The following passage reveals an outsider's analysis of the madman's situation in one of The Pickwick Papers' interpolated tales, entitled "A Madman's Manuscript:"
The unhappy man whose ravings are recorded above, was a melancholy instance of the baneful results of energies misdirected in early life, and excesses prolonged until their consequences could never be repaired. The thoughtless riot, dissipation, and debauchery of his younger days, produced fever and delirium. The first effects of the latter was the strange delusion, founded upon a well-known medical theory, strongly contended for by some, and as strongly contested by others, that an hereditary madness existed in his family. This produced a settled gloom, which in time developed a morbid insanity, and finally terminated in raving madness. There is every reason to believe that the events he detailed, though distorted in the description by his diseased imagination, really happened. It is only a matter of wonder to those who were acquainted with the vices of his early career, that his passions, when no longer controlled by reason, did not lead him to the commission of still more frightful deeds.
Dickens' passage uses a third-person observer to exact a moral evaluation of the madman's behavior. He notes that the madman's situation provides an "instance," or an example of what can occur with such excessive behavior, consequently turning a specific analysis into a general law, or theme. Throughout the novel, Dickens instills a hearty emphasis on the eating and drinking habits of Pickwick and his friends. None of them work, and they constantly partake in the hedonistic pleasures of delicious food and alcoholic revelry. However, in order to make the point that Pickwick and his friends are not overly excessive in their behavior, Dickens provides an contrasting example, using the madman to illustrate his own ideas concerning the repercussions of "thoughtless riot, dissipation, and debauchery." In the excerpt from Jane Eyre, Brontë criticizes the opposite extreme, forced deprivation. The girls at Lowood are given so little food to begin with that many of their undernourished bodies become deathly ill. The inedible breakfast of burnt porridge that they are served further exacerbates their extreme situation. Instead of replacing the meal, the girls must go hungry, so that, according to Mr. Brocklehurst, they may "evince fortitude under the temporary privation" for their "spiritual edification." Brontë reveals her staunch disapproval of Mr. Brocklehurst's rationale of deprivation with the teachers comment, "'Abominable stuff How shameful'" However, despite Brontë's negative portrayal of Lowood, the school plays an integral role in the taming of Jane's excessively passionate nature. Lowood teaches her to subdue her rebellious spirit and conform enough to the school's rules to become first a top student, and later a teacher. Her acquiescence enables her to leave Lowood in pursuit of a better life as a governess. In this way, Brontë, like Dickens, illustrates the value of an appropriate balance between passion (excess) and reason (control).
Both Brontë and Dickens dramatize their conception of passionate excess in the caricatures they create of insane people. Dickens, by means of the observer, reveals his belief that "passions, when no longer controlled by reason" can have horrific results, one of the most dramatic examples being the development of madness. Dickens' madman represents the epitome of unrestrained passion with the "tumultuous passions eddying through [his] veins." Bertha, too, symbolizes an animalistic wildness without a functioning human mind to restrain her instincts. Her madness becomes almost archetypal, as she seems to lack any aspect that would humanize her. Brontë projects Bertha into a dehumanized symbol with Jane's description of her as a "clothed hyena." Not surprisingly, Bertha also was a drunkard, an essential trait Brontë uses to further emphasize the importance of restraint.
Both Brontë and Dickens demonstrate how certain nineteenth-century ideology, concerning the importance of moderation, has influenced them. Their contemporaries were deeply concerned with the societal problem of drunkenness, an example of human excess. One doctor expresses the pervading idea as follows: "That drunkenness is one of the most terrible sources of demoralization, and that Temperance, both physically and morally, is one of the cardinal values most needing inculcation, no reasonable being doubts" (W.B. Carpenter, M.D. "The Physiological Errors of Teetotalism." The Westminster Review. London, 1855). The doctor was not alone in his opinion, as another claims that "drunkenness is the curse of England." He elaborates that "nine-tenths of the crimes committed in the British Isles may be traced to the public house. Family life is cut up by the roots, men become worse than brutes, women so lose themselves as to be little better than fiends under the fatal influences of the glass of ale or gin. The money spent every year in intoxicating drinks exceeds the whole amount of the national revenue. Schools, churches, meeting-houses, clubs, reading-rooms, libraries, are robbed of half their good fruit by the passion for stimulants, which stifles the love of wisdom, of piety, and duty" ("Drunkenness not Curable by Legislation." The Westminster Review. London, 1855). Moreover, the previously mentioned doctor also expresses middle nineteenth-century sentiments on the disgrace of allowing passion, whether for stimulants or anything else, to control one. He laments, "reason and moderation have but a poor chance with a race perversely indifferent to the reasons which do not assist their passions" ("The Physiological Errors of Teetotalism." The Westminster Review. London, 1855).
Last modified 1996
Last modified 8 June 2007