Jane Eyre - Woman as Demon
Missing Works Cited
Women in Victorian literature often came to be seen as "the other" or in more direct terms, as somehow demonized. This is certainly true in Jane Eyre. Bertha Mason, Rochester's mad wife, is the epitome of the demon in the attic. By virtue of being the first wife she is in continually compared to Jane. Although there are parallels in plot and language between the two women, they are completely different people. In addition, Bronte also depicts other women throughout the novel as something to be feared. Whereas earlier in English literature, men were typically depicted as monsters, in the nineteenth century women came to be seen as threatening creatures. They entrap men through their sexuality and then reveal their true demon-like natures.
Just as Jane is the angel in the house, Bertha represents her opposite--the demon in the house. Jane is a sober, sturdy Englishwoman of scrupulous morals. Bertha Mason, even before she goes mad, is depicted as an excitable foreigner of unacceptable values descended from a family of lunatics and idiots. She is shown as the exotic temptress whom Rochester cannot resist. He tells Jane:
She flattered me, and lavishly displayed for my pleasure her charms and accomplishments. All the men in her circle seemed to admire her and envy me. I was dazzled, stimulated my senses were excited; and being ignorant, raw, and inexperienced, I thought I loved her (332; ch. 27)
Bertha's behavior is diametrically opposed to Jane's. Jane does not flatter Rochester or over-stimulate his senses. Bronte is presenting readers with an ideal relationship as Jane and Rochester's marriage is not based on flirtation or lust alone. Bertha Mason is depicted as an Eve-like temptress devoid of any sense of morality. Rochester, lamenting his marriage to Jane, explodes "With less sin I might have--but let me remember to whom I am speaking" (333; ch. 27). Even though Rochester leaves the final word out, the meaning is obvious. He might have made Bertha his mistress. By this exclamation, he is asserting his physical lust for her and his belief that he could have made her his lover, hence, his assertion that she possesses few morals. He is also making a major distinction between Bertha and Jane, in that he will not even finish speaking of these sordid affairs with Jane.
In addition to being represented as the seductress, Bertha is now shown in all her animal nature. Whereas before her madness, she lived solely for her animal appetites, now she has been reduced to the animalís physical state as well. This reduction to bestiality is shown on various occasions when she is referred to as "a wolfish thing," "a dog," and "a tigress" (335; ch. 27, 238; ch. 20, 241; ch. 20). But it is her comparison to a "clothed hyena" that is alluded to most often (321; ch. 26). Helen Small, in her study Love's Madness, notes, "The animal's perceived sexual ambivalence and its association with female revenge...