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In December, Melissa Marr (aka melissa_writing) and Robin McKinley (who no longer uses her LJ and can be found here) had a small debate back and forth on their blogs about Rochester and whether he's an attractive character. I started to read them, but having not yet read Jane Eyre and knowing only "Jane is the governess, she and Rochester fall in love, he has a crazy wife in the attic" and not knowing the outcome of that, I decided to go back and read those entries after I actually got around to reading the book. I finished it on Tuesday, I read Melissa Marr's and Robin McKinley's views, and here is what I was thinking as I read the book.

My issue with Rochester is actually not the wife in the attic. He puts her in a nice room, with a caretaker, which while not good, is far better than would have happened in an asylum. A good part of Bertha's "madness" is that she's an alcoholic- Rochester says so, even- and while she's definitely unstable (to the point of setting fire to his bed while he's asleep, and attacking her brother and biting him so that he bleeds copiously), I have to point out that we have no idea of knowing how "mad" she was BEFORE she spent ten years in the attic. I'm inclined to think she was already well on her way to being dangerous, but like Melissa Marr said, we're getting Rochester's version of the story through the eyes of someone who loves him.

My point is that I can forgive that. What I cannot forgive is that he lies about it. Granted that it's a lie of omission at first- he's been pretending for so long to everyone around that he's a bachelor, the lie comes naturally- and yes, I actually do understand that the longer something like that goes, the harder it is to come clean. I have no problem with him falling in love with Jane- you can't help who you fall in love with, and Jane loves him too. But he then proposes to Jane and tries to illegally marry her anyway! That, in my eyes, is unforgivable. I kept texting sheamackenzie increasingly incredulous messages in all caps, causing her to crack up.

I'm also still amazed at the whole confession of love scene. I loved the way he described it, I really did. But the preceding three pages of waxing lyrical about Blanche I could have done without. Especially when she calls him on it and his reaction is to laugh and admit so cavalierly that he was just making her jealous. Really? Didn't they already discuss that she'd never felt jealousy? Is that why he's trying to make her jealous? She has nothing to be jealous about- she's his employee! She has no earthly reason to believe she has any chance with him, so all his rhapsodizing about Blanche really should (and I think does) just make her sad.

And my biggest issue. When all is revealed, he tries to convince Jane to stay. And when she says she doesn't want to be his mistress, he says they'll go to France and live as husband and wife, though they won't actually be married. Jane replies that she feels it's wrong*, and his response is to say "Well, since you have no family, nobody's going to be upset by it, so what's your issue?" THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. NOT AT ALL. Manipulative is the only word I can possibly use to describe to his behavior here.

I was so happy when Jane ran away. I wanted the book to end with Jane as an independent person, even living with Mary and Diana. Tragic love that she never recovered from, never marrying, would have suited my sensibilities just fine. I knew not to expect that, though, from my friends who are self-proclaimed hopeless romantics who love the book. I declared after Jane ran away that I didn't believe there was anything Rochester could do to make me forgive what he said and did. I still can't think of any way the book could have gone that would have made me forgive him. For some reason, the fact that his atonement comes in the form of having been blinded, rather than his actual doing something, really annoys me. He didn't change! He hasn't done anything to make him worthy of forgiveness! Just because he was injured, everything's suddenly fine? I know Jane's objection was actually just that Bertha was still living. Even if he hadn't been injured, she would have married him as soon as it was legal. And I think that's what annoys me the most.

The biggest defense I hear of Rochester as a character is that his mistake makes him human. Except that it's a big damn mistake. It's not like he kissed her, oh oops. No, he actually got her all the way to the church to get married and would have gone through with it if Mason hadn't intervened. I've also heard that it's likely that Bertha was actually insane and not just independent, since one of the reasons Rochester likes Jane is because she's willing to stand up and speak out. I do agree with that point, but just because Jane stands up for herself sometimes (and really, she's not that assertive, she's just in a time where women hardly ever said anything at all) doesn't mean she can't be manipulated.

I love Robin McKinley's heroes without exception**, and my favorite is probably Constantine from Sunshine, who sparked the debate between Melissa Marr and Robin McKinley. So I fully expected to view Rochester as she does, and as sheamackenzie, who has been my friend for quite a while, does. We tend to agree on things like this. But as I read on, I found myself surprised not that I didn't find Rochester unbearably attractive, but that other people do. He lies and manipulates and doesn't atone for it, and again, we're getting this story through Jane's eyes! She loves him, she married him! And so even though the retelling is colored by her love for him, I still find him to be manipulative and his actions to be reprehensible? Yeah, I'm not so sure.

What it comes down to is that I love the book. I love Jane (it's not her fault she falls in love with him). I like Rochester as a literary character that I can read about and go "how could someone DO that???", but I still don't think I find him attractive even though I really really like his description of his feelings toward Jane. And I can't wait to see the most recent film adaptation of the book. The casting looks absolutely perfect.

*I really liked Jane's constant struggle with religion, and that she continues to be very moral anyway.

**Or at least any exception that I can recall. I positively adore Corlath and the Beast and Tor and Luthe and omg Sahath was my very first literary crush at the age of ten. The Healer remains one of my favorite short stories ever.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 29th, 2011 06:59 am (UTC)
So at work there's a sale going on on the Criterion dvds, and when I cover breaks in music, I look at the backs of them out of curiosity. Recently I came across one called Fish Tank, which stars a "lethally attractive" (the back cover's words)...Michael Fassbender. I was curious, but when looking it up on imdb it says something about his character and an underage girl having sex and that has potential to be...uncomfortable.

Why is this randomly on your Jane Eyre post? Cause it's Michael Fassbender.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 29th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
He seems very polarizing, but I'm sort of in the middle. He's a dick, he's manipulative, yes Bertha is crazy but that doesn't excuse the way he treats Jane. I just added another paragraph that I wrote last night when I was posting this to dreamwidth but LJ wouldn't let me edit my post- a lot of people say that no, he likes Jane because she stands up to him! Well, yes, she does stand up to him sometimes (and only in the way that's appropriate for her to do to her employer, of course), but that doesn't mean she can't be manipulated.
Jul. 29th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
That was lovely. I am actually going to read Agnes Grey after I finish Ghost Story (how hilarious is it that I went from Charlotte Brontë to Jim Butcher?), The Eyre Affair, and perhaps my reread of Wuthering Heights. WH could of course wait until after Anne Brontë.

Jul. 30th, 2011 05:57 am (UTC)
I have to say that I've read/experienced Jane Eyre at two completely separate times in my life. When I read it the first time, I was 22 and just coming to terms with who I really was. I found the book terribly romantic and enjoyed it immensely.

20 years later, on a plane two weeks ago, I saw the new adaptation as I crossed the country for an interview and I found myself wishing, as you had, that the book ended with Jane leaving Rochester, refusing to bend to his will and to compromise her standards, no matter the personal cost.

I spent a lot of the rest of the flight analyzing why I had changed in my views and, in the end, felt that--at 22--I longed for the kind of love Jane was willing to give to Rochester: unconditional. It was a fairytale to me, something I didn't really believe existed. Yet here was this broken, flawed man who manipulates and lies, who is cavalier and selfish, who ends up broken and Jane still loves him.

Now, at 41, receiving and practicing unconditional love on a daily basis, I saw the ending beyond Jane's leaving for what it really was: a contrived deus ex machina Bronte used to level the barriers between her protagonists' legal marriage. I feel this was probably the convention of romantic literature of the time (and still is today), but I fervently wished Jane would, in the end, walk away from both men. Rochester, the selfish manipulator ("Act as my wife even though we cannot marry; damn your moral code!") and the brother, narcissistic attritionist ("Marry me even though you do not want to; it's what I want and eventually you will learn to love me.")

Jane could live with neither of these offers and so Bronte had to contrive one that she could live with in order to get the ending most women of the day would be expecting as they read the book.

The problem is that ending feels contrived and false. The book, in my opinion, should have ended as Jane walked away from the brother on the moor, leaving us to imagine where she ended up next.

More's the pity....
Jul. 30th, 2011 06:02 am (UTC)
Cousin, cousin, not brother! But yes. I'm not happy with St John. He let the woman he loved escape him and tried to marry Jane not because he loved her but because he thought she'd make a good missionary's wife. WTF no.
Jul. 30th, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC)
As a novel of the period, Jane obviously had to get married. So CB was faced with the choice: the not-so-attractive, strong-willed, passionate (yes, manipulative, but) save-able man that she had somehow fallen in love with, or the man who was the height of romantic attractiveness, but cold and a little weak and unwilling to fight for (or even really acknowledge his) love.

Unfair? Of course. But that's the 19th century for ya.

(I could go on all day about the modern literary/postfeminist vs. romantic period-accurate reading of this, but I won't because...well, neither of you deserve such torture)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )