I’ve mentioned several times recently that I’m starting my third year at university, and that means starting the dreaded dissertation (dun dun duuuuun!) and as I’m doing an English Literature degree, that means doing a lot of reading! So I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the books I’ve read, am currently reading, and am planning to read for my dissertation!
So, my “theme” (because I don’t have a set question or argument yet) is about madness/mental illness and the treatment of women in Victorian Literature. So the books I’m looking at are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, and Great Expectations (I think) (I might change my mind lol) by Charles Dickens. There may be some other books which I will include later on, for example my supervisor suggested including Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Braddon which is also a book I need to read for one of my modules anyway, but that’s not for definite yet.
I’ve read the majority of Jane Eyre, and I really loved it. I think it took me a while to get around to reading it because I read Wuthering Heights at A-level, which we all know is a book I did not enjoy, so I was a bit hesitant that I wouldn’t enjoy Jane Eyre because I’d put the Bronte’s into a box of authors that I thought I wouldn’t like. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was completely drawn into the story, and thought I’m not quite finished, it’s definitely a book I would recommend. For those who have read the book will know that the element of madness comes with the first Mrs Rochester who is kept in the attic because she is insane, and Mr Rochester does his best to keep her a secret from Jane, and the rest of the community. I thought it was interesting how they describe her as being like a beast, and very animalistic and quite savage in her nature, and though the language used is to make us afraid of those with mental health problems, I actually felt sorry for her. Probably because I’m reading it in the modern day when we have far more knowledge on mental illnesses and we don’t keep people locked away anymore.
The Woman in White
So this is one I’m currently reading, and I’m loving it so far. I’ve already read up on what happens in the novel, because very soon I’m going to be piled down under loads of essays and other books I need to read! The plot has more of a focus on the nature of asylums in the Victorian era, and looks at people who are falsely accused of being insane and being sent to the asylum for no real reason other than that the person who sent them there doesn’t want them around anymore. (It’s a bit more complicated than that, but considering there’s multiple narrators, that’s kind of the easiest way of explaining it!) With this novel, I’ll probably compare how Collins is more pitiful of the mentally insane rather than how Bronte present mental illnesses as being something to be scared of, but at the same time, both cases of “madness” are very different- Mrs Rochester probably had some form of schizophrenia or bipolar, and Anne Catherick was likely to have just had a learning difficulty, but at the time these things didn’t have names and the easiest way to deal with someone who didn’t conform to Victorian society was to keep them out of sight and out of mind.
For Great Expectations I’m thinking of looking at Miss Havisham. Need I say more? She’s one of the most well known Dickens characters, and she’s absolutely crazy. But when you start to understand why she acts like she does, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. This is the only book I haven’t started reading yet, so I don’t think I’ll be able to give as much of an in depth analysis of it right now, but from what I know of the story, I think there are elements of her character which can really add to my dissertation and hopefully there will be enough to compare her character with the other two women I have already spoken about so far. It’s a book I’ve always wanted to read, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it will link in with what I want to write about!
And that’s it! Those are all three primary texts I’m thinking of looking at! I’m really happy that I changed my dissertation idea to this one of madness/mental illness, because I’m really interested to see how the Victorians viewed it and how its represented in the texts that I’m studying, so I’ll try and keep you posted with how it all goes!