I find myself thinking, (and not for the first time,) that I’m incredibly lucky that no-one else can see what’s going on inside my head. Believe me, beneath this relatively calm exterior lies the kind of woman who could easily set fire to an entire house merely as a procrastination exercise… which is why it was so refreshing to hear from other people this week that they empathise with Bertha so utterly (just wait until next week!). But in a sense that’s the point of course; we all have our mad tendencies and thoughts, our moments of uncontrollable passion, so we can understand Bertha’s position, even if we don’t advocate her actions. Although admitting these things to myself as I stomp back to the kettle is quite another thing to admitting them in public. Or worse, writing it all down in a book…
So what do we make of Jane’s depictions of the madness around and within her, and is it voyeurism on our part, or do we recognise ourselves in some of these reflections? It’s not only Bertha who seems to experience madness after all (indeed since we are encouraged to perceive and feel as Jane does, would we also find ourselves going mad in the red room?). Is madness perhaps linked to space then rather than being rooted in certain people, and if so who polices the space, and do they also police the madness?
The other thing that really struck me was the extreme variation in the ways madness is represented. At one end of the scale we have an episode of violence, suicide and fire presented almost as a biblical epic. Contrastingly though for much of the novel Bertha is completely eradicated through silence. She is locked away with no link to the reader whatsoever. So madness is linked to both literal and literary death. But which depiction of madness do you find more problematic? Toni Morrison argues that silence itself can be “an unbearable violence, even in a work full of violence and evasion”. She’s not talking about Jane Eyre, but she has a good point. To me, the greatest fear (and this perhaps reflects some of the discourses we have on mental health today) is the fear of being utterly silenced; of being encouraged never to speak and for the feelings we have to be forever locked away. If we’re saying that we understand Bertha, and actually in many ways see her reactions as being more “normal” than those of the more refined characters around her (Stepford Wives anyone?) maybe we need to give her a voice at any cost. But then again, are we saying that Bertha is in a better position once she can speak? Remember since silence equals violence please tell me what you think!
Posted by Emma Wilde