. [he] was thirsty for her, but that is not love. [He] felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to [him], a stranger who did not think or feel as [he] did” (Part 2, page 55). The ironic part is that now he is the outsider in a land that does not understand him. Often we see him physically overwhelmed by the physical surroundings, calling the water itself “‘extreme green”(Part 2, page 41), referring to the entire area as having “an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness”(Part 2, Page 53). As he admires and desires Antoinette, so does he view her lands with the same possessive eye. Yet we can not go with him on this, because we know Antoinette. We know her better than we know  this man whom we are expected to follow. We relate when she makes references to her life that he does not care to understand. He is now the “other”, from a far away land that we know little about save from characters’ stories. This other, however, is one to be feared — they are the conquerors in this scenario, and we the subjugated, fetishized natives. We know Antoinette’s fate from the beginning, her sad beginnings only making her inevitable captivity even harder to bear. We carry it with us as the reader throughout the story until it reaches it’s tragic conclusion. This is not the tale of a people fending off a mysterious threat, this is a tragedy about the fate of those who do not belong. By placing us alongside Antoinette, we see the horror of subjugation and we feel the helplessness that define’s her life. Antoinette and her people become people, which may sound like a small thing but is most certainly not. Rhys forces us to re-humanize those whom we would rather leave as beasts.

The Looking Glass

“They are more alive than you are, lazy or not, and they can be dangerous and cruel for reasons you wouldn’t understand.”

This quote comes from Jean Rhys’ 1966 novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, which features the fleshed out story of Antoinette Mason, known as Bertha Mason in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, we get the viewpoint of Anoinette, the wealthy white Creole heiress to a large fortune. Her story, her family history, and her relationship with her servants drive the narrative to let us see what it’s like to live on the other side. The novel takes place in the 1800s, in the aftermath of the Emancipation Act of 1833 (the act which outlawed slavery in the British colonies). Unlike the usual narrative of slaves in bondage and of black people being oppressed, we have an interesting role reversal here where the quote above states: that the black citizens, despite their freedom, are less passive and more aggressive towards the white Creole residents.

It is helpful to note this when we examine race in this novel: the author herself, Jean Rhys, is a Jamaican woman having been born in Dominica. Her background informs her worldview of the tensions and the attitudes of the blacks towards the whites in that area. This provides a context for us to see the racial tensions from someone who’s lived in Jamaica and who has known about these events unfolding.

One particular instance of these tensions is when Antoinette describes how she feels when talking to the blacks in the Caribbean.

 “I never looked at any strange negro. They hated us. They called us white cockroaches. One day a little girl followed me singing, ‘Go away white cockroach, go away, go away.’”

To a young child, this must have been a harrowing experience. She describes their feelings by saying, “they hated us,” which shows contempt and anger towards the white Creoles. One on hand, it is an ideology perpetuated by years of slavery and oppression by the white British. However, because the British have implanted this mentality into the former slaves, it never left; it only transferred to the white Creoles who now have to deal with it. This leaves Antoinette and her family in a precarious position. She’s not quite the white British and still is under their control, but she does not fit in with the black people in the Caribbean because of her background and skin color.

The uniqueness of that perspective could be what Jean Rhys is trying to get us to see. When you are stuck in the middle both culturally and socially, there is no way that you will feel inherently safe. In the novel, that fact was culminated by the house fire that Antoinette had to endure and the betrayal of her servants; all of which confirmed Antoinette’s earlier suspicions. With her mother’s haunting words, that they are “alive,” “dangerous,” and “cruel”, we see that on the other side, through the looking glass, cruelty and racism can exist anywhere.

Two [Stories] Diverge…

Wide Sargasso Sea answers, and yet continues to raise, many questions concerning the case of Antoinette Mason, as it offers a very dissimilar account of Rochester’s marriage to Bertha from the narrative he paints for Jane in Jane Eyre. Though Rochester himself recounts both versions of the history of his courtship and marriage to Bertha, his accounts contradict each other at many points.To begin, in Jane Eyre, Rochester tells Jane that he was originally ignorant of the money that would be gained through this marriage: “My father said nothing about money, but he told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish town for her beauty” (Bronte 395). However, in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester’s mental rough draft letter to his father implies that the money had been discussed between them prior to the courtship and marriage, for Rochester imagines informing him “the thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without question or condition” (Rhys 41).

Next, the details concerning the courtship itself also contrast. When telling Jane of the event, Rochester implies the period was brimming with festivities and parties and that “all men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me” (Bronte 395). In Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester informs the reader that he “was married a month after [he] arrived in Jamaica and for nearly three weeks of that time [he] was in bed with fever” (Rhys 39). Neither does Rochester mention any social gatherings or any contenders for Antoinette’s affection. Likewise, Antoinette’s account of her society, at least the society knew before attending the convent, was very scarce. The peers she did speak of, whether black or creoles like herself (such as the red-haired boy who pestered her on the walk to the convent) treated her with more indignation and disgust than adoration.

In Jane Eyre, Rochester describes himself as having been originally “dazzled” by Antoinette, and he confesses that he thought he loved her. He implies this period of infatuation endured throughout their honeymoon, the end of which Rochester marks as the moment he “learned [his] mistake” (Bronte 395). The first few pages of Part II in Wide Sargasso Sea submit an altogether divergent illustration of Rochester. He presents himself as one who already seems disinterested in his wife and whom has already given up on the marriage. As they arrive to their final honeymoon destination, he describes himself “watch[ing] her critically”, rather than gazing after her in admiration (Rhys 39). He notes that her “pleading expressions annoy [him]” and, upon entering Granbois— their honeymoon home— immediately identifies the writing desk as a potential place of refuge (Rhys 41). Refuge from what? His new wife? More concerning, however, is his comment concerning his wife’s bedroom. Rochester expresses feeling unsafe, and surveys the room “suspiciously” before comforting himself by the notion that ‘the door into her room could be bolted, a stout wooden bar pushed across the other” (Rhys 44). This surprising comment, as well the myriad of contradictions between his two tales, imply that Rochester knew more about Antoinette Bertha Mason as he entered the marriage than disclosed to Jane.

Rochester or Bertha? The Biggest Crazy.

Rochester or Bertha? The Biggest Crazy.

 

While reading Jane Eyre, it is easy to assume that the craziest, most lunatic character in the novel is Bertha. She is certifiably insane and has lived in an attic for fifteen years. However, perhaps the biggest crazy in the story is actually the person who put her there. Bertha, by any modern standards, would be mentally disabled and should be on medications to help her. She would have 24/7 support and care from qualified and trained nurses. Depending on her diagnosis she might go on to live a happy, healthy lifestyle. Rochester, on the other hand, would still be just as crazy and possibly in jail. First of all, Rochester locked a woman in an attic for fifteen years. That right there is domestic abuse whether he finds her unfit and crazy or not. “I now inform you that she is my wife, whom I married fifteen years ago, — Bertha Mason”… “Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family.”Secondly, he tries to hide her and succeeds for fifteen years.  For a decade this married man traveled around the European continent having affairs and mistresses, hopelessly trying to forget his wife locked in his house. He left his wife in the care of some poor young woman who only looks after her for the money and is not in any way qualified or equipped to handle this sort of situation. What kind of person leaves their wife trapped in an attic and trusts their care to a totally unqualified stranger? Furthermore, what kind of person leaves the country and pretends cheats on a woman who is still his wife without telling the other women. The culmination of his craziness, however, takes place when Jane arrives and he asks her to marry him. I mean how deranged do you have to be to think that you can marry another woman and have her live in the same house as your first wife that you have locked in the attic. The only place this would ever work is in literature and because its literature that won’t happen. He lies to Jane, his priest, and his friends and tries to deny it when he is confronted with proof. After that, he tries to defend all of his lunatic decisions from the past decade and a half that he has made regarding his wife. Even Jane, later in the novel first assumes that the fate has befallen Rochester is madness. “I Had Dreaded Worse. I Had Dreaded He Was Mad.” One of the people who know him best in life assumes that he was gone mad and it could be because of his previous actions. Perhaps the biggest crazy in Jane Eyre is not the mentally disabled person but the fully functioning adult who sees nothing wrong with his actions.

Jane Eyre and the Hearth

    In Jane Eyre, Jane spends most of her time in three homes. She begins her life in Gateshead, then moves to Lowood, then finally to Thornfield. it is not until Thornfield, however, that she finds a place that she can consider as her home. Through Jane’s eyes we experience the differing places that she lives. At each place it is her relationships with the inhabitants that colors her opinion. At Gateshead, her hatred of Mrs. Reed and her abuse at the hands of her son, John Reed, color her experience of the place. She does not consider it home, even when returning to it when called to Mrs. Reed’s side. Likewise, she has no real attachment to Lowood save for her attachments to Helen Burns and Miss Temple. After the first dies and the second gets married, Jane “[tires] of the routine of eight years in one afternoon”(Chapter 10). Her people, her formulated family units become her home. Physical spaces admittedly hold little value to her, as “no magnet drew [her] to a given point, increasing in its strength of attraction the nearer [she] came”(Chapter 22)
    This carries over into her attachment to Thornfield. Thornfield is the only place that Jane ever refers to as ‘home’ in the novel. Yet she spends little time regarding its physical features. She again remarks on the people who she lives with. She grows attached to Adele and Mrs. Fairfax, hating to leave them even for a short time. Then, of course, there is Mr. Rochester, the man whom Jane falls deeply in love with. When it is suggested that Jane be placed into a new place of employment after Rochester marries, she weeps, reasoning that “[she sees] the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death”(Chapter 22). Those are some pretty intense attachments. Just before this she reasons why she feels this way: because she has been able to live her best life at thornfield. No one has treated her unkindly or made her feel lesser(besides Ms. Ingram). Between the lines here we see that her reasonings are embedded in the people and their treatment of her.
    A good contrast to this is the place she holds in the moors at the latter part of the book. Here she is undoubtably her most free. She is allowed her own residence completely unencumbered by anyone, employer or no. She earns her living as a teacher, she has relations with her cousins. However, the lack of intimacy she experiences here does not allow for the same warmth that she experienced at Thornfield. She misses Rochester and the home, and so eventually returns. Her freedom, then, holds little sway of importance over her need for belonging. Overall, it is Jane’s longing for the experience of home that pushes her journey, and therefore the plot, forward to its eventual conclusion. Thankfully we see Jane come to this place of home and hearth.

The Mystery of The Trapped Queen

“‘—soothe him; save him; love him: tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? Or who will be injured by what you do?’ ”

 In the penultimate scene in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, we see Jane take control of her life and of her circumstances. The action being that despite her love for him, and despite her forgiveness of him, she resolves in her heart that she will not marry Rochester because she believes that the marriage will not save her. For the audience, this is a rallying moment for Jane, leading us to cheer and clap for her. But in that moment, the one to thank for her resolve is none other than Bertha Mason, Rochester’s estranged and insane wife.

We learn in Chapter 26 and 27 that Bertha was married to Rochester strictly for money, despite the two loving each other. However, her family’s propensity for psychological problems led her to be insane. She was forced away from the world and given no contact with anyone, save for Mason and Rochester. Bertha’s condition has deteriorated to the point where she even attacks Mason, rips Jane’s wedding veil, and screams and howls in terror. In Jane’s descriptions, she says “whether [Bertha] was a beast of a human being, one could not tell.”

If certain circumstances in Jane’s life went differently, could this be where she was headed?

We have already determined that Jane harbors anger in her heart due to her isolation from the rest of the family. In the beginning of the novel, Jane separates herself from her cousins and talks about Mrs. Reed disdain for her (a fact unfortunately confirmed on the latter’s deathbed). Then, even when she gets a chance to go to school and get away from her family, she is still isolated and hidden at Lowood thanks to Mr. Brocklehurst. One key difference at this point is that she had Helen and Ms. Temple to confide to, which changed Jane’s personality for the better. If she didn’t have those two, then Jane’s transition eight years later into a calmer and vibrant young woman would not have happened.

But think of Bertha in this context: without that contact, without that chance to be rehabilitated, she had nothing else to do but harbor her hatred toward her husband and her brother – and even towards Jane herself. Her isolation went unbroken for years while her “husband” went on every trip he took to find himself a new wife. No one got to Bertha before she became this way and unfortunately, no one cared.

In the eyes of an interpreter, Bertha can be Jane’s darker being. She can be the one who Jane would have been if not for the love and support that she received later on. It is why Jane’s message to herself about “taking care of herself” is so important: she is no longer trapped by the whims and wills of others. She no longer lets her isolation control her and become her. Instead, Jane is determined to make it on her own no matter what. Jane has that choice, whereas Bertha does not. Jane is not only leaving behind her isolation, she is leaving behind her past and moving forward into her bright future with her words:

“…Still indomitable was the reply – ‘I care for myself.’”

Jane Eyre and the Macabre

It’s difficult to pin down Jane Eyre. I mean that both in reference to the character and to the book itself. Jane Eyre (the person) straddles the line of servant and victorian noble, while Jane Eyre (the book) straddles genres. It’s part Gothic, part Romance, part fictional autobiography. The book can not seem to decide what it wants to be, just like the main character. Clever, Brontë, I see what you did there.
Now, it is very apparent how the romantic and autobiographic elements play into the narrative. The entirety of the novel is written as an autobiographical tale from Jane’s perspective and a large part of the novel is dedicated to her romance with Mr. Rochester. Personally, however, I am much more interested in how Brontë incorporated the gothic elements into her story. Partially because it is still to early in the year for me to funnel my macabre fascination into halloween decorating, but mostly because I have just recently completed Wuthering Heights, written by none other than Charlotte Bronte’s own sister, Emily. I have had an ongoing fascination regarding why Jane Eyre became so popular while Wuthering Heights withered in comparison. The two were written and released very close together and many people believed at the beginning that they had been written by the same person. Now, this topic is a very complicated one and so deserves it’s own full discussion, but I do think it had something to do with the differing in application of gothic elements. Wuthering Heights, of course, was much more heavy-handed in it’s use of all things dark and spooky, but I argue that Charlotte is the more creative of the two in regards to how she incorporates it into other elements of the narrative.
Charlotte Bonte is fantastic at using imagery to set a mood. She brings you in and makes you sit in the tension of the world she has painted. Part of this is the limited first person perspective — we are learning at the same time as Jane, and so whenever she feels uneasy, we also feel the tension. The most obvious example is the scene at the end of chapter twenty where Jane is left with an injured Mason as the mysterious figure that attacked him is just next door. Jane is left with what seems only a single lit candle. She describes the room as a terrified person would, seeing Mason himself as “eyes now shut,  now opening, now wandering through the room, now fixed on me, and ever glazed with the dulness of horror”. Now, I know from that description that I would not want those eyes looking anywhere near me. She continues about the room, turning particular care onto the image of Christ and the twelve apostles. She goes about, describing some in detail and others not, as the light flickers in and away from their faces, describing Judas’s face in particular as “[growing] out of the panel and seemed gathering life and threatening a revelation of the arch-traitor — of Satan himself — in his subordinate’s form”. Now, I highly doubt that Judas is literally about to jump out and get her, but the thing making noise in the next room just might. She is terrified, and so we the audience are also terrified. It is very effective.
I really enjoy how Charlotte uses the gothic is to subtly undercut romantic ideals. For example: Rochester, the main male love interest, meets the heroine as he rides in on a horse. Pretty classic romance there, except that his entrance does not excite nor entice the ever wary Jane. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the first image she (and we) get is that of his dog — a great spectre of a beast that she at first mistakes as an evil spirit. When Rochester does appear shortly thereafter, it is his voice and not his appearance that reaches her first. Then the valiant steed proceeds to buck its rider onto the ground, breaking Rochester’s leg in the process. The scene up to this point is rather eerie — we don’t know what to make of Rochester or his hellhound, but we can assume that he holds some importance on account of his grandiose entrance. Then he hits the ground and the spell is immediately broken. The scene thereafter is actually pretty mundane: the conversation they have is based firmly at the task at hand, although the manner in which he speaks to Jane is very telling of his character. This pretty much sums up Rochester’s interactions with Jane — equal parts mysterious and mundane. The fact that he can so seamlessly transition between normal and near psychotic behavior so quickly and easily left me uneasy, and I have spent much of the novel wondering if Rochester was going to pull a page out of The Shining and attempt to hack our heroine to bits for discovering his secret in the attic. I know he won’t, simply because Jane must still be alive to write this ‘autobiography’ later in life, but the idea still leaves my stomach turning every time he enters the scene.

Choosing Souls Over Social Silhouettes

The Victorian Era, in which Jane and Rochester dwell, can rightly be understood as a period that underlined and accentuated the inequality between men and women, primarily through assigned gender roles. Within this milieu, Jane abjures the social silhouettes of the time in both actions and speech, primarily through her relationship with Mr. Rochester himself. Consequently, both characters, and their relationship with one another, become anomalies.
A few days into her position as governess at Thornfield, Jane pauses to consider the nature of her role and the disposition of the other women inhabitants. While she commends the goodness she sees in them, she expresses a longing for a “more vivid kind of goodness,” which she outlines in the following lines (178). Restless in nature, she opposes the notion that “women are supposed to be very calm generally,” insisting instead that they “feel just as men feel”, and thus “must have action” (178). Through these internal reflections, we first glimpse Jane’s inner struggle with the gender roles from which she feels so estranged.
As her relationship with Rochester develops, Jane continues disputing those social gender convictions. In the orchard scene, before Rochester avows his love for her, Jane, believing her master to be toying with her affections, rebukes him, “I have as much should as you, —and full as much heart!… I am not talking to you now through medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even mortal flesh: —it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,— as we are!” (338). To such a declaration, Rochester consents, repeated her words and calling her his “equal” and his “likeness” (339).
From this foundation, their courtship takes a novel course, for not only did they view each other entirely as equals, but in many cases Rochester proves the one subdued. Concerning her own struggle between passion and reason, Jane often expresses her ardent desire for self-mastery, voicing frustration when this becomes unattainable and her emotions predominate. She carries this devotion to self-control and self-autonomy into her relationship with Rochester, and to such a stance he concedes. Rochester then, in response to Jane’s independence and self-discipline, allows himself to be the subdued one. The day after the proposal, he notes to Jane the peculiarity of her character, that he “has never met [her] likeness” and yet accedes that she “master[s]” him (345). In the same conversion, Jane teases him regarding his fondness of feeing “conquered, and how pleasant overpersuasion is to [him]” (347). Such a description would have characterized women in this time, but never a man in relation to a woman. Finally, the night following their would-be wedding, as Jane weeps earnestly before him, Rochester, unable to see his beloved so rent, entreats her to solace, “his softened voice announce[ing] that he [is] subdued” (393).
With their affection for one another built entirely upon a mutual understanding of equality, Jane and Rochester, freed from the social ideologies of gender hierarchy, exhibit a love for one another born of admiration for each other’s very souls. And it is out of love for Rochester’s soul that Jane rallies her will to depart from him.

The Secret Identity of Jane Eyre

The secret identity of Jane Eyre

By Megan McAllister

 

Jane Eyre is a narrative of her own autobiography as she calls it. As the reader we got to watch her grow up as she matured from childhood into adulthood searching herself and the world around her for her identity. At one point in the novel she states that, “I had given in allegiance to duty and order; I was quiet; I believed I was content; to the eyes of others, usually even to my own, I appeared a disciplined and subdued character.” This quote comes from chapter during a time of disruptive transitions in Jane’s life. She has just lost one of the only people in her life that we have seen not be cruel to her. It is obvious that Jane admires Miss Temple deeply and is saddened by her moving off with her husband This quote speaks to Jane’s self-identification of herself as a now eighteen-year-old. For the first time she is off sort of on her own without anyone to guide her. She seems more self-assured and confident than she was as a child who had just lost her only friend to Typhus. She is also more subdued and quiet as she herself writes. This is a great contrast between the incident where she screamed at her aunt and now a school teacher. She obviously is in a good state mentally and emotionally since she was able to overcome to events of her traumatic and horrific childhood. However, I’m not convinced she is as well put together as she may seem. In that same paragraph as her previous quote is another that reveals a startling discovery about her supposed identity. She writes, “From the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling, every association that had made Lowood in some degree a home to me. I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits: more harmonious thoughts: what seemed better regulated feelings had become the inmates of my mind.” This quote reveals that Jane found her identity in Miss Temple. Her feelings towards Lowood which before seemed a sign of maturity and forgiveness are now revealed to only be caused by her relationship and feelings toward Miss Temple. She got her nature and habits from her as well. Miss Temple was more than simply a mentor she was someone who Jane strived to be like and embody. Jane was not concerned with being her own person because no one had liked her as a child for who she was; because of this she succumbs to the temptation of trying to copy others and be like others. This is proven further in a later chapter when she discusses goodness. She writes, “ I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adele.” This statement made in chapter 12 proves even more that Jane defines who she wants to be and what she takes her identity in by others and not herself.

 

 

Timshel

The character of Jane Eyre is a unique and fascinating literary figure. In the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, Jane is still trying to overcome her childish fears associated with Mrs. Reed’s treatment of her. Much wrong has been done in her life, and she goes into great detail describing it in trying to cope with it. But there are two occasions when she tells her story to two separate characters: Helen and Ms. Temple.

In her telling the story to Helen, Jane explains that she was “bitter and truculent when excited” and she “spoke as I felt, without resolve or softening.” Jane craves the validation: the sense that she is not alone in her pain and in her vengeance towards Mrs. Reed as she is unforgivable. But instead, Helen delivers a touching and intimate answer:

“Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

Why would Brontë have Helen say this? In my mind, Brontë is taking the idea of forgiveness and putting it in context with both the audience and with Jane herself. Jane is looking for validation in her unforgiving nature towards Mrs. Reed from the rest of the world and is asking people whether or not she deserves it. From Helen’s viewpoint, she asks the valid question: why can just she not forgive her past and accept her life as it stands?

In retrospect, Jane actually tries to do so. When she relays the same story again to Ms. Temple later in the opening chapters, Jane gives us her insight into how she told the story this time:

“I resolved, in the depth of my heart, that I would be most moderate…my language was more subdued than it generally was…mindful of Helen’s warnings against the indulgence of resentment…thus, restrained and simplified, it sounded more credible.”

In this passage, Jane is far more accepting, far more “moderate.” She is not just lashing out as she was before with Helen. Now, she holds back her resentment, and she makes herself far more believable. This does not discredit what tragedies she has endured, but it means that the pain of enduring them is no longer her muse. In this sense, Jane is choosing, in part, to forgive.

My favorite novel is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, a sprawling tale that encompasses most of Steinbeck’s real life family history mixed with the fictional patriarchal history of the Trask Family. The result becomes a Cain and Abel retelling, which has one of the characters recite that story. In the middle, he pauses when he sees that the command from God to Cain changes depending on the translation. In some cases, it says, “thou shalt,” but in others it says, “thou mayest.” The latter means that humanity has the ability to forgive oneself for their sins or, in the case of Jane Eyre, forgive the sins of others. If we choose to forgive, as Helen advised, then we can finally be happy and just enjoy life as it was intended. Forgiveness breeds a special type of happiness and a relief that the sins and the choices of others are no longer bond to you. That places Jane Eyre in a far more modern context than most, and makes the audience, and Jane herself, wonder: “can I truly forgive those that have trespassed against me?”

No Break Brontë – Jane Eyre

“Who would think that the Evil One had already found a servant and agent in her? Yet such, I grieve to say, is the case.” (p. 129) No breaks for the underdog. That is the sum of my conclusion on both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The prose is exacting of a dismal and depressing sort. My mind is turned in awful ways that I think I should reject the assignment given to me by my betters. The author’s influence reaches deeply, even now, into my choice of words that I scrawl here, heavy laden in their gothic style as it were.

What possesses an author to delve into such a dismal story? The psychological dystopia displayed in the Brontë’s works must certainly be taxing on the author. Was it so commonplace in their time to spin dramatic webs as they did, comparative to our modern forms of entertainment, or were the authors’ works of a caliber that sets them apart from commonplace literature?

Despite the answer to the above questions, one thing is certain; the protagonist of Brontë is beaten down in a heavy-handed dose of undue ire. With Jane Eyre as main character and narrator, the reader is dredged through abuse and wrongful conclusions under the circumstances. Or, might the circumstances revealed to the reader be skewed by the main character’s bias as the chosen narrator?

There are hints of circumstantial forgery in such passages as when Jane is stricken with a book by John. It seems as though the whole picture is not given a fair interpretation. What would possess John to simply stick out his tongue at Jane? Any answer would still need justification as to why would he continue to do so for ‘two or three minutes?’ I have three children of my own and one thing I have learned, actions are typically solicited and met with reactions of some sort.

The reaction Jane has when John comes over and picks her up by her hair seems to be a lashing out that causes him injury. Jane was apparently unaware of exactly what her hands did. In several places Jane exclaims that the actions seemed unlike her, as if someone else were speaking, and inward reflections hint at her true feelings of shame for her actions or thoughts. On page 73, Jane sits reflecting on her actions and among them reveals a trait of self-doubt.

The rest of the story may yield further insight, but I have reason to believe that Jane is not as much the victim as the narration bares witness.

Sequels of Suffering

The opening scenes of Jane Eyre offer an interesting commentary regarding the discourse of nature verses nurture, a query that also imbues the narrative of Wuthering Heights. Like Hindley and Heathcliffe, Jane was raised under the heavy hand of physical and emotional abuse. She, too, experienced bitter estrangement and pure disdain from family members. Yet while Hindley and Healthcliffe suffered under one or two abusers, Jane received such treatment from the whole house. Mrs. Reed, as well as her children and (often) the servants, regarded her a a scape-goat and impressed in her the idea that she was both wicked and “not worthy of notice” (85).

While similar treatment warped and perverted Heathcliffe and Hindley, despite the fact that they were shown love by other household members, it seems for Jane to establish a deeper sense of and thirst for justice.  Wuthering Heights ushers the reader to justify the antagonist’s actions due to their oppression, but Jane proves an anomaly within this schema. If Emily’s Bronte attempts to warrant the effects of abuse on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Charlotte presents an illustration of a women (who would have then been understood as the weaker gender) remaining reputable under persecution. Instead of losing her moral compass, as seems to be the effect of despotism on Heathcliffe and Hindley, Jane’s conscious preserves her and affirms the injustice of her situation as she suffers silently. It seems that nature, namely the sincere sense of right and wrong that all humanity innately knows, prevails over the abusive nurture that Jane experienced at Gateshead. This observation does not neglect the reality and intensity of Hindley and Heathcliffe’s suffering nor the undeniable impact of nurture on children. Yet it demonstrates that, despite oppression, it is possible for the oppressor to maintain their sense of justice and their longing for goodness.

Later on, Helen demonstrates another example of how abuse does not necessarily always bring about the debasement of the abused. This character presents a stark contrast to the Earnshaw boys, for her very oppression actually refines her virtue and integrity, rather than simply preserving it. She responds by forgiving sincerely, again and again, and by returning good for evil. One evening near the fire, after Jane has described her sufferings at Gateshead, Jane advises her new friend: “Would you not be happier if you tried to forget [Mrs. Reed’s] severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in ursine animosity, or registering wrongs” (120). Helen views suffering, an experience to which she is not unaccustomed at Lowood, as an opportunity for patient endurance and a means of sanctification. Perhaps it would have proven interesting to witness a conversations between Heathcliffe, Hindley, and Helen, the latter of whom would calmly, sympathetically entreat her fellow-sufferers just as she did Jane by the fire that night: “It is far better to endure patiently… than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you” (117). For the men of Withering Heights, Helen would have offered timely counsel.

Charlotte Brontë: Proud and Prejudiced

Pardon the title, but I could not resist. However, it does slightly misrepresent my real enjoyment and admiration of Jane Eyre, and I admit myself moved by Gaskells’ depiction of Charlotte Brontë as a strong woman subjected to great hardships.

However, this disclaimer is not one that Gaskell gives for Brontë’s opinion of Jane Austen in the Life of Charlotte Brontë.  We might assume Gaskell is simply representing Brontë’ as she really was, but her subsequent disclaimer for including Brontë’s opinion of Williams’ Rose, Blanche, and Violet (Loc 4104), shows that she intentionally did not pardon the more caustic opinion of Jane Austen.  What was Gaskell thinking not to defend Austen?  What was Brontë thinking to so lightly dismiss her?

Gaskell cannot share Brontë’s dislike for Austen since her own novel North and South was meant as a modern rendering of the same story.  But perhaps in that retelling we may find a solution.  Brontë was from the North; Austen from the South.  Is it possible that Gaskell did not excuse Brontë because she saw the dismissal as natural?

Certainly, Brontë was prone to the “surly independence” of the “Yorkshiremen.”  In fact, Brontë may have rebelled simply because she was told she “must” learn to acknowledge Austen’s greatness.  Yet she also had a preference for her own region. She bemoans Austen’s “carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden” (and “commonplace face”!) and laments that there is “no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck” (Loc 4082).  It would seem that Brontë objected to southern breezes, which are not the “fresh air” of Brontë’s wild heaths.  Why could Brontë not see the distinction?

Perhaps this preference for the North and the difficulty of her life made Brontë view her novels (both the ones she wrote and those she read) as requiring a grandeur and a sentiment that abstract the imaginative from the actual. She quips that Austen is “merely shrewd and observant” rather than “sagacious and profound” (Loc 4087) Yet Austen’s observations are “profound” – just not as sentimental as Brontë would wish. When Williams defends Austen, claiming that Austen was no poet and “has no sentiment” (Loc 4093), Gaskell retorts, “Can there be a great artist without poetry?” and finishes by claiming that Austen is “more real than true” (loc 4100).

Gaskell admires Brontë’s remarkable balance of imagination and reason.  Admirable indeed, but that she saw a difference between the two sets her in an entirely different class from Austen.  Gaskell describes Brontë’s practice of writing about things she had not experienced; She would imagine the situation before she fell asleep every night, and then one morning weeks later, it would all be clear (Loc. 6465). Austen’s practice was entirely different. According to her niece, she would sit working by the fire and humming to herself and then laugh, run to the writing table, scribble a few lines and return to her work by the fire. Austen saw the remarkable in the everyday, but Brontë saw the remarkable apart from the everyday.

But then, that is the difference between the romantic and the realist, and perhaps, between the North and the South. Throughout the Life, Gaskell seems sensitive to this difference, always rephrasing northern words for a southern audience.  I wonder if she was so taken by the difference between this northern and southern writer that she did not think to defend one from the other. Perhaps she allowed Williams to defend Austen (who needs little defense), focusing instead on the way in which these two authors represent their times and their countries. Yet I do believe, judging by Austen’s enjoyment of Radcliff’s gothic romances, that her opinion would have been less proud and prejudiced than Brontë’s.