JANE EYRE BOOK CLUB…PART THREE!
OK, I've been holding back till noon (my time) but now I can't resist anymore.
Can we talk about Mr. Rochester?
Friends, may I just ask…what the HELL, with this character?
I think I was expecting him to be a sort of Mr. Darcy-like figure (brooding and challenging, but basically a solid guy) but seriously? Mr. Rochester is a HOT MESS.
(I say this with admiration, by the way. He's quite the personage and I enjoyed every page of him. WELL DONE, Ms. Brontë. Well done.)
But still. A mess! If I were Jane Eyre's worldly older auntie or friendly divorced next-door neighbor, I would be like, "Honey, really? Think about this guy. Think about it seriously…"
Because there are gloomy Byronic poetic heroes, (and we all go through a phase in our lives when we love them — and by the way, this image is a portrait Byron himself, who could easily have modeled for Rochester in every way) but then there are guys who are just friggin' catastrophes. And Rochester is the train wreck of all train wrecks.
Let us review our beloved Mr. Rochester.
He's moody, sullen, emotionally unstable, heavy-hearted, accusatory, self-pitying, self-absorbed, deceptive, and a touch overly-dramatic. (Which is fine — again, we've all fallen in love with that sort of guy at some time or another.) But he's also an attempted bigamist, whose history with women is dicey at best. (His taste runs, prior to Jane, to promiscuous opera girls, fallen women and dangerous gorgeous island types.) Never does he take any personal accountability for the fact the he picked those women; he merely complains about how they wronged him and ruined him. (I am utterly unconvinced that Adele is not actually his kid, by the way.) He marries for money (and still, childishly, blames his daddy for not leaving him the family fortune…DUDE, GET A JOB!) and then blames everyone for having deceived him that Bertha is mad. He convinces himself that locking that poor woman in the attic is the height of responsibility and compassion, and then he lies to everyone about it — Jane most of all.
The lying is what really gets me, and I found myself furious — once Bertha's existence is revealed to Jane — that he never apologizes! And Jane never asks him to apologize! (Her complaint with him is that he's married; not that he's NUTS.) Not only did he lie to Jane, but when she told him about the terrifying woman who had come into her bedroom in the night to rip up her wedding veil, he accuses JANE of being mentally unstable, of imagining things. ("It's all in your head, sweetheart" — the refrain of every compulsive liar.) THEN, when Jane threatens to leave him, he pulls out every stop in the Crazy-Guy handbook (from self-pity to emotional manipulation to a threat of violence) while never once saying, "Yeah, honey, sorry about all this…I can see how this whole situation must be kinda tough of you, too…" No — it's all Me, Me, Me, Poor Little Me.
Then when Jane does leave him, he becomes a total wreck. (And I mean this even before he is physically injured.) He doesn't go out there in the world and better himself in any way, or make amends, or try to be a better man. He just folds up and falls apart in a dark funk of despair. While brokenhearted Jane, meanwhile, goes out in the world (with NOTHING, mind you) and finds a very productive and very noble new life for herself. (I've seen a lot of divorces that roll like this, by the way.) While I like the idea that the woman in this story is INFINITELY stronger than the man, I'm also a bit alarmed at what a loser Rochester is.
(I'm not even getting INTO the scene where he dresses in drag.)
On the other hand, I kind of dig it — from a reader's perspective — that's he such a damn weirdo. It's such a strange sort of "hero" for Brontë to choose — so very much against romantic type. I've never met anyone quite like him in such a big and important novel.
And the chemistry between Jane and Rochester, from their very first scenes together is RED HOT. This perhaps took me by the most surprise. I love my Lizzie Bennet, but she never had a conversation with Mr. Darcy that was nearly as kinky and freaky and sexualized and frankly WEIRD as the way Jane talks to Rochester, and he to her. (If they are anything in bed like they are in dialogue — WHOA!) Jane can handle him, is what I'm saying. What's more, she can torment him and knock him around a bit and control him. Also, she loves him, sincerely. We get this right away. She likes this screwed-up and broken odd man. I feel her satisfaction when they finally end up together. It couldn't be any other way. But do we like him for her? Is it any of our business?
(I guess it is our business, since we are THE JANE EYRE BOOK CLUB!)
So open it up, everyone. Rochester! WTF? DISCUSS!
(ps — Does Brontë take Rochester's arm and eyes at the end to punish him for being sort of a prick? Is that the ultimate in novelistic passive-aggression?)