*spoilers: DO NOT READ ON IF UNPREPARED*
The big guns are coming out now, and they’re not pretty. The inspiration for this very blog originally came from an article by Edan Lepucki at The Millions (see below for the link*), and so I thought it might be appropriate to soothe the pain caused by my current sporadic posts and unpredictable absences with a fat and meaty one that will last us through exam season. As might be expected, the reason for the high-protein content of this post lies in its diet of the pure loathing and revulsion with which I am inspired by Mr. Rochester whenever I re-read Jane Eyre.
In my view, you can only be truly besotted with either Jane Eyre, or Pride and Prejudice; you may like both, but only one will inspire eternal love and awe within your very soul. Mr. Rochester, in particular, is a ‘marmite’ character, and personally I’m not a fan (to put it mildly). Are you nodding in electrified agreement? Or are you spitting with rage and/or fuming with the heat of a thousand burning Pride and Prejudice texts?
Jane Eyre is an orphan who lives with her aunt and cousins and generally has a pretty rubbish life, not helped by the pretty creepy (and slightly sexual?) advances of her cousin John, whom his mother thinks is the bee’s knees and whom everyone else thinks is completely dreadful. After kicking up a fuss at her treatment, she’s packed off to Lowood boarding school, where she makes a grand total of two friends: Helen Burns (who eventually dies) and Miss Temple (who eventually gets married and leaves). However, Jane (being Jane) signs up to another two years at school when she finishes her education… as a teacher. Because the natural choice is to spend more time at the place which you hated for six years; that makes sense! Anyway, she finally cottons on to what the reader has been shouting at the novel for the last 60 pages and makes her move, to become a governess at Thornfield.
Despite a little etiquette faux-pas at the beginning (she thinks the housekeeper is the lady of the house, as you would), she gets on very nicely and all seems to be going too well for a Brontë novel. Sure enough, during an evening walk —as again predicted by the reader, who by now is slightly frustrated with Jane’s complete lack of survival skills and general indifference towards her own wellbeing— a strange-looking horse and an even stranger-looking man fall at her feet. Rather than objecting to his rudeness on this occasion, or ever, his recurrent absence of civility appears merely to spur her on to greater efforts, and after a few chapters and hiccups —the beautiful and available Blanche Ingram on the one hand, the weird, lurking figure of ‘Grace Poole’ on the other— Rochester proposes. Oh, and she saves him from burning alive in his bed.
To cut a long story short, he’s married to a ‘mad’ (or so he says) woman he’s locked in his attic and the marriage doesn’t go through; apparently they had some sort of
completely understandable moral objection to bigamy back then? Though obviously a bit of a pain for Jane, this part is very exciting because 1) it seems as though Jane won’t marry Rochester, rejoice! and 2) it’s basically the only time that there is ever a reply to the standard question at weddings “Does anyone have any objections to this union blah blah blah?”. But Jane doesn’t see the humour for some reason, leaves in the night (another midnight stroll that messes up her life, you’d think she’d see the pattern) and ends up at some cottage somewhere. Surprise: they turn out to be long-lost cousins of hers! Bigger surprise: she inherits lots of money unexpectedly! Mahoosive surprise: the cousin with the most ridiculous name known to man (St John, pronounced “SIN-jun”…really?) wants to marry her and take her to India! Problem: he doesn’t love her, and actually wants to marry her because he loves someone else. Clearly.
Jane panics, scuttles back to Thornfield and is slightly taken aback to find it burnt down. All dead? Unfortunately not. The ex-wife has been suitably removed from the equation by throwing herself off the ramparts, but Rochester is very much alive (and blind), and he consoles her with romantic words along the lines of “No chance of you leaving, matey, I’m wearing your necklace, marry me?”. Classy stuff.
♥ Simple solution to all problems: don’t go on walks when you aren’t sure if you’ll be able to see anything. Potential obstacles include rain, fog/mist/cloud, sleet, snow, fairy-induced stupor and nightfall. Despite the nature of the English weather, which may suggest otherwise, nightfall is the only one of these that you KNOW is coming. So, AVOID IT.
♥ I know Helen had to die for the whole making-Jane’s-life-a-misery/parallel-with-Christ thing, but why did Helen have to die again?
The Big Scoop:
Bah. Again and again, I refuse to understand why Jane returns to Rochester. True, he wanted her when she was devoid of all stereotypically ‘attractive and feminine’ traits like physical beauty and tractability (to a certain degree, see Rochester’s weird obsession with her submission below), but when she had carved out a place for herself in the world, having started with nothing, is it so much to ask that she remains independent? I was desperate to see Brontë as a feminist, or at leat a woman who understood what it is to be caught between the spiritual and earthly ideals of men, but the ending just doesn’t come across that way to me. Equally, had Jane gone back to Thornfield with her tail between her legs, being destitute still, I wouldn’t have been ecstatic but we’re all human and we need to live! It seems, however, that her ultimate desire to be just a “nurse […] housekeeper” for her blind beloved necessarily undermines the character she has developed into as the book progresses. Self-sacrificing, yes. But love shouldn’t mean compromising your very identity, and Jane “desired liberty” above all: “for liberty [she] gasped”.
She ends up as his physical and mental support, but she doesn’t need him – does this make them equal? Even if you think so, equality should not be the only basis for a strong relationship; what about trust? While the Bertha situation obviously shows that Jane cannot trust Rochester, Rochester’s subsequent jealousy of St John when Jane relates to him her sufferings —sufferings caused by him, mind you!— clearly shows that he is unable to let himself trust her. Devoid of this equality, at least, how can they have faith in one another?
It is the Bildungsroman quality to the plot that really keeps me going. I do like Jane and I do like the shift in her character as she becomes herself. Top marks for leaving the man she loves because he lied to her —and had no plans to shatter the illusion until a paltry YEAR AND A DAY LATER, or until she is well and truly bound to him and has no hope of escaping— and, oh wait! was committing a CRIME in marrying her. A touch selfish. Plus, the locked-up-living-wife is kind of a dealbreaker anyway. Not so much for the whole ‘got one wife living already’ issue, but the ‘I keep her in my attic and she’s fine with it’ attitude. Goes hand in hand with the “you seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart”** attitude, if you ask me.
I know I have utterly failed to maintain any sense of impartiality throughout, but just to rub it in for a last time; Jane Eyre ultimately leaves us with the burning question of how Mr. Rochester is consistently voted ‘Most Romantic Literary Character’ while darling, brooding Mr. Darcy is left in the dust. And for me, it’s a mystery.
6½. And I’m not ashamed of it. If you want a Brontë sister novel with a hero who’s actually a decent person, Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the way to go.
*[ http://www.themillions.com/2010/08/mr-rochester-is-a-creep-a-list.html ] Read it if you have a moment, it’s hilarious and all round ACCURATE.
**Direct quotation, baby.