Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber

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In literature a reader often discovers "strange" encounters between the main characters and others in the story. These encounters usually serve to illustrate what characters learn about themselves as a result of these encounters. In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber," each heroine must deal with specific consequences of these "strange" encounters. The characters emerge as their true selves as a direct result of these experiences.
Jane Eyre and the heroine in "The Bloody Chamber" each experience a rather strange courtship which serves as each girl's first encounter with the man in her life. Jane Eyre meets her future husband Rochester when he is injured in a fall. He turns out to be the father of the girl for whom Jane is caring. Rochester is a much older man, and at age 18 Jane is wise in the ways of the world due to her orphaned upbringing with a hateful aunt and her time spent at Lowood, a boarding school. At first Rochester is harsh and abrupt with Jane. They eventually become friends and have time to build a real relationship; they have much in common in spite of their different status in life. After their engagement, Jane dislikes the wealth that Rochester pushes on her, feeling like a dress-up doll in the clothing he provides. She remains true to her "plain looks" and smart demeanor. Yet all the while Rochester keeps a dark secret from Jane: his first wife Bertha Mason is locked in a room on the third floor of the house. Rochester's explanation centers on the fact that he was tricked into marrying her and that Bertha is mad.
The heroine in "The Bloody Chamber" experiences quite a different courtship. She too is a young girl, age seventeen, and her suitor is an older man. She, in contrast to Jane, is extremely naïve and does not know herself, having lived with her mother in a close, loving relationship, which proves most beneficial in the end. She experiences a quick Parisian courtship with his third wife "dead just three short months before I met him" (p. 10). She questions what such a wealthy, influential man would want with her, for they have little in common. When her future husband showers her with fancy clothing, she gladly wears it, for what she already owns is unsuitable for her new status.

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Yet she later wants to stay in her own clothes rather than formally dress for dinner. She does not yet clearly know herself as Jane does. Once again the reader finds a man keeping a secret from his girl: the bloody torture chamber holding three dead wives. His explanation centers on "those infrequent yet inevitable occasions when the yoke of marriage seems to weigh too heavily on my shoulders. I go there to savour the rare pleasure of imagining myself wifeless" (p. 21).
Each heroine experiences another "strange" encounter with their man that changes the direction of her life. For Jane Eyre this moment arrives on her wedding day. As the minister asks, "Wilt thou have this woman for thy wedded wife?" a distinct voice replies, "This marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment" (p 293). When asked the details of this impediment, the man says, "It simply consists in the existence of a previous marriage. Mr. Rochester has a wife now living" (p. 294). In this moment the reader sees the moral strength of Jane as she refuses to stay and be Rochester's mistress. Even though these two clearly love each other and connect on both an intellectual and an emotional level, Jane knows it cannot continue, and she sneaks from the house in the middle of the night.
In "The Bloody Chamber" the heroine faces her encounter when her husband states he must sail from France to the New World for business. He leaves her with a large set of keys with the instruction to use each to explore all the rooms in the castle except for one small chamber. As the heroine, of course, uses the key anyway and opens the chamber door, she discovers a torture chamber containing the remains of his three previous wives. She, unlike Jane, has no means of escape from the situation. She is saved only by the "mental telepathy that sent my mother running headlong from the telephone to the station . . . I never heard you cry before" she explains (p. 40). Her mother then "put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband's head" (p. 40). Now the heroine must decide which direction her life will take.
Each of these encounters is indeed strange, and the author of each story provides foreshadowing for the event. In Jane Eyre several events hint that something strange is going on in the house. Jane hears a noise in the hall and then discovers Rochester's bed curtains on fire. After a Jamaican gentleman, Richard Mason, arrives for a house party, loud yelling is heard. It turns out Mason has been stabbed and bitten. In both instances Rochester blames Grace Poole, one of his odd servants who lives on the third floor.
In "The Bloody Chamber" the author also hints at the evil nature of the husband. The body of his third wife is never found. The girl has been "invited to join this gallery of beautiful women" (p. 10). His wedding gift is "a choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat" (p. 11). She feels "a sharp premonition of dread" (p. 12) on the train ride to his castle. During her exploration of the castle, she discovers a pornographic book, and he confronts her with "a curious mixture of mockery and relish" (p. 17). The lilies he has placed in her bedroom make it "look like an embalming parlour" (p. 18). He even goes so far as to tell her, "Every man must have one secret, even if only one, from his wife" (p. 21). While not specifically hinting at the exact nature of the secret, the reader is prepared for a "strange" encounter.
Both women learn much about themselves as a result of their "strange" encounters with the men in their lives. Following her discovery of Bertha Mason, Jane Eyre has the strength to walk away from the situation. Her moral fiber will not let her become a mistress. She flees, almost penniless, from the house. After being taken in by three people, St. John Rivers and his two sisters, Jane is able to find a job as a teacher and build a life. She displays grace and strength in the face of a difficult situation. She later discovers that these three are actually her cousins. In am amazing turn, their Uncle John has died, leaving Jane a substantial inheritance. She once again remains true to her moral self and splits the money with her cousins even though they had had a falling out with their uncle. Jane also does not want to marry just to be married. St. John has asked, and Jane declines, seeing him as more of a brother. Jane also shows she remains compassionate. Curious about Rochester, she returns to the house she shared with him to find him living elsewhere, having been injured and blinded in a fire set by his now-deceased mad wife. Still in love with him, Jane marries Rochester. Jane is able to stay true to herself and her beliefs throughout the story and still marry the one she loves.
The heroin of "The Bloody Chamber" also learns about herself as a result of her relationship, her encounters, with her husband. Part of her discovery about herself is disturbing to her where, in contrast, most all of what Jane learns reinforces her positive qualities. When she wears the ruby choker, she sees herself as he must see her: "I saw how much that cruel necklace became me" (p. 11). She senses in herself "a potentiality for corruption" (p. 11). She blushes when she realizes "he might have chosen me because, in my innocence, he sensed a rare talent for corruption" (p. 20). After he has gone, she lays alone in bed: "And I longed for him. And he disgusted me" (p. 22). The heroine does have the good sense to call her mother which is fortunate since it is her mother's arrival which spares her life. Like Jane, she is now free to escape her situation. She too inherits a great deal of money from her husband's estate, and like Jane, is generous, giving most away to charity. She chooses a positive path in life. She too ends up with the one she loves, Jean-Yves, the blind boy her husband had hired as the piano tuner. She, Jean-Yves, and her mother live together, strong enough to dismiss the gossip said about them. She does continue to carry the shame of her experience in the red mark on her forehead, the key her husband so cruelly pressed upon her. She is glad Jean-Yves cannot see it. In the end, Jane and this heroine just happened to both end up wealthy women, in more ways than just financial, building a life for themselves with men they love.
Jane Eyre and the heroine of "The Bloody Chamber" end up being alike in some ways and different in others. While Jane stays true to herself throughout the story, the other girl must choose to do the right thing and not follow what she fears could be her corrupt side. Jane is able to flee her situation on her own whereas the young married girl must be rescued by her mother. Both women do show incredible strength enduring their situations. Both show their tremendous compassion toward others when they both share their wealth. Once again the girl chooses the right path in giving most of her money to charity, just as Jane has shared her wealth. Both prevail in the end, in spite of the "strange" encounters they experience with the men in their lives.
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