Jane Eyre: Loving Mr. Rochester?

Ten days ago, I said I would be posting several times on Jane Eyre. Since then, I have written one post. The thing is, I had plans for several posts in my head and the one you are reading now I felt, had to be one of the first. I wanted to talk about my conflicted feelings towards Rochester and yet totally understanding Jane’s love for him. But every time I try to write this post I get stuck. What can I say, except that I do feel conflicted towards him, or at the very least know I should? What can I do but quote every part of the book he is in and add “OMG YES!” afterwards, as Sasha suggested on twitter?


I cannot help it, but Toby Stephens IS Mr. Rochester to me, now, as Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy

We all know, rationally, why we shouldn’t love Rochester, I guess: I do not have a problem with his cross-dressing, but the fact that he lies to Jane Eyre gets to me, his courting of Miss Ingram just to make Jane Eyre jealous, his having a wife locked up in the attic and yet wanting to marry Jane. He might just be the condensed version of what we all feel is wrong with that other Edward [Twilight] (don’t get me started on the fact that Twilight has a character called Edward as well. That is to say, I did not remember that Mr. Rochester is called Edward. Reading Jane Eyre has made me dislike Twilight in a way I never could before. I actually had a post planned on that as well, not sure if that is going to happen).

And yet.. Every time I write these things down, I find myself defending him in my head. Or at the very least telling myself that he is not the epitome of a “bad man” as some people make him out to be. “Trying to make her jealous, that is actually very smart” “What else was he to do?” “I do pity him for his first wife, in a way”. I try, I really try to stop myself, but I don’t think I could fully say “I dislike Rochester, he isn’t a “good” man.” I just can’t. I know I probably should, but well.. *sigh*  it just isn’t happening. What can I say, I guess Charlotte Brontë really knew what she was doing.

Because [this is my defense mechanism clicking into place again], I do not think Mr. Rochester is manipulative. Except for lying about his first wife.. Okay, so that is not something to let slide. THAT IS NOT SOMETHING TO LET SLIDE. I just don’t know. I have been thinking what redeems him for me. First thought: his passion and the intensity of his love for Jane? Second (and this took me a long while, more on that in the next post): I think it might be Jane that redeems his behaviour for me. That makes this not the unequal relationship that some other books portray [Hello, Twilight].

I even considered (and I cannot believe I am writing this down) if the fact that I felt so much this time, fell so deeply, is because I am currently living 1300 kilometers away from my boyfriend for 4 months. That because I do not have someone who loves me around every day (and I am not at all complaining about my boyfriend, he is the best) is why I felt the intensity of the book, the hidden sexual tension, the whole love story playing out before your eyes, all the more.

Some sigh-worthy scenes (I looked through my ereader, and I actually have over a 100 page markers, so I decided to choose the first two that I really like. So as not to tire you, which I probably already have.):

“You have saved my life: I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt. I cannot say more. Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of a creditor to such obligation: but you: it is different; – I feel your benefit no burden, Jane.”

He paused; gazed at me: words almost visible trembled on his lips, – but his voice was checked.

“Good-night again, sir. There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case.”

“I knew,” he continued, “you would do me good in some way, at some time; – I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not” – (again he stopped) – “did not” (he proceeded hastily) “strike delight to my inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies: I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, goodnight!”

Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.

Okay, so third reason? Charlotte Brontë’s excellent writing! The pauses, almost trembling lips, the detailed scenes that make you feel as if you are right there..

“I am tired, sir.”

He looked at me for a minute.

“And a little depressed,” he said. “What about? Tell me.”

“Nothing-nothing, sir. I am not depressed.”

“But I affirm that you are: so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes-indeed, they are here now, shining and swimming; and a has slipped from the lash and fallen on to the flag. If I had time, and was not in mortal dread of some prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all this means. Well to-night I excuse you; but understand that so long as my visitors stay, I expect you to appear in the drawing-room every evening; it is my wish; don’t neglect it. Now go, and send Sophie for Adѐle. Good-night, my -” He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly left me.”

Wait, did I say that Mr. Rochester is not manipulative? Scratch that, he is! I cannot believe I did not remember that he made Jane sit through day after day of his courting Miss Ingram just to make her jealous. And I find it even harder to admit that when he admitted that that was why he did it later on in the book, I actually felt relieved. And.. I chose to highlight this scene not just because he plays the overbearing master and is incredibly harsh towards Jane, to remind myself that he is manipulative (one of the reasons I love Rochester is actually that he treats Jane as an equal, most (my defense mechanism says all? but this scene surely shows he uses his position at times?) of the time), but because of the “my -” part and the fact that he bit his lip. Aren’t I pathetic?

36 thoughts on “Jane Eyre: Loving Mr. Rochester?

  1. Violet

    I’ve never liked Jane Eyre (the book) that much. (Heresy, I know!) To me, Jane Eyre (the character) reflects the stereotypical Victorian ideal of “The Angel in the House”; the good, reforming, sensible, capable woman who “manages” the household and the people within. I’d rather Jane had thrown caution to the wind and lived “in sin” with Mr R and been a scarlet woman! I think that would have been a whole lot more fun. She’s just a bit too prim and proper for my liking. Mr R treats her badly, and she bites her tongue and calls him “Sir”. Egads! She should have cracked him across his smug face, stolen his horse, and galloped off into the night, instead of wandering off in a daze and nearly freezing to death on the moors. I wish I could share the Jane Eyre love, but I find the book a bit too tame for my liking. Obviously, my viewpoint says more about me than about the book!🙂

  2. Teresa

    I know just what you mean about being conflicted. Mr Rochester is one of my biggest literary crushes, and even I am at a bit of a loss as to why. I suppose part of it is that he see him through Jane’s eyes, and she loves him. I also appreciate that he does see something in Jane, a woman who others in his position would probably treat merely as part of the furniture. A lot of his manipulativeness (which is terrible) I tend to attribute to his own internal conflict that keeps him from ever doing the right thing. And then there’s the fact that by the end of the book, he realizes he was wrong. It’s then and only then that he actually becomes an acceptable partner for Jane.

  3. Chrisbookarama

    I know, I feel the same way. I can’t help but defend the guy. Somewhere near the end St John says something about his being a bad man and Jane jumps to his defense. Something like, “You don’t know him.” I do the same thing.

    Jane isn’t blind to his faults, she knows he has them and she knows he has bad habits. For the most part she can live with them but when he goes too far and challenges her principles, she leaves him. It’s a wake up call for him. He knows he can’t always have his way.

    And yes, there is an underlying sexual tension that makes the book even more swoon worthy!

  4. Fiona

    You are really making me want to re-read Jane Eyre! I loved the sexual tension between Rochester and Jane – considering the time it was written as well this is one racy book. Not today of course, but I love this kind of ‘romance’ where the tension is always there burning so heavily away. I felt everything Jane felt and it was magnificent.

    I think Rochester is such an awesome romantic character, more so in fact then Mr Darcy. He is a deeply flawed man and he is possessive, passionate and manipulative too. However Jane is an intelligent and fiercely independent woman so their pairing I think really does work because they both temper each other’s personalities. She makes him a better man because I think in a way – he does want to ‘submit’ more to Jane’s sense of goodness – in her straight laced way – to make himself good. She can own him more then he can own her despite all his methods of getting her to confess attraction. On the outside I think it looks more as if he is trying to command her but on the inside I think it is the other way around…

    I think, the reason why he decided to make Jane so jealous was because he wanted to ignite that passion in her and that he had to make her admit to him she was attracted to him. Perhaps had he gone about it another way – she’d have said no, that it was wrong, improper…

    Concerning his wife, I think if we just presume that she is in fact bonkers conkers, and nothing to do with her race etc., then it is perhaps a bit easier to understand Rochester. As you said in a previous post – it is a novel of it’s time, to judge it from a modern day perspective it is perhaps very un-PC and incorrect.

    In those days mental illness was not fully understood and people were very prejudice against it. It still has a stigma today so what it would have been like then must have been awful. I think you could say that at least Rochester did not send her to a mental asylum which would have been much worse then being locked up in an attic, where at least she did seem to have full time care. However, I imagine this reason may have been more to do with the fact that Rochester wanted to prevent social embarrassment. However, he did try to save her in the end didn’t he… and I think there was part of him that did care, but he was a product of his time… it would not have been easy to live openly with a mad wife in those days, I imagine…

    So I completely forgive Mr Rochester. Although my Rochester will forever be Timothy Dalton of the 1983 or whatever BBC version… I always thought Toby Stevens was a little bit too handsome. Then again they said the same of Dalton – but I don’t find him handsome, but it’s his charisma that’s so attractive.

  5. Alex

    O the eternal Mr. Rochester question! Just this Monday I had a bookclub meeting to discuss The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and as usual we ended up comparing that hero with him. Opinions, as you might imagine, we different, but on one thing we all agreed: Rochester has much more sex appeal than Gilbert. I even suggested that Rochester is a mild Arthur exactly because of his manipulative side, but was almost linched by the hard-core fans (I’m glad you’re partial but reasonable :)).

    I don’t think he’s a bad man. He just likes to play games and has a big ego (well, Jane took care of that, didn’t she?). He also made the mistake of thinking “if you ignore it, it will go away!”.

    When will you post about Twilight? Please do! I’m also interested in know what you think about Heathcliff…

    And to end, I’ll leave you with this funny interpretation of Mr Rochester by Linday at “Stay Icy” in a post about The 15 Most Annoying Literary Characters:
    “Hello, I’m Mr. Rochester, and I don’t really love Miss Blanche Ingram, as I’ve led you to believe. *chuckles* Oh no, it is YOU I love! BUT, in order to assess your love for me, I have only pretended to desire her. But never fear, my love, you have passed my sick and twisted little test so now I am springing this on you like, ‘supriiiize!! lololzzz!!’ and it was all a great joke and now we shall marry, darling!!!😀 But do let us hurry, lest you discover the existence of my demonic, bestial, knife-wielding first wife whom I keep locked up in the attic before we say our vows. ;)”

  6. amymckie

    Isn’t that a sign of a great book though? Where you feel conflicted and you know you ought to feel one thing but you can’t help defending the characters based on the impression the main character has of them?? I don’t know about this book, I read it once and wasn’t a huge fan (I know, I know, I’m sorry! heh).

    1. Eva

      I wasn’t a huge fan either Amy (I read it a couple times, to see if I’d missed anything)! I thought I was the only one in blogland! *feels better about self*

  7. Christina

    This post gave me a lot of food for thought. It’s been a while since I read Jane Eyre, so I should probably revisit it and refresh my impressions. I do really like the book, and I totally buy into the love between Jane and Mr. Rochester. The palpable passion (and, yes, sexual tension) between them is so well written, and the romantic moments definitely make me do the girly swoony thing.🙂

    At the same time, I don’t find myself wishing to BE Jane Eyre the same way I might wish to be Elizabeth Bennet.🙂 Rochester is fundamentally selfish. He doesn’t care about right and wrong, just about what he wants. He’s willing to commit bigamy just to be with Jane — despite the fact that he knows Jane would never want to be in that position. He tries to force her to go against her principles, and that’s something I can’t respect.

    I really like the way the book turns out in the end, though. Rochester redeems himself by trying to save his mad wife, and through his blindness he learns humility. By then, he is worthy to be with Jane — and really, there’s nothing more romantic than Jane’s statement at the end of the book: “Reader, I married him.” Who doesn’t tear up a little at that line?!

  8. rhapsodyinbooks

    I don’t think you’re pathetic! Or if you are, you are joined by a gazillion other women in the world! And I don’t think Mr. R. is manipulative. Well, maliciously manipulative. I would almost characterize him as insecure with respect to Jane, because he knows she is good and moral and he wants her to love him anyway. Love that book! And I have always been partial to the movie with William Hurt as Mr. R., but I know that is not the popular choice!

  9. Rachel

    Oh Mr Rochester…he makes me quiver! Toby Stephens was PERFECT, I thought. Exactly as I always imagined he would be.

    What I think makes Rochester such a good romantic hero is that he is a flawed, selfish, manipulative and arrogant man, BUT he has enough good in him to redeem all of these characteristics. If you think about it, everything he does that could be construed as ‘cruel’ or ‘manipulative’ or ‘selfish’ is actually out of love for Jane. He can’t control his own emotions – he doesn’t have the self possession Jane has – and this means he often makes illadvised decisions in the heat of the moment. All he can think about is Jane and how to have her, and he doesn’t mean to hurt her. Don’t forget he takes care of Bertha compassionately, and also, he looks after Adele – he didn’t have to do either of those things. He has a good heart. He’s not perfect, but who is?

    I could go into a long and detailed exposition of his character, but at the end of the day, let’s not get all feminist about it – we all know the truth. He is a bad boy, and no woman can resist a bad boy! He’s cheeky, arrogant, passionate and sexy. He might not always be considerate or kind, but come on – what man is?! I love him and won’t hear a word against him. All of Jane Austen’s romantic heroes look like limp teatowels next to him!

  10. Emily

    OK, a) Rochester’s cross-dressing is hot, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Although I’ve always had a hard time believing that Jane would take such a long time realizing it’s him.

    And b) You’re not pathetic! There’s a reason these characters have such lasting appeal, which is that Brontë knew her stuff. Yes he’s manipulative, but Brontë writes him in such a way that it’s nigh-impossible for MANY people (including me) not to chalk that up to his brooding Byronic insecurities. And like Teresa said, he’s well and truly chastened by the end of the novel, which gives a moralistic reader permission to feel good about the Jane/Rochester marriage. And although I think it’s certainly worth pointing out the imperialist/colonialist assumptions underlying the Bertha Rochester plotline, we can hardly hold it against Edward Rochester that he holds the same opinions of colonialized people that all British folks did in his day. (Whether or not we can hold it against Brontë is even a complicated question, but I think Rochester himself is off the hook on that one.)

  11. Iris Post author

    I feel a need to explain myself on one point since a lot of people have commented on it. I do not at all feel any hesitation towards Rochester because he locks up his mad wife. I know, that might be cruel, but I do believe he takes better care of her than most people that were considered mad at the time were taken care of. Also, I do not let my postcolonial lens come into play when I think of Rochester. What makes me think I should dislike Rochester is his not telling Jane about his wife and thus almost making her do something that he knows does not fit into her moral beliefs. Sorry, just felt the need to explain that a little better..

  12. Charlie

    I seem to remember thinking of Edward Cullen when I read the book too (is it blasphemy to include that name in a comment about Jane Eyre?) And I understand your conflicting thoughts because sometimes Rochester does come across as manipulative. But by and large I have to say I love him, I love his humour and the way he is, he’s unlike every character I’ve read.

    I think regarding his flaws they show the inner turmoil and how he doesn’t know how to express to Jane his thoughts at first, and like you I like that he treats Jane as an equal. It’s clear that his societal self in the book is more a case of having to than wanting to.

  13. tuulenhaiven

    Being thoroughly conflicted about Rochester myself, I won’t weigh in – however I did find it very odd to see that picture of Toby Stephens, as I know him only as Duke Orsino from the 1996 Twelfth Night. He might make a decent Rochester – I’ll have to check that version out.🙂

  14. pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

    Because several have mentioned him, Mr. Darcy has always seemed a bit too perfect for me. (I know – ridiculous, right?) But true. Mr. Rochester is flawed. I like that he knows his flaws, accepts them, and that Jane – her very existence – makes him want to be better than he is, makes him question himself and his life in a way he had never thought to. I love Mr. Rochester, always have, always will. That’s a difficult thing to admit as a feminist. Are there reasons to dislike him? Yes, of course, but again, I wouldn’t put our lens on him. I think he does with Bertha the only thing he knows to do.

    Iris – as you say, he does hide that fact from Jane, but as he mentions, he knows no other way to be happy now that he’s found her. It doesn’t excuse it, but it darn sure make me think twice about him. And that last passage you quote is one of my absolute favorites.

  15. Bina

    Heh, that complexity makes him just more interesting. I’m not a fanatic Rochester fan, and I don’t tend to swoon😉 But I adore complex characters in general, and straight-forwardness can become pretty boring pretty quickly.

  16. chasing bawa

    Rochester should have told Jane about his wife. But then he probably knew what she would do… Oh, the dilemma! I used to think Wuthering Heights was the greatest love story of all when I was at school compared to Jane Eyre, but when I re-read it in college I changed my mind. There was a quiet sense of suppressed passion about Jane and Rochester that I found incredibly romantic. Definitely more so that Cathy and Heathcliff:) There is so much that is wrong with Rochester but I feel he is redeemed because he sees Jane for who she really is.

    Btw, have you read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde? Would be interesting to see what you think of it as both Jane and Rochester make an appearance.

  17. Jillian

    … I do not have a problem with his cross-dressing…

    Rochester cross-dressed? Do tell! I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find what you’re referencing. Weird – I have no memory of the cross-dressing…

  18. Yvette

    I am blind when it comes to Mr. Rochester, I’ve always loved him though I understand that he would not be an easy man to love in reality – he is so flawed. His imperious, impetuous nature is, in fiction, seen as romantic and sexually charged, but in reality, I wonder. But on the other hand, you have his total devotion to Jane – being totally devoted to by such a man is a great turn on, then and now.

    Rochester ‘cross-dressed’ when he impersonated the fortune telling gypsy at the party. Ha! I’ve always thought that a bit bizarro myself, but maybe that’s the sort of thing men did for fun in the 19th century.🙂

    My own crazy theory is that Rochester was not the first Gothic hero (neither was Heathcliff), rather he is second after Beast in Beauty and the Beast, the one on which all the others are based. (Forget about Byron.) At least in my mind. (Before you completely discard this theory see Jean Cocteau’s incredible film, LA BELLE ET LA BETE, then we’ll tawk.)

    1. Jillian

      Rochester ‘cross-dressed’ when he impersonated the fortune telling gypsy at the party.

      Oh, that’s right! I’d forgotten.

      Ha! That was a funny (and weird) scene.😆

  19. Nymeth

    First of all, you are anything but pathetic, Iris! This is such a thoughtful and passionate post. Personally I’m a fan of Mr. Rochester – I don’t like how he hid Bertha’s existence, but otherwise, when it comes to Jane I agree he treats her as an intellectual equal. A lot of what he does I see as teasing and playfulness, and Jane absolutely gets her own back. I just love the dynamics between them, and I love the fact that in the end he allows himself to be vulnerable with her.

    1. Amanda

      Um, I was going to leave a comment, but then Ana said everything I wanted to say, so I’m just going to put a “ditto” here. I adore Rochester, almost everything about him.

  20. Melissa

    It is funny how we can fall so completely for Mr. Rochester when he does such awful things (aka hiding his wife in the attic), but at the same time I agree with your comments. In the end it’s his love for Jane and their chemistry that redeems them both.

  21. bookmagic

    Great post. I never thought about Mr Rochester as manipulative before, but I guess he is. I just saw him as more flawed, to repeat a popular word for him. I loved that he was able to tell Jane how much he loved her, unlike Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth. There are always new things to find with rereading classics. Your post is something I will keep in mind the next time I read Jane Eyre!

  22. Jeanne

    I feel like what Amanda already said, but will also add that Fforde must have counted on there being lots of us Rochester fans to make his fiction work–if there weren’t a lot of strong longing for Jane to get back to Rochester, Fforde’s book would not work at all!

  23. Jenny

    I feel just the same about Mr. Rochester as Ana does. I know he’s flawed, and there’s really no excuse for a lot of the things he does (unless you count rampant insecurity and mad mad love for Jane), but I love the dynamic between him and Jane so much. It’s not the kind of romance novel relationship that seems to have very little basis other than mutual attraction — with Jane and Rochester, I can see them spending their lives together and really, really enjoying each other’s company into old age. They always have a giggle! I root for them because they make each other laugh (and they make me laugh). I’ll forgive a lot for people who make me laugh.

  24. Jodie

    ‘Reading Jane Eyre has made me dislike Twilight in a way I never could before.’ ooo make it happen.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments here, so many conflicted Rochester fans – awesome. For me I think I like Rochester for similar reasons that Jenny does, because of the dynamic and because CB creates an opportunity to allow the reader to compartmentalize his character. The characters exist in two morality universes. She portrays Rochester as being kind and thoughtful and admiring of Jane in one – the inner relationship universe where there’s just the two of them interacting, then in another universe, that includes other people, y’know a guy who locks up his wife and uses other women to make Jane jealous when he already has all the power in that relationship. She makes it easy for us to say ‘well I hate that he locked up his wife, but that doesn’t really effect his relationship with Jane’. Just my thoughts anyway.

    I’m not quite sure why we can’t let our postcolonial lenses intrude on Rochester’s character though. Jeanne Rhys wrote a whole novella decrying Rochester for locking up his wife because she was black, not because she was crazy. I mean we only have Rochester’s word for it that she was mad when he first locked her up…My lecturer used to quite happily mention that CB used Bertha’s race and mad womanhood to limit how far from their usual sensibilities they’d have to go when reading this book to make sure that her male readers would still respond well to Jane, despite her independence. Bertha’s story could never have been Jane’s story of love and learning and redemption even though she was also Rochester’s intended and then wife, because her race would have prejudiced the male readership against the whole book and made them reject Charlotte’s proto-feminist ideas straight away. So was race involved in Bertha’s incarceration, it’s an option and it carries implications for another element readers might have to seperate out to cntinue to like Rochester’s character.

  25. Melissa

    After reading your rave review of the 2006 BBC version of Jane Eyre I watched the whole thing over Thanksgiving break. It was just wonderful! So thank you thank you thank you for recommending it!

  26. rebeccareid

    I like Rochester — he is full of flaws but that makes him so REAL. He’s not just this perfect love interest. As in some books. He’s complicated, and that’s real people are.

  27. Pingback: Looking Back.. 2010 | Iris on Books

  28. Pingback: Jane Eyre « Ardent Reader

  29. Ashley

    I love the book Jane Eyre so much. The film is also great. I like how it is all about a women (Jane) trying to work around her love for a man (Mr Rochester). She faces many complications which make her find things hard. During the film, both Janes’ and Mr Rochesters’ love comes together. I recommend people to read the book and also watch the new version of the film 1996. When your reading the book, you won’t be able to put it down.

  30. Deb Dyer

    I just found your blog and really enjoy it. I think that we love the relationship because it shows us that love of a good women is redemptive, making men capable of being better with it than without it. I have always worried that Rochester would lock her up and move on to wife number 3.

  31. Pingback: Milton and Helstone [North & South Read Along] | Iris on Books

One of the things I love about book blogging is that it enables conversation. Please don't hesitate to share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s