In Charlotte Bront’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, there is a character named Bertha who is described as being violently insane. The first wife of Edward Rochester, Bertha was locked in the third floor room of Thornfield Hall.
While this character is very similar to the real-life Bertha, the difference between them is significant in some ways. As a child, Jane was suspected of being mad. As a result, she was put into Lowood, a boarding school that curtailed her rebellious streak and tamed her to the Victorian ideal. Thus, while Bertha is the anti-heroine of the novel, Jane becomes the ideal Victorian woman. This diametrically opposite representation of the two women is part of a wider societal trend of good women versus bad women.
Bertha has a number of interpretations, and some critics have read the character as a symbol. Some have said that she symbolizes British imperialism, and others have interpreted her as a satirical commentary on Victorian women. After all, wives of the time are expected to stay home and remain in their homes, which makes them increasingly frantic. As a result, Bertha’s insanity may serve as a warning for Jane.
In the novel, Bertha plays the role of Jane’s polar opposite, a shadow over Thornfield Hall. She appears when Jane is in trouble. She tears her wedding veil and her confinement in the attic mirrors that of the Red Room at Gateshead.