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The classic novel, Jane
Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, is one of the most beloved Bildungsroman
because of the internalisation of action. Up to that point, the
The classic novel, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, is one of the most beloved Bildungsroman because of the internalisation of action. Up to that point, the form writing, by delving into the moral virtues and spiritual journey of an individual was strictly seen only in poetry. Having been written in the mid-19th century, Bronte wrote the novel under the pseudonym, Currer Bell.
One of the vital, yet most speculated characters in this novel is the character of Bertha Mason, the Creole first wife of Edward Rochester, the master of the Thornfield estate.
According to the novel she is described as an insane and violent person. In Rochesters own words Bertha was famous for her beauty: she was the pride of the town and was sought after by many suitors.( And yet he seems unhappy with her.)
The initial imagery we get of Bertha from this novel is that of a villain or a horror in Janes life; the biggest tragedy of Rochesters life; the catalyst in highlighting Janes best virtues, the redemption to Rochester.
But all we know about Bertha comes from the description that Rochester gives to the people around him and the image Jane herself has created from Rochesters stories. Knowing Rochesters moral sensibilities, we can rightfully say that it is unfair to judge Bertha without hearing her side of the story, which we do not get in Brontes, Jane Eyre.
To further understand Bertha Mason, Jean Rhys in her novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, gives the rendition of the story from Berthas point of view. In this novel Bertha gets her own well deserved redemption.
Rhys refers to Bertha as Antoinette Cosway emerging from the original name in Brontes Jane Eyre, Bertha Antoinetta Mason. This novel which was written as a prequel response to the initial text, throws a different light on the character.
Being caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she never truly belongs; being used for everyones personal gains; entangled in the cultural differences and ethnic inequality of being part Creole; are given as some of the reasons that drive Bertha towards insanity.
Wide Sargasso Sea, leaves us wondering if what we thought to be right was really right all along.
Read Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, to find out more about the various themes in Jane Eyre that you never knew existed.