The First Wife Haunts the Mansion: Female Competition in Jane Eyre and Rebecca
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In this BA Thesis Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is compared to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which is one of its adaptations. Both novels are concerned with a heroine who is haunted by the male protagonist’s first wife. Despite both novels being concerned with the same subject matter, there are differences in the manner and duration of the heroines being haunted. The research question of this thesis is: What is the relation between the haunting of/beyond the mansion by the first wife and the nature of the competition between the heroine and the first wife? Differences in legislation concerning divorce, insanity and property can account for differences between the haunting in the novels. It is argued that in Jane Eyre Jane does not consider Bertha as being superior to herself and that Bertha’s haunting stops when Thornfield Hall is burned down. Mr Rochester was not legally allowed to divorce Bertha, but he was allowed to lock her up because he thought she was insane. He also did not risk losing property to Bertha. When Bertha dies, Mr Rochester and Jane can live without being haunted, because they are legally allowed to marry now, as it is no longer bigamy. In Rebecca’s time, it was illegal for husbands to lock up their wives if they thought they were mad. Mr de Winter would have been able to divorce Rebecca, but he would have risked losing property to her in the process. Mr de Winter possibly did not want to risk this, besides not wanting to ruin his reputation, and therefore murdered her. The second Mrs de Winter was haunted by Rebecca’s superiority until Mr de Winter confessed that he never loved Rebecca. The haunting then shifted and became a haunting guilt and fear of people finding out about this. In both Rebecca and Jane Eyre, the experienced, beautiful first wives are described as monsters and punished accordingly, whereas the second wives are praised for being innocent and inexperienced. This may suggest that, even though the laws had changed, in practice, characteristics and behaviour that were praised in men were still rejected in women, and the novels possibly show this.