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The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability ed. by David Bolt, Julia Miele Rodas, and Elizabeth J. Donaldson (review)
Studies in the Novel, Volume 46, Number 2, Summer 2014
The Madwoman and the Blindman is a landmark: the first disability-studies collection devoted to a single text. Already the iconic novel for any analysis of Victorian gender roles, the marriage plot, and colonization, Jane Eyre now becomes equally central to disability work. The Madwoman and the Blindmanmakes Jane Eyre the place to seek constructions of impairment, health, caretaking, and recovery in the nineteenth century.
The Madwoman and the Blindman’s very title does important work by pairing Bertha with Rochester and arguing for the equal importance of their life-changing impairments. This book makes madness important in itself, rather than a symbol of colonial subjection, repressed rage, or feminist rebellion. To be a madwoman is to be a person with particular qualities, subject to specific treatments, at precise moments—not to be removed from daily life but to be experiencing an important aspect of it. Elizabeth J. Donaldson insists on reading madness as “a neurobiological disorder” (30), and the wonder is that scholars have spent so long arguing it to be anything else. Meanwhile, David Bolt’s electrifying article calls out Jane Eyre for its “ocularcentrism,” its consistent assumption that blindness equates with castration, contagion, and melancholia. Literary scholars, Bolt concludes, have no excuse for such regressive and ableist readings. Donaldson and Bolt rightly call for critics to read this novel by respecting the realities of madness and blindness.
The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability, by David Bolt, Julia Miele Rodas, and Elizabeth Donaldson, eds. (Review)
Victorian Review, Volume 39, Number 1, Spring 2013 pp. 217-219
The Madwoman and the Blindman is the first edited collection in disability studies to focus on a single text. The essays seek to reassess several critical chestnuts about disability in the novel, including that Rochester’s blinding and maiming represent a symbolic castration, that Bertha’s madness is empowering and transgressive from a feminist point of view, and that Rochester’s disabilities disempower him so that he and Jane can enjoy a more equal marriage. These clichés have informed our reading and teaching of Jane Eyre for more than thirty years. The essays, which offer fresh readings of physical and cognitive difference in the novel—most prominently, but not limited to, Bertha’s madness and Rochester’s maiming—combine disability studies with approaches ranging from psychoanalysis to Biblical studies to film studies.
Metaphors and Marriage Plots: Jane Eyre, The Egoist, and Metaphoric Dialogue in the Victorian Novel
Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas
Volume 12, Number 2, June 2014 pp. 267-286
One of the most distinctive features of Victorian dialogue is the speakers’ tendency to take up and develop one another’s metaphors. This practice, which appears as frequently in actual recorded conversations as in fictional ones, is common in all sorts of situations, but it takes on a particular significance when the interlocutors are potential marriage partners. According to a widespread understanding, enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer, marriage itself is a metaphor. Literary theorists, meanwhile, particularly in the early nineteenth century, frequently describe metaphor as a type of marriage — a joining together of diverse but complementary concepts. Hence it is worth attending when an unmarried man and woman share in the creation of a single metaphor. Focusing on two representative Victorian novels, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and George Meredith’s The Egoist, this essay suggests two major ways in which the trope is significant. First, it reflects an important shift in the conception of matrimony in England over the course of the Victorian period, from an ideal of marriage as total merging towards an increasing recognition of distinction-within-union. Second, the practice of sharing metaphor can serve in a novel, not just as a marker, but as a microcosm of conjugal compatibility; even in novels that end as soon as the lovers marry, these dialogues permit the reader to witness, in essence, a marital relationship.