Charlotte Brontė, Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre has attracted much critical comment, both admiring and censorious, regarding what the author dares to reveal and what literary effects she has at her disposal. Though two levels of narrative posture deny Brontė's own authority in the work ("Jane"'s autobiography, "Currer Bell"'s implied authorship), no competent reader since 1848 has doubted that it represents Brontė's direct challenge to the expected style and content of a "woman's novel." Central to its structure is the struggle between Jane and Rochester, a battle whose first victim already always was Berthe Mason, the "madwoman in the attic."
As the studies on reserve for the course point out, the association of madness with C19-20 English and American women's writing is no accident. In the context of English 222, we can trace it further back to the medieval women mystics like Julian of Norwich, but after the rise of modern science and post-C17 models of proper female conduct, women increasingly find themselves diagnosed as "mad" for a wide range of behaviors. They also are under extremely intense pressures to conform to standards of behavior which prohibit or severely restrain freedom of expression, travel, employment, association, etc.
1) Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980. (N.Y.: Pantheon, 1985). 362.2 S559f
This study locates Jane Eyre's use of madness within current C19 English medical theory and the treatment of those diagnosed as insane. Pp. 67-9 specifically discuss Brontė's knowledge of English medical practices, and their relation to the character of Bertha Mason.
2) Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1984.)
Gilbert and Gubar focus on the ways in which Bertha Mason's madness and Jane Eyre's passionate sanity resemble each other, and speculate on the psychological significance of Rochester's blinding. The chapter on Bronte is related to a sequence of single-chapter studies that also include Milton and Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway), so they don't have time to thoroughly examine the rest of the novel's possible explorations of the relationship between Jane's temper and her creativity.
3) Barbara Hill Rigney, Madness and Sexual Politics in the Feminist Novel: Studies in Bronte, Woolf, Lessing and Atwood. Madison: U Wisconsin P, 1980.
Rigney's thesis points the way toward the line of analysis pursued by Gilbert and Gubar, but she also links it to later works by moderns, including Woolf's Dalloway, The Four-Gated City by Lessing, and Surfacing by Atwood.