Society Reacts to Madness

Representation of Insanity in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway

  • Radhika Gupta King’s College London
Keywords: Body and asylum, doubles, madness, social context, subaltern identity


On one hand, Brontë’s Victorian Realist text, Jane Eyre, is miles apart from Woolf’s quintessential Modernist text, Mrs Dalloway. While, on the other hand, both texts are connected through a similar anxiety to portray madness: a dangerous antithesis to society itself. This paper attempts an analysis of both texts’ supposed mad characters, Bertha and Septimus, respectively, who posit as alter egos to the eponymous protagonists. Often declared as a radical other, or controlled through physical impositions, or perceived as a threatening force, madness has constantly been a victimised and ostracised entity in society. However, by bringing these two distinct texts in a conversation, this paper attempts to capture the crucial changes in the attitude towards madness as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth.



Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Radhika Gupta, King’s College London

Radhika Gupta is a student of English Literature, pursuing her Master’s in Modern Literature and Culture from King’s College London. She completed her Bachelor’s in English Literature from Hindu College, University of Delhi. Her research interests include Feminist Studies, Postcolonial Writings, and Nineteenth-Century English Fiction. Her postgraduate thesis involves the study of Jane Austen’s novels from the perspective of a modern lens.


1. Appignanesi, Lisa. Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
2. Beattie, Valerie. “THE MYSTERY AT THORNFIELD: REPRESENTATIONS OF MADNESS IN ‘JANE EYRE’”. Studies in the Novel, vo. 28, no. 4, 1996, pp. 493–505. [accessed 5 January 2022].
3. Brenkman, John, “Freud the Modernist”. The Mind of Modernism: Medicine, Psychology, and the Cultural Arts in Europe and America, 1880-1940, edited by Mark S. Micale, Stanford University Press, 2004, pp. 172-96.
4. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Penguin Books, 2012.
5. Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Translated by Richard Howard, Routledge, 2001.
6. Freud, Sigmund. “On the Psychotherapy of Hysteria”. Studies in Hysteria, Translated by Nicola Luckhurst, Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 255-306.
7. Gelfant, Blanche H. “Love and Conversion in “Mrs. Dalloway””. Criticism, vol. 8, no. 3, 1966, pp. 229–45. [accessed 6 January 2022].
8. Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. “A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane’s Progress”. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 336-71.
9. Gurdin, Peter. “Jane and the Other Mrs. Rochester: Excess and Restraint in “Jane Eyre””. NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 10, no. 2, 1977, pp. 145–57.
10. Herman, David. “Re-minding Modernism”. The Emergence of Mind: Representations of Consciousness in Narrative Discourse in English, edited by David Herman, University of Nebraska Press, 2011, pp. 243-72.
11. Johnson, George M. ““The Spirit of the Age”: Virginia Woolf’s Response to Second Wave Psychology”. Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 40, no. 2, 1994, pp. 139–64.
12. Jouve, Nicole Ward. “Virginia Woolf and Psychoanalysis”. The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, edited by Sue Roe and Susan Sellers, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 245–72. https://doi:10.1017/CCOL0521623936.012.
13. McPherson, Karen S. “Speaking Madness: Mrs. Dalloway”. Incriminations: Guilty Women/Telling Stories, edited by Karen S. McPherson, Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 130–57.
14. Meyer, Susan L. “Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of “Jane Eyre””. Victorian Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 1990, pp. 247–68. [accessed 4 January 2022].
15. Micale, Mark S. “The Modernist Mind: A Map”. The Mind of Modernism: Medicine, Psychology, and the Cultural Arts in Europe and America, 1880-1940, edited by Mark S. Micale, Stanford University Press, 2004, pp. 1-20.
16. Page, Alex. “A DANGEROUS DAY: MRS. DALLOWAY DISCOVERS HER DOUBLE”. Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, 1961, pp. 115–24. [accessed 7 January 2022].
17. Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction”. The Essays of Virginia Woolf. Volume 4: 1925 to 1928, edited by Andrew McNeille, The Hogarth Press, 1984, pp. 157-65.
18. ---. Mrs Dalloway. Worldview Publications, 2017.
How to Cite
Gupta, R. “Society Reacts to Madness”. Contemporary Literary Review India, Vol. 10, no. 2, July 2023, pp. 75-95, doi:10.201411/clri.v10i2.1145.
Research Papers