Trapped in the Red Room:
A Look into the Mind of the Original Mrs. Rochester
“One is very crazy when in love” (Freud). Freud made this statement nearly one hundred years ago. As one of the founders of modern psychology what would he have to say about the mad woman in the attic? Was she mad, in love, suffering from hysteria, or simply a product of nature versus nurture? Neither of which were very kind to her. In Jane Eyre we as the readers are presented with a singular perspective in nearly true to form autobiographical narrative. From Jane’s viewpoint and from a mid 19th century depiction of mental illness, the original Mrs. Rochester is hardly a person to sympathize with. Yet there is much more to this tale that is desperately begging to be told. Jean Rhys took up this challenge and presents an alternate perspective of this misguided and misunderstood woman. Through the use of differing points of view told through the eyes of the young Edward Rochester and Antoinette Cosway the enigma of the mysterious woman in the attic comes together like a puzzle. This essay will examine the aspects of theme and narrative mode in both Jane Eyre and the Wide Sargasso Sea as well as analyze the importance those literary techniques play on shaping the reader’s understanding of these pivotal characters.
“Nature meant me to be, on the whole a good man Miss Eyre; one of the better end” (Bronte 128). Mr. Rochester is nearly as enigmatic as Bertha for much of Jane Eyre. Impatient, abrupt, brutally candid and very clearly cynical, these are his traits. Yet, in one passage he hints at the man he used to be. “A good man” he says, and one whose mindset paralleled the naïve yet feisty Jane Eryre. “I was your equal at eighteen – quite your equal.” (Bronte 128). A good man is not what we see in the Wide Sargasso Sea however. Perhaps he was good hearted and idealistic before his brother took his entire inheritance, but this is not indicated. Instead the character of Mr. Rochester is very similar to the one portrayed in Jane Eyre. Far from an idealistic naïve young man, by age 22 when he arrived to the West Indies he was already very cynical, judgmental, and close minded. Despite all his faults in Jane Eyre, the one virtue he maintains in that story is sorely lacking in the Wide Sargasso Sea, his personal integrity. “Nor was I anxious to know what was happening behind the thin partition which divided us from my wife’s bedroom” (Rhys 140). “You bring that worthless girl to play with next door and you talk and laugh and love so that she hear everything. You meant her to hear.’ ‘Yes that didn’t just happen. I meant it’” (Rhys 154). A man who is capable of treating Antoinette in such a way, of purposefully “breaking her up” as Christophine would say, makes one wonder if he is even capable of redemption in Jane Eyre. His little encounter with Amélie could be ascribed to his intoxication on the voodoo love potion, though by the time he sleeps with Amélie many hours have passed...