Antoinette Cosway is a remarkable character in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. She doesn’t have a lot of time in the book Jane Eyre, but the role she plays is super important–it’s actually why Jean Rhys decided to give her a little bit of backstory. She played such a great role but no one knew how she got there or who she even was. It ended up that Bertha was not even Bertha to begin with! Though she is physically the same person, she is depicted significantly differently in each of these novels. In the below images you can see the drastic differences not only in physical looks, but character as well. There are changes in her skin tone, cleanliness, habits, personality, and more. It is hard to believe they are even the same person, but then again, they arguably are not. Some say they are different based on the change of names along with the change in her mental status. She is completely separated from her past self. It is probable that after being locked in an attic and told she is clinically insane that she started to morph into an actual psychotic state. This unfortunately seems like it happened a lot during the time period when this was written in the mid 1800’s.
The first image is from the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. In this novel, Antoinette’s name is actually butchered into Bertha Mason, which she does not like for obvious reasons. She has no sense of identity anymore because she’s been locked up in an attic with no connection to the outside world. She is depicted as crazy, weird, and a helpless wreck, but there is no clue as to how she got there. She’s just simply there. She doesn’t have a huge part in the book, but she arguably has the most important one. In this book we understand that what Rochester does is wrong, but we can also somewhat thank him for saving “Bertha” and keeping her safe and cared for in his own twisted way. I believe this is because we don’t know anything about her past like we do with Rochester. We don’t get to know Bertha and we do get to know Jane Eyre and Rochester, so we are way more apt to trust them as characters. In this novel, all Bertha Mason is, is a crazy “madwoman” in an attic. Here is another depiction of a madwoman from an artist that has his work in a museum.
The second image is from the novel Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. In this novel, we get to see the events that led Antoinette up to being considered the madwoman in the attic. We see the life she had before her demise that was shown in Jane Eyre. She was a beautiful person with a great heart. She sought love in a place that wasn’t so lovely to her and her family. You can see the youthfulness in her eyes and the radiance of her skin glowing. She was kind, exuberant, and had a whole lot of personality. That was, until she met Rochester and that slowly seemed to fade away over the course of the novel. We see how he drained her energy and treated her so poorly that she ended up believing the twisted lies and ideas that Rochester was putting into her mind. He basically made her turn into the first image. It is crazy to think that this was actually common back in that time period. It reminds me of The Yellow Wallpaper and a little bit of Rebecca.