Bertha Mason Syndrome.

In the deep shade, at the far 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.


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.

‘That is my wife,’ said he. ‘Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know – such are the endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have’ (laying his hand on my shoulder): ‘this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon. I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout. Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder – this face with that mask – this form with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the gospel and man of the law, and remember with what judgment ye judge shall be judged! Off with you now. I must shut up my prize.’

— Chapter 26, Jane Eyre

It begins with a rejection, a hiding. At first, the wildness inside you is a faculty of which you are in full possession. You do not bare it lightly, do not wield it as one does a sword or an AmEx Black. It is merely an accent, a trinket with which to adorn yourself in the presence of a lover, of a spouse who should adore you.

You intend to offer him incremental revelations of your wildness. You may dance, for instance, nakedly in the parlor, may sing for him a private song in an unsteady and, thus, very vulnerable warble. Perhaps you will unspool the hair that polite society would prefer you kept pinned and straightened. It will swirl like a wind about your welcoming face; you will reach for his hand and guide his fingers through it, venturing an invitation you have never before extended. You will entrust to him a description of a time when you were lain bare, rubbed raw, exploited.

And it will be there, perchance, that he will first reject you. You will notice a slight disdain curled on his lips at the end of your confession, a recoiling at the texture of your hair. He’ll say nothing at first, for these are new, these fetters enmeshing you. You don’t yet know what it means to be bound, lifelong, to a person incapable of loving you.

It is assumed that the esteem is the first to go, that the initial rejection immediately triggers an erosion of self-worth. This isn’t so.

What is next is the dimming of vision. Once, and not so long ago, your fate was a painting within purview: a masterpiece on stark white canvas with you, in kaleidoscopic color, as writer, sojourner, and wife to a husband, near-worshipful in his gratitude for having you, rendered as clearly as if it’d been crafted by the delicate brush of Pre-Raphaelites. Now, it seems the work of a pointillist’s hand. In months, it will become as incomprehensible as cubism.

Without an image of the future on which to focus, you will become disoriented, leaving yourself susceptible to a stronger strain of insult. It will evolve from mere gesture to verbiage. He will never say: I hate you. But his tone will ever imply it. The accusatory “I thought you said”s and “Weren’t you supposed to”s, the “This is nothing close to what I wanted”s will wear down your ever immunity.

Before long, the figure you see in the mirror regards you with your husband’s relentless skepticism. When she reach for the apple of her cheek, to confirm the sunkenness you suspect, she jerks away, appraising you with a smug, superior eye. And in that instant, you know you’ve lost your only ally.

There’s nothing left, then, but the final stage, in which you are so distant, so feral, so unrecognizable as a woman of elegance and means that your warden-spouse believes you will not notice his parading of the governess he has positioned to replace you, into the attic where you are imprisoned.

Impossibly–and most cruelly–is the hairline crack this syndrome causes in your brain, which hears your husband paint himself the victim and, rather than allowing you the capacity to curse him, instead processes his lament as an echo with which you can only empathize.

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