The Moon In Jane Eyre. Part I: At Gateshead And Lowood

The moon is full this winter night;       

The stars are clear, though few;
And every window glistens bright,
With leaves of frozen dew.

The sweet moon through your lattice gleams
And lights your room like day;
And there you pass, in happy dreams,
The peaceful hours away!

From Honour’s Martyr by Anne Bronte

The following article will reflect upon the symbolic representations of the moon in Jane Eyre. For Victorians, the moon was a magical, mystical, and mysterious celestial entity. Full moons especially were highly valued as useful providers of light in the long winter darkness, and facilitators of enjoyment in the warm winter nights.

There were also many superstitious beliefs surrounding the moon, such as the belief that during a full moon, a normal human being could transform into a big beastly, wolf-like creature, the werewolf. Some also believed that acts of lunacy were favoured on such nights. Jane Eyre has no such superstitious exaggerations, however, as we are about to explore, the moon is present throughout Jane’s life, representing love, or absence of love, announcing significant events, or the arrival of important characters, and bringing light and insight in crucial moments throughout the narrative.

Throughout Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Jane lives in five different dwellings: Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House, and finally, Ferndean. Many authors have considered each abode as a stage representing a new phase in Jane’s experience and development.

Her early years as an orphan were spent at Gateshead Hall, where she was emotionally and physically abused by her uncaring aunt and cruel cousins.

Her aunt sends her to Lowood School, a harsh Institution for poor and orphaned girls, where she develops a resilient, disciplined character, as well as intellectual and creative skills.

The third stage is as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets and falls in love with Edward Rochester, thereby developing her emotional and affective persona.

The fourth stage occurs after leaving Thornfield, following her thwarted wedding to the bigamous Mr. Rochester. Jane is taken in by the Rivers siblings, Mary, Diana and St. John, at Moor House. Jane discovers a real, caring family in the Rivers, who were, in fact, her cousins. After Thornfield was burnt down and Bertha died, Jane returns to the widowed Mr. Rochester, who is now living at his Manor House, Ferndean.

Finally Jane has gained the financial security, family, and emotional stability she did not have when she first arrived at Thornfield Hall.

The moon, which is a major symbol in Jane Eyre, is the largest and brightest object in the night sky, radiating mystery and magic and inspiring writers and artists. It has fascinated humankind since time immemorial due to its constantly changing cycle, during which it grows, wanes, and vanishes every month. Consequently, it has become a symbol of time, change, and the unending cycle of life; birth and death, creation and destruction. Before any scientific knowledge of its origins, composition or function were available, it was venerated as a Goddess, and for centuries artists have drawn on her symbolism to convey many emotions from love to lunacy.

When Charlotte Bronte published Jane Eyre, Beer and Mädler had just printed a map of the moon, which was the first trigonometrically accurate study of lunar features, including the heights of more than a thousand mountains. Although scientific knowledge of the moon was not widespread during the 19th century, awareness of lunar phases was not only inevitable, it was also necessary. For the Victorians, the moon had three main practical uses: to tell the time, to establish location guiding people on their way, and most importantly, to provide light. The full moon is the most useful and fascinating of all the lunar phases because it radiates the strongest rays, and because it causes the highest tides, and therefore exerts the strongest influence on our planet and its inhabitants.

Darkness has always been a drawback for mankind. It has seriously limited activities, increasing the risk of accidents and leads to many hours of boredom. The full moon, providing the sky is cloudless, allows many activities to be carried out. Before electric lighting was installed in streets and houses, full-moon nights were important and welcome occasions for both work and play. Farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset, especially when crops had to be harvested. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox became the Harvest Moon, and it was always welcome. On the other hand, the full moon was a time of joy, especially in summer. One of the major events in upper class society was the dance. Dances were usually scheduled to correspond with the full moon, as most balls were held outdoors.

In Jane Eyre, from a practical standpoint, the moon is an indicator of the time of day, and a giver of light. The moon is mostly a positive omen, and the lack of moon, leading to darkness, is a negative omen. Symbolically, it announces positive events for Jane, and it guides her path, and helps her make important decisions. Part I of this article will discuss the symbolism of the moon in Jane Eyre during Jane’s early years and her stay in Gateshead and Lowood.

The first time the moon appears in the novel is on the fourth page. On a cold and rainy November night, while Jane is reading a vignette in Bewick’s History of British Birds in the breakfast room, after her aunt, the severe Mrs. Reed, had “excluded her from the privileges intended only for contented, happy little children,” because she had supposedly misbehaved. In the vignette she saw a “cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.”

This is the only negative appearance of the moon as Jane views it. The moon in the picture overviews a disaster, as a dark omen, despite its apparent brightness. The shipwreck is a metaphor for her own unhappy, friendless life at Gateshead, and the ghastly moon indicates the lack of love.

The second time she mentions the moon is while she was convalescing in bed after having been locked in the ominous red-room, for defending herself from abuse and bullying from her cousin John Reed. She imagined she had seen her deceased uncle’s ghost. Jane had a fit, fainted, and woke up in her bed. Bessie, her aunt’s maid, sang a sad ballad, “Soon will the twilight close moonless and dreary”, which saddened Jane. There was no moon at Gateshead where she was so unhappy. Lack of moon is once a more negative omen.

The morning she left her aunt’s house to go to Lowood, Jane had washed her face, and dressed “by the light of a half-moon just setting, whose rays streamed through the narrow window,” Later as she left Gateshead, “The moon was set, and it was very dark” so Bessie had to carry a lantern. Although the moonlight allowed her to wash and dress, as she left the house, there was no moon. Gateshead was dark once more, denoting an absence of love, as she leaves the house for a new destination.

Humphrey Bolton / Roe Head School, Mirfield Charlotte, Emily and Anne attended this school (1830-1837).

The first positive event in the novel occurs in Lowood after Jane is accused by Mr. Brocklehurst, the director, of being an evil liar, who should be shunned and avoided by the other residents. Her friend, Helen, consoled her. Then, while the two girls were embraced, the moon makes its first positive appearance announcing Miss Temple’s visit. “Some heavy clouds, swept from the sky by a rising wind, had left the moon bare; and her light, streaming in through a window near, shone full both on us and on the approaching figure, which we at once recognised as Miss Temple.” Miss Temple is the kind superintendent of Lowood School, who treats her students with respect and compassion. She gave Jane the chance to explain herself, and helps clear Jane of Mr. Brocklehurst’s false accusation of deceit.

The moon announced Miss Temple’s visit, which brought protection and honesty to Jane’s life. Miss Temple encouraged Jane to apply herself to her education and was an important role-model for the young Jane.

Some time later, while Jane’s friend Helen was sick in bed, Jane had gone out for a walk, and returned after moonrise. On hearing that Helen was poorly, she decided to visit her in Miss Temple’s room, where she was being looked after. The moon led the way to her friend’s bedside. Jane crept from her apartment, “and set off in quest of Miss Temple’s room. It was quite at the other end of the house; but I knew my way; and the light of the unclouded summer moon, entering here and there at passage windows, enabled me to find it without difficulty.” The moon led her to her ailing friend, thereby lighting the way to love and friendship. Unfortunately, it also heralded Helen’s death. She died that very moonlit night in Jane’s arms.

In this first part, we have witnessed how the moon has evolved from being a “ghastly” onlooker of Jane’s unhappiness, to announcing the arrival of the first positive influence in her life, Miss Temple, and allowing her to assist her best friend, Helen, in her final moments.

The moon will continue to be a key symbol during her stay at Thornfield Hall, which is addressed in the following article, The Moon in Jane Eyre Part Two: Thornfield Hall.

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Madwoman in the Attic (Part II)

The madwoman in the attic has been reivindicated by both postcolonialists and feminists as a symbol of patriarchal oppression and social injustice. According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in her influential essay, Three women’s texts and a critique of imperialism, it is impossible to approach nineteenth-century British literature without bearing in mind that Imperialism, constituted “a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English.”

Spivak belongs to the so-called second-wave of feminist theoreticians writing mainly in the 1970s and 80s comprised by authors such as Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Kate Millet, whose Sexual Politics (1970) is the best known work of this period. Gilbert and Gubar’s work reviewed in my previous post was written within this time frame, as was Elaine Showalter’s influential and inspiring work on women novelists in A Literature of Their Own (1978), more recently revised in her article, Twenty Years on: “A Literature of Their Own” Revisited
Their views can be summarized in Barbara Johnson’s famous quote, “the question of gender is a question of language.” The feminist approach is based on the assumption that that gender difference is located in and transferred through language. And subsequently, the language used to transmit culture through literature, was high on their targets for criticism. However, Feminist Literary Criticism was soon to join forces with Postcolonial Criticism. Spivak was one of the first academics who related to the rise of feminisms among women of color in the area of Postcolonial Studies by examining the effects of political independence upon subaltern, or subproletarian women, in third world countries.

In the above mentioned article, Spivak has taken Charlotte Bronte´s novel and Jean Rhys’s 1960s ‘writing back’ or reinterpretation of the events prior to Jane Eyre’s appearance at Thornfield Hall, as her starting point for a literary reinterpretation of Patriarchy and Colonialism in their diverse representations of ‘the mad Creole’ (in Rochester’s words).

Firstly, I would like make it clear, as Spivak did herself, that this is in no way a criticism of the author, Charlotte Bronte, whose intentions we cannot fully gauge, but of the characters she recreated and we are free to reinterpret. In any case, it is my opinion, that Bronte was well aware of Rochester’s lack of character; after all she portrayed him in with all his faults. She was however subtle enough to show him through the ‘blind’ eyes of his beloved Jane Eyre, but that does not mean that her eyes are truthful. Jane is not a reliable narrator with respect to Rochester: she is a woman blindly in love. The reader, on the other hand need not be blindly in love with him, too. Although many have succumbed to his spell, Rochester is the real villain in Jane Eyre.

The figure of Bertha Mason is, according to Spivak, produced by the rise of imperialism. She is a white Jamaican Creole, who is portrayed both by Jane and Rochester (through Jane’s reinterpretation of Rochester’s words), on the frontier between the human and the animal. This is Jane’s famous description of her when she first saw her in her prison-attic at Thornfield Hall, after the interrupted wedding to Rochester:

“The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. I recognized well that purple face,—those bloated features.”

Rochester’s description of her is no less pejorative. He refers to her as: “The lunatic is both cunning and malignant;”, and “What a pigmy intellect she had, and what giant propensities!”, and “Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations? Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard!—”

Forty years after Jane Eyre was published, Jean Rhys, was born on the Caribbean Island of Dominica, where she read the novel as a child, she was moved by Bertha Mason: “I thought I’d try to write her a life.” Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1965, is Bertha’s life from her childhood to her death.

Spivak’s essay reminds us that in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Narcissus’ madness is disclosed when he recognizes his other as his self: “iste ego sum.” in WSS Bertha Antoinette sees her other self in the mirror: “I went into the hall again with the tall candle in my hand. It was then that I saw her — the ghost. The woman with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt frame but I knew her” (WSS, p. 154). The gilt frame encloses a mirror in whose reflection bertha sees her other self. But who is this other self? Is it Bertha or is it Jane Eyre? After this dream vision, Bertha finally understands her mission at Thornfield Hall: “now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do” (WSS, pp. 155-56), and she burns down the house and takes her life, ironically so that her other self (Jane Eyre) can become the heroine of Bronte’s novel and marry Mr. Rochester.

Bertha was originally created in Jane Eyre as a secondary, yet essential character within the novel. Any reinterpretation of this character must be based on surfacing the subtext of the original novel. That is, of unearthing the subtleties of her story. Bertha never speaks, she was metaphorically gagged, until Jean Rhys wrote her story and reminded us that everyone has the right to be heard albeit belatedly, in the 20th century, in spite of being denied a voice in the 19th century. Bertha cannot move or be seen, because she is literally confined in a windowless room. Unseen and Unheard. She is an invisible, voiceless, and imprisoned human being, and yet in spite of this Rochester has been hailed as the hero of the novel for over 160 years!

Well, it’s time to question Bertha’s madness and listen to what she had to say. It’s time to see her, hear her, and let her have a life! Jean Rhys started the ball rolling with her prequel WSS, and I’ve picked up the ball and kept it rolling with a sequel. My novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, (to be published very shortly on Amazon. There’s a preview on another page on this blog!), takes up the story twenty-three years after Bertha’s death. However, she is powerfully present throughout my novel, from page one. I have given Bertha a very strong voice. I’ve given her a daughter to speak up for her and claim her dues, and I’ve also reconciled her with Jane Eyre Rochester, who has grown up and out of love, so she can see Bertha as she really was, not as Rochester wanted her to be seen.

 

The Madwoman in the Attic (Part I)

Engraving by T. H. Townsend, taken from the second edition of Jane Eyre (1847). Bertha Rochester smashed on the pavement.
Engraving by T. H. Townsend, taken from the second edition of Jane Eyre (1847). Bertha Rochester smashed on the pavement.

The phrase “the madwoman in the attic” is the title of the groundbreaking book of feminist literary criticism by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar written in 1979. These scholars introduced a revolutionary approach to the exploration of the works of female authors of the nineteenth century. Their rereading was aimed at uncovering the patriarchal influences in their work and their use of ‘metaphorical trousers’ which goes beyond the use of male pseudonyms, as the Bronte sisters did, and examines the use of strategies used to disguise their criticism of patriarchy.

The first Mrs. Rochester, née Bertha Antoinette Mason was the original madwoman in the attic. Bertha is undoubtedly the most famous literary representation of madness in English literature. Her husband, the romantic hero, of Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, confined his allegedly mad wife in the third story of Thornfield Hall for eleven years in a windowless room.

Bertha Mason is a denied a voice and a life. She lives like an animal, does not see the light of day, and is deprived of any basic human dignitiy, such as clothes or basic hygiene. A drunk and negligent carer is her custodian while he proclaims he is a bachelor.

Let us recall the reasons which led to her dismal situation. Edward Rochester was his father’s second and youngest son, who was banished to the colonies, to marry a wealthy Jamaican heiress, while his older brother, Rowland was destined to inherit the family estate. When Edward arrived in Jamaica to comply with the arranged marriage and gain her generous dowry, he discovered that Bertha was Creole and came from a family of mad women; a fact which did not deter his determination to marry her and claim his dowry. It would seem, perhaps because he was a member of the English gentry, that an honest occupation was out of the question. A dowry was his only option, and he accepted it eagerly, in spite of his wife’s ethnicity and family history.

Edward Rochester, who was a fortunate man, finally did inherit Thornfield Hall and the Rochester Estate, because his father and his brother both died four years after he married Bertha. He was then free to return to England, with his mad wife, and reclaim his inheritance. He decided to lock Bertha away and travel around Europe, living the gay life of a rich bachelor with his wife’s fortune in his pocket. It was during this time that he had an affair with the French opera singer, Céline Varens, which resulted in the birth of Adele, although he always denied paternity. It was to look after Adele that Jane Eyre first arrived at Thornfield Hall.

The idea of a married woman locked in an attic by her husband is repulsive to contemporary audiences. However, Bronte’s readership in the middle of the 19th century would have considered that Mr Rochester’s refusal to place Bertha in an institution denoted nobility, not perversity. (See Sarah Wise in Psychology Today) Even England’s private asylums used brutal measures such as the use of strait-waistcoat, manacling, the darkened room, and the cold-water-shock treatment. Families with a mad relative often confined the person at home without the need of any legal or medical certification, and sympathy was shown to those who cared for their insane at home, often secretly, due to the shame the situation cast on the family.

However, Edward Rochester’s inhuman brutality towards Bertha Mason, seriously mars his already damaged integrity. Jane’s acceptance is no less troubling. The only explanation of Jane Eyre’s benevolence with the perpetrator of such a foul deed is the fact that she was in love with Rochester. Jane is prepared to believe everything Edward says, and forgive him for anything he does, and that’s understandable, within the context of the novel. However, it also makes her an untrustworthy narrator.

We must remember that Jane left, not because Rochester treated his wife inhumanly, she left because he was legally married, although she pitied him for having to bear the burden of a lunatic. On the other hand, Jane’s complacent acceptance need not extend to the reader, who is not in love with Mr. Rochester. Charlotte Bronte herself exposes Rochester as a liar and a scrupulous manipulator; he even tries to convince Jane to live with him as a concubine, knowing full well that the consequences would be devastating for her.

Bertha is silenced, yet quietly and powerfully present throughout Jane Eyre, until her presence is disclosed by her brother, Richard Mason, at Rochester and Jane’s first marriage attempt. There is no first hand information about Bertha in Jane Eyre, so wanting more, Jean Rhys decided to write Wide Sargasso Sea, in three parts. The first is from Bertha’s point of view. We discover all about the beautiful young Creole who was forced to marry Edward Rochester by her step-father and brother. There is no madwoman in the first part. The madwoman emerges in the second part, after Rochester cashes her dowry, and especially after her husband inherits Thornfield, decides to return to England and locks her away in his cold damp attic.

As we can see in engraving by T. H. Townsend, taken from the second edition of Jane Eyre (1847), Bertha Mason’s life finally ended tragically. She smashed on the pavement, after throwing herself off the roof and setting Thornfield Hall on fire. Her death was fortunate for everyone; her own suffering ended and so did Jane’s, who was able to return and marry Edward, and live happily every after…

In my novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, Bertha is once more a central, albeit absent, character, who has been dead for twenty-two years. I have given Bertha to a stronger voice through her daughter, who was torn away from her mother at birth in the attic, and taken to Jamaica by her uncle Richard Mason. She returns to Eyre Hall to rock the lives of the Rochester family. What is Bertha’s daughter like? What will her impact be in the family? How will Jane Eyre and the rest of the family react to her presence?

Richard Mason: The Villain in Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and The Eyre Hall Series

Richard Mason is a fascinating character, created by Charlotte Bronte, for her novel Jane Eyre, and taken up a century later in the prequel written by Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. Mason reappears in All Hallows at Eyre Hall, the sequel to both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, as one of the main characters. 

This article will take a closer look at this pivotal character, drawn by Charlotte Bronte in the 19th sentury, developed by Jean Rhys in the 20th century, and reiterpreted by Luccia Gray in the 21st century.

Jane Eyre

Mason makes two brief appearances, which are essential for the plot of Jane Eyre. Mason’s character is only briefly sketched; nevertheless the reader is able to identify him in his specific and crucial role as both villain and foil to Rochester.

A simplified approach to these four characters may lead us to the conclusion that both Mason and Bertha could be interpreted as antagonists to Jane and Rochester. Jane is plain, good and pure, as opposed to Bertha, who is, or was, dazzling, wicked and sexual, whereas Rochester is unattractive, strong and honest, in contrast to Mason, who is good-looking, cowardly and deceitful.

However my interpretation of the novel is far from simplistic and aims to contribute to the unveiling the subtext of Jane Eyre; what was really meant (connotation), not was actually said (denotation). Bertha deserves, and therefore will be the subject of another article, because on this occasion I want to focus all attention on Richard Mason’s character and role in the novel.

Mason first appears in the novel arriving at a lively, guest-filled Thornfield Hall in a horse drawn carriage, claiming to be an old friend, while Mr. Rochester is out riding:

“The post-chaise stopped; the driver rang the door-bell, and a gentleman alighted attired in travelling garb; but it was not Mr. Rochester; it was a tall, fashionable-looking man, a stranger.”

At first, Jane is somewhat impressed by the newcomer:

“His manner was polite; his accent, in speaking, struck me as being somewhat unusual,—not precisely foreign, but still not altogether English: his age might be about Mr. Rochester’s,—between thirty and forty; his complexion was singularly sallow: otherwise he was a fine-looking man, at first sight especially.”

However it took her only seconds to realize there was something untrustworthy about him:

“On closer examination, you detected something in his face that displeased, or rather that failed to please. His features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life—at least so I thought.

The guests at Thornfield Hall were impressed with the visitor. According to the ladies gathered he was attractive, using adjectives such as: “a beautiful man,” and, “a love of a creature,” some “adored” him and referred to “his pretty little mouth, and nice nose,” and others said he was “ideal” and “charming.” However Jane decides that he is repulsive:

“But I liked his physiognomy even less than before: it struck me as being at the same time unsettled and inanimate. His eye wandered, and had no meaning in its wandering: this gave him an odd look, such as I never remembered to have seen. For a handsome and not an unamiable looking man, he repelled me exceedingly: there was no power in that smooth-skinned face of a full oval shape: no firmness in that aquiline nose and small cherry mouth; there was no thought on the low, even forehead; no command in that blank, brown eye.”

Two paragraphs later, comparing him to Mr. Rochester, she has framed him as the villain by comparing Mason to a falcon and Rochester to a sheep:

“I compared him with Mr. Rochester. I think (with deference be it spoken) the contrast could not be much greater between a sleek gander and a fierce falcon: between a meek sheep and the rough-coated keen eyed dog, its guardian.”

Shortly after, Rochester returns disguised as an old gipsy who wishes to tell the guests their fortune. After the farce, which Jane discovers easily, she tells him that he has a visitor and he reacts with horror:

“His name is Mason, sir; and he comes from the West Indies; from Spanish Town, in Jamaica, I think.”

Mr. Rochester was standing near me; he had taken my hand, as if to lead me to a chair. As I spoke he gave my wrist a convulsive grip; the smile on his lips froze: apparently a spasm caught his breath.”

He lets her know immediately that Mason is a big problem for him:

“Jane, I’ve got a blow; I’ve got a blow, Jane!” He staggered. “Oh, lean on me, sir.”

However the two men converse alone together and she hears them bid each other good might amiably, as if they had reached some kind of gentlemanly agreement.

Later, in the middle of the night, Jane and all the guests hear a terrible howl coming from the third storey crying for help. It comes from the room directly above hers, where we later discover Bertha has been hidden for eleven years. Everyone wakes up and leaves their rooms in fright. The worried and curious guests are sent back to bed while Rochester asks Jane to follow him upstairs:

“Mr. Rochester held the candle over him; I recognised in his pale and seemingly lifeless face—the stranger, Mason: I saw too that his linen on one side, and one arm, was almost soaked in blood.”

He then left her alone with him while he went to fetch Dr.Carter:

“I shall have to leave you in this room with this gentleman, for an hour, or perhaps two hours: you will sponge the blood as I do when it returns: if he feels faint, you will put the glass of water on that stand to his lips, and your salts to his nose. You will not speak to him on any pretext—and—Richard, it will be at the peril of your life if you speak to her: open your lips—agitate yourself—and I’ll not answer for the consequences.”

The Jane did not know at the time who or what had attacked Richard, but we will find out it was his sister, Bertha Mason, who had bitten him and attacked him with a knife. Rochester eventually returns with Dr. Carter, who carries him away from Thornfield Hall to cure his wounds.

(In the first chapter of All Hallows at Eyre Hall, Mr. Mason refers to this incident and reminds Jane of the noises she heard that night, disclosing a shocking secret which lay behind the closed door and was only partially disclosed in Jane Eyre).

Mason’s second and last appearance occurs three months later, when Mr. Briggs, a London solicitor interrupts the wedding by accusing Mr. Rochester of attempted bigamy. Rochester denies being married, denying the authenticity of the marriage certificate, and later suggesting that if he ever had a wife she was not living, until Mason intervenes by answering the vicar’s question:

Then addressing Mason, he inquired gently, “Are you aware, sir, whether or not this gentleman’s

wife is still living?”

“Courage,” urged the lawyer, “speak out.”

“She is now living at Thornfield Hall,” said Mason, in more articulate tones: “I saw her there last April. I am her brother.”

That is when they all return to Thornfield hall and discover the cruel secret in the attic.

Following the discovery, Rochester tried to convince Jane that he was tricked into marrying a mad Creole, by his own father as well as her father and her brother. Jane believes him, as many readers have done in the last hundred and fifty years, but in any case, Jane leaves because, tricked or not, mad or not, Bertha Antoinette Mason is his legal wife; she is Mrs. Bertha Rochester.

Wide Sargasso Sea

In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys expands on the story of Bertha and Richard Mason, who plays a major role in this novel, too. We learn that Richard and Bertha are not blood relations. Richard was Mr. Jonas Mason’s son by his first marriage, and she was her mother, Antoinetta’s, daughter by her first marriage. When they married, they had no children. Bertha’s mother was a Creole, although her father and Richard’s father were both English.

Rochester tells Jane his marriage to Bertha had been arranged by their respective fathers and in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rochester writes a letter to his father informing him that the transaction has been conducted according to their plans:

“All is well and has gone according to your plans and wishes. I dealt of course with Richard Mason. His father died soon after I left for the West Indies as you probably know. He is a good fellow, hospitable and friendly; he seemed to become attached to me and trusted me completely.”

Wide Sargasso Sea confirms the information Rochester tells Jane after Bertha’s discovery in Jane Eyre in another letter to his father:

Dear Father. The thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me without question or condition. No provision made for her (that must be seen to). I have a modest competence now I will never be a disgrace to you or to my dear brother the son you love. No begging letters, no mean requests. None of the furtive shabby manoeuvres of a younger son. I have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after all is it such a bad bargain? The girl is thought to be beautiful, she is beautiful. And yet…

In Wide Sargasso Sea, it is Rochester who convinces Mason of his honesty. Rochester is awarded the thirty thousand pound dowry, and when her father dies she inherits a great deal of money, which also goes to Rochester because he is her husband. When Bertha’s aunt Cora suggests she should be protected legally, Richard answers:

“You are talking about an honourable gentleman, not a rascal,” Richard said. “I am not in a position to make conditions, as you know very well. She is damn lucky to get him, all things considered. Why should I insist on a lawyer’s settlement when I trust him? I would trust him with my life,” he went on in an affected voice.”

So, in Jane Eyre, Richard Mason is protecting his sister. Rochester was given a great deal of money in exchange for the wedding, and he pledged to love her in sickness and in health. He is naturally looking after his sister’s interests.

But there are many unanswered questions. Why did Mason return to see his sister in April? Did he visit his sister frequently? Did he know how about her living conditions? What did he talk to Rochester about? What was their secret agreement which is not fully disclosed in Jane Eyre? All Hallows at Eyre Hall holds the answers to these enigmatic questions.

The Eyre Hall Series

Mason does not appears in the first three novels in The Eyre Hall Series: Blood Moon, All Hallows and Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. There is a specific and unexpected reason for Richard Mason’s presence at Eyre Hall. He has some disquieting news for Jane Rochester which will turn her world upside down, once more. She will find out exactly what happened the night Bertha attacked her brother. We will discover why she attacked him and what those strange animal noises and squeals coming from the attic were all about.

Richard will reveal that Bertha’s presence was only one of the secrets at Thornfield Hall, and although both secrets were conveniently removed before Jane and Rochester married, Bertha’s shadow will haunt Jane once more twenty-three years after that fateful night.

Richard Mason was a villain in Jane Eyre because he interrupted Jane and Rochester’s wedding, but in all honesty, he simply reminded Rochester that he was already married to his sister for whose hand he had received a great deal of money. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Richard is the gullible and careless older brother who neglected to look after his sister’s financial well-being, allowing Rochester control over all her funds and finally take her to England, out of her family’s reach. Mason does not do any of the things villains do in either novel; he is not seen to kill anyone, deceive anyone, steal from anyone, abuse anyone, etc. He is more an irresponsible coward than a villain.

On the other hand, in The Eyre Hall Series, Richard Mason is finally given his true role as villain in the style of Count Fosco in The Woman in White. He is a scheming manipulator who has his own selfish ulterior motives. Mason will finally be allowed to play a major role as a really nasty piece of work. He has become a more ambitious, vicious, and clever schemer. I hope you love this villain as much as I loved recreating him!

However, I must warn you, there is another, unexpected villain in All Hallows At Eyre Hall, and he is even worse than Shakespeare’s greatest villain, Richard III. He murders, plots and schemes, even helpless children and his family are included amongst his victims, and his name is not Richard Mason.

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“Reader, I married him.”

The Last chapter of Jane Eyre begins with these four words, “Reader, I married him.” As if with marriage the narrator wished to close the story which started when Jane was a ten year old orphan living unhappily with her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed, and spiteful cousins; Georgina, Eliza, and John. She later went through the deprivations and severity of Brocklhurst boarding school where she trained and later worked as a teacher. When she was eighteen, she applied for a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall where she met and fell in love with Mr. Rochester, who almost dishonoured her by preparing a bigamous marriage. He was already legally married to Bertha Mason, whom he had imprisoned in his attic. Bertha committed suicide and Jane and Rochester were finally able to celebrate a lawful wedding.

It was a Victorian convention to end novels in this way, indicating that virtue led to the stability and happiness which marriage represented. The problem here is that Mr. Rochester was neither virtuous nor stable, and every reader is aware of that. Whether you believe that this was the end of the story of Jane Eyre is, of course, up to the reader. This is what the narrator, Jane Eyre, a romantic and innocent twenty-year-old, thought would happen. But how reliable a narrator is Jane, the young, naïve woman who is blindly in love with Edward Rochester?

Readers have seen Edward Rochester through Jane Eyre’s eyes. She loved him in spite of his lies, and there were many of them. Rochester always denied being Adele’s father, and he insisted that he was unmarried, even in a church, as Richard Mason accused him of being betrothed to his sister. He blames everyone else for his problems; his father, his brother, Richard Mason, his first wife, and he even accuses Jane of bewitching him into loving her. Rochester is innocent in his own eyes, and he convinces Jane of his guiltlessness; this does not mean he convinces the reader. Readers make their own decisions.

Rochester is bad-tempered, conceited and aggressive. He tries to humiliate Jane when she first arrives at Thornfield and teases her mercilessly with Blanche Ingram and his other guests. He reminds her constantly that she is not attractive, “You—poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are.” (Chapter XXIII) He even threatens Jane with these words, ““Jane, I am not a gentle-tempered man—you forget that: I am not long-enduring; I am not cool and dispassionate. Out of pity to me and yourself, put your finger on my pulse, feel how it throbs, and—beware!” As a result of his violence she is forced to ask for God’s help, “I did what human beings do instinctively when they are driven to utter extremity—looked for aid to one higher than man: the words “God help me!” burst involuntarily from my lips.” (Chapter XXVII) 

Jane does not finally tame him. He is rendered physically passive after the accident due to partial blindness and a stumped arm, and emotionally sunk because he has lost the two women who were sustaining his vanity and ego. When Jane finally returns, he recovers his physical and emotional strength because he is now someone’s unconditional “master” once more. The question is: how long will Jane be able to continue with the idyllic life she imagines she will lead for the rest of her days?

We can ask ourselves some questions in order to foresee how their relationship may well develop: Will Jane be content to spend the rest of her life as a recluse at Ferdean? Will Rochester be content to do the same after he recovers his sight and his health? What will happen once they have a family? Will Rochester relinquish his central role in her life in favour of a child or children? Are they really well suited? Do they have the same outlook on life? Does he have any consideration for his servants? Orphans? People in difficulty? Has he any religious beliefs as she does? Does she like hunting and inconsequential social gatherings? Their conversation was lively while they were flirting, but now the conquest has been made and mundane daily matters will take over how will “sir” react? How will the gentry of the area take to Jane? There is a large age-difference between them, what will happen when Rochester dies and she is still relatively young?

Jane is the narrator and protagonist of Jane Eyre, but the novel ends when she is still a very young woman who has a whole life ahead of her. Jane Eyre is one of the greatest characters in literary history; her life cannot end with marriage to an egotistical and dishonest member of the Victorian gentry. I wanted more. Jane Eyre, the impressionable young bride, deserves a life of her own, so I imagined Jane Rochester, the woman, and wrote her story, twenty-two years after her marriage to Edward Rochester in, All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Continue reading ““Reader, I married him.””

Wide Sargasso Sea the “Prequel” to Jane Eyre by Jean Rhys

Although my main inspiration in writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy was Jane Eyre,  its “prequel” Wide Sargasso Sea, written over a hundred years later by Jean Rhys, has been almost equally responsible. Both novels are complimentary and it is their combined stories which have led to my “sequel” The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

Jean Rhys Rhys was born in Dominica, an island of the British West Indies to a Welsh doctor and a a third-generation Creole of Scots ancestry. Rhys tells the formerly untold story of Bertha Antoinette Mason from her birth in Jamaica to her death at Thornfield Hall. Antoinette who was gagged, emprisoned, and abused in Jane Eyre, is given a voice and a life, a real life, in Wide Sargasso Sea; a life Charlotte Bronte insinuated but never told. In WSS Antoinette tells Rochester; “there is always the other side, always”, and that is the story Rhys weaves in Part One which Antoinette narrates.

Rochester narrates Part Two and is shown up as the shady, unscrupulous character he became in JE. His elder brother was to inherit the Rochester Estate, so his father arranged a marriage to a rich Jamaican heiress for Edward, his second son. Rochester disliked Jamaica and although his wife was beautiful, he was not aware that she was Creole, and it displeased him, especially after marrying her and disposing of her generous dowry. When he inherited the family Estate due to both his brother and father’s sudden deaths he decided it was time to return to England. That was when he locked Bertha away in a windowless, cold and damp attic, and then went gallavanting to France, as he himself admits to Jane.

The Third and Final Part is told once more by Antoinette who has become the “mad” Bertha and is set on burning the house and its occupants.

Bertha’s brother (half-brother in WSS), Richard Mason, is a secondary but vital character in both novels. It is Richard who oversees Rochester and Bertha’s  marriage arrangements (WSS), and it is Richard who interrupts Rochester and Jane’s bigamous marriage (JE). And it is Richard Mason who opens The Eyre Hall Trilogy bringing Mrs. Jane Rochester devastating news of his sister once more, twenty-two years after her death. Bertha’s story is not over, because Bertha and Jane are irrevocably tied to each other; they shared the same husband in the first two novels, and in my sequel they will have to share the same descendents.

I will be posting the opening page shortly.

Read my Goodreads Review of Wide Sargasso Sea

New Book Cover for All Hallows at Eyre Hall

As the final editing process is coming to a close, thanks to the invaluable help of my wonderful, generous and constructive beta readers: Roberta, Elizabeth, Tina and Karen (They will be getting a complete post soon because they deserve one!) I have decided to ask a professional web artist to design my cover. Thanks David Pedrera for understanding exactly what I needed. I wanted the cover to transmit a solitary, serene and mature yet concerned Jane Rochester. I also wanted to include a view of the great house she rebuilt after marrying Edward Rochester and having her first child: Eyre Hall. I love the subtle and watery colours which remind us of a damp autumn breeze, and convey an air of gothic mystery and contained illicit romance. The cover highlights a turning point in Jane’s life; a crucial moment during which unspeakable crimes will be revealed and shrouded mysteries will be uncovered. Supernatural forces will foreshadow the novel’s final climax as unexpected and forbidden romance will burst and devastate the inhabitants of Eyre Hall.  All Hallows 1

Always Rereading Jane Eyre

IMG-20131211-WA0010I was an impressionable teenager the first time I read Jane Eyre and I have reread it countless times since then. Every time I have reread it I have uncovered another angle or aspect in this superb manuscript. My first impression was one of awe and admiration due to the sheer power of the characters and the story. Each rereading has produced a powerful effect shifting from wonder and respect to anger and disbelief. These pendular reactions probably mirrored my own personal development and life experiences.

I don’t think it’s necessary to go through these transitions, suffice it to say that this period of veneration lasted until I read Wide Sargasso Sea, from then on Jane Eyre suffered an irreversible upheaval. The characters and events have been constructed and deconstructed in my mind obsessively to such an extent that I had to write the sequel to both novels in order to get them out of my system, and that is exactly what I did.

Now that I have written my sequel I am going to reread Jane Eyre one more time, which I’m sure will not be the last time, but it will be a very different rereading.This time I’d like to reread it publicly on this blog, as if it were my diary. I don’t know the exact shape it will take, but my plan is to write about my reflections on the whole novel as I reread it from start to finish.

Why am I doing this? Because I need to read it again, and I need to publicly record my impressions and perhaps offer new insights to myself and anyone else interested in deciphering this unequaled work of art.

 

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