Path to Insanity: A Close Look At Antoinette Mason Cosway’s Gradual Decline Into Madness
Bertha Mason, the antagonist in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the Creole woman from Jamaica, first wife of Mr. Rochester is depicted as nothing more than a mere animal in Jane Eyre. When Rochester invited his wedding party back to Thornfield after his wedding was interrupted by Richard Mason to show everyone the state his first wife was in. When everybody reached the attic the sight was a very unpleasant one:
In the deep shade, at the further end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing; and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face. (Jane Eyre 325-326). In Jane Eyre, we the readers learn about Bertha Mason from the point of view of the protagonist, Jane. So it is natural to have a bit of revulsion towards her because she is coming in between Jane and Rochester’s holy matrimony. But Jean Rhys in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, where she names Bertha Mason as Antoinette Mason, very cleverly answered all the burning questions one needs to know about why Antoinette turned out the way she did. Rochester explained to his wedding party after he introduced his wife to them that: Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; -idiots and maniacs through three generations! Her mother, the Creole, was both a mad-woman and a drunkard! -as I found out after I had wed the daughter: for they were silent on family secrets before. Bertha, like a dutiful child, copied her parent in both points. (Jane Eyre 203) It was easy for Rochester to blame it all on Antoinette, who obviously could not respond to his accusations. Time and time again, Antoinette, the most marginalised character in Jane Eyre was shown as the villain who burned down Thornfield and tried to kill Rochester. Critics before have tried to put Rochester’s accusations to the test: ‘Did Antoinette’s madness run in the family or were there other reasons for her madness?’ Elizabeth J. Donaldson in her article The Corpus of the Madwoman: Toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Embodiment and Mental Illness, wrote, “Rhy’s novel gives voice to the previously silent madwoman and depicts what some might consider the causes of her madness - a difficult childhood, a dangerous social climate, and her husband's ultimate betrayal.” My article will look deeply into these three aspects and try to give a verdict on what drove Antoinette Cosway Mason mad. I will also try to compare and contrast between the lives of Jane and Antoinette in the conclusion to get a better understanding of Antoinette’s madness. After the Emancipation Proclamation Act of 1812, after all the slaves in the Caribbean were set free, slave-owners such as Antoinette’s father were in a very difficult situation. Mr. Cosway, started to drink to get away from reality and all the misery he was in, and eventually died of it. So Antoinette lost her father when she was very young. Soon after that her handicapped younger brother Pierre got all the attention from her mother, Anette. But it was not long before Anette spiraled into depression. Antoinette recalled, “She persuaded a Spanish Town doctor to visit my younger brother Pierre”, “I don’t know what the doctor told her or what she said to him but he never came again and after that she changed. Suddenly, not gradually. She grew thin and silent, and at last she refused to leave the house at all” (Wide Sargasso Sea 4). Maybe the doctor told Anette that Pierre has a terminal disease or maybe he told her that he will never be cured. Whatever the conversation was, it devastated Anette and from that point onward young Antoinette became more distant with her mother. Antoinette was deprived of love and affection from her mother and there...
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