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Week 3: Jane Eyre II
Transcript of Week 3: Jane Eyre II
Ophelia by Madeline LeMaire (1845-1928)
Lunacy in the early Nineteenth Century
'[T]he character [Bertha] is shocking, but I know that it is but too natural. There is a phase of insanity which may be called moral madness, in which all that is good or even human seems to disappear from the mind and a fiend-nature replaces it. The sole aim and desire of the being thus possessed is to exasperate, to molest, to destroy, and preternatural ingenuity and energy are often exercised to that dreadful end. The aspect in such cases, assimilates with the disposition; all seems demonized. It is true that profound pity ought to be the only sentiment elicited by the view of such degradation, and equally true is it that I have not sufficiently dwelt on that feeling; I have erred in making horror too predominant. Mrs. Rochester indeed lived a sinful life before she was insane, but sin itself is a kind of insanity; the truly good behold and compassionate it as such.'
Charlotte Bronte, Letter to W.S. Smith, 4 January, 1848.
Women and Madness
Jane Eyre/Bertha Rochester
The story so far...
Return to the Reeds
Return to Thornfield Hall
The Rivers at Millcote
Return to Thornfield Hall
Women and Work
Female independence and self-assertion
'It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it ... Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as much as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. When thus alone, I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole's laugh: the same peal, the same low, slow ha! ha! which, when first heard, had thrilled me: I heard, too, her eccentric murmurs; stranger than her laugh. There were days when she was quite silent; but there were others when I could not account for the sounds she made.'
'a morbid perversion of the natural feelings, affections, inclinations, temper, habits, moral dispositions, and natural impulses, without any remarkable disorder or defect of the intellect, or knowing and reasoning faculties, and particularly without any insane illusion or hallucination.'
James Cowles Pritchard, 'A Treatise on Insanity and Other Disorders Affecting the Mind' (Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1837), p. 16.
Through much of the nineteenth century, ‘moral treatment’ – a term first used by William Tuke in 1796, and by Philippe Pinel in 1801 – was considered correct psychiatric practice … The matching concept of ‘moral insanity’ ... was used to convey the idea that the essential nature of mental disorder was psychological, concerned with man’s spiritual life, personal habits, and interpersonal relations. The terminology points to the medicalization … of eccentric and illegal behaviour and, at the same time, the recognition that mental diseases, unlike bodily diseases, manifest themselves in ways that are inherently ‘moral’ ... In England, the history of moral treatment is closely associated with the Quaker family Tuke, in York. In 1796, William Tuke (1732-1822), a tea and coffee merchant ... opened the doors to his private asylum, which he called ‘The York Retreat.’
Thomas Szasz, 'Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry' (NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010), pp. 83-4.
The York Retreat (1786)
For Tuke, this was a humanitarian-philanthropic exercise. His aim, he said, was to provide ‘a place in which the unhappy might obtain a refuge – a quiet haven in which the shattered bark might find the means of reparation and safety.’ Tuke viewed the founding of the Retreat in political rather than medical terms: he desired, he said, to ‘carry out the noble experiment, as to how far the insane might be influenced through the medium of the understanding and the affections, and how far they may be beneficially admitted to the liberty, comfort, and general habits of the sane.’ The Retreat quickly acquired the reputation of being the best asylum in Europe.
Thomas Szasz, 'Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry' (NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010), p. 84.
William Tuke (1732-1822)
The asylum and social reform
'One of the side rooms contained about ten [female] patients, each chained by one arm to the wall; the chain allowing them merely to stand up by the bench or form fixed to the wall, or sit down on it. The nakedness of each patient was covered by a blanket only ... Many other unfortunate women were locked up in their cells, naked and chained on straw ... In the men's wing, in the side room, six patients were chained close to the wall by the right arm as well as by the right leg ... Their nakedness and their mode of confinement gave the room the complete appearance of a dog kennel.'
Edward Wakefield, 'Extracts from the Report of the Committee Employed to Visit Houses and Hospitals for the Confinement of Insane Persons, With Remarks, by Philanthropus' in 'The Medical and Physical Journal' 32 (August 1814): 122–8.
‘Neither chains nor corporal punishments are tolerated, on any pretext, in this establishment. The patients, therefore, cannot be threatened with these severities … To the mild system of treatment adopted at the Retreat, I have no doubt we may partly attribute, the happy recovery of so large a proportion of melancholy patients … If it be true, that oppression makes a wise man mad, is it to be supposed that stripes and insults, and injuries, for which the receiver knows no cause, are calculated to make a mad man wise? Or would they not exasperate his disease and make excite his resentment? … The superintendent … is fully of the opinion that a state of furious mania, is very often excited by the mode of management.’
Samuel Tuke, 'Description of the Retreat' (York: W. Alexander, 1813)
Samuel Tuke (1784-1857)
'I found her a fine woman, in the style of Blanche Ingram; tall, dark, and majestic. Her family wished to secure me, because I was of a good race; and so did she. They showed her to me in parties, splendidly dressed. I seldom saw her alone, and had very little private conversation with her. 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 … Her relatives encouraged me; competitors piqued me; she allured me: a marriage was achieved almost before I knew where I was … My bride’s mother I had never seen: I understood she was dead. The honey-moon over, I learned my mistake; she was only mad, locked up in a lunatic asylum. There was a younger brother, too; a complete dumb idiot. The elder one, whom you have seen … will probably be in the same state one day ... These were vile discoveries; but, except for the treachery of concealment, I should have made them no subject of reproach to my wife: even when I found her nature wholly alien to mine; her tastes obnoxious to me; her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and singularly incapable of being led to anything higher, expanded to anything larger – when I found that I could not pass a single evening, nor even a single hour of the day with her in comfort; that kindly conversation could not be sustained between us, because, whatever topic I started, immediately received from her a turn at once coarse and trite, perverse and imbecile – when I perceived that I should never have a quiet or settled household, because no servant would bear the continued outbreaks of her violent and unreasonable temper, or the vexations of her absurd, contradictory, exacting orders – even then I restrained myself: I eschewed upbraiding, I curtailed remonstrance; I tried to devour my disgust and repentance in secret; I repressed the deep antipathy I felt … I lived with that woman up stairs four years, and before that time she had tried me indeed: her character ripened and developed with frightful rapidity; her vices sprang up fast and rank: they were so strong, only cruelty could check them; and I would not use cruelty. What a pigmy intellect she had – and what giant propensities! How fearful were the curses those propensities entailed on me! Bertha Mason, - the true daughter of an infamous mother, - dragged me through all the hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man bound to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste … (since the medical men had pronounced her mad, she had of course been shut up) … my ears were filled with the curses the maniac still shrieked out; wherein she momentarily mingled my name with such a tone of demon-hate, with such language! – no professed harlot ever had fouler vocabulary than she: though two rooms off, I heard every word – the thin partitions of the West-India house opposing but slight obstruction to her wolfish cries.'
'In presenting textbook cases of female insanity, doctors usually described women who were disobedient, rebellious, or in open protest against the female role.'
Elaine Showalter, 'Victorian Women and Insanity' in 'Victorian Studies' 23.2 (1980): 157.
Rebellious or insane?
Do not imagine hysteria to be a disease peculiar to persons of weak minds. It will often select for its victim a female member of a family exhibiting more than usual force and decision of character … of strong resolution, fearless of danger, bold riders, having plenty of what is termed nerve’
Frederic Carpenter Skey, 'Hysteria: Remote causes of disease in general' (London: Longmans, 1867), p. 55.
'The monthly activity of the ovaries which marks the advent of puberty in women has a notable effect upon the mind and body: wherefore it may become an important cause of mental and physical derangement … It is a matter also of common experience in asylums, that exacerbations of insanity often take place at the menstrual periods … There is certainly a recurrent mania, which seems sometimes to have, in regard to its origin and time of its attacks, a relation to the menstrual functions, suppression or irregularity often accompanies it; and it is an obvious presumption that the mania may be a sympathetic morbid effect of the ovarian and uterine excitement, and may represent an exaggeration of the mental irritability which is natural to women at that period ...'
Henry Maudsley, 'Body and Mind' (NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1871), p. 78.
Intellect and Activity
'[T]he irritation of ovaries or uterus … is sometimes the direct occasion of nymphomania – a disease by which the most chaste and modest woman is transformed into a raging fury of lust … We have, indeed, to note and bear in mind how often sexual ideas and feelings arise and display themselves in all sorts of insanity; how they connect themselves with ideas which in a moral mental state have no known relation to them; so that it seems as inexplicable a virtuous person should ever have learnt, as it is distressing that she should manifest, so much obscenity of thought and feeling.'
Henry Maudsley, 'Body and Mind' (NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1871), p. 79.
Unconventional female sexual activity is classed as a type of insanity
'...it will excite no surprise, to find that non-exercise of the brain and nervous system, or inactivity of intellect and feeling, is a very frequent predisposing cause of every form of nervous disease and insanity itself. For demonstrative evidence of this position, we have only to look at the numerous victims to be found among females of the middle and higher ranks who have no strong motives to exertion, or any cause to exert themselves for honour and gain: nor interests that call forth their mental energies, or to prevent, by their employments, these energies sinking into feebleness by disuse. If we look round us we shall see from this cause innumerable examples of nervous or mental debility.’
William Moseley, ‘Eleven Chapters on Nervous and Mental Complaints’ (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1838) p. 127.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
The accumulation of nervous energy, which has had nothing to do during the day, makes them feel every night, when they go to bed, as if they were going mad; and they are obliged to lie long in bed in the morning to let it evaporate and keep it down.
Florence Nightingale, 'Cassandra: an essay' (US: Feminist Press, 1979), p. 42.
Female passivity breeds madness
'it is disturbingly clear from recurrent images in [Jane Eyre] that Bertha not only acts for Jane, she also acts like Jane. The imprisoned Bertha, running ‘backwards and forwards’ on all fours in the attic, for instance, recalls not only Jane the governess, whose only relief from mental pain was to pace ‘backwards and forwards’ in the third story, but also that ‘bad animal’ who was ten-year-old Jane, imprisoned in the red-room, howling and mad ...'
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, 'The Madwoman in the Attic' (Yale: Yale UP, 2000), p. 64.
Bertha as symbol of female oppression and Jane's repressed 'other'
The madness of Jane
the taming of Jane at Lowood
the repression of Jane's emotion at Thornfield
the nurturance of passion at Millcote
the intellectual activity of life as Mrs Rochester
'Glad was I to get him out of the silk warehouse, and then out of a jeweller's shop: the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation. As we re-entered the carriage, and I sat back feverish and fagged, I remembered what in the hurry of events, dark and bright, I had wholly forgotten - the letter of my uncle, John Eyre, to Mrs Reed: his intention to adopt me and make me his legatee. 'It would, indeed, be a relief,' I thought, 'if I had ever so small an independancy; I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr Rochester ... if I had but a prospect of one day bringing Mr Rochester an accession of fortune, I could better endure to be kept by him now.' And somewhat relieved by this idea ... I ventured once more to meet my master's and lover's eye ... He smiled; and I thought his smile was such as a sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched: I crushed his hand, which was ever hunting mine, vigorously, and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure - '
'... presently she took my veil from its face; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite distinctly in the dark oblong glass ... It was a discoloured face - it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!'
'... Jane Rochester, a person whom as yet I knew not. The cards of address alone remained to nail on ... I could not persuade myself to affix them, or to have them affixed. Mrs Rochester! She did not exist ... It was enough that in yonder closet ... garments said to be hers had already displaced my black stuff Lowood frock and straw bonnet: for not to me appertained that suit of wedding raiment; the pearl-coloured robe, the vapoury veil ... I shut the closet, to conceal the strange, wraith-like apparel it contained; which, at this evening hour ... gave out certainly a most ghostly shimmer ... 'I will leave you by yourself, white dream,' I said. 'I am feverish: I hear the wind blowing: I will go out of doors and feel it.'
Marriage as self-annihilation
'I broke from St John; who had followed, and would have detained me. It was my time to assume ascendancy. My powers were in play, and in force. I told him to forbear question or remark; I desired him to leave me: I must and would be alone. He obeyed at once. Where there is energy to command well enough, obedience never fails ... I rose from the thanksgiving - took a resolve - and lay down, unscared, enlightened - eager but for the daylight.
'I love you better now, when I can be really be useful to you, than I did in your state of proud independence, when you disdained every part but that of the giver and protector.'
'Reader, I married him.'