Saturday, May 17, 2008

more on the JE review

Back to that Freeman review... she thinks that I somehow de-sympathized the character of Antoinette/Bertha...
Is she really insane or is her insanity a result of being used as a pawn and her resulting loveless marriage? The production does not portray Antoinette sympathetically. She draws blood after biting her brother's neck, sets fire to Rochester's bed curtains, and tears Jane's wedding veil. The portrayal of Antoinette, a character who should be pitied, seems at odds with the portrayal of Jane, another strong woman, who has been allowed her independence, and therefore will avoid the fate of Antoinette.

(I changed the name from Bertha to Antoinette - as is also done in "Wide Sargasso Sea" because the name Bertha seems so clunky for such an exotic character.)

In the book it is explained that Antoinette/Bertha is insane because it runs in her family. Her mother is insane too. And so I present her as insane due to a congenital medical condition - not because her loveless marriage made her insane.

This is another of those "English-department notions" as Michael Feingold calls it - that medical insanity never just happens, people are driven insane due to tragedy or loveless marriages or other common life events. In fact, it seems like ever since Ophelia, women regularly go insane in response to tragedy. If it happened as frequently in real life as it did in literature, half the women in the world would be barking mad.

But of course Antoinette/Bertha should be pitied - anybody who is insane should be, and in the book and my play Jane later tells Rochester he shouldn't hate her for being insane. Antoinette is so insane she doesn't understand why she has to stay with Rochester, and can't go back to Jamaica where she was running around with lots of men, as she did during the early days of her marriage to Rochester before she went completely crazy. She must be confined for her own good and the good of everybody around her, but she doesn't understand this. So she's frustrated, and everybody around her is frustrated.

Here is the first appearance of Antoinette/Bertha in my play:

ANTOINETTE MASON-ROCHESTER enters. She is dressed in a lovely but disheveled gown and carries a fan.)

Antoinette. It is I, Richard, come to see you.

I curse you both! You took me away from my beautiful lovers!

(Antoinette hits Mason with her fan and tries to bites his hand. Rochester tries to free Mason and she hits Rochester, then exits.)

We ended up staging it with Antoinette biting Mason's neck, and with Rochester wrestling her back behind a curtain, but at least she gets to talk. She later appears in a scene which I invented in order to give Antoinette one more chance to tell her side of the story:

(There is a scream and then Antoinette's laugh. Mrs. Fairfax exits, heading upstairs. The laughter is heard again. Rochester covers his ears against the sound.)

I should have sent her to Bedlam and let her rot there! You foul demon, you
will be the death of me! Jane! Don't think you have escaped me Jane!

(Mrs. Fairfax enters.)

She murdered Grace Poole! The whole room is on fire!

(Antoinette enters, her hands bloody and carrying a lit torch in one hand and Jane's discarded wedding veil in the other. She screams at Mrs. Fairfax.)

You are trying to steal my husband!

I am doing nothing of the sort!

Give me the torch, Antoinette.

You made my life a hell. And so let us have an inferno!
(She attempts to torch the room.)

(to Mrs. Fairfax)
Make yourself useful, go fetch some help!

(Mrs. Fairfax exits. Rochester addresses Antoinette again.)
Give me the torch!

Send me back to my home! My lovers are waiting for me! All my beautiful
lovers, not like you, you ugly English troll!

(She laughs. Rochester tries to grab the torch and she exits, he follows. Blackout.)

The production I saw of Polly Teale's adaptation presented Antoinette/Bertha supremely sympathetically. In the scene where Rochester presents her to everyone, she gently rests her head on his shoulder. Which may satisfy Teale's requirement that Antoinette/Bertha be Jane's alter-ego, but it has NOTHING to do with the book, and it makes Rochester look like a bad bad man - first driving this poor woman insane with his English imperialism and sexual repression, and then locking her into a room (which Teale equates with the Red Room of Jane's childhood trauma) when all she wants is to be loved and to express her sexuality. This throws the entire meaning of "Jane Eyre" out of whack. But theatre critics don't care.

Here is how Bertha is described in the novel:
In the deep shade, at the farther end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face.

"Good-morrow, Mrs. Poole!" said Mr. Rochester. "How are you? and how is your charge to-day?"

"We're tolerable, sir, I thank you," replied Grace, lifting the boiling mess carefully on to the hob: "rather snappish, but not 'rageous."

A fierce cry seemed to give the lie to her favourable report: the clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind-feet.

"Ah! sir, she sees you!" exclaimed Grace: "you'd better not stay."

"Only a few moments, Grace: you must allow me a few moments."

"Take care then, sir! - for God's sake, take care!"

The maniac bellowed: she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. I recognised well that purple face, - those bloated features. Mrs. Poole advanced.

"Keep out of the way," said Mr. Rochester, thrusting her aside: "she has no knife now, I suppose, and I'm on my guard."

"One never knows what she has, sir: she is so cunning: it is not in mortal discretion to fathom her craft."

"We had better leave her," whispered Mason.

"Go to the devil!" was his brother-in-law's recommendation.

"'Ware!" cried Grace. The three gentlemen retreated simultaneously. Mr. Rochester flung me behind him: the lunatic sprang and grappled his throat viciously, and laid her teeth to his cheek: they struggled. She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the contest - more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was. He could have settled her with a well-planted blow; but he would not strike: he would only wrestle. At last he mastered her arms; Grace Poole gave him a cord, and he pinioned them behind her: with more rope, which was at hand, he bound her to a chair. The operation was performed amidst the fiercest yells and the most convulsive plunges.

Earlier in the book when Mason secretly visits Bertha, she attacks him:
"She bit me," he murmured. "She worried me like a tigress, when Rochester got the knife from her."

"You should not have yielded: you should have grappled with her at once," said Mr. Rochester.

"But under such circumstances, what could one do?" returned Mason. "Oh, it was frightful!" he added, shuddering. "And I did not expect it: she looked so quiet at first."

"I warned you," was his friend's answer; "I said - be on your guard when you go near her. Besides, you might have waited till to-morrow, and had me with you: it was mere folly to attempt the interview to-night, and alone."

"I thought I could have done some good."

"You thought! you thought! Yes, it makes me impatient to hear you: but, however, you have suffered, and are likely to suffer enough for not taking my advice; so I'll say no more. Carter - hurry! - hurry! The sun will soon rise, and I must have him off."

"Directly, sir; the shoulder is just bandaged. I must look to this other wound in the arm: she has had her teeth here too, I think."

"She sucked the blood: she said she'd drain my heart," said Mason.

It's clear to ANYBODY WHO HAS READ THE BOOK that my portrayal of Bertha is far more sympathetic than the original. The book describes her as an animal or even a vampire. My version at least gives her a chance to express her confusion and frustration with some human dignity.

Which brings me to the last and greatest reason why this review is a travesty....

which I will address soon...