"an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement"
Bertha Mason tearing Jane Eyre's wedding veil, illustration from the 2nd edition
Public DomainBertha Mason tearing Jane Eyre's wedding veil, illustration from the 2nd edition - Credit: F. H. Townsend

An allusion to Bertha Mason in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). Like the narrator of The Turn of the Screw, Jane Eyre is a governess in a remote house. Having been troubled by mysterious apparitions and unexplained noises, she is horrified to discover that these emanate from the first wife of her employer and fiancé, Mr. Rochester. She learns that her betrothed was coerced into marrying Bertha for money, found she was slipping into a violent form of insanity and had her locked away in the attic of Thornfield Manor. After this revelation, Jane runs away. When she later returns, she finds the manor reduced to blackened ruins and discovers that Bertha, having set the house ablaze, has committed suicide by leaping from the roof. Rochester, seriously injured and blinded in the fire, is now dependent upon Jane; with the power balance thus reversed, she finally consents to marry him. This union between humble governess and dashing master is no doubt a key reason for the governess's identification with the novel. 

 

Below is an excerpt from the 1934 film version of Jane Eyre, featuring Claire Du Brey as Bertha Mason. Bertha’s own story was later told by Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea (1966).

Wide Sargasso Sea on Book Drum