Those of you who know me well knew that this had to come. It had to happen. I can only go so long without talking about it.
I’m going to talk about Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. More specifically, I’m going to talk about Edward Rochester.
This isn’t a standard book review. I haven’t even read the book recently. But I’ve read it once and a half, and my feelings about it are too many to be contained.
Consequently, this is going to be a long one. Sorry.
Also, I’m going to talk about most of the things that happen in the book, so there are spoilers ahead. Big ones. Sorry.
Some of you right now might be saying, “Oh, I love Jane Eyre!” That is a conversation I’m willing to have with you.
But some of you right might be saying, “Oh, I love Rochester!”
No. That is a conversation I will not have.
An argument? Yes.
A debate? Definitely.
A fight? Probably.
But I am not willing or capable of having a civil conversation with you if you think that Edward Rochester is a good–or even decent–love interest.
A villain? An anti-hero? The creepy guy next door? I’ll buy any of those.
But Jane is a nearly perfect heroine, and she deserves a better hero. I’ve always been of the opinion that she should have had more sense than to fall in love with Rochester.
Why do I hate this man so much?
Let’s just start at the beginning, shall we?
Call me shallow, but it’s the first thing we know about the guy. We’re starting at the very beginning here.
This isn’t even subjective, either. He’s just ugly. Everyone knows it. Jane states it like basic fact.
He has “a dark face, stern features, and a heavy brow.” He’s angry, brooding, and rough.
On the outside, the man is ugly.
On the inside, he’s uglier, but more on that later.
When Jane first meets him, Rochester has sprained an ankle. Jane offers to help.
“Thank you,” he says, but, politely declining, continues; “I shall do. I have no broken bones–only a sprain.”
Eventually, at Jane’s continued insistence, he relents. For unknown reasons, he decides that he can’t send her to get help, but that she can help him herself.
“If you would be so kind.” Very gentlemanly.
After watching her struggle to grab the bridle of his “spirited” horse and laughing at her when she fails to do so, he asks her to come to him.
Then he leans heavily on her shoulder, saying, “Excuse me; necessity compels me to make you useful.”
Hmm. Slightly less gentlemanly.
But he thanks her well enough and leaves. Fine.
Jane’s next encounter with Rochester consists of them sitting down in front of the fire and talking.
Normal people, after they’ve been helped out of a very difficult situation by a person who owed them nothing, would be grateful and kind.
He makes it clear that he couldn’t care less about her or her comfort. This we excuse, though, because Jane says that it puts her more at ease than a display of politeness would. (I have to wonder if the readers would be so ready to excuse it if Jane had been offended.)
In short, he’s gruff, brooding, and abrasive.
But we don’t mind it, because Jane doesn’t.
For the next bit of the book, this is how he acts. Jane saves him from a fire, and he softens up a little bit toward her, tells her about his decidedly immoral past, and shows absolutely no signs of affection toward his young ward, Adele. (He doesn’t know if she’s his daughter–she might be–in any case, he doesn’t care.)
He’s a real charmer.
Now, that could all be forgiven. He’s grumpy, he has a spotty past, and he doesn’t like children. Not the worst person to ever walk the earth.
But what happens next makes my blood boil.
He throws a house party, intentionally inviting a beautiful young lady named Blanche Ingram, with whom he evidently intends to flirt for a few weeks.
And flirt he does.
By this time, Jane has fallen quite in love with her employer. (And who can blame her, really? He’s ugly and angry and rude. Quite a Prince Charming.)
Rochester knows this. Oh, yeah, he does.
Now, if he flirted for a few minutes and then came riding back to Jane on a white horse with a rose in his hand, crying, “Jane, Jane–it’s all a charade! It’s you I really love! And you love me, too, see? I just had to show you!”–maybe then I would consider tolerating him.
But he doesn’t do this. He courts Blanche Ingram for somewhere around two weeks. Everybody’s talking about it. It’s obvious they’re going to get married. Rochester himself mentions it. He gives Jane every reason to believe he’s going to get married–and then he’s like, “What are you talking about, Jane? I’m not getting married to Blanche. I love you.” (Paraphrasing, there.)
Now, let’s analyze this:
First, let’s look at what this does to Miss Ingram. He’s basically led her on and then broken off an engagement with her. The readers don’t care, though, because she’s a greedy, snotty gold-digger, right? She doesn’t actually love Rochester–she just wants his money. As Rochester says, “Her feelings are concentrated in one–pride; and that needs humbling.”
It doesn’t matter. If he were worth anything at all, he wouldn’t have anything to do with her. He wouldn’t glance at her twice. He wouldn’t view it as his job to humble her. He definitely wouldn’t encourage her and lead her on and get engaged to her and then break it off.
Badly done, Mr. Rochester.
Now, let’s look at what this does to Jane, the girl he “truly loves.”
It breaks her heart. Her sweet, innocent, plain little heart–broken into a million pieces.
Badly done, Mr. Rochester.
But he gives a fantastic reason: “I feigned courtship of Miss Ingram, because I wished to render you as madly in love with me as I was with you; and I knew jealousy would be the best ally I could call in for the furtherance of that end.”
Ah, yes–that’s it, Mr. Rochester. Don’t pursue the girl you love. Don’t let her know you love her. Don’t do anything to make her feel loved or valued or wanted or beautiful. No, sir–resort to lies and deception to cause her the most pain possible.
Oh, I hate him.
But wait–there’s more.
Rochester (endearing scoundrel that he is) has asked Jane to marry him. It’s sweet. They’re going to be married and live happily ever after.
Enter the antagonist of the book who actually did nothing wrong except for be mentally ill. But we all hate her, because she’s keeping Jane from marrying a deceptive, manipulative rage-monster.
There are so many levels to the wrongness of this part of the book.
Level Number One
Surprise! Rochester can’t marry Jane because he’s married to the crazy lady who’s been biting people in the attic.
And he kept it from Jane and did his very extra best to become a bigamist. Because that’s what heroes do.
Level Number Two
He doesn’t apologize or admit that what he did was wrong.
Level Number Three
He still doesn’t apologize or admit that what he did was wrong.
Level Number Four
Not only does he not admit that what he did was wrong, he tries to convince Jane that they should carry out what they started.
They can’t legally get married, so (logically) Jane should just become his mistress. Why?
Because he has a victim mentality and a skewed set of morals. He thinks that since his first wife went crazy, he’s entitled to a second shot. He can lock her in the attic (which I know is probably better than sending her to an asylum, given the care that insane people were given at that time, but that’s beside the point), and he can forget about her, and he can marry someone else.
He claims that he’s not truly married to Bertha Rochester–he’s truly married to Jane Eyre. Why?
Because he really, really wants to be married to Jane Eyre. That’s why.
And he can’t for the life of him figure out why Jane won’t run away with him and be his mistress.
Level Number Five
He threatens to hurt Jane.
Let me clarify–he doesn’t do this metaphorically or figuratively.
He literally threatens to hurt her. With his mouth.
“Jane! will you hear reason? Because, if you won’t, I’ll try violence.” This whispered hoarsely into her ear. Read the book. It’s in there.
And what does Jane think of this?
“I saw that in another moment, and with one impetus of frenzy more, I should be able to do nothing with him. The present–the passing second of time–was all I had in which to control and restrain him. A movement of repulsion, flight, fear, would have sealed my doom–and his. But I was not afraid–not in the least. I felt an inward power–a sense of influence–which supported me.”
Oh. Well then it’s okay, right? Because she isn’t afraid. So it’s fine.
She isn’t afraid because she knows exactly what she has to do to calm him down and protect herself. This speaks nothing to his merit–it merely shows that Jane has remarkable presence of mind and considerable sway over him. It doesn’t change the fact that if she didn’t know exactly what to do next, he would have hurt her.
Later in the same conversation, though, Jane is less certain of what to do:
“The blood was forsaking his cheek and lips; they were growing livid; I was distressed on all hands. To agitate him thus deeply, by a resistance he so abhorred, was cruel; to yield was out of the question. I did what human beings do instinctively when they are driven to utter extremity–looked for aid to one higher than man; the words ‘God help me!’ burst involuntarily from my lips.”
Do you see what’s happened here? Not only is Jane now completely at a loss for what to do, but she now somehow believes that this is her fault. He’s convinced her that she’s the one doing this to him–torturing him, driving him to insanity–when in reality, it’s his own lust and lack of control.
Oh, I hate him so much.
Edward Rochester is the absolute worst, and Jane could do better.
But she doesn’t, of course.
“Reader, I married him.”
I have only one good thing to say for Edward Rochester–when his house was burning down, he went back in to try to save Bertha. According to all of his previous feelings and actions, there was no reason for him to do that.
But he did it. It was the one noble act of his in the book.
In reality, though, what husband wouldn’t try to save his wife? If nothing else, it’s an obligation.
I’m just so impressed that Rochester did it because he tried to keep her hidden from the rest of the world while he married someone else.
So it doesn’t speak volumes to his character. He’s still the worst.
And in my affectionate opinion, he always will be.