Jean Rhys’s haunting and hallucinatory prose poem of a novel, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), boldly tells the story— authentic, intimate, and unsparing, because first-person confession—of Mrs. Bertha Rochester, the doomed madwoman of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Yet Rhys’s novel is more than a remarkably inspired tour de force, a modernist revision of a great Victorian classic: it is an attempt to evoke, by means of a highly compressed and elliptical poetic language, the authentic experience of madness—more precisely, of being driven into madness; and it is a brilliantly sustained anti-romance, a reverse mirror image of Jane Eyre’s and Rochester’s England. Rhys’s sympathy is fully with the innocent Creole heiress who is married off to the visiting Englishman, Rochester, and trapped in a loveless (but not, it seems, atypical) marriage: born Antoinette, she is rebaptized Bertha by her husband, and brought back to England, to Thornfield, to be kept in captivity like a wild animal. When Jane Eyre is surprised by the “Vampyre” in chapter 25 of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Bertha has become a savage, “fearful and ghastly,” and possessed of a “discolored” and “lurid” visage; glimpsed more closely, she is not a human figure at all, but bestial, repellent. (“It grovelled, seemingly on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing; and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.”) Yet the first Mrs. Rochester, in Rhys’s novel, is despised by her Englishman husband precisely because she is beautiful, and because, in the frank sensuousness of her beauty, she is aligned with the “magic” of the West Indies which he finds treacherous. One way of life, one vision, makes war upon its opposite; for all of the West Indies is dismissed by Rochester as dreamlike and unreal, just as, by extension, all of the non-(or anti-) English world must be dismissed by the English, before it can be conquered and exploited. (Rhys’s novel is set in the 1830’s and 1840’s.)
Near the fragmentary conclusion of Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette-Bertha at last catches a glimpse of the girl who will succeed her as Rochester’s wife: Jane Eyre is a “ghost” with streaming hair. (“She was surrounded by a gilt frame,” Antoinette says mysteriously, “but I knew her.”) Inhabiting contrary worlds, one woman is a savage to the other; the other, a ghost. Rochester, that most masculine and romantic of heroes, might link them. But of course the Rochester of Brontë’s novel differs radically from the Rochester of Rhys’s. Even more radically, the prose styles of the two novels differ, giving voice, or voices, to the extraordinary distance between the Victorian sensibility and that of the 20th century. A novel is a phenomenon of language, and much that we imagine we see and feel and believe about a fictional world is really a consequence of what we hear; what is communicated to us by way of prose rhythms and the artful structure of sentences, paragraphs, chapters. Meaning is carried, if not precisely embodied, by a novel’s voice: how is the story being narrated is as significant a question as who is narrating it or what it says.
One of the most remarkable elements of Jane Eyre is simply Jane’s voice. As the romantically complicated plot evolves the reader is allowed to understand that the story is actually history; Jane Eyre, wife and mother, in 1819, is recounting the events of 1799—1809 in assured, masterful, distanced prose that may brilliantly depict scenes of despair, passion, and intense physical appetite but never lapses from its authoritative tone. From her authorial vantage point the second Mrs. Rochester is capable of prodigious feats of summary (“Hitherto I have recorded in detail the events of my insignificant existence: to the first ten years of my life, I have given almost as many chapters. But this is not to be a regular autobiography: I am only bound to evoke memory where I know her responses will possess some degree of interest; therefore I will pass a space of eight years almost in silence. . . .”); she assesses herself without self-pity or sentimental illusion, as plain, Quaker-like, yet touchingly hopeful that some “fairer era of life was beginning” at Thornfield (“Externals have a great effect upon the young. . . . My faculties, roused by the change of scene, the new field offered to hope, seemed all astir. . . . It was not my habit to be disregardful of appearance, or careless of the impression I made: on the contrary, I ever wished to look as well as I could, and to please as much as my want of beauty would permit. I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked. . . .”) The technique is perfectly suited to Brontë’s intention, for her heroine has triumphed by the novel’s end, having resisted the temptation of outlaw romantic love (with the yet-married Rochester) and the rather more subtle temptation of a passionless “Christian” life of devotion (with the ascetic St. John Rivers). At the time of the novel’s narration the plain Quakerish governess has become wed at last, properly wed, to the man she loves. Mystery is resolved or dissolves into something approaching ordinary human happiness. As Robert Graves said of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, so it might well be said of Brontë’s inimitable Jane—she is the heroine of her race.
Much of the power of Jane Eyre derives from a dialectic strategy, which the author unobtrusively pursues on several structural levels. For instance, in the largest, most spacious sense the novel is about character stimulated into growth— remarkable growth—by place: Jane Eyre, orphaned and presumably defenseless, and a mere girl, discovers the strength of her personality by the challenges of several contrasting environments—the Reed household, where she is despised; Lowood School, where she discovers a model in Miss Temple; Thornfield, where she cultivates, with agreeable naturalness, a measure of sexual power; Whitcross, where, at last, she acquires the semblance of a family; and Ferndean, Rochester’s retreat, a manor-house of “considerable antiquity. . .deep buried in a wood,” where she is at last wed. Just as these places differ greatly from one another, so Jane differs greatly in them, though the dramatic “expansion of soul” she experiences in the Reed household has affected a permanent change in her. Brontë’s sense of human personality is that it is pliant, fluid, and living, in immediate (and often powerful) response to its surroundings; not that it is stable and determined, as if sculpted in marble. And it is the case too that Jane Eyre is a heroine in a “heroic” mold, as susceptible as any man to restlessness and ennui when opposition fails to provide a cause for struggle. (Grown bored at Thornfield, for instance, before the arrival of the master, Jane longs for a power of vision that might overpass the limits of her sequestered life, peaceful and pleasant as it is. Very like the unnamed governess in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Jane walks agitatedly about, alone, “safe in the silence and solitude,” and eager for adventure: which is to say, romance. Women are supposed to be calm, generally, Jane says, but women feel precisely as men do, requiring exercise for their faculties, and suffering from stagnation. On the third floor of Thornfield she paces about, not unlike Bertha in her backward-and-forward movements, allowing “my mind’s eye to dwell upon whatever bright visions rose before it—and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended—a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.” Jane is Charlotte Brontë speaking of the mesmerizing experience of writing Jane Eyre.
It is interesting to note that Brontë characteristically introduces a situation meant to provoke conventional associations on the part of the reader (to whom Jane is relating her history), and then, within a paragraph or two, deftly qualifies or refutes it. The narrative’s dialectic, then, constitutes a plot-motion of its own, quite apart from Jane’s activities. A thesis of sorts is presented, but, if we should respond to it, the narrator will set us right: for she is always in control of her narrative. What seems to be rarely is; even when Rochester disguises himself as a fortune-telling gypsy, in one of the novel’s more improbable sequences, Jane alone suspects “something of masquerade.”
For instance, Jane’s story begins with a blunt statement: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” The shrubbery is leafless; the winter sky overcast; the rain penetrating; Eliza, John, and Georgiana, and the despised orphan Jane, are cooped up together in the house. But, should the reader automatically respond to this atmosphere of privation, Jane immediately says: “I was glad of it: I never liked long walks.” Excluded from Christmas celebrations in the Reed household, Jane describes the festivities and exchanges of gifts she missed; then says: “To speak the truth, I had not the least wish to go into company.” Given what is known of Charlotte Brontë’s grief at the deaths of her older sisters at school, when she was a very small child, the dialectic of chapter 9 is all the more dramatic: for here the typhus epidemic at Lowood Orphan Asylum is set against an unusually idyllic spring, and while disease, death, gloom, hospital smells, and the “effulvia of mortality” predominate, Jane, untouched by the disease, is frank about her enjoyment of the situation. Forty-five out of 80 girls are affected; some go home to die, and some die at school, like Helen Burns, and are buried “quietly and quickly”; but the ten-year-old Jane, clearly no child-heroine in a novel by George Eliot or Charles Dickens, is capable of responding to the bright May sunshine and the “majestic life” that is being restored to nature. She delights in her newfound freedom to ramble in the wood, and to eat as much as she likes, perhaps for the first time in her life: with very little Victorian sentiment, but with a refreshing air of truthfulness, Jane notes that her breakfast-basin is better filled because the sick lack appetite. Even the death of Helen Burns is sparely treated; and Jane’s close questioning of Helen’s religious convictions does not appear resolved. (“Again I questioned; but this time only in thought. “Where is [Heaven]? Does it exist?”)
Jane Eyre is remarkable for its forthright declaration of its heroine’s various passions and appetites. Unlike Lucy Snowe of Villette, whom she superficially resembles, Jane Eyre does not need to cultivate a “healthy hunger”: she is ravenous with appetite at Lowood, and, when she flees Thornfield, in the brilliantly sustained nightmare of chapter 28, she is in danger of literally starving to death. In the latter scene, Jane responds at first like any romantic heroine, imagining a Wordsworthian sort of solace in the moorland: “Not a tie holds me to human society at this moment—not a charm or hope calls me where my fellow-creatures are—none that saw me would have a kind thought or good wish for me. I have no relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose.” Outcast that she is from human society, Jane knows herself loved by nature, to which she clings with an ingenuous “filial fondness”: “Tonight, at least, I would be her guest—as I was her child: my mother would lodge me without money and without price. I had one more morsel of bread. . . . My hunger, sharp before, was, if not satisfied, appeased by this hermit’s meal.” As her reverie continues Jane speculates about God, a He set beside nature’s She: “We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us: and it is in the unclouded night sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude. . . .”
Next morning, however, Jane wakes to extreme hunger and begins to suffer the humiliation, mounting very nearly to physical terror, of near-starvation. Charlotte Brontë renders this painful interlude with such convincing authority that one cannot doubt she wrote from firsthand experience, as her earliest biographer Mrs. Gaskell suggests; few scenes in English literature are so harrowing as those in which Jane overcomes her pride to beg for food, and is given a crust of bread, or food meant for hogs, or is rebuffed altogether. (“I blamed none of those who repulsed me. I felt it was what was to be expected. . . .”) Hunger has become real to Jane in a way that the comforting platitudes surrounding “Nature” and “God” are not. (One is reminded of the “thin, haggard, and hollow-eyed” Lucy Snowe, that past mistress of deprivation, who, confronted with a Renoir-like portrait of a voluptuous female—ostensibly Cleopatra—responds with the spiteful bitterness of any involuntary ascetic. Brontë is so incensed by this “enormous piece of claptrap” that, for some paragraphs, the often-soporific prose of Villette is enlivened by genuine passion: “I calculated that this lady. . .would infallibly turn from fourteen to sixteen stone. She was, indeed, extremely well fed: very much butcher’s meat—to say nothing of bread, vegetables, and liquids—must she have consumed to attain that breadth and height, that wealth of muscle, that affluence of flesh. . . . She had no business to lounge away the noon on a sofa. She ought likewise to have worn decent garments; a gown covering her properly. . . .”)
No aura of mystery or exoticism accrues to Rochester’s visitor from the West Indies, Richard Mason: in Jane’s eyes he is sallow and unmanly, with something in his face that fails to please—”His features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life.” When, later, Jane is brought into Bertha Mason’s presence, and mockingly introduced to Rochester’s wife, she naturally feels no kinship—in truth, very little human sympathy—for the woman who has become a beast, beside whom she appears to distinct advantage. Though she charges Rochester with cruelty in so despising his mad wife, claiming that the woman cannot help being mad, she cannot identify with her in any way; and she readily forgives Rochester his curious and ungentlemanly behavior regarding both the legitimate Mrs. Rochester and herself— whom he had hoped to marry dishonestly. (It is even the case, as Rochester suggests, that Bertha Mason deserves her fate, for, from the very first, her nature was wholly alien to his, and her tastes obnoxious: “her character ripened and developed with frightful rapidity; her vices sprang up fast and rank. . .; her excesses had prematurely developed the germs of insanity”—which is to say, Bertha Mason is suffering from the tertiary stage of syphilis.) But the legitimate Mrs. Rochester, along with Thornfield Hall itself, will soon be destroyed in a refining fire.
The tensions of an interior dialectic necessarily resolve themselves as Jane Eyre moves to its conclusion. It is sometimes said that the Whitcross section, of nearly 100 pages, is an unfortunate digression in the novel’s plot; but the carefully rendered sequence is required for symmetry’s sake. Brontë’s strategy is to balance one kind of temptation with its reverse (if Rochester is all romantic passion, urging her to succumb to emotional excess, St. John Rivers is all Christian ambition, urging her to succumb to a spiritual asceticism of which she is incapable); and the miraculously realized “family” of Diana, Mary, and Rivers himself is a benign adumbration of the novel’s original household, in which Jane was despised by Eliza, Georgiana, and the loathsome John Reed. Rochester, following the novel’s interior pattern, must be altered in some respect, but it is erroneous to read his blinding as a species of “castration”—as that perennial cliche of Brontë criticism would have it. Not only is the blind and crippled Rochester no less masculine than before, but, more significantly, it was never the case that the virginal Jane shrank from either her master’s passion or her own: the issue was not Jane’s alleged timidity in the face of Rochester’s manly desire, but her shrewd understanding that, should she become his mistress, she would inevitably lose his respect— for Brontë’s sensibility is unfailingly realistic here. (In this Jane is no hypocrite: she is simply an intelligent young woman of her era who has learned well from Rochester’s own testimony. And who can doubt that, given the terms of Victorian prejudice, and the double standard which Jane herself never questions, she is absolutely correct in refusing to “yield” to her impassioned lover as she does? Romantic and idealistic as Jane so frequently is, she is at bottom the most pragmatic and reliable of persons.)
“Reader, I married him,” Jane announces in the novel’s last chapter: the tacit message being that “I” married “him“—not that “he” married “me” or even that “we were married.” Jane Eyre is herself still, autonomous and self-defined; but even this concluding chapter ends with a curious aside to St. John Rivers, away in India “laboring for his race” and anticipating his “incorruptible crown.” In fact it is St. John’s grim, exultant language that closes the story: ” “Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!”“
Wide Sargasso Sea, written more than a century later, defines itself immediately as a novel less of character than of destiny. Its subject is really a mysterious region of the soul into which persons and historical events and objects drift and are lost in stasis: a “Sargasso Sea” of the interior life, impressionistic for all the authority of its detail, its shimmering linguistic beauty overlaid by an air of irrevocable doom. Rhys’s novel, though primarily narrated by its heroine, could not have been titled Antoinette Cosway (paralleling Jane Eyre) because Antoinette is no more in control of her dreamlike narrative than she is in control of her life. Things happen to her: if she acts it will be impulsively and unwisely, like the beautiful gigantic moths that fly into candle flames and die. Unlike Jane Eyre, who both knows her personal history and what she should think about it, Antoinette barely “knows” her story at all. Her passive, unjudging, highly emotional nature registers events but cannot summarize them for us, so that, as readers, we are meant to feel both fascination and impatience. Like the visiting Englishman Rochester, we may equate the childlike Antoinette with her West Indian landscape, which must harbor meaning, for all its lushness: for are we not fated to insist upon an interior, spiritual meaning in all human encounters? Rochester, newly recovered from his fever, thinks:
It was a beautiful place—wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I’d find myself thinking, “What I see is nothing—I want what it hides—that is not nothing.”
Jean Rhys, born in the Windward Islands, where she lived until the age of 16, could not have failed to read Brontë’s famous romance from a distinctly alien and skeptical perspective. Why did Rochester marry a Creole heiress and bring her back to England? What might have been the circumstances of their meeting? Could it really have been true, even in fictional terms, that he had never loved her? When Antoinette tells Rochester on the day before their wedding that she is frightened of the future, because “You don’t know anything about me,” she is a West Indian speaking to an Englishman; and though Rochester immediately protests, of course she is correct. (Rochester’s unacknowledged motive for marrying is mercenary.) Each views the other as a sort of looking-glass figure, inhabiting an inaccessible world. To Antoinette the very idea of London is dreamlike; to Rochester, the islands for all their beauty are “quite unreal and like a dream.” Antoinette’s fragmentary tales, told to Rochester, have only the effect of arousing anxiety in him. “Well, what happens?” he asks characteristically. And then again: “Is that the story?” But Antoinette’s impressionistic recollections are offered as aspects of her inchoate childhood, memories of events she herself has imperfectly understood. “Do you think. . .that I have slept too long in the moonlight?” she asks her bridegroom.
Wide Sargasso Sea is the fifth of Jean Rhys’s novels, and Antoinette Cosway shares a number of characteristics with earlier Jean Rhys heroines, but in this novel the protagonist, for all her isolation, is emblematic of an entire way of life. If she is passive and easily victimized, this has been true of other members of the decayed Creole “aristocracy,” including Antoinette’s own mother; if she suffers from a kind of sporadic amnesia, this too is typical of her people. Since the freeing of the slaves in the Islands, the white landowners have lived in a state of undeclared war, forced to employ former slaves as servants and utterly helpless without them. In this sickly and dreamlike atmosphere in which an old ruling class is no longer really ruling, a tremendous expenditure of psychic energy goes into denying what is selfevident: that the white families are in danger of being murdered at any time. Paranoia, that most terrifying of mental derangements, may be the most intelligent response to life at the Coulibri Estate, since its opposite, a hysterical form of denial, will be suicidal. (“They are children,” Antoinette’s deluded stepfather says, “they wouldn’t hurt a fly.” “Unhappily children do hurt flies,” says Aunt Cora.)
Just as Charlotte Brontë’s authorial voice in Jane Eyre informs us of the assumptions about reality and our capacity for absorbing it in which educated readers of the early of mid-19th century believed, so does Jean Rhys’s oblique, elliptical, rather uninflected voice tell us a great deal about 20th-century expectations. If the atmosphere of Rochester’s Thornfield is blighted in some mysterious way, what other approach for Jane Eyre than to confront the mystery, to puzzle over it, to pursue it?—the tacit assumption being that mystery will be satisfactorily resolved. (It is significant that, soon after her arrival at Thornfield, the impetuous young governess climbs into the attic of the manor house, that she might survey the grounds “laid out like a map.”) In Antoinette’s similarly blighted atmosphere no direct assault is possible, since the gravity of the political situation is resolutely denied, and a child of Antoinette’s nervous sensitivity cannot fail to respond to nuances of meaning and vaguely glimpsed horrors her elders seem incapable of observing. Even after the worst has happened—the estate burned, the idiot child Pierre killed, Mrs. Mason hopelessly insane—Antoinette must continue to live in her poisoned atmosphere as if it were not poisoned: as if it were, simply, the world.
In so ominous and undefined a setting, fear naturally blossoms at any time, provoked by any stimuli. And Rhys’s finely honed language communicates both the logic of this fear and its ubiquitousness. No causal relationships between “events” and “results” can be named, for one day a horse is living, the next day he is dead, said to be poisoned. But perhaps (so the child Antoinette reasons) if she tells no one about it, it might not be true. Where in Jane Eyre’s imagination all things of significance are related to one another in a universe in which God means well, in Antoinette’s experience nothing is predictably related and emotions like terror may spring suddenly from the most innocent of sources.
Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible—the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. . . . Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched. One was snaky looking, another like an octopus with long thin brown tentacles bare of leaves hanging from a twisted root. Twice a year the octopus orchid flowered—then not an inch of tentacle showed. It was a bell-shaped mass of white, mauve, deep purples, wonderful to see. The scent was very sweet and strong. I never went near it.
In recitation this logic may appear mad, like that expounded by a character in one of Lewis Carroll’s dream landscapes; but at the Coulibri Estate it is perfectly reasonable. And no less reasonable is Antoinette’s childish terror at an imagined image:
. . . One day when I was waiting [in Christophine’s room] I was suddenly very much afraid. The door was open to the sunlight, someone was whistling near the stables, but I was afraid. I was certain that hidden in the room (behind the old black press?) there was a dead man’s dried hand, white chicken feathers, a cock with its throat cut, dying slowly, slowly. Drop by drop the blood was falling into a red basin and I imagined I could hear it. No one had ever spoken to me about obeah—but I knew what I would find if I dared to look. Then Christophine came in smiling and pleased to see me. Nothing alarming ever happened and I forgot, or told myself I had forgotten.
(As for the practice of obeah, or voodoo as it is called in Haiti—what can any white observer learn about it? Years later, married to Antoinette, Rochester reads about native superstitions in a book called The Glittering Coronet of Isles—”A zombi is a dead person who seems to be alive or a living person who is dead”—but when he questions one of the natives he is told not to believe in such foolishness. And it is not clear whether obeah is black magic—or merely the cunning use of vegetable poisons.)
Imagined more as a prose poem than a novel of conventional technique, Wide Sargasso Sea so perfectly mirrors its heroine’s fragmentary vision that a sensation of genuine malaise is communicated to the reader. Paragraphs follow one another without evident connection; dialogue begins and breaks off; conversations are overheard by the narrator but granted no emotional consequence. In terror of knowing too much Antoinette knows too little—and what she refuses to know will result, in part, in her disastrous marriage. (“. . . I remember that after my mother’s funeral, very early in the morning. . .we went home to drink chocolate and eat cakes. She died last year, no one told me how, and I didn’t ask.”) Only once does she surprise us by coolly defining herself—
Antoinette Mason, nee Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839 //querry?chk the entity & para close —but she does so only because she is sewing in the schoolroom, while Mother St. Justine reads barbaric tales to the girls from The Lives of the Saints. (The convent school has its own saint, Innocenzia, a 14-year-old girl now dried to a skeleton, and hidden beneath the chapel altar.)
Antoinette is incapable of seeing and assessing herself, though the reader infers, from Rochester’s reluctant desire for her, that she is an uncommonly beautiful young woman. But his response to her beauty fills him with self-loathing: she is a part of his fever dream, his sickness, his acquiescence to the least noble aspects of himself. Indeed, in Rochester’s English eyes, there is even something repulsive about Antoinette’s very beauty. “. . . Her eyes. . .are too large and can be disconcerting. She never blinks at all it seems to me. Long, sad, dark alien eyes. Creole of pure English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either,” Rochester thinks shortly after their wedding. And her Island fatalism challenges his superficial Christian piety: for when he blandly says that he believes in God, Antoinette replies that it doesn’t matter what they believe because they can do nothing about it—they are helpless as moths flying into candle flames, swept dead off the table.
After Rochester is given a poisonous “love potion” by the desperate Antoinette, the ambivalent passion he feels for her turns irrevocably to hatred. He in turn practices a sinister sort of magic upon her by renaming her Bertha and refusing to acknowledge her love for him. And though their marriage is over, he will not relinquish her: “She’s mad but mine, mine. What will I care for gods or devils or for Fate itself,” he thinks.
I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever color, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.
Once Antoinette-Bertha is brought to England, to Thornfield, and placed under Grace Poole’s care, she descends rapidly into madness. Her new world is totally unreal to her, a cardboard house in which nothing of consequence can happen. Time speeds up; times are rapidly jumbled; in a brilliant hallucinatory sequence Antoinette sees into the near future in which she will set a fire and destroy Thornfield— and herself.
I dropped the candle I was carrying and it caught the end of a tablecloth and I saw flames shoot up. As I ran or perhaps floated or flew I called help me Christophine and looking behind me I saw that I had been helped. There was a wall of fire protecting me but it was too hot, it scorched me and I went away from it. . . . I ran up the last flight of stairs and along the passage. I passed the room where they brought me yesterday or the day before yesterday, I don’t remember. Perhaps it was quite long ago for I seemed to know the house quite well. I knew how to get away from the heat and the shouting. . . . When I was out on the battlements it was cool and I could hardly hear them. I sat there quietly. I don’t know how long I sat. Then I turned round and saw the sky. It was red and all my life was in it. . . .
But Bertha Rochester’s pathetic death will make Jane Eyre’s life possible—if one follows the logic of fictional legend.