In Defense of Antoinette Cosway Mason, the Original Mrs. Rochester

That moment when you’re walking down the aisle and then find out that your groom was not only already married the entire time you were dating, but had his wife stuffed in the attic WHILE YOU WERE LIVING IN THAT SAME HOUSE. Right? No? Exactly, no. Because no one with a bare-bones sense of humanity would actually do that. I’m sending that poor woman a fruit basket with a key hidden under the pineapple, an escape map of the Rochester grounds, and a machete in case she wants to get revenge on her way out.

Here you go, love, via Pinterest

Before I found out about the existence of Wide Sargasso Sea (which has remained on my TBR for far too long), the “woman in the attic” storyline within Jane Eyre, framed by our male lead as some kind of terrible misunderstanding where he is the victim (*sighs in fucboi recognition*), gave me the heebie-jeebies for more reasons than the ones in plain sight. Mr. Rochester does not stop at duplicity, lying, or even the eye-popping, mind-boggling cruelty of imprisoning his spouse in an attic; he is violently and arrogantly ignorant, plagued by Victorian imperial entitlement, and, in plain English, thoroughly dehumanizing his wife.

If Antoinette Cosway Mason—her name before Edward Fairfax Rochester pulled the classic colonial gargoyle move of changing a creole woman’s name into something more English—had been of fine, stout mental health when she got married, she could have understandably hit her breaking point after her marriage. Victorian British repression, the war against the mythical female hysteria, and the iron fist of colonialism with all its layers (elitism, violent racism, rampant sexism) are the true forces behind the making of “the woman in the attic”—nameless, mad, villain. So much gaslighting my head hurts.

Listen to the queen, via Huffington Post UK

Mental Health Day is coming up. So, if you find Mr. Rochester as problematic as I do, humor me for a moment, and let’s speculate: what would have happened if Mr. Rochester had not been an imperial-minded, densely patriarchal, oppressive fucboi with severe allergies to accountability? Well, we’d be talking about a whole new character. Let’s give Antoinette a better partner: what would he look like? Let’s study the facts first.

Matchmaker mode, via Gifer

As of European imperialism, mental health in people of color has developed a branch particular to being under the boot of the colonizer. Every subject of the British empire who was not born on British soil to a completely white family and raised under British customs, was subject to a viciously layered form of oppression. We’re talking about a strong cocktail of dehumanization (“your life is of no value/less value than European lives” and quite literally “you’re not actually human”), powerlessness (“you do not nor will ever make the rules here”), abuse (“your purpose in life is to be used by others”), marginalization (“don’t forget this is not your country, stay on the sidelines and take the scraps”), and invisibility (“justice, laws, and protection do not apply to you”); take a moment to truly put yourself in these shoes, and you will need no further explanation as to why I maintain that Antoinette did not need a complicated family background to have become mentally ill.

She does, however, also have a traumatic family history; as per Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Cosway Mason’s childhood includes sinking into poverty, an abusive stepfather, losing a sibling, losing a home, becoming separated from her mother, and witnessing her mother’s mental downfall due to financial and family struggles. Antoinette was also privy specifically to Englishmen taking advantage of vulnerable local women, as this was the reason why her mother acquired the English surname Mason in a second desperate marriage.
Upon marrying Rochester, Antoinette faces a blackmailer demanding money and threatening to destroy her reputation, and a cheating husband who flaunts his affairs and starts calling her Bertha? (Run, girl). Her marriage falls apart, she is an orphan, and (cherry on top) is shipped to England, where she knows no one. Enter attic arrest.

An-toi-nette, Roch. Say it with me, via Cheezburger

So, now that I have left you with some empirical context and stepped aside to drill a hole into my punching bag (which I labeled “Empires of the World”), let’s get back to the creative portion of this article: if I could have my way and put a different dude in Antoinette’s path that was loving, supportive and actually helpful, what would this person look like? Do you feel a list coming? I do.

1. Support, support, support

Antoinette has had a difficult life, and aren’t relationships supposed to be a kind of safe haven? The right person (let’s call them Human Jollywoke—Hugh, for short) would know this and maybe reassure Antoinette that she is no longer in that same turbulent place that was her childhood. She is safe now and she has a friend.

Couch cuddles, via Design You Trust

2. Thou shalt not gaslight

You don’t get to hit someone over the head with a (metaphorical) lead pipe and then complain that they’re on the ground. They’re on the ground because you hit them. Maybe if Rochester had asked Antoinette (not Bertha, DAMN IT) why she was upset, he might have realized that he was the one being a crapper.

Go into the accountability, Roch, via Matrix Harmonics

3. Awareness is sexy.

If Mr. Jollywoke was English, he would be aware of his privilege and use it for good. He would not leave Antoinette stranded in a sea of racism and nonexistent opportunities, but would help amplify her voice in their social circles, and walk by her side as a person who respects her. Mr. Jollywoke would not act like Antoinette is crazy when she points out that proper English ladies think less of her for being creole. He would listen to her, do his best to understand her, and use his influence to help empower her.

I gotchu, babe, via Pinterest

4. To diagnose or not to diagnose

Some of those who have studied Jane Eyre from a clinical perspective have come to the conclusion that Antoinette exhibits symptoms of Huntington disease. I personally don’t know if I buy it (see the aforementioned lead pipe), but I’m not above finding myself in the wrong. If she did develop Huntington disease at some point during her traumatic life, the answer was NEVER to have her husband tie her to a chair and lock her away from humanity. A clinical label is not a “certifiably crazy” stamp, but an invitation to take special care. I still hold the belief, though, that Antoinette’s only illness was being a traumatized creole woman in a consistently retraumatizing living situation.

Armor up, Antoinette, it’s a bumpy ride, via Design You Trust

5. Death already did us part because you are dead inside

It was too common a tale in colonial West Indies for European men to marry local women of white-enough appearance and upbringing, the result often being humiliation and abuse and a lot of men taking advantage of vulnerable situations. Mr. Jollywoke would be someone with no interest in silencing, taming, or stashing Antoinette away. Ideally, Hugh would have a healthy enough self-esteem to consult Antoinette on where they would live and what kind of a role she would have in their married life.

‘Cause girls just want to have fundamental human rights, via Picslyrics

In honor of Mental Health Day, please remember to do your part in crushing the systems that keep, in the words of George Orwell, some people “more equal than others.” Also, remember that red flags are real, and that they exist to keep you out of relationshits. Isolating and controlling someone’s access to the world are some of the early signs of an abusive relationship, so please please please call a friend or a domestic violence hotline if you fear for your life. Never forget you are the full weight of an Antoinette; it is no one’s right to make you a Bertha.


featured image via Khambay’s Words, Words, Words
Jane Eyre

10 Jane Eyre Quotes For Those With a Fierce Spirit

I remember it took me until college to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I had some expectations and ideas since everyone and their mom had read it before. Plus anyone aware of the literary canon has this at the top of their list. It was a pretty hefty read, but from the start Jane was one of those people  I really wanted to be.


Her strong spirit and self assurance was inspiring and something many of us wish for. Her relationship with Mr. Rochester was rocky, but she held her own and stayed true. Basically I wanted to be her the whole time reading this notable work. If you have or haven’t read it, you oughta know some of her best lines. She had a lot to say, but these were some of her best.


1. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”



2. “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”



3. “I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel–I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”



4. “I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”



5. “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”



6. “Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear.”



7. “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”



8. “I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, great and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.”



9. “The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter – often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.”



10. “There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”







Featured Image Via Variety

Pride and Prejudice

5 Literary Heroines Who Were Feminists Before Feminism Even Existed

Our understanding of feminism has evolved over the course of the many years since the term was first coined in 1848. After the first Women’s Conference was held in Seneca Falls, we were introduced to this very important social movement. Originally used as a platform to work towards greater social changes such as abolition of slavery and the Temperance movement, feminism has in and of itself become something even greater than that. While we’re on the topic of feminism, let’s take a look at some strong female literary characters whose existence came about before the advent of this movement. 


1. Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


Jane Eyre

Image Via IMDB


Published in 1847, only a year before the movement was christened, is the novel Jane EyreThe novel’s title character, Jane, is quite literally a “plain Jane” whose life is lived very simply and modestly. Jane is a woman who has been thrown curveballs at every turn, yet she remains strong-willed and pleasant throughout. She is quiet and reserved, yet her ability to gracefully maneuver around difficult circumstances shows immense courage and emotional intelligence. She believes in moral fortitude, and falls in love with a man she cannot be with because of an unfortunate bout of legal luck. When he suggests they run off together so that their love can continue despite the legality of the situation, she runs off alone. She values her convictions, beliefs, and morals far more than her emotions and this passionate love, and that makes her a true force to be reckoned with.


2. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


sense and sensibility

Image Via The Young Folks


Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 and tells the story of the two Dashwood sisters: Elinor and Marianne (“Sense” and “Sensibility,” respectively). All Jane Austen novels feature strong, female protagonists so it was difficult to choose a single title, but I think this one exemplifies the tenants of what makes a person strong. Elinor is a woman who demonstrates responsibility and a strong love for her family. She continuously sacrifices her own desires and wants for the well-being of those to whom she is tied by blood. Her sister becomes romantically involved with a man who treats her poorly because he is selfish and greedy, and she falls into a deep state of depression. Elinor is eventually able to help her sister recover from this heartbreak, and in turn Marianne learns a valuable lesson on the subject of good sense. 


3. Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


pride and prejudice

Image Via Pinterest


Okay, okay. I went back on my word and chose a second Jane Austen novel, because how can one compile a list of early feminist literature and not include Pride and Prejudice? Published in 1813, it tells the story of a girl named Elizabeth Bennet whose close relationship with her father echoes the values she holds true to her heart. She is stubborn and stands up for what she believes in, and this tends to get her into trouble. Her mother wishes her to marry a man she does not love to help save their home, but she cannot agree to such a decision because every logical cell in her brain stands against the union. She meets a man named Mr. Darcy, whose cold and seemingly harsh nature strikes a flame of hatred for him in her. Of course, the two characters eventually work their way through the pride and prejudice embedded in their hearts, and hate gives way to love. 


4. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” ft. in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer


wife of bath

Image Via Harvard’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website


While technically not a novel itself, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” takes place within the collection of The Canterbury Tales  penned by Geoffrey Chaucer in Middle English somewhere between 1387 and 1400. Chaucer’s tales feature a group of people on a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of the martyr, Thomas Becket. Along the way to Canterbury, the group of people elect to tell stories, and this is how the reader encounters the Wife of Bath. Because of how old the text itself is, it’s difficult to fully determine what Chaucer’s intention was behind this character, but she essentially believes herself to be the foremost authority on marriage because of the statistical evidence she provides: her five separate marriages! She explains that she used sex as a tool to get what she wanted from her husbands including money and possessions; that she would tease her men with the promise of sex until she was given what she wanted. While her position as a feminist can be argued in either direction, it is at least quite clear that the Wife of Bath is a woman with a strong and fiery personality and stance. 


5. Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, principally 



Image Via AwesomeStories


As a way to close a list on proto-feminist characters in literature, I’m diverting from the initial path to include this important document signed in 1848, and the cast of characters is all women across time and space. This is the document that was signed all of those years ago at the convention held in Seneca Falls, and A Declaration of Sentiments is an important and worthwhile read for anyone who wishes to understand the very early history of the feminist movement. The primary author of the document was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and she modeled its language and style after the Declaration of Independence. It provides a detailed list of sentiments that the 68 women and 32 men who signed the document believed important for progress to continue. The document itself certainly caused much controversy, but helped push forward the human mindset so that the suffrage movement could eventually take place. 


Our world has changed greatly since 1848, and feminism has changed with it. But at the end of the day, what remains true and valid is that we the people have found friends and like-minded allies in our favorite literary heroines. There are a vast number of feminist figures who did not make it to this list, but these are the ones that had the chance to exist before Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped to give them a voice and a cause to fight for.


Feature Image Via Focus Features

Snape and harry hermione ron prisoner of azkaban

Isn’t It Byronic? The 5 Byronic Heroes We Love to Hate

Oh, Lord Byron. What beautiful poetry and prose you provided us at the height of the Romantic movement. Poems like Don Juan, “She Walks In Beauty,” and “Prometheus.” But what else have we inherited all of these years later from your words and personality? The Byronic Hero—that’s what. What is the Byronic Hero exactly? Oh, he’s a character who embodies the tell-tale signs of an anti-hero. He’s exceedingly brooding, tends to dwell in isolation, exemplifies traits of arrogance, and yes, he of course is an intensely enigmatic figure of romance for our literary heroines in the works in which he appears.


When I was a wisp of a thing in my high school days, I was immediately drawn to the classics. Like most teenagers, I was angst-ridden, and felt alone in the world. So of course I fell deeply for these silent and brooding characters. In a manner that would send my fifteen-year-old heart floating up to the heavens, here’s a list of some of my favorite Byronic Heroes.


1. Edward Fairfax Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte




Perhaps one of my favorite characters in general, Rochester is a deeply mysterious figure to our title character, Jane Eyre. Jane takes up a position as governess on Rochester’s vast estate, Thornfield Hall, and what begins as a friendship soon becomes a relationship of passion and love. Jane is strong and independent, and she fights against the love she feels for her employer, but Rochester continues to torment and tease her. Of course, owing to his Byronic nature, Rochester has some…skeletons locked away in an attic tower that Jane is absolutely forbidden from entering. This past and the mistakes he made in his youth cause Rochester great pain and suffering, and despite the mutual love, respect, and devotion the two characters feel for one another, Jane cannot reconcile his transgressions, and she leaves him. Sadness.


2. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte




Arguably much less appealing than her sister’s character of Rochester is Emily Bronte’s version of the Byronic Hero, Heathcliff. Heathcliff is the adopted son of a man named Earnshaw, who found him alone on the streets during one of his journeys away from his estate, Wuthering Heights. When he returns home with the boy, he introduces him to his biological children: Catherine and Hindley. Hindley resents Heathcliff, but of course Catherine and her adopted brother develop a strong bond with one another. The story progresses, everyone grows older, and Catherine and Heathcliff develop an intense passion for one another. Of course, things do not work out for the two lovers, and Catherine chooses a man of much more respectable means to be her husband despite the love she feels for Heathcliff. This destroys Heathcliff’s mind, heart, and soul and he seeks vengeance upon all who wronged him, but never does his obsessive love for Catherine fade. Catherine also continues to love Heathcliff because she believes they are bound together by forces unknown, but owing to duty she continuously spurns him.


3. Claude Frollo from Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo




Unlike Disney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo’s original 1831 novel depicts his characters in a much darker light. A major change from this novel to film is the character of Claude Frollo. Understandably, Disney rewrites his character from priest to judge due to the lustful urges he feels for the the beautiful dancing gypsy girl, Esmeralda. This unfortunate change, however, turns him into a villain and not the antihero that he truly is. In the novel, the man is torn apart between his unfailing devotion to the Church and to God, and a fiery lust he never recognized in himself before. Truly, he is not a sinister man, but his inability to reconcile his very human desires destroys him and almost every other character linked to him.


4. Severus Snape from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling




Undoubtedly a Byronic Hero due to the unfailing love and devotion he continues to feel towards Lilly Evans-Potter “after all these years,” and the dangerous position he places himself in because of that love is Snape. His life is an unending tragedy from start to finish: an abusive and unhappy upbringing, relentless teasing from bullies, and a failed romance/friendship with Lily due to misguided direction from his peers which ultimately results in her death. He atones for his sins and his actions by vowing to protect her son’s life against Voldemort despite his complete hatred for the boy, and he places his own life in mortal danger to do just that. His life is nothing but pain and heartbreak, and for that he is one of my favorite modern-day Byronic Heroes.


5. The Monster from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 




Technically, Victor Frankenstein and the Monster are both Byronic Heroes, but I was always drawn to the Monster. The Monster is created by Victor Frankenstein, a man of science who salvages the parts of corpses to construct this creature. Immediately upon awakening the nameless monster, Frankenstein abandons him for he is disgusted by the nature of having played God, and for his monstrous form. The Monster is actually quite intelligent and capable of a vast spectrum of emotions, and he truly does attempt to fit into society. The Monster, on his own, befriends a blind man who is incapable of judging his harsh appearance until his seeing-children enter the situation. They see the tragic creature, and cast him away, screaming and hurting him. The Monster no longer tries to conform to societal standards, and becomes quite bitter and hostile to the rest of the human race because he sees there is no place for a creature whose appearance is so starkly different from the rest of mankind.


Honorable Byronic mentions: Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; Erik from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux; and Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexendre Dumas.


So there you have it. A fairly comprehensive list of some of the most emo boys in literature!




Featured Image Via Warner Bros.