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.