The Mad wife of Rochester
“The Unfavorable Account of Creoles of the British West Indies
The novel of Jane Eyre is known as one of the greatest love stories of all time; it is the 19th century version of the Cinderella story. Though this novel is a romance story; there seems to be a deeper meaning to it. It brings out the attitudes of society of that era. One of the societal problems that seem to be address in the book is the discrimination of Creoles from the British Caribbean. According to Wikipedia the free online Encyclopedia “In the Caribbean region, the term Creole is sometimes used to describe anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, who was born and raised in the region. It is sometimes used to refer to persons of European, African, or mixed Afro-European descent such as mixed race people of Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, Jamaica and Barbados, or in contradistinction to other ethnicities such as East Indians in Trinidad and Guyana, or Mestizos & Creoles (African & European Decent) in Belize. It also refers to the syncretism of the various cultures (African, French, British, Spanish and Portuguese among others) which influenced the area. This is also referred to as the creolization of society due to its ability to suggest some of the complex sociocultural issues also involved in the process" (Manuel, p. 14). Creole, 'Kreyol' or 'Kweyol' also refers to languages in the Caribbean that are derived from a fusion of African and European languages, dialects and syntax.”
In parts of the Southern Caribbean the term "Creolean" is used to refer to a French-speaking person of Caucasian ethnicity. Especially if they are from the smaller islands belonging to Saint Vincent.” Britain in the 19th century had colonies in every corner of the world and was the world’s greatest power in the world. Many of the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh families went in to the British colonies to make the fortune and many became well established on the islands; but many of their children were shunned in Europe because they were not in the United Kingdom and sometimes African descent in their bloodline. Rochester seems to have this particular attitude of a British mainlander. At first it seems he has contempt for her Bertha because he was trapped into a loveless marriage but as we look closely we might see that he had disgust and hate for both her Creole background and the fact she was born in the West Indian Islands.
Rochester when discussing his insane wife only discuss her mother’s side of the family and stressing the fact she was Creole, which gives the impression he had disregard for the Caribbean islands and for Caribbean creoles both black and white. In chapter 26 of Jane Eyre he makes this speech to Jane about his wife “Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations? Her mother, the Creole was both a woman and a drunkard! - as I found out after I had wed the daughter” (Bronte 259). It is interesting to note Rochester’s stress on Bertha‘s mother being a Creole which is evidence of his discontent with the Creoles. It may also be assumed as mentioned earlier on that Bertha might have had black in because of a comment in Chapter 27 that Rochester made in which could be assumed as a racist remark; he says “ I found her a fine woman , in the style of Blanche Ingram: tall, dark and majestic. Her family wished to secure me because I was of a good race; and so did she” (Bronte 269). The way in which Bertha is described tall, dark and majestic seems to imply that she might have been black or a mulatoe. A very racist comment indeed. I think the author and narrator by exposing Rochester’s remark was trying to show the racist attitudes of the 19th century Europe. But it seems that the 19th century attitudes of racism were not only towards blacks and mulatoes but to whites born in the West Indies. This prejudice and racism is seen in another of Rochester speeches to Jane into why he had his wife locked up. He states “the elder one whom you have seen (and whom I cannot hate, whilst I abhor all his kindred, because he has some grains of affection in his feeble mind, shown in the continue interest he takes in his wretched sister, and also in a dog like attachment he once bore me) will probably be in the same state one day” (Bronte 270 Chapter 27). A dog like attachment to he once bore me that line shows that Rochester thought that Creoles whites were canines who would follow and were attached to their masters. That was a purely disrespectful comment and it does not cast Rochester in a good light and brings out his bigotry which apparently was the intolerance of 19th century Britain.
The description of the Caribbean weather in which Rochester describes also shows his narrow-mindness “it was a fiery West Indian night; one of the description that frequently precede the hurricanes of those climates. Being unable to sleep in bed, I got up and opened the window. The air was like sulphur streams- I could find no refreshment anywhere. Mosquitoes came buzzing in and humming sullenly round the room, the sea which I could hear from thence, rumbled dull like an earthquake- black clouds were casting up over it, the moon was setting waves, broad and red like a hot cannon ball- she threw her last bloody glance over a world quivering with the ferment tempest” ( Bronte 271) . In the last line he compared Bertha with the so called Caribbean hurricane weather; this sign of Rochester and most probably the author’s bias. I don’t think the author had ever been to the Caribbean. I think Rochester was just plain being racist and bias when speaking to Jane. He has tried to cast himself in a good light but actually he has cast himself has a racist bigot. Caribbean hurricane weather even in the 19th century is not way Rochester describes, example most times there is not even a mostiqutoe , a bird or insect in sigh unless you by the river side and the air does not smell like sulphur unless you are near a volcano or the sulphur springs.
Jane Eyre is one of my much loved novels and Charlotte Bronte one of my favorite authors but I cannot denied the small and hidden portrayals of Caribbean Creoles and the Bigotry of the main hero Rochester who is an English man born on the mainland which explores the attitudes and opinions of 19th century Europe. 19th century Britain was not only racist against blacks or people of color but of people of their own race who was not born on the mainland this is shown in the portrayal of Bertha Mason. The novel of Jane Eyre is not just a novel about romance but of racial injustice.
Bronte, Charolette. Jane Eyre. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1847.
"Creoles Peoples." Wikipedia.