View Full Version : Chapter 26 - Meeting Bertha Mason

10-12-2008, 05:03 AM
I have chosen to write an assignment for uni as a textual analysis of this extract. I am not totally lazy and am doing tonnes of research to make sure I do this well, and would really appreciate other peoples' thoughts and analyses on this extract to add to my knowledge-base. A good old brainstorm here would be excellent...... :p


Jane Eyre
Chapter 26 - Extract

He passed on and ascended the stairs, still holding my hand, and still beckoning the gentlemen to follow him, which they did. We mounted the first staircase, passed up the gallery, proceeded to the third storey: the low, black door, opened by Mr Rochester's master-key, admitted us to the tapestried room, with its great bed and its pictorial cabinet.

'You know this place, Mason,' said our guide, 'she bit and stabbed you here.'

He lifted the hangings from the wall, uncovering the second door: this too, he opened. In a room without a window, there burnt a fire guarded by a high and strong fender, and a lamp suspended from the ceiling by a chain. Grace Poole bent over the fire, apparently cooking something in a saucepan. In the deep shade, at the far end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.

'Good-morrow, Mrs Poole!' said Mr Rochester. 'How are you? and how is your charge today?'

'We're tolerable, sir, I thank you,' replied Grace, lifting the boiling mess carefully on to the hob: 'rather snappish, but not 'rageous.'

A fierce cry seemed to give the lie to her favourable report: the clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind-feet.

'Ah! sir, she sees you!' exclaimed Grace: 'you'd better not stay.'

'Only a few moments, Grace: you must allow me a few moments.'

Take care then, sir! - for God's sake, take care!'

The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. I recognised well that purple face, - those bloated features. Mrs Poole advanced.

'Keep out of the way,' said Mr Rochester, thrusting her aside: 'she has no knife now, I suppose, and I'm on my guard.'

'One never knows what she has, sir: she is so cunning: it is not in mortal discretion to fathom her craft.'

'We had better leave her,' whispered Mason.

'Go to the devil!' was his brother-in-law's recommendation.

'Ware!' cried Grace. The three gentlemen retreated simultaneously. Mr Rochester flung me behind him; the lunatic sprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek: they struggled. She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the contest - more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was. He could have settled her with a well-planted blow: but he would not strike: he would only wrestle. At last he mastered her arms; Grace Poole gave him a cord and he pinioned them behind her: with more rope, which was at hand, he bound her to a chair. The operation was performed amidst the fiercest yells and the most convulsive plunges. Mr Rochester then turned to the spectators, he looked at them with a smile both acrid and desolate.

'That is my wife,' said he. 'Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know - such are the endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have' (laying his hand on my shoulder): 'this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon. I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout. Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder - this face with that mask - this form with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the gospel and man of the law, and remember with what judgment ye judge shall be judged! Off with you now. I must shut up my prize.'


10-14-2008, 10:43 AM
I have a very demonic view of Rochester, so don't be surprised. If you want more on that demonic view, I published an essay on here with maybe some interesting links for you as well... Scientific links from universities. The thread is called Mr Rochester...
The start of this extract seems to have something of someone leading others into something unknown. If Rochester is indeed in Hell, it is to the upper regions or 'the mouth of Hell' he is literally leading Jane and the three gentlemen. For that, I would say, consult Milton's Paradise Lost, which view of Hell was based a lot on Dante's Divina Commedia. I am not sure Charlotte read Dante's work, but she read Milton's work several times and knew it so well she corrected printing errors in her copy.
Recently I have also been thinking about a triangular construction with Bertha, Rochester and Mason. Mason being the evocation of Rochester how he was 15 years before; Bertha, his former personality hurt by the bad exeriences, pain, desillusion, etc. he had and that he disowns willingly to become another person; Rochester being the new personality he makes himself. I think there is a strong case for Bertha being Rochester's first, hurt personality because Bertha in this excerpt is compared with Rochester himself; he doesn't strike, but only wrestles, which is very poignant if he indeed made himself a new personality. Much like Byron's Manfred (Byron of whom Charlotte was a great admirer!): there are sources that claim that Astarte in Bryon's play was in fact the projection Manfred made of his love for himself. Thus I believe that Bertha, for Rochester, can be seen as not his narcissism (because that's his new personality), but rather the hate he experiences for his original personality (Mason), he considered later in the book as weak and something not to respect. I haven't done enough research yet, but maybe you have access to more in the library than I on the internet alone...
You could also make a note of the bible verse at the end, which is missing a part. The original verse can be found in Matthew chapter 7 verse 2.

10-14-2008, 02:43 PM
Thanks for your reply Kiki!

I am more of the opinion that Bertha Mason is Jane's alter-ego than Rochester's, as, through her "madness" Bertha is living out Jane's inner world of passion (be it her anger, her sexuality, her intellect) that Jane dare not exhibit in her outer world. We see, in this scene, sharp parallels with Jane's experience in the Red Room (Chapter 2) notably her being forcibly restrained by the two servants, just as Bertha is restrained in this chapter by Rochester.

I do agree with you that Rochester is more of a misanthrope than shallower readers would acknowledge, and 'Jane Eyre's narrow definition as a 'love story' is a complete misjudgment, as is the opinion that all ends are tied up neatly with happily ever afters. For a start, why would Bronte choose to end this novel with the impending death of St John Rivers rather than close it with the marital bliss of J and R as a final note? This book was never intended to be a love story. In my opinion it is a violent hit-out by Bronte against the mistreatment and oppression of women in Victorian society....

10-14-2008, 02:52 PM
And thanks for the tip on Dante. I hadn't noticed any intertextuality there but was aware of the Paradise Lost motif that runs through the novel. What do you think the relevance is of Charlotte tying this novel to Paradise Lost?

What does R's quoting of that particular verse from Matthew say about how he views himself and how Bronte wants us to read him?

10-14-2008, 05:09 PM
I am also of the opinion that Bertha can be seen as the 'other' of Jane, but I see this book as having several layers, and one of them would be that triangle... But I should really research it seriously... I have been researching for a year now and haven't reached the bottom yet...

I think the key to understanding Rochester is understanding (sometimes dramatic) irony. He tells lies, half-truths... Much like Satan in Parasdise Lost, he makes out to be the victim where he really brought it on himself (also like King Lear of the play with the same name).
In this scene Rochester makes indeed out to be the victim, whereas he himself chose this way of things.
I do not believe that, even in those days, Bertha had to be locked up like that, and we had a firy discussion about it on this forum. I do believe that there were much better ways of treating lunatics in those and lots of renewal was taking place, certainly for the rich, like Rochester. Like this, he really becomes the perpetrator rather than the victim. I found one source that claimed that the name Grimsby Retreat (were Grace Poole was jired from) would actually be based on the name York Retreat, which was a leading quaker institution, that still exists today, for the humane treatment of lunatics. It's also in my essay on here, with link. I couldn't get hold of the original essays that statement was based on...
I think the key importance of Paradise Lost in connection with Jane Eyre is the fact how one should read Rochester: as a good figure or bad figure in good disguise? In Paradise Lost, Satan is clearly the bad figure who will cause the Fall of Man, and it is clear that he makes God look like the bad guy, but of course peole see through that because of their knowledge of the bible. Nowadays we even see through that because we know about the devil and God. Whereas, when you start to read jane Eyre, you will also be seduced by Rochester. I believe that the parallels with Paradise Lost are a means from Charlotte to indicate to the reader that Rochester is not to be trusted and should read as Satan of PL: an untrustworthy manipulating creature that in the end will cause the Fall of Jane.
I believe the story may also evoke the fact that seduction is always looming and that one never knows when the devil will try to seduce you. One should always be prepared.

Concerning the verse of Matthew... The verse was not fully quoted in the book. The whole verse says:
'As you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you.'
Since Jane Eyre the language has been updated a little, but Rochester only quoted the first part and fails to see the true extent of his statement. He does that once again with his 'tent of Achan' in the next chapter. What does he actually fear in the opinions of Wood and Briggs? The fact that they will find a husband should be compassionate to his wife and care for her, no matter what her mental state is like? That they will find that he cannot marry two women, not even if one is not mentally sane? Or does he challenge their view of a human being (the thing with legs and arms in the form of a human or the one with a mind?)? He clearly states that Bertha is 'a form', has 'a mask' etc. In that sense he really has an old-fashioned view of lunatics. Briggs and Wood have a rational modern enlightened view that doesn't include the mind.
The true extent of the second bit of the quote is quite striking, as he will be treated without compassion and very consequently (altough not without regret) by Jane: she will leave him and he will end up alone and loose his senses. Before the verse he quotes it says: 'Pass no judgement and you will not be judged.' It's clear that one was first: Rochester, because he will be judged next. Although, here again, it is dramatic irony that determins his fate: he believes that he is right and the rest wrong, even Chirstian law. For me it is hard to think that nothing was meant by Charlotte with this verse. But I am quite in the dark about what was her opinion: did he know what the context and the next part was or didn't he. If he did, which is highly likely considering education then, then he manipulated it willingly (in the hope no-one would notice). If he didn't it's even wrose (from Charlotte's point of view). The (poor) man is ignorant. In both cases it demonstrates his lack of respect for God, something he will have to pay for.
The way he sees himself is completely in his right. He doesn't see what is wrong with his behaviour and only sees that the rest is unfair... He is the only one who can judge, is able to judge, whereas it is totally forbidden to judge in itself. By asking Wood and Briggs to choose between Bertha and Jane he challenges the gospel itself (and common law) and passes the ways Jesus taught Christians not to do. In a way, I suppose, he decided to make himself the reference, rather than God. There again comes Manfred (Byron's play) in equasion, because he as well decided to make himself the reference of his world rather than God. He even refused to repent at the end. I believe Rochester is extremely narcissistic and so dares to turn that Bible verse to his own advantage, whether willingly or unwillingly. Something Charlotte, I am sure, would not have approved of...
Does that make sense?

In the meantime I did have a better look and thought about the question some more. I corrected a few mistakes...

Anyway, I totally do not agree with the 'seduction is looming'-bit, but I suppose that Charlotte would have though like that. Don't believe I am a fundamental Christian, please...