Bertha Mason's Madness in a Contemporary Context

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 ‘Certainly, Rochester's account of the Caribbean as "hell" corroborates this idea; his association of the tropics' infernal atmosphere ("air [...] like sulfur-steams") with his spouse's demonic "shriek[ing]" conflates the "madness" of the climate with the madness of Bertha.’ (Willis, Sarah. "Negotiating with the Dead." Literature/Film Quarterly) In the BBC’s 2006 adaptation of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, how is Bertha portrayed and what purpose does she serve?

Many works contain characters who, while not main characters by any standards, play pivotal roles and function as anything from sources of comedic relief to ties that link up loose ends or gaps in a plot. Willis claims that in Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Bertha fills this role, acting as an extreme version of the madness of the situation, concentrating the intensity into a more visible spectacle for the viewer. In my analysis I will aim to discuss the mirror effect that Bertha possesses, acting as a human outlet for many of the emotions felt at Thornfield Hall. Also I will discuss why Bertha is in fact in this state, is it as a result of racist views towards Creole people from whom she has allegedly inherited her insanity or from the ongoing repression and lack of stature possessed by women in that time. I will take in to consideration the development of the story from its original text form to the 2006 BBC edition, a story which has fascinated the public, with seventeen film adaptations to its name it truly stands out as one of the most popular period dramas. Susanna White when taking the task of directing stated “We are deliberately making a very passionate version of the story, as opposed to those Jane Austen Novels which are very much of society and of manners”. From this brief encounter we see that White wishes to create a fresh take on the story, by showing the emotions and complex relationships between the characters rather than completely relying on the strict class system for a plot. However, with this type of period drama, as with the aforementioned Jane Austen classics, it would be impossible to recreate the story without including the idea of society and manners to some extent. While White may wish to veer away from the common portrayal of the story it would be impossible for her to ignore the background society in which these emotional characters are based. Bertha is a pivotal character in this respect, the idea of society may not be in the foreground in White’s adaptation, just as Bertha remains cloaked from plain view, yet remains an integral cog in the plot.

As an audience we are first made aware of a supposedly malevolent presence in the house when Jane finds her wedding veil torn upon awaking. Naturally distressed by the occurrence she reports it to Rochester who quickly dismisses it to nerves or pre-wedding jitters. Her response that she has never been happier acts as a reassurance to the reader and viewer that she is a reliable character and begins our questioning of what else lurks in the household. In addition to it awakening the audience to this presence it also creates an awareness in Jane who too begins to suspect that not everything is right. While her scepticism at Rochester’s true feelings for her have been laid to rest she now possesses a new worry, what has happened in the past that she has yet to learn of.

The dream sequence prior to the discovery of the state of her veil is an interesting addition on the part of the director. In these mere few seconds she manages to reveal all of Jane’s fears clearly. With such a drastic change to her life as her engagement, there were bound to be repercussions, and this simple few shots of her dream introduce us to these fears. A large menacing gate placed between her, Thornfield Hall and Rochester shows us her ongoing scepticism of the strength of the relationship. The main reason for this is likely to be the reinforced class system and values of the times which are instilled upon her, refusing to allow...
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