Hide the Crazy Woman Essay

4154 Words Nov 1st, 2012 17 Pages
Hide the Crazy Woman - The Figure of Bertha in Jane Eyre

Introduction Over the time various famous and not so famous literary personalities have suffered from mental breakdowns. Very often writers themselves have written through their own “madness” and produced mad characters as a result. This is particularly true of many of the leading figures in Modernism, who all seem to have had some odd character traits. But even before Modernism the madman/woman was a very popular figure in literature. Just think of Shakespeare’s famous plays, where we encounter lunatics en masse. One of the most famous madwomen in English literature is Bertha, the locked up wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. In this paper I will look at
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Phyllis Chesler has argued in her book Women and Madness that mental health still seems to be defined by the standards of male mental health so that many so-called mental illnesses among women are only considered illnesses because they are not normally experienced by males.[5] It is hard to imagine that the inherent differences between men and women were taken more into consideration in the 19th century. Feminists have argued that madness was the individual woman’s response to the Victorian oppression of their gender, but I do not wish to venture too far into the feminist debate with this paper. Hysteria was perceived to be closely related to the uterus. Hence all women were in danger of suffering from this illness. The best prevention from it was to control the menstrual period as closely as possible, because any period irregularities might provoke hysteria. Also the most dangerous times in a woman’s life were puberty, pregnancies, menopause and especially the loss of virginity. The strong link between the female sexuality and hysteria suggests that the men were really trying to control this aspect of their wives and daughters’ lives, but since sexuality was taboo, they had to find other terms with which to discuss and thus control their women.[6] The different treatments received by these hysterical women also varied a lot; total isolation, rest cures, stays in mental institutions, clitoridectomy[7], labour

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