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MARJORIE GARSON Alice Munro and Charlotte Bronte 'Hold her arms, Miss Abbot: she's like a mad cat.' 'Mad dog! Mad dogs bite like that! Your parents ought to have you locked up!'l Ithas become conventional to recognize in Jane Eyre a consistent pattern of doubling and displacement: specifically to see Bertha Rochester as acting out the narrator's own anger against Rochester. Notoriously, when the madwoman burns down Thornfield, delivering over to Jane a subdued and handicapped husband, she is seen to be expressing Jme's impulse to revenge and desire for control. But other details of the text are also interpreted along the same lines. Mary Poovey, for example, reads Bertha's attack on Richard Mason as an expression ofJane's rage against Rochester, who had just disguised himself as a gypsy fortune-teller to observe, test, and tease her (Poovey, 39). There is some doubt, though, about how much rage Jane would be feeling at her unmasked interviewer, whose reading of her character has been decidedlyflattering. Though Rochester's deception oOane invites retribution, his surveillance, arguably, does not: the gaze of the master is a form of penetration that the text on the whole seems deeply to desire. Bertha's assault onher brother Mason has in fact a closer parallel within the novel, and that is Jane's attack on her male cousin in the first chapter. Goaded by John Reed - a gross bully, who, like all little Jane's rivals and enemies, is a fleshy, sensual figure - Jane resists him with all her might, first with precocious similes ('you are like a slave-driver - you are like the Roman emperors!'), then 'with my hands' (8). Precisely what injuries she inflicts remains unclear: 'I don't very well know what I did' (8), Jane says: 'The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself' (9). The damage Bertha inflicts on Mason, on the other hand, is precisely specified: bestially inarticulate, she shrieks like a condor, snarls like a quarrelling dog, worries Mason like a tigress, bites him on the shoulder, and, he claims, attempts to suck his blood. The contrast is schematic, the point clear: the violence that Bertha grows into, Jane outgrows. The first quotation describes the child Jane in/ane Eyre (9); the second, the child Del Jordan in 'Heirs of the Living Body' (56). UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 4, FALL 2000 784 MARJORIE GARSON Alice Munro, I have come tobelieve, has beenprofoundly influenced by Jane Eyre, particularly by the paradoxes of the Jane/Bertha pairing and by violent scenes dramatizing the power relationships and the occulted allegiances in the novel. The two episodes from Jane Eyre - Jane's attack on her bullying cousin, Bertha's appalling bite - are conflated in 'Heirs of the Living Body' when Del Jordan, seized at her Uncle Craig's funeral by her big, brain-damaged cousin Mary Agnes and dragged to view the body, loses control of herself and bites her tormentor's arm. Though Mary Agnes's mother calls her a mad dog, Del, instead of being punished, is, to her own surprise, comforted, plied with tea, and exempted from the funeral service. The reprieve is a relief, but the solicitude is disconcerting: Del realizes that: I was in the middle of them in spite of being shut up here by myself. As long as they lived most of them would remember that I had bitten Mary Agnes Oliphant's arm at Uncle Craig's funeral. Remembering that, they would remember that I was highly strung, erratic, or badly brought up, or a borderline case. But they would not put me outside. No. I would be the highly strung, erratic, badly brought up member of the family, which is a different thing altogether. (57) The issue for Del, as for Jane, is escape. Paradoxically, Jane's violent attack onJohn Reed has positive results. Though she is immediately locked up in the red room - which, like the store-roam-where Del is assaulted, is a claustrophobic, womb-like space - and shortly becomes unconscious with terror, she awakens to find herself under the care of an apothecary who advises that she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 783-825
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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