Identity, Identification and Finding One's Self in Mid-Victorian Female Gothic: "Jane Eyre", "Villette" and "Wuthering Heights"
Thesis (M.A.) 2011 70 Pages
2) The Gothic Cast
2.1.1) Heathcliff, the Villain
2.1.2) Rochester, the Hero-Villain
2.1.3) Are There Villains in Villette?
2.3) Victims and Damsels in Distress
3) Who am I? - The Heroines' Search for the Self
3.1) Jane Eyre
3.2) Lucy Snowe
3.3) Catherine and the Nameless Narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper"
4) Doppelgänger: Identification through Others
4.1) Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason
4.2) Lucy Snowe and her Doubles
4.3) Wuthering Heights – A Story Told Thrice
'Who are you, Miss Snowe?'
'Who am I indeed?'
'Nelly, I am Heathcliff!'
'I cannot live without my life!
I cannot live without my soul!'
"Who are you, Miss Snowe?" (V 287) Ginevra Fanshawe asks Lucy Snowe and draws attention to one, if not the central question of humankind: Who am I? How do we define who we are: by our job, by our social roles, or by the view others have of us? Moreover, living in a society and having to interact with other human beings, we also need to know who they are: friend or foe, villain or potential lover? However, it is impossible to reduce a human being to just one trait ('She is a mother', 'He is open-minded', 'She is a writer', 'He is a man.'). The same applies to most rounded literary characters.
This paper will discuss the presentation and identification of the main characters in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Villette 1. At first I will have a closer look at what is expected of the characters on the narrative level, for example, being the hero of a novel. The second part of the paper will deal with the self-perception and search for identity of the protagonists Jane Eyre, Lucy Snowe and Catherine Earnshaw/Linton/Heathcliff. In the last part, I will discuss how these characters are identified through others, focusing on doppelgänger.
However, when doing a characterisation of the protagonists of Jane Eyre, Villette and Wuthering Heights, one has to consider that the narrators in all three novels are homodiegetic. This means – in these particular cases – that they are biased and, most likely, unreliable. The description of the characters and their behaviour is filtered through the eyes and words of the narrators. Therefore, one should always keep in mind that the information given to the reader is already interpreted or at least coloured by the narrator.
Even though the main focus of this paper will be on the Mid-Victorian Gothic novels Jane Eyre (1847), Villette (1853) and Wuthering Heights (1847), I will also draw comparisons to other works of female writers of the 19th century. There are, for example, interesting parallels to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and to the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892) written by the American author Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The latter provides a "terribly good" (Howells 7; qtd. in Shumaker 1) example of a woman's loss of identity and therefore perfectly matches the discussed novels of Charlotte and Emily Brontë.
2) The Gothic Cast
Jane Eyre, Villette and Wuthering Heights, written in the middle of the 19th century, belong to the Female Gothic genre, which, in a nutshell, is "the work that women writers have done in the literary mode that, since the eighteenth century, we have called the Gothic" (Moers, 90). They all share elements with classic 18th century Gothic novels like Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) or Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1765). The setting of all three novels is secluded (Lowood, Thornfield Hall, Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, Miss Marchmont's residence, the prison-like Pensionnat de Demoiselles of Madame Beck), and the texts are haunted by terrifying men like Mr Brocklehurst, witches like Madame Walraven, and ghosts of dead women like Catherine and Justine Marie, preferably in attics. Additionally, the protagonists have nightmares and visions, or suffer from mental illnesses.
The main characters of a Gothic story usually are heroes, villains, or hero-villains, victims and damsels in distress (cf. Gymnich 127). This is where Charlotte's and Emily's story differ. Victims and damsels in distress are, if existent, easy to identify. Villains and heroes, however, are more problematic.
The hero-villain is very popular in mid-Victorian Gothic literature. He is
dark and of powerful physique, and is frequently in possession of piercing eyes and an expression which indicates a mixture of contempt […] and gloom […]. As this suggests, his behaviour is unpredictable; he is moodily tacturn and violently explosive by turns. (Stoddart in Mulvey-Roberts 112)
Both Heathcliff and Rochester are usually identified with the role of the hero-villain (ibid 114). However, bracketing Heathcliff, Rochester and also M. Paul Emmanuel together without further distinction does not do justice to their very different characters. It is their actions that give them an identity, that makes them a hero, victim or villain – or hero-villain.
2.1.1) Heathcliff, the Villain
Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights fits the role of the villain best. This starts with his origin, covers his appearance and is developed to the most extend in his behaviour.
When Mr Earnshaw brings young Heathcliff home after having found him "starving, and houseless, and as good as dumb, in the streets of Liverpool" (WH 25), Nelly is frightened and Mrs Earnshaw calls the child a "gipsy brat". Nelly's first description of Heathcliff is "a dirty, ragged, black-haired child" that "only stared round" and talked "gibberish, that nobody could understand" (ibid). Mr Earnshaw's introduction does not help to cast a better light on the boy: "it's as dark almost as if it came from the devil" (ibid) - a comparison that will continue to haunt Heathcliff through his whole life. Hindley calls him "imp of Satan" (WH 27); Nelly thinks that at some point "it appeared as if the lad were possessed of something diabolical" (WH 46), and Isabella asks "is he a devil?" (WH 99). Later she exclaims: "He's a fiend! a monster, and not a human being!" (WH 110). These are but a few of the many references that equal Heathcliff to the devil or a demon. Other names that Nelly (or Lockwood, as he is the frame narrator (cf. Gymnich 108) and therefore capable of altering Nelly's words) gives Heathcliff mostly refer to him as not human but a wild beast, a "monster" (WH 110) with "sharp cannibal teeth" (WH 128) and "basilisk eyes" (WH 130). Accordingly, before he is christened, Nelly invariably refers to him as "it" (WH 25-26), "implying […] a deep inability to get his gender straight" (Gilbert & Gubar 294). However, she must be sure that he is a boy as he is older than Catherine, who is "hardly six years old" (WH 25) at that time, and he therefore can easily be recognised as a boy. The neutral pronoun 'it' doesn't refer to 'the child', though, but to "the stupid little thing" (WH 26, my italics2). From the very first moment of Heathcliff's new life at Wuthering Heights, he is denied his humanity. Heathcliff is described the least human shortly before his death:
Those deep black eyes! That smile, and ghastly paleness! It appeared to me, not Mr Heathcliff, but a goblin; […] Is he a ghoul, or a vampire? […] I had read of such hideous, incarnate demons. (WH 239)
Accordingly, when Nelly finds him dead, she is unable to close his eyes that seem "to sneer at [her] attempts; and his parted lips and sharp white teeth sneered too" (WH 243). By pointing out that Heathcliff equals more a devil or being from horror stories than a human, the reader gets the impression that Heathcliff's very nature is evil, that he is a born villain.
Lockwood's first impression fits the dark image, as Heathcliff "beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows" (WH 1) and has an "almost diabolic sneer on his face" (WH 8). At the beginning, Lockwood believes that he and Heathcliff are of the same kind, that they would make "such a suitable pair" (WH 1) and thinks highly of him. Later, however, after having experienced Heathcliff's character firsthand, he "no longer [feels] inclined to call Heathcliff a capital fellow" (WH 8) and is astonished at "how sociable [he feels himself] compared with him" (WH 5). Lockwood's seemingly unbiased first impression of Heathcliff should serve to prove that what Nelly later tells him about her master can also be witnessed by strangers that are not familiar with the families' history. As Lockwood writes his experiences down in form of a diary, it is likely that he has this impression of Heathcliff before he hears Nelly's story, but he could also have written it down afterwards, already being influenced by her story.
However, being the villain needs more than looking like one. His own behaviour is mirroring the dark, animal-like "thingness" (Gilbert & Gubar 294) that others ascribe to him. This starts with the way he talks. His language is harsh, violent and rich of swear words and curses: for example, "Go to the Deuce!" (WH 1), "What the devil is the matter?" (WH 4), "I have no pity! The more the worms [meaning Catherine II] writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!" (WH 111) and "your mother was a wicked slut" (WH 151). He talks savagely (WH 8), through closed teeth (WH 1), growls (WH 3) and shouts (WH 4, 11). Even as a child he finds pleasure in fantasies like "painting the house-front with Hindley's blood" (WH 33) and speaks violent thoughts like that out loud without the slightest qualm.
When he gets older, however, he does not leave it at thinking and talking about violence but actually proceeds to performing cruel actions. He hangs up Isabella's little dog with a handkerchief at a hook in the garden, nearly killing it (WH 94, 110). Nevertheless, even though he several times threatens to use physical violence (for example, "I'll crush his ribs in like a rotten hazelnut […] I shall murder him" (WH 84) and "I would have torn his heart out, and drank his blood" (WH 108)), it is always the others, Edgar (WH 84) and Hindley (WH 129), who attack first. Heathcliff's answer, however, is even more violent: "The ruffian kicked and trampled on him, and dashed his head repeatedly against the flags" (WH 129). There are also indications that he frequently uses violence on Isabella and Catherine II. For example, he "can make" Catherine II put her trash away and when he "lift[s] his hand" it makes her spring "to a safe distance, obviously acquainted with its weight" (WH 21). That he does hit her is demonstrated in Nelly's narration on page 196: At first he threatens to "knock [her] down" and as she still does not obey,
he seize[s] her with [one] hand, and, pulling her on his knee, [administering] with the other a shower of terrific slaps on both sides of her head, each sufficient to [fulfil] his threat, [would she be] able to fall.
Furthermore, it is doubtful that Isabella voluntarily or willingly sleeps with Heathcliff after she has realised "what" she has married, which she apparently does only "twenty-four hours" after she has run away with him (WH 99).
Heathcliff does not always demonstrate his power over others with physical violence, though. Sometimes it is enough that the others know that they would not stand a chance against him, for example, when he keeps Catherine II and Nelly captive in chapter 27. However, it is not only his physical strength and the fear he causes that give him power over others. Like a "chameleon", he takes "any role that will serve his ends" (Galef 244). For instance, he plays the "romantic type" (ibid) to make Isabella fall in love with him or, taking advantage of Hindley's gambling, lends him money until Hindley is deeply in debts and borrows the money "on his land" (WH 75). This eventually makes Heathcliff the new owner of Wuthering Heights, and he thereby obtains power over Hindley and his son Hareton. Later, he contrives that Catherine II falls in love with his son Michael Linton (WH 156). He forces her into marriage by emotionally blackmailing her: Linton says she must save him (WH 198), and Heathcliff falsely promises that she will be free to go back home to her dying father after the wedding (WH 199). After Linton's death, Heathcliff retains power over his daughter in law because "there is no clause in [Linton's] will to secure [Catherine II being his heir]" and Linton's property goes to his father (WH 156). Additionally, also Thrushcross Grange and the rest of Catherine II's heritage from her father now belongs to Heathcliff because until 1870
a married woman had no legal claims over her […] inheritance […] after marriage [and only in 1882] gained rights over her property [which] she possessed prior to marriage. (Moran 36)
As unkind as all this may be, Heathcliff's cruelty is worst in the way he treats and raises Hareton and his son. He uses them as tools for his revenge, not only disregarding their feelings but intending to make them suffer. Watching Hareton, he confesses to Nelly,
He has satisfied my expectations. If he were a born fool I should not enjoy it half as much. But he's no fool; and I can sympathise with all his feelings, having felt them myself. I know what he suffers now, for instance, exactly: it is merely a beginning of what he shall suffer, though. (WH 159)
Denying Hareton education and allowing him every rudeness, he turns him into a dumb brute who, not realising what has been done to him, is fond of Heathcliff (WH 159). However, when he falls in love with his cousin Catherine II, Hareton has to suffer the consequences of his upbringing because she detests him and makes fun of him (e.g. WH 158). Linton, in contrast to Hareton, grows up in fear of his father (WH 191) and with total lack of affection (WH 153). Heathcliff treats him "tyrannically and wickedly" (WH 188). Linton thinks that a marriage with Catherine II can save him (WH 193, 198), but Heathcliff does not allow them to leave. Moreover, Linton's selfishness (WH 154, 203) makes him lose the love of Catherine II. Even though he realises that he is "a worthless, cowardly wretch" (WH 193), he does not seem to be able to change, probably for fear of Heathcliff (WH 194). In the end, after having been ill for years, he dies young. His illness, however, is never really explained, but he might have suffered from tuberculosis like Francis (cf. Inman 198). Metaphorically, it could have been caused by the lack of love and the constant fear of his father.
When it comes to Catherine, the only person he ever loved, Heathcliff is not changed like one might have expected him to be. Even though it is repeatedly pointed out that he will not injure Hindley because Catherine stands "between him and bodily harm" (WH 72), his love for her is not romantic but selfish. On the one hand, calling her "my life" and "my soul" (WH 122) shows the strong, mutual identification with each other, referring back to Catherine saying, "I am Heathcliff" (WH 59). On the other hand, it clearly shows where his focus lies: my life, my soul. Catherine is Heathcliff. He does not say 'I am Catherine'. They are both Heathcliff; she is a part of him. This selfishness of Heathcliff concerning Catherine is demonstrated throughout the story. For example, even though he knows that his visit will "[startle] her painfully" and that Catherine "couldn't bear the surprise", he forces Nelly to help him (WH 111-112; cf. Tytler, Identification 169). Already his second question after learning that Catherine has died is "did she ever mention me?" (WH 121, my italics), and instead of wishing that she eventually may find peace, he curses her dead soul:
Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe – I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! (WH 122)
Despite Heathcliff's selfish cruelness, however, there are a few occasions when Nelly unexpectedly refrains from calling him a devil but points out his humanness instead: "Hush, hush! He's a human being," Nelly says to Isabella when she calls him a monster, "there are worse men than he is yet" (WH 125). She also pities him for the loss of Catherine and thinks that "[he has] a heart and nerves the same as [his] brother men" (WH 121). If Heathcliff is not a born devil like Nelly seems to try to make Lockwood (and the reader) believe, if he feels like everybody else does and is not different to his "brother men", then why does he become a monster, the "devil daddy" (WH 79)3 of Hareton, Linton and (through marriage) Catherine II?
Heathcliff's motivation is revenge. He wants to take vengeance on Hindley for how he treated him when he was a child, on Edgar for taking Catherine from him, and even on Catherine for leaving him. However, it all goes back to his childhood and Hindley. Even though Heathcliff has a rough start after Mr Earnshaw has brought him home from Liverpool, he gradually wins the hearts of Mr Earnshaw (WH 26), Catherine (ibid) and even Nelly (WH 27). We do not learn how Mrs Earnshaw – after her first, repulsive reaction – treats Heathcliff, though. She lives only two years (WH 26) after his arrival, and Nelly's story only really starts after she has died. Wuthering Heights is a "motherless book", like "all […] Brontë novels [betraying an] intense feeling of motherlessness, orphanhood, destitution" (Gilbert & Gubar 251). Nelly takes over the role of a mother, just like she does for Hareton and Catherine II. However, her motherly influence on Heathcliff is limited because she is as old as Hindley (WH 135) and therefore only 16 at the time of Mrs Earnshaw's death.
Already before Mr Earnshaw dies, Heathcliff regularly has to endure physical violence from Hindley (WH 26, 28). After Mr Earnshaw's death, Hindley comes back and takes over his father's role, becoming the new master of Wuthering Heights. The form of his abuse against Heathcliff shifts from physical to mental. Now being his master, he becomes "tyrannical" (WH 32). Nelly remembers how he
drove [Heathcliff] from their company to the servants, deprived him of the constructions of the curate, and insisted that he should labour out of the doors instead; compelling him to do so as hard as any other lad on the farm. (ibid)
Even though they should be like brothers (Heathcliff 'replaces' Mr Earnshaw's dead first son Heathcliff (cf. Gilbert & Gubar 264)), Hindley's jealousy (because his father and sister liked Heathcliff more than him) makes him treat his foster brother like a servant. Furthermore, Hindley takes every opportunity to humiliate Heathliff. When Heathcliff, for example, wants to join the Earnshaws and Lintons on Christmas Eve, even neatly trimmed by Nelly, Hindley "shove[s] him back with a sudden thrust" and orders Joseph, loud enough for the Lintons to hear him, to "send him into the garret" (WH 40). He fears that Heathcliff would "be cramming his fingers in the tarts and stealing the fruit" (ibid) and makes fun of his "elegant locks" (WH 41).
The question arises of whether Heathcliff would have become a "monster" if it had not been for "his history of deprivation" (Implay in Mulvey-Roberts 29), if he would have grown up in a loving family. If the question is answered with 'No, he would not', we have to assume that Hindley – without intention - makes Heathcliff a monster. Even Edgar realises: "I was [not] ignorant of your miserable, degraded character, but I felt you were only partly responsible for that" (WH 83). Speaking of making a monster, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein instantly comes into mind. The two novels are not only similar in their narrative structure of "concentric circles", their "significant digressions" (Gilbert & Gubar 249), "motherlessness" (ibid 251) and being "consciously literary works" (ibid 150); also one of the core stories is the same. A monster creates a monster, and the creation wants to take vengeance on its creator. The monster wants to avenge himself on Frankenstein (cf. Shelly 168) because he does not want to give him what he desires most: a "wife" or "mate" (ibid 167). Just like Frankenstein does not fulfil the monster's wish, Hindley, by denying Heathcliff a decent education and social status, hinders him from becoming a suitable husband for Catherine, whom he gives to Edgar instead. Heathcliff, like the monster, makes a plan of how to "pay Hindley back" (WH 42). The monster tells Frankenstein: "Slave, […] You are my creator, but I am your master" (Shelley 167). Accordingly, Heathcliff eventually turns their roles around. When Hindley is in debts, it is Heathcliff who is not only the new master of Wuthering Heights but also of Hindley.
In contrast to the monster, however, Heathcliff does not kill people and his maker, but he creates more monsters. He becomes Frankenstein himself. At first, he successfully (until some point at least) turns Hindley's son Hareton into a second Heathcliff. The child, Nelly's "darling" (WH 79), who has been "more than all the world" (WH 64) to her and who even has to cry when she does (WH 50), is changed into a "goblin" (WH 80). After being treated violently by his father (cf. WH 52-53), Hareton's sympathy is easily won by Heathcliff, who aids him against his "devil daddy" (WH 79): "[He] pays dad back what he [gives] to me [and] curses daddy for cursing me. He says I [may] do as I will" (WH 79-80). Also, just as Hindley denied Heathcliff education, Heathcliff now dismisses the curate so that Hareton will not be able to learn how to read and write (WH 80). Equal to Heathcliff's "gibberish", Hareton starts speaking "a jargon [Isabella does] not comprehend" (WH 100), and corresponding to Heathcliff's nickname "devil", Hareton is called "infernal calf" (WH 151). He is "never rebuked for any bad habit […]; never led a single step towards virtue, or guarded by a single precept against vice" (ibid). Joseph, without wanting, aids Heathcliff by allowing "that he [is] ruined" because the religious man thinks that "Heathcliff must answer for it" after his death (WH 143). Later, Hareton, who is now more like Heathcliff's son than Hindley's, falls in love with his cousin Catherine II. Just as Heathcliff has been "no company" for Catherine (and therefore no suitable husband) due to his social role and lack of education, as he "know[s] nothing and say[s] nothing" (WH 49), Hareton is only a "dunce" (WH 181) for Catherine II because he cannot read. Like her mother, she chooses (a) Linton instead.
The second monster that Heathcliff creates is Linton, his own son. When Nelly brings 10-year-old Linton to his father, he does not look at him like he is a human being but his "property" (WH 150). Just like Nelly used the pronoun 'it' to talk about young Heathcliff, he is now doing the same with his son, calling him an "it", a "thing" (ibid) and "puling chicken" (WH 151). He even examines him like an animal that he is about to buy and causes Linton to weep with fear (ibid). Due to the "utter lack of sympathy" (WH 153) and fear of his father, the "faint-hearted creature" with "weak health" (ibid) becomes "selfish and disagreeable" (WH 154). Thus, he even manages to scare the one person away that (besides his mother) ever loved him: Catherine II.
Heathcliff himself explains his evil plan concerning the two boys to Nelly:
Don't you think Hindley would be proud of his son, if he could see him? almost as proud as I am of mine. But there's this difference; one is gold put to the use of paving-stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it; yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His had first rate qualities, and they are lost: rendered worse than unavailing. (WH 159)
However, in the end, his plan does not succeed. Catherine II, with Nelly's help, realises the true worth of Linton and Hareton (WH 227).
To sum up, at the beginning of Heathcliff's life at Wuthering Heights, Hindley is the villain and Heathcliff is the victim. During the course of his life, he also shows tendencies to become the hero. He is described as handsome and a gentleman (WH 3, 96), especially when he is good-natured: "[He] asked me how I did, quite friendly, and offered me a chair. […] I thought he never looked better" (WH 107). His origin is unknown, and he could, like Nelly tells him to cheer him up, as well be "a prince in disguise" (WH 40). However, Heathcliff himself says that he is no "hero of romance" (WH 109). At the beginning, one might expect that he comes back as a gentleman (thinking of Dickens's Great Expectations) and saves Catherine from her personal hell (see 2.3). Instead as a hero, however, he comes back as a selfish, vengeful villain. "I've made myself worse than the devil" (WH 243), he realises himself. Considering Heathcliff's life as a whole, he "bears the dual markings of both villain and victim" (Stoddart in Mulvey-Roberts 112). Therefore, he can be identified with the hero-villain. In comparison with Rochester, however, he is more of a villain. To do both of them justice, Heathcliff could be named a villain-hero.
2.1.2) Rochester, the Hero-Villain
Rochester is the hero-villain of Jane Eyre. He is a gentleman (JE 90) and has "[a] dark, colourless, olive face, with stern, strong features, a heavy, square, massive [forehead], broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, [and a] firm, grim mouth" (JE 98, 152-153). He is neither beautiful nor heroic-looking (JE 99); however, he becomes beautiful to Jane when she falls in love with him (JE 153). Even though he sometimes curses (JE 98: "What the deuce is to do now?") and is used to formulating direct orders instead of requests (JE 117), for example "'Speak,' he urged" (JE 116), he does not at all equal Heathcliff and his rude way of talking. Instead, Rochester is "promisingly aware of his imperatives" (Massé, 210), and even though he does not intend to change his "customary habits" for Jane, he asks her to excuse his way of talking (JE 108) and not be "piqued or hurt by the tone of [his] command" (JE 117).
His language is not the only thing that distinguishes Rochester from Heathcliff. Neither does he intend to ruin somebody's life to avenge himself, nor does he use violence to make people submissive. Even though he threatens Jane to "try violence" if she does not come with him, she is "not afraid" and manages to soothe him (JE 267). In addition, when Bertha attacks him, he "could have settled her with a well-planted blow: but he would not strike" (JE 259). However, even though he answers Jane's love and marries her in the end, Rochester does not fit the part of the perfect romantic hero. There is a lot about him that rather makes him the villain instead.
One is the way he is introduced in the novel. He is mysterious because he is not present at Thornfield when Jane arrives, and even though she inquires about him, she does not get sufficient answers, except that he is "peculiar" (JE 90). Their first meeting happens on the lonely road (JE 96) between Thornfield and Hay after sundown (JE 97), a "fairytale meeting" with "mythic elements" (Gilbert & Gubar 351). When she hears his horse approaching, Jane thinks of a "North-of-England spirit called a 'Gytrash'" and his "great […], black and white" dog fits the Gytrash perfectly (JE 97). Even though the "human being" on the horse's back "[breaks] the spell at once" (ibid), he himself stays mysterious. For one thing, Jane leaves him faceless, a phantom for the reader by describing the traveller not immediately but only one page later. For another thing, Rochester himself keeps his identity from Jane and even asks about her master: "Can you tell me where [Mr Rochester] is?" (JE 99). Already at their first meeting, he hides from her who he really is.
This hiding of secrets and his identity continues throughout the story. It starts with him leaving Thornfield for a couple of days without saying a word to Jane (JE 138) and continues with his masquerade of a female fortune-teller (ch. 19). However, his most carefully guarded secret is his mentally ill wife Bertha, whom he hides in the third story of his house.
From her very first day at Thornfield Hall, when Jane hears a laugh (JE 92), a "demonic" or "goblin laugh" (JE 129), every hint towards Bertha's existence, Rochester's dark secret, is explained to Jane as being caused by the servant Grace Poole (JE 93). The extend of it is shown by his servants being privy to his secret (JE 144: "Doesn't she know?") – Grace Poole even is Bertha's nurse (JE 258, 273). Everybody at Thornfield Hall knows about his secret except for Jane. Why does he not tell her? The answer is simple: At the beginning he does not tell her because she is a stranger. When he has fallen in love with her, he does not want to scare her away, and, which is most important, he would not be able to marry her, fearing rightfully she would not agree to bigamy. This shows how very egoistic Rochester is.
However, even worse is his actual imprisoning of his wife. One might argue that keeping his wife at home and caring for her instead of sending her to an asylum is a good deed. Despite the reformations concerning asylums and the treatment of patients at the beginning of the nineteenth century (for example, starting to regard the patients as ill instead of possessed, followed by ethical, non-restraint treatment without violence, chains and cages), most asylums in England did not change for the better (cf. Comer 11-13). However, if it had only been for her sake, why would he keep it a secret? It is more realistic to think that he keeps her in the house because he can keep her a secret this way. Having a mad wife is not conductive for his reputation, especially when he is looking for a new wife. Again, this is very selfish. That he does not keep her in the house because of pity or love is perfectly demonstrated when he explains:
You shall see what sort of being I was cheated into espousing, and judge whether or not I had a right to break the compact, and seek sympathy with something at least human. (JE 258, my italics)
He calls her a "fearful hag" (JE 265) or "demon" with "red balls" for eyes and a "mask" instead of a face (JE 259). It is, as Jane points out very fittingly, with "hate" that he speaks about his wife, "with vindictive antipathy. It is cruel – she cannot help being mad" (JE 265). Even though Rochester tells her that it is not for her madness that he hates his wife, he does not give a reasonable explanation for his hate, either, but rather tries to distract Jane by telling her urgently that he would still love her even if she were mad (JE 266). This, however, is not very convincing.
The scene of Rochester showing his wife to Jane and their wedding guests makes Chih-Ping Chen compare him with a "freak show host" (368). The display of "anomalous bodies-giants, dwarfs, Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, fat ladies, living skeletons, wild men, and noble savages" was nothing unusual in the nineteenth century (ibid 367). Their introduction to the audience by the host equals Rochester's introduction of Bertha in "image, rhetoric, and form" (ibid): "I invite you all to come […] and visit […] my wife!" he exclaims before entering the stage, i.e. the attic, or how he calls it, "a wild beast's den – a goblin's cell" (JE 273). His wife is his freak, his "prize" (JE 259), his "property" (Chen 369). Like the host of a show, he advertises his freak, makes the audience curious and even points out some rumours: "Some have whispered to you that she is my bastard half-sister [and] some, my cast-off mistress" (JE 257) – but no, his freak is even better (or worse, for that matter): "I now inform you that she is my wife" (ibid). Rochester then goes on with emphasising Bertha's "'exotic' background and hybrid inheritance as the 'anomalous'" (Chen 368), telling the audience that "she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations[.] Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard" (JE 257). To highlight Bertha's animal otherness, Rochester wants his audience to compare her with Jane: "[L]ook at the difference [between] this young girl [and] a demon. […] Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder – this face with that mask – this form with that bulk" (JE 259). One purpose of the "freak show" (Chen 368) is to convince the audience of Rochester's innocence; firstly because he was "cheated into espousing" (JE 258), secondly because the marriage to a "wild beast" (JE 273) should not be put on a level with the marriage to a decent woman like Jane. Therefore, his attempt of bigamy is legal in his eyes, he has "a right to break the compact" (JE 258). The other purpose is to demonstrate the audience that he is not a bad man. Bertha's attack, which looks like the planned highlight of the show, and his "non-violent" (Chen 368) dealing with it are supposed to demonstrate how "civilized" (ibid) he is in contrast to Bertha. Additionally, he has the chance to act like a hero, like the fairytale prince or knight as which he is introduced (JE 97), flinging Jane behind him (JE 259) to save her from the monster's attack.
1In the following, I will give references to these works by using the short forms WH, JE and V.
2If not explicitly noted like this, all italics within quotes are original.
3It is not perfectly clear if Hareton refers to Hindley or Heathcliff here. From Hareton's point of view, it is more likely that he means his father whom, in contrast to Heathcliff, he hates. If we take the whole story into account, though, this nickname fits Heathcliff as well as Hindley, maybe even more so.
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- Englisch Anglistik Jane Eyre Villette Wuthering Hights Victorian Literature Female Gothic Charlotte Brontë Emily Brontë