n "Victorians and Their Attitudes Towards Health" Laurelyn Douglas '91 argues that health obsessed the Victorians even more than religion, politics, and Darwinism. During the nineteenth century, the belief in an interdependent mind-body connection gained strength, and many people saw physical and mental health as being interrelated rather than separate entities. The Victorians belived that the fit body represented superior physical and mental health.
These attitudes explain why Jane Eyre presents both Bertha's insanity and the way she burders Rochester in physical terms. In fact, he must struggle to overpower his wife physically.
The three gentlemen retreated simultaneously. Mr. Rochester flung me behind him: the lunatic sprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek: they struggled. She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the contest--more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was. He could have settled her with a well-planted blow; but he would not strike: he would only wrestle. At last he mdstered her arms; Grace Poole gave him a cord, and he pinioned them behind her: with more rope, which was at hand, he bound her to a chair. The operation was performed amidst the fiercest yells and the most convulsive plunges. Mr. Rochester then turned to the spectators: he looked at them with a smile both acrid and desolate.
"'That is my wife,' said he. 'Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know--such are the endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have' (laying his hand on my shoulder): 'this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mcuth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon. I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout. Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder‹this face with that mask — this form with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the gospel and man of the law, and remember, with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged! Off with you now. I must shut up my prize.'" (Chapter 26, pp. 258-9, Norton Critical Edition)
Since Victorians believed that the mind and body intertwine, Bertha's insanity accompanies unsavory physical features. Rochester describes her as having "red balls" for eyes, a "mask" instead of a face, and "bulk" instead of an attractive form like Jane. This language alone makes Bertha seem a grotesque monster. Rochester emphasized this point even more, in that contrasting the physical features of the "fierce ragout" with those of Jane. Jane has "clear eyes," a "face," and a "form." The reader already knows what intelligence and integrity Jane possesses, so her healthy physical features match her mental well-being. In contrast, Bertha's grotesque features, oversized physique, and unnatural animal-like strength show that her poor mental condition corresponds with physical abnormality.
Furthermore, Rochester's agonizing burden of having Bertha is depicted in this scene as a literal, physical struggle, and the other people in the room are called 'spectators," thus rounding out the imagery of this scene as a difficult sporting match. His fight to sedate Bertha is described point-by-point in the manner of one who reports on a boxing or wrestling match. Brontë herself refers to the struggle as a "contest," and, when Rochester prevails, his words are, "I must shut up my prize." A prize should be a trophy at the end of a contest, but Rochester uses the word with sad irony. The prize he should have won after displaying athletic prowess turns out to be the mental burden of being tied to Bertha
Last modified 25 November 2004