Classic Remarks – Rochester & Jane – MFEO?

Classic Remarks is meme hosted at Pages Unbound that asks questions every Friday about classic literature in hopes of starting a conversation.    This week’s prompt is:

Is Jane Eyre‘s Rochester an attractive, brooding Love Interest or Dangerously Manipulative?

This post has spoilers for Jane Eyre and assumes some knowledge of the plot!

line clipart

Jane & Rochester

Sitting in a tree


Gee is that his wife in the attic?!

I never really thought about it before but this is so Real Wives of Thornfield isn’t it?!

Jane Eyre has always been in my top three books.  I first read it in high school (I’m eternally grateful to Julie for recommending it to me). I’ve always loved it’s titular character.  She’s got some real spunk.  I admire her desire to find a better life for herself, instead of being content to sit back and let others control her destiny.  It would have been so easy to give up on herself, considering all she went through in her early years.  Then she winds up in this great old house, taking care of a nice little girl, and has caught the eye of the owner, one Edward Fairfax Rochester.

He is not such a nice guy (IMO).  He is manipulative from the first.  Jane she calls him out on his nonesense, and I LOVE it! When he asks her to marry him it seems like everything is finally going right for our girl Jane.  Then you find out he’s already married.  Oh yeah.  Plus his wife has been living in the attic the whole time, and she crazy.

This crazy wife Bertha, has escaped her attic prison before and attempted to kill Rochester, and NO ONE TOLD JANE WHAT WAS GOING ON.   Don’t you think that was some necessary information?  After his prior marriage is found out, he persists in trying to set Jane up as his mistress.

I’ve been a big fan of Jane Eyre, but I am really just a fan of Jane herself.  I never understood the whole Rochester as love interest thing.  I get the powerful attraction they had, but I think one of the things that makes her so interesting to me is that she didn’t make excuses for his bad behavior.  However much she wanted to be with him, she was not willing to sacrifice her personal integrity just to keep her man.  To be honest, when she did finally go back to him I never got on board with it.  She had no guarantee that his attitudes had changed at all. I guess we are just supposed to take it for granted that the Universe had compelled her to return.  Ok, whatever.

Rochester is an interesting character and is not without his likeable characteristics.  I saw him as what Jane could have been.  He is a version of Jane with too much money, a really terrible parental example, and  having been exposed and expected to conform to the moral laxness that comes with being rich, noble and male in that time. He is Jane without Helen to teach her gentleness, compassion and strength of character.  Without Ms. Temple to teach her grace under fire, and industriousness in spite of opposition.  He is at heart, not a bad person. That’s why I don’t hate that he ends up with Jane.  I think she makes him a better person.  I just think it’s a fantasy.  That doesn’t happen in real life.  As such the romance should not be taken as an example, only Jane.  She’s what truly matters here.





4 thoughts on “Classic Remarks – Rochester & Jane – MFEO?

  1. Great post! I read Jane Eyre in either late middle school or early high school and I think mostly took the book at face value at the time. It said Rochester was romantic, so, sure, I believed it. It took thinking about the issue more deeply to realize that he has some flaws.

    I think you raise the really interesting question of how people should feel about those flaws. Obviously Jane becomes aware of them but decides to forgive him, and sees his has some really great qualities, too. I think she sees what he can be and challenges him to be that, and sometimes that’s what some people really need.

    1. I don’t know your age, but in my case, I think being older means I have less time for broody melancholy heroes who you have to “change”. That tends to appeal to younger women more I think. 😉 But as Amy Poehler says “Good for her, not for me.” I can’t begrudge Jane sticking with him, she made it work.

  2. I think you’re onto something here. I usually hear Jane Eyre referred to as a swoony romance, but it’s really the story of Jane’s spiritual growth. In that sense, it’s important and notable that she rejects Rochester when she finds out he is married. Some people I’ve spoken to feel badly for Rochester (not without reason) as he is apparently now left to live alone, his first wife having gone mad. They want him and Jane to be happy together, regardless of the wife in the attic. But Jane can’t be happy if she’s doing something she thinks is wrong. She won’t commit bigamy just to fulfill her desire for earthly happiness and she won’t live what she considers a degraded life as a mistress. That’s the crux of the issue right there–Jane won’t be happy.

    For her, loving someone isn’t enough to justify sin. Rochester knows this, which is, I think, what makes me dislike him even more. He tries to trick her into doing something she wouldn’t like because he is absolutely certain she would not disobey her conscience. It almost seems that if they were to get married at the first, Jane would not be lifting Rochester up to the higher level of existence he imagines; Rochester might end up dragging Jane down.

    1. Yes exactly!
      I also like how she knows that she can’t be his mistress in part because she knows that capitulating will not make him respect and love her. It’s like a saying I’ve heard before “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.” She’s going to end up like the opera singer, just another woman to be left behind once he’s done with her. Part of what (to me) makes Jane remarkable as a heroine is because she sees all of it so clearly and says that all the principles that have made her who she is were made for this moment. To help her make the right choice. It’s not an easy one for her, but it’s the right one and so she makes it. That’s both what he loves most about her and what keeps her away from him. I guess that does say some good for him. He wants to be better, he wants what he sees in her. Eventually, he gets it, but he has to suffer so much before that happens.

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