Classic Remarks: Jane Eyre

Classic Remarks 1

Classic Remarks is meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Is Jane Eyre‘s Rochester an attractive, brooding Love Interest or Dangerously Manipulative?

Is Jane Eyre's Rochester an attractive, brooding Love INterest or Dangerously Manipulative?

This post contains spoilers for Jane Eyre!

The wording of the question probably reveals my bias against Rochester already.  I never understood why readers have fallen in love with him or think him the ideal romantic lead.  Abrupt, proud, and deceitful, he never seems like Jane’s equal from the start, but instead constantly refers to his superiority in terms of age and experience, and consistently intimates that he wishes to use Jane to help effect a sort of spiritual or personal renewal.

Their first formal interview is already marked by Rochester’s sense of superiority.  “I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and a century’s advance in experience,” he says (170).  Jane protests that “your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience”–a protest Rochester ignores as he states he has not spent his time profitably (171).  Even as he admits at times that Jane may be right in her moral convictions, Rochester will continue to speak to her as if she is his inferior.  His penchant to call her pet names is particularly grating, seeing as she is his employee.

Notably, Rochester also hints in their first interview that he already plans to do wrong to perhaps achieve right, or at least some sort of pleasure.  To him, Jane is not a person but “as the wild honey the bee gathers on the moor” (174) or a “pilgrim” (175) inspiring him with new, higher thoughts, or one of the “good genii” (194).  Rochester may be alluding to the idea that in a relationship, the parties should inspire each other to be their best selves.  And yet his treatment of Jane suggests that he thinks of using her to regain his sense of integrity.

I argue that Rochester uses Jane because he in no sense ever really treats her as her equal as he courts her.  He, of course, keeps his wife a secret, enlisting Jane to clean up after some of her nightly escapades, but always avoiding an explanation of the strange happenings at Thornfield.  He fully intends to become a bigamist without telling Jane because he knows that she would never agree to do something she believes is wrong.  When his marriage is revealed, he then tries to keep Jane, again knowing she would be revolted by the idea, as his mistress.  He really seems to have little respect for her–or he shows his respect in a twisted way, keeping secrets from her so as to try to keep her pure and innocent of his own twisted intentions.

Before all this, Rochester deceives Jane yet again, masquerading as a travelling fortune teller so as to attempt to learn Jane’s thoughts about him.  This, of course, is while he is actively courting another woman solely to make Jane jealous.  He argues that the later jilted woman basically “had it coming” because of her pride and greed, and suggests it may have taught her a lesson.  How very charming!

Of course, after all this Jane leaves, Rochester’s wife dies, and Rochester himself is blinded and apparently chastened.  Jane and he can meet again on more equal terms (thanks in no small part to her new monetary wealth).  But still I find few redeeming qualities in Rochester.  And I can’t help but wonder, if Rochester were real, would people still find him romantic?  If a reader had a friend falling in love with her boss, a boss who called her pet names, was rude, and clearly had some sort of deep secret (Jane thinks the mad wife is in fact a servant blackmailing Rochester–because that makes it better apparently), would that reader sigh dreamily with her friend over this man or should she advise that friend to run far, far away?

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Knopf: New York, 1991. Print.

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Krysta 64

29 thoughts on “Classic Remarks: Jane Eyre

  1. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    I read Jane Eyre ages ago, so I don’t really remember much, but I always felt a bit creeped out by Rochester? His attempts to keep his wife a secret prevented me from seeing him as a great love interest for Jane. I know if I knew a friend who had a love interest like this, I would definitely advise her to stay away! Awesome post, as always! 😀 Very unique and thought provoking 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      For some reason a lot of people I know seem to gloss over the hidden wife. I think they feel sorry for him that he got married and it didn’t end up happily-ever-after. But even if he’s willing to commit bigamy, he has never asked Jane about this–because he knows she won’t do it. I don’t see how a marriage based on lies and deception is romantic at all, no matter how pitiable Rochester might be!


  2. Lost In A Good Book says:

    Excellent thoughts. I was typing a big long reply and then I realized I need to post it myself! But I will say that I completely agree with you, and if I had a friend in this situation I would tell her to run and don’t look back!


  3. Bailey @ Fictional Fox says:

    I read Jane Eyre forever ago and had these same thoughts! I just couldn’t see anything that great about Rochester. I think Jane only was interested in him because she had been treated so poorly in the past and in comparison he seemed like a nice man.


  4. Katy Goodwin-Bates says:

    I hate Rochester. He is creepy and mean and condescending. I hate the bit when he lets Jane think he loves that annoying women and then he says, “haha, it was all a HILARIOUS joke. I love you, you poverty-stricken plain Jane!” Also, he is not even supposed to be hot so, given that he has a horrible personality, where is the appeal?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Ahaha! This was hilarious! My first thought when trying to think why so many people I know try to justify Rochester’s actions was, “Well, he’s supposed to ugly, so it can’t be that…” ;b

      Liked by 2 people

  5. alilovesbooks says:

    Damn I totally meant to do this and forgot about it. I read Jane Eyre when I was younger and I’ve always said it was my favourite of the classics. However as I’ve gotten older I have started to notice how dark it is as a story. I think Rochester is the original bad boy. Bit of a dodgy past but just needs the right woman to get him back on track.

    I have to admit to finding confidence extremely attractive and Rochester certainly doesn’t lack that so I suspect if I came across him in real life I would be a goner no matter how badly he behaved. I also think he has that special knack of tugging on the heartstrings with his tale of woe and being trapped into a marriage to a lunatic by his family.

    It is a different time so attitudes were obviously much different around mental illness and a woman’s role so I think I would probably cut him some slack.


    • Krysta says:

      I don’t really blame Rochester for keeping his wife hidden as he seems to provide her with decent care and he at least is preventing her from becoming the source of malicious gossip or…I don’t know. Boys daring each other to see if they can catch a glimpse of her or something. He seems to be doing his duty well enough for the time. I’m more concerned with his lying and deception, though I think you’re onto something when you call him the “original bad boy.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • alilovesbooks says:

        It’s definitely a bit of an odd one. I think when I originally read it I could kind of identify with Jane. She was poor, plain, unwanted and kind of bored and Rochester who seemed pretty popular with the ladies actually noticed her. He seeks her out, trusts her with a lot of his dark history, is interested in her opinions (something I suspect was rare then) and gives her the chance for a bit of adventure. For someone who’s been disowned by their family, lost their best friend and is very much alone in the world I can see the attraction. In a lot of ways they make a good match. Both are passionate and neither of them seem to fit in anywhere else.

        The other thing that Rochester has in his favour is that he does leave it to Jane to make the moves and the decisions. He does push her into it but ultimately it’s her decision and he doesn’t force her. In a lot of ways I think he takes care of her and manages to give her a boost in confidence that she badly needs.

        The one thing however that does niggle at me a little is that I worry he takes advantage of a young and naive young girl. She’s never spent any time in the company of men so it does cross my mind that he kind of grooms her.


        • Krysta says:

          Yes, I can see why Jane falls in love. She hasn’t known much love and she’s very lonely, and she likes that Rochester seems to respect her. I just have to wonder how much he respects her, when he’s lying to her. Yes, he takes her opinions into account–but why? Is it because he really values them or, as you say, he’s sort of grooming her (or maybe both)?

          Liked by 1 person

  6. luvtoread says:

    Great post! I completely agree with your thoughts on Rochester. I just don’t understand the appeal.
    I especially did not like his fortune teller disguise. That whole scene just made me so angry. I really dislike people playing tricks on others, and he thought the whole thing was so funny, and it just seemed cruel and manipulative. I especially appreciate your thoughts on his treatment of the woman he was supposedly courting. He treated her terribly. Perhaps she deserved it, but I honestly don’t see the point in his actions. I don’t understand why he even bothered. I guess because he could, and he wanted to make Jane jealous. Those types of actions are ones I just don’t understand.
    Rochester just makes me very angry. He is so manipulative and dishonest.
    But, as much as I dislike Rochester, I do think he truly loved Jane, and I think they were perfect for each other. Jane also has a manipulative streak in her as well, and I think they are perfectly suited for each other.
    I’m not a fan of the book, and I just read it last year for the first time.


    • Krysta says:

      I think Rochester does care for Jane, but I think he initially has an odd way of showing it. He seems to want to possess Jane so her spiritual influence can renew him. He’s using her rather than loving her. Only after he suffers does he undergo the change needed for him to really see Jane as a person and not as a means of getting something he wants for himself.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Beth says:

    And yet, he’s less of a jerk than Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. 😉
    I think we like to swoon over changed people, and we definitely love a story of redemption. Yes, he’s absolutely lording it over Jane (age, and wealth/class), but he IS taken down a peg before the blindness (when he realizes he’s being used for his money, by Blanche). I see Jane teaching him humility in the only way someone could- first by showing him, then by leaving him and forcing him to fin it himself. One of the reasons I adore Jane is that she’s the only character in the entire novel that has consistency and integrity. She’s the lowest class, and yet, the only ‘real’, mature human in the mix. I don’t think Rochester could manipulate her, because even when she’s giddy in love (for Jane, anyway), she’s still very grounded and mature.
    Also, you have to keep in mind the period this novel was written. Byronic heroes were all the rage, and Byronic heroes are not nice guys.


    • Krysta says:

      Oh, I certainly can understand the appeal of Rochester at the time–but it constantly amazes me that all my friends will gloss over Rochester’s actions and immediately start defending his treatment of Bertha. I have no problem with his treatment of Bertha, really. I’m not sure he could have done much more for her in that time period. It’s his having secrets from Jane that bothers me!

      As for Mr. Darcy–I like him, but I have never understood why he’s excused later with “he’s shy.” That might explain his not dancing, but it doesn’t explain why he insults Lizzie!


  8. Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks says:

    This is such a well-written post! I read Jane Eyre back in ninth or tenth grade, and while I enjoyed the book, I felt rather disenchanted – or even repelled – to Mr. Rochester. Of course I did not then have the faculties to understand the subtle undertones of his character and barely knew how to analyze characters and relationships in literature, but I read the book mostly for Jane’s growth than the romance itself. I’ve never thought about this, but you have some really good points that call back to my initial reading of the book. The entire thing with Rochester’s previous wife also left a bad taste in my mouth.

    As for why people think he’s the ideal love interest- I’m not surprised. I’ve begun to notice this trend of supporting dominant males, who use subtle control-tactics. I’ve been very vocal about this issue in the past since it’s so easy to manipulate a casual reader. Again, such a great post. 🙂

    ~ Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks


    • Krysta says:

      Others have pointed out that Rochester has his good points. He gives Jane the freedom to voice her opinions, which she has lacked before, for one thing. And yet…I just don’t think that his good points outweigh his bad–not enough that I think he’s a great person to marry. He’s too much of a “project” romance, in a way. He’s marrying thinking Jane will change him. Maybe Jane thinks the same. He should change himself and then think about a relationship! (Well, if he weren’t already married.) But I guess, as you say, some people are into the dominant male fantasy. :/


  9. David says:

    Sounds like a highly unpleasant fellow. My hair-based analysis wasn’t far off, it seems! Because of my Jane Austen post I’ve been thinking a bit more of how excellent a figure Mr. Knightley is, and I don’t think he’d approve of Rochester either.

    The comment discussion has been interesting and enlightening, though, especially the arguments in Rochester’s favor. What I hear does not persuade me that he is a worthy love interest, but it’s worth acknowledging if he actually does give her some real respect and affection, however imperfectly. Him merely being better than what she’s known before is no excuse for bad behavior, but I fully believe in having compassion for human weakness. If Rochester learns humility, learns to recognize his sin, and shows genuine repentance, is he not as deserving of forgiveness and love as anyone else? (Which is to say, not at all, but we receive it anyway from God and, by His grace, many people around us.)


    • Krysta says:

      Most of the arguments I’ve heard in person in favor of Rochester are in favor of him because he changes at the end. He loses everything and learns humility. I think that’s great! My problem with that argument, however, is that Jane doesn’t know Rochester is going to have some great inner conversion experience down the road. She agrees to marry him before this! I’m all for their marriage at the end of the book when he’s a changed man and his wife isn’t still alive!

      Liked by 1 person

      • David says:

        Yup. You don’t marry someone in order to change them. You *do* have to be aware that both you and your spouse will naturally change over time, and thus the unique quality of the relationship will also change. But you can’t predict how you or they will change.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Wide Sargasso Sea has been on my TBR for awhile but I’m honestly not a huge fan of Jane Eyre so, while I think a postcolonial perspective on the story is an interesting and valuable project, I just haven’t been inspired to get around to it, I’m afraid. :/


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