Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber
Read an online version here.
I. Jane’s Imprisonment
Bildugroman – Austen seems well aware of the female realitives around her: confinement, orphanhood, starvation, rage, even madness.
The most important confrontation is not with Rochester but with Rochester’s mad wife Bertha – not with her own sexualtity but with her own imprionsed “hunger, rebellion and rage.”
A. The Red Room
As we talked about yesterday, the Red Room is a particularly disturbing gothic space. It’s not just dark and spooky, it’s lurid with all that red. It’s Mr. Reed’s death chamber.
Seeing a ghostly, wandering light, as of the moon on the ceiling, she noticed that “my heat beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down” (17).
Red Room as paradigm for the novel:
- Jane’s anomalous, orphaned position in society
- her enclosure in stultifying roles and houses
- her attempts to escape through flight, starvation, and madness
- position in the narrative
- recollection of the experience at crucial moments through the book
The third story of Thornfield.
“I followed still, up a very narrow staircase to the attics, and thence by a ladder and through a trap-door to the roof of the hall. I was now on a level with the crow-colony, and could see into their nests. . . two rows of small balck doors, all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebear’s castle” (107)
- Jane first hears the “distinct formal mirthless laugh” of mad Bertha here.
- A focal point for where Jane thinks about things and in which her rational thoughts intersect with her irrational side (“hunger, rebellion and rage”).
“Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story….” (109)
“When thus alone, I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole’s laugh” (110)
Logical ideas vs. restless movement
C. The Marriage (first time around)
Although the betrothal might seem a good thing for Jane – an escape at last from a world that was against her precisely because she is young, female, poor and alone—there are indications that the marriage will only be one more haunted and imprisoning domestic space.
1. Rochester, having secured Jane’s love, begins to use interesting language with her:
“mustard seed” (258)
his “little sunny-faced . . . girl-bride”
“I mean shortly to claim you—your thoughts, conversations, and company—for life” (266)
“It is your time now, little tyrant, but it will be mine presently: and when once I have fairly seized you, to have and to hold, I’ll just—figuratively speaking—attach you to a chain like this” (270)
2. The master’s inferiority rather than his superiority. Rochester, Jane learns, after the aborted wedding ceremony, had married Bertha Mason for status, for sex, for money, for everything but love and equality.
“Oh, I have no respect for myself when I think of that act! He confesses. “An agony of inward contempt masters me. I never loved, I never esteemed, I did not even known her” (305).
Jane: I would scorn such a union [as the loveless one he hints he will enter into with Blanche]: therefore I am better than you” (253).
Jane’s whole story, her whole journey, has prepared her to be angry in this way at Rochester.
“the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradtion . . . I thought his smile was such as a sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched” (269)
So even before the secret is relieved, it is no surprise that Jane’s anger and fear about her marriage begin to surface.
III. Jane’s Splitting Self
A. Jane the child splitting off from Jane the Adult
The first sign that this is happening is the recurrent dream of a child as she begins her romance with her master.
(220-221) “It was from companionship with this baby-phantom I had been roused on that moonlight night when I heard the cry”
The next day she is literally called back to her past to see dying Mrs. Reed who reminds her who she was: “Are you Jane Eyre? . . . I declare she talked to me once like something mad, or like a fiend”
The phantom-child reappears in two dramatic dreams Jane has the night before her wedding eve, during which she experiences “a strange regretful consciousness of some barrier dividing her” from Rochester.”
B. Jane Eyre Splitting from Jane Rochester
“there was no putting off the day that advanced—the bridal day” (275).
“one Jane Rochester, a person whom as yet I knew not,” though “in yonder closet . . . garments said to be hers had already displaced [mine]: for not to me appertained that . . . that strange wraith-like apparel” (275).
C. Jane Eyre Splitting from her own body
On the morning of her wedding: she turns towards the mirror and sees “a robed and veiled figure, so unlike my usual self that it seemed almost the image of a stranger” (286) reminding us of the moment in the red-room when all had “seemed colder and darker in that visionary hollow (14).
IV. Jane’s Monstrous Self
The most frightening separation is the appearance of a mysterious specter, a sort of “vampyre” that appears in the middle of the night to rend and trample the wedding veil of that unknown person Jane Rochester.
A. Bertha seems to do what Jane has only wanted or wished she could do.
1. Jane did not like the vapoury veil – Bertha rips it up
2. Jane wants to put off the wedding day – Bertha sees to that too.
3. Jane wishes that she could be Rochester’s equal in size and strength so that she can battle him in the contest of their marriage. Bertha, “a big woman, in stature almost equaling her husband,” has the necessary “virile force” (293)
Bertha, in other words, is Jane’s darkest double: she is the angry aspect of the Jane, her ferocious secret self that Jane has been trying to get rid of ever since she left Gateshead.
Calire Rosenfeld: the novelist who consciously or unconsciously exploits psychological Doubles frequently juxtaposes two characters, the one representing the socially acceptable or conventional personality, the other externalizing the free, uninhibited, criminal self.
Every one of Bertha’s appearances or manifestations have been associated with an experience or repression of Jane’s anger.
1. Jane’s feelings of “hunger, rebellion and rage” on the battlements were accompanied by Bertha’s “low, slow, ha! ha!” and “eccentric murmurs.” (110)
2. Jane’s apparently secure response to Rochester’s sexual confidence was followed by Bertha’s attempt to incinerate the master in his bed. (143; 148)
3. Jane’s anxieties about her marriage and her fears of her own alien “robed and veiled bridal image” were objectified by the image of Bertha in a “white and straight “ dress, “whether a gown, sheet or shroud I cannot tell” (283).