- Bluebeard Gothic: Jane Eyre and Its Progeny
Heta Pyrhönen's Bluebeard Gothic: Jane Eyre and Its Progeny offers an extremely intelligent understanding of the functions and processes of literary adaptation. Building upon the work of scholars such as Anne Williams and Michelle Massé, Pyrhönen points out that "Bluebeard," with its motifs of the threatening patriarch and the mysterious house that conceals a terrible secret, embodies central elements of the Gothic. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, a self-consciously Gothic narrative, expands upon the "Bluebeard" story by granting the fairy-tale characters complex psychological motivations and justifications. While many scholars have identified "Bluebeard" as a key intertext within Jane Eyre, only Sandra Gilbert and Maria Tatar (2004) have treated the subject at any length. Pyrhönen has expanded admirably upon Gilbert and Tatar's arguments, offering not just a nuanced reading of Jane Eyre as a reworking of "Bluebeard" but also a stellar examination of how Jane Eyre itself has been reworked by writers such as Jean Rhys, Jeanette Winterson, and Angela Carter.
Pyrhönen identifies the category of what she calls "Bluebeard Gothic"—Gothic narratives that center on the question of a young woman's marriage and the secrets of the house and of her husband (6). In her estimation this category consists of texts that respond both to "Bluebeard" itself and to Jane Eyre's specific adaptation of "Bluebeard"; these works include Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, and Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Fall River Axe Murders," among many others. In the tradition of much scholarship of the Gothic, Pyrhönen uses the lens of psychoanalysis to illuminate "the intimate link between physical and mental space in the topography of Bluebeard Gothic" (22). The results are often fascinating, such as her application of psychoanalytic theories of hysteria—the physical embodiment of mental distress—to identify key similarities between Jane and Rochester. However, occasionally this serves to undermine her arguments. The subtitle of the book is "Jane Eyre and Its Progeny," to underscore Pyrhönen's reading of the familial relationship between Jane Eyre and later adaptations; however, though [End Page 381] she cites Linda Hutcheon's dictum that "previous" does not equal "authoritative" (10), her insistence on the "progeny" metaphor, and its psychoanalytic implications, does place the texts in a hierarchical relationship. But this is a relatively minor quibble, espe cially since she focuses upon how later writers adapted both "Bluebeard" and Jane Eyre as a means of critiquing the ideological assumptions of those narratives.
Chapter 1 is an extended discussion of Jane Eyre as a rewriting of "Bluebeard," with special focus upon the psychic similarities between Rochester and Jane, as both are haunted by a "red room." This focus on psychic distress is carried through in chapter 2, which explores literary responses to Jane Eyre through trauma theory. Pyrhönen argues that "later writers have served as witnesses to Jane's narrative of trauma" (67); this trauma is figured not just as that of individuals but also, in postcolonial responses such as Wide Sargasso Sea, as that of entire cultures. Chapter 3 demonstrates that romantic iterations of the "Bluebeard Gothic" highlight the violence inherent in patriarchal romance, thus exposing these narratives that are so often presented as "normal" to be perverse. Thoughtful readings of Daphne du Maurier's supposed romance Rebecca, Diane Setterfield's densely intertextual The Thirteenth Tale, and D. M. Thomas's dark sequel to Jane Eyre, Charlotte, enable Pyrhönen to articulate how these authors examine discourses of the perverse, including sadism, masochism, and incest, as part of a critique of Bluebeard Gothic. Chapter 4 analyzes the religious issues surrounding "Bluebeard" and Jane Eyre, particularly discourses of obedience and sacrifice. The heroine of "Bluebeard" is often linked with that other famously disobedient woman, Eve; Pyrhönen reads Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit as a reinterpretation of the Fall and Sarah Waters's Fingersmith as an examination of scapegoating. Finally, chapter 5 studies Angela Carter's recapitulations of "Bluebeard...