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Discussion: Marrying Bertha Mason and courting Jane Eyre

Originally posted 25 January 2010 on a different blog.

Edward is about 38 in the book, so that means he got married at 23, which I think explains a lot. He was still very young, and it explains why he was so quick to become besotted with Bertha Mason, even though he was never allowed to be on his own with her until they were married. He thought he was in love because she was so beautiful. It’s a heavy burden to lay on a young person, forcing him to marry someone who it turns out is known to be insane, as insanity runs in the family.

Do I think Edward was in the wrong for bringing Bertha to England? No, I think he was mistaken. To be perfectly honest, I think he should’ve dumped her back on Jamaica and gone back to England alone; however, I understand why he did it. He’s not an awful person, he has a big heart, and even though he technically can’t stand her, she is his wife, and as such, he feels obliged to take care of her. After all, they are married. Perhaps he secretly hopes she’ll get better one day and be the loving woman he thought he was going to marry back in Jamaica. He cares for her, so he can’t just abandon her. The man has a heart. This is also why he can’t put her in an asylum. Back in those days, mental health care were still stuck in the dark ages, which meant a diagnosis was never far from “being possessed by evil spirits”. He couldn’t leave his wife there, so he brought her home instead. Home, where he could have her looked after. Not much of an existance, but still, it beats being locked up in an asylum.

By this time, he was about 27, most like, having spent the first four years of their marriage with her, and now, he’s free of her (of sorts). He can’t stay at Thornfield, that’s where she is, and she is always there as a reminder, which is why can never stay more than a few days at a time. It also reminds him of his family and their betrayal (after all, it was the father in cahoots with the old Mr. Mason, Richard Mason and Rowland who arranged the union). Painful memories, even though he probably had a decent childhood.

He goes to the continent to forget. Has affairs with a number of women – how many we shall never know, but we know of at least three which he had more than very brief encounters with. They weren’t right, though, which is why he moved on. Something was missing; a soulmate who knew life isn’t just a leisurely stroll in the park, who shares his sense of passion, sense of humour, wit and intelligence, and shares his big heart. He is capable of loving someone very deeply, but they have to be worthy. Céline Varens wasn’t, for instance. Only when he returns home and comes across Jane Eyre, he discovers he’s truly home. She is not interested in him for his money, and she comes to love him for the person he is on the inside, even though she of course has no idea he’s already married.

Is it cruel the way he tries to make Jane jealous? Inviting the Ingrams and everyone else? It’s a man who has never learned the “correct” ways of wooing someone (Céline was bought, and of course, she was after his money), and besides, can he really court a poor governess? She’s so below his station that it’s just not possible. Jane and Edward have a flirtatious relationship even from the start, they play little games with each other. It’s quite fitting that he tries to make her jealous to elicit an emotional response from her. Jane doesn’t know what romantic love is, she has never felt it before in her life, she has hardly any experience of being around men. It might be a cruel way of teaching her how love works, but how would she know what love is? Did she even know she was falling for him, as in “this feeling I have, I think it’s love”? At least if she gets jealous of the attention Blanche gets from him, she’ll come to realise what her feelings mean. Yes, the wedding charade is a bit over the top, but I think he might’ve got a bit desperate by that point.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

5 thoughts on “Discussion: Marrying Bertha Mason and courting Jane Eyre

  1. I really enjoy your blogs as I’m a Jane Eyre lover too. Can’t seem to find your review of the 2006 miniseries.

  2. Very simple reason: I haven’t written it yet! (I know, shock horror!) There is also no review of the original novel. I’ve started writing both, but they’re still in draft stage. Hoping to get them done soon, though! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. I know it’s all the rage these days to find fault with Mr. R. but I like your defense of him and your rationale of his teasing/tormenting Jane with Blanche. I still am a fan of George C. Scott’s portrayal of Rochester, btw. Good post.

  4. By the time that “Jane Eyre” was written, attitudes towards mental illness were rapidly changing. It was recognised that asylums should aim to comfort and cure their paients, not imprison them, and there was growing demand for more humane treatment of the mentally ill. Keeping a sick woman in dirty clothes in a windowless room, often tied to a chair, was not an act of kindness! Rochester was wealthy and could have found an enlightened institution for Bertha – I think he hid her away because he wanted to live his life as a single man, without the burden of an ill and embarrasing wife.

  5. @JaneGS: I agree. There’s nowt wrong with him, he’s just a bit misguided. Incidentally, the only bit I really liked with GCS’s portrayal was his tenderness toward Bertha after the aborted wedding! 🙂

    @Anon: Perhaps they were when the novel was written – but let’s not forget the story is written when Jane has been married for ten years, and EFR/BM got married fifteen years prior to that. Had the attitudes really been “rapidly changing” for a whole quarter of a century?

    A good thing about JE was that it sparked a debate about divorce laws, which then brought about some well-needed reforms, as you weren’t actually allowed to divorce a mentally ill spouse at the time. If you could, then … the novel would probably have been a lot shorter! 😉

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