Breakfast in bed with burnt toast: Mr. Rochester ain’t no Prince Charming but it’s a love story all the same in “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

janeeyreeditOf course after reading “Wide Sargasso Sea”, I had to read “Jane Eyre” again. When I pulled out my copy, I realized from all the florescent sticky tabs that the last time I read Charlotte Bronte’s book was in university. Although I know the storyline well, I had forgotten how good the writing is in this book. It follows the pattern of many novels from the 19th century: It is very detailed and a little slower at the beginning; but, the details and the slower pace help you to really understand the character when the life-changing events take place later in the book.

I also love re-reading books….let me clarify, I love re-reading really good books. I find that you discover something new in the narrative either because you have a different perspective, or a new layer reveals itself. The last time I was reading “Jane Eyre”, I was looking for its Gothic motifs so I could write a good paper for my 19th Century Novels course. This time around, I was looking at Mr. Rochester through the light of “Wide Sargasso Sea” to see if the crazed, possessive, and selfish man appeared in Bronte’s novel. As I looked at the book through this lens, I felt surprise at the love story I read. All of the movie versions emphasize this is a love story, Bronte ensures there is no doubt  for the reader of  Jane’s love for Mr. Rochester, and they do end up so happily together in the conclusion. And yet, “Jane Eyre” is missing so many of the themes and emotions that characterize love stories today.

For one, the Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre” is not that far off from the portrayal of Mr. Rochester in “Wide Sargasso Sea”. He demands things are done his way, displays violent anger, speaks irrationally by insisting Jane is a witch or a fairy, disregards Jane’s desires, and deceives her in thinking he is free to marry. He even tries to alter Jane once they are engaged by forcing her to wear silks and jewels, calling her Mrs. Rochester or Janet instead of Jane as before, and lavishing her with flowery affections instead of speaking to her in their normal discourse. And yet he is clearly the hero of the story; he is the desired husband.

For another, their courtship is unlike any romantic story I have read. Normally, once the man and woman have admitted their love for each other, there is a passionate courtship before marriage. Yet once Mr. Rochester and Jane decide to get married, Jane thwarts Mr. Rochester’s affections insisting they carry on as they had before as governess and master. She indicates provocation to the point of irritation instead of an acceptance of caresses and endearments is more pleasing to Mr. Rochester’s character in the long run and more acceptable to her in their courtship stage.

“It was only in our evening conferences I thus thwarted and afflicted him…He had no such honeyed terms as “love” and “darling” on his lips: his best words at my service were “provoking puppet,” malicious elf,” “changeling,” &c. For caresses too, I now got grimaces; for a pressure of the hand, a pinch on the arm; for a kiss on the cheek, a severe tweak of the ear. It was all right: at present I decidedly preferred these fierce favours to anything more tender.”   (p. 360-361 end of Chapter XXIV)

Mr. Rochester is definitely not what I consider the ideal romantic hero, but there is something of truth that strikes in their love story. There is no flowery brushstrokes like we see in Nicholas Sparks’s or Nora Robert’s books where the characters fall instantly in love, passionately in love, dramatic declarations of love, unrealistically in love and end up completely happily ever. There is a happily ever after that happens between Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, which I think is what does characterize this novel ultimately as a love story. But this ending is mixed with the knowledge of all that occurred before: the jealousy games, the strange Mr. Rochester soliloquies, the irritable courtship and enforced distance by Jane, the rushed and deceitful almost-wedding day, and the fact that both could have a life without the other (as they do for most of Volume III). Even when Jane declares in the conclusion “no woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am” (p. 554), these practical words about love from Jane earlier in the novel ring in my head:

” ‘I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die; I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me, —for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you; which I do not at all anticipate….For a little while you will perhaps be as you are now,—a very little while; and you will turn cool; and then you will be capricious; and then you will be stern, and I shall have much ado to please you: but when you get well used to me, you will perhaps like me again—like me, I say not love me. I suppose your love will effervesce in six months, or less.” (p. 346)

Real love is seeing the person as they really are, acknowledging that the passionate stage of love will end and recognizing that many other emotions besides love will appear in marriage. At the end of it, real love in marriage is getting used to each other and remaining lifelong companions.

4/5 bacon strips

 

 

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