Analysis of Insane Women in the Novels Jane Eyre and the Woman in White

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In the article, “’ Something Dangerous in Her Nature’: Madwomen in Jane Eyre and The Woman in White,” the author, Helen Philpott, discusses the similarities and differences in the idea of insane women and gothic style in the novels Jane Eyre and Woman in White. They were both written in the Victorian era; therefore, the author presents the idea that these women were treated improperly by introducing the use of gothic and non-gothic ideas.

Philpott argues that Collins’ novel, The Woman in White, and Brontë’s novel, “Jane Eyre,” was somewhat inveigled by the culture of the time. Hence, these two novels share common subject matters but are also very different in other ways. A typical gothic novel includes “isolated mansions, gloomy settings, burial grounds, dark towers, secret rooms, dream states or nightmares, family secrets, women in distress, madness and murder” (Philpott 1). These motifs are included in both novels.

In Jane Eyre, these gothic ideas are shown in the red room when Jane conceptualizes her uncle as a ghost, the bleak third-story rooms at Thornfield, and the suspect of ghosts in the mansion. In Collins’ novel, these concepts were different. For example, instead of exploring around as Jane did, the character, Marian Halcombe, refused to look around more after seeing the “hideous family portraits…” (Philpott 2).

Philpott touches on the differences between the two novels as well. In Jane Eyre, before revealing Bertha to the reader, Brontë uses the literary device of suspense and only reveals Bertha’s laugh at the beginning of the novel. Later in the novel, Bertha’s character unfolds and is described as a “wild animal.” In this way, we do not find out how powerless Bertha is until much later. However, in Collin’s novel, the character Anne Catherick seems to be helpless at the beginning and even more at the end, which contrasts the way Bertha was made known.

Philpott later proceeds to talk about the inhumane and outdated ways Rochester treats Bertha in Jane Eyre. Philpott states, “The Victorians believed that therapy was a better, more humane treatment for mental illness…” (4). Although Jane shamed Rochester for this, Bertha was still treated impractically. Women who were not mad or mentally ill were typically “quiet, virtuous, and industrious” (Philpott 4). This way of living was also taught to the women in asylums, and they learned to do things like sew. People wanted women to be able to be released and effectively take part in their community.

Jane expresses her opinions about the standards for women, revealing that she does not fully agree with what is considered a “madwoman.” Jane says, “…[Women] suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute stagnation” (Brontë 105). Some of these things women should refrain from include sexual desires, anger, aggression, etc. Also, feelings of sadness and strong emotions were odd to the Victorian doctors because women were not to feel that way. Women were frowned upon for things women could do, meaning Jane could be viewed as a feminist. Throughout the novel, Jane remains independent and stays strong in staying behind her values. For example, Jane starts to detach herself when Rochester makes her feel inferior and says to her, “Once I have fairly seized you” (Brontë 270).

In The Woman in White, the character Laura goes through a similar situation as Bertha in Jane Eyre. Laura’s father decided who she was to marry and planned the wedding before he died. As a woman during this period, Laura followed through with the wedding even though there was no love. Laura is described as “passive” and does not have strong opinions like Jane Eyre. Her husband was later cruel to her, and the only reason for the marriage was to fix financial issues. Bertha Mason experienced merely the same thing when her father determined she would marry Rochester. Rochester also mistreated Bertha, similar to how Laura was treated. These characters are also alike because they can be viewed as passive, and neither of them is in love.

Although Jane is more persistent and acts on her opinions, the character Marian from Woman in White also feels restrained as a woman. Marian feels like she cannot pursue anything else but to be a woman, and that is how it will always be. Marian also explains her feelings towards men when she says, “[Men] take us body and soul to themselves and fasten our helpless lives to theirs…” (ibid, p. 184). This mirrors Jane Eyre because she feels as a woman, there is only one path, and that is to work at home and keep opinions to themselves, and that males or more privileged.

In both these novels, the main characters have met someone who reminded them of themselves. In The Woman in White, Laura meets Anne Catherick for the first time. She immediately saw herself through her: pale, thin, and weary. When Jane saw Bertha in her wedding dress for the first time, it was like she was seeing herself on her wedding day. Jane also says she saw a “strange little figure” when she was in the Red Room looking in the mirror. That is the same way she saw Bertha Mason. Philpott says, “…See Bertha Mason as the suppressed alter ego of Jane Eyre (9). This being said, Jane’s alter ego, Bertha, would be her angry self, holding back her emotions as a coping mechanism.

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Analysis of Insane Women in the Novels Jane Eyre and the Woman in White. (2023, Mar 09). Retrieved February 28, 2024 , from
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