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Mad or Misunderstood? A Study of the Different Portrayals of Mr. Rochester's First Wife in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea


  • Hedda Törntorp

Summary, in English

Jane Eyre (1847), written by Charlotte Brontë, remains a classic, 170 years later. Mr. Rochester’s secret wife locked away in an attic, Bertha Mason, is the antagonist in the novel. However, in Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) written by Jean Rhys around a century later, the character has been rewritten as Antoinette Cosway. This essay examines how Bertha and Antoinette are written and investigates the aspects that come into play in the authors’ different portrayals. This research is combined with biographical and historical criticism. The authors’ lives and own words are discussed in relation to their works, while at the same time carefully separating biography from fiction. The essay also discusses how Wide Sargasso Sea is written as a response to the racial and colonial themes in Jane Eyre. The changing conception of mental illness from the 19th to 20th century is also considered, as are the responses of various critics. The essay will illustrate how the characterization of Bertha and Antoinette responds to the cultural contexts from which the novels arose.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Biographical Criticism. Historical Criticism. Psychology. Madness. Post- Colonialism. 19th century literature. 20th century literature. Bertha Mason. Antoinette Cosway.


  • Cecilia Wadsö-Lecaros (PhD)