(Be warned: This post is steeped in Jane Eyre spoilers.)
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the web series adaptation of Jane Eyre (titled The Autobiography of Jane Eyre). The videos number up to 40 or so now, and the narrative’s reaching the point where Rochester’s and Jane’s relationship develops from being merely boss/employee relations to something significantly more. Cue the cyber-squealing.
|The Autobiography of Jane Eyre|
During my early readings of the novel, I was an avid supporter of the Jane/Rochester relationship. Not simply because Jane was so happy with Rochester but because he was one of the few people in her life, aside from Helen Burns, who truly cared for her, and truly understood her. Their conversation wasn’t simply enjoyable because of the witty banter, but was satisfying in the way that the exchanges revealed each other’s characters, as well as the influence of each on the other.
But lately, all that lovely stuff’s been submerged by some not so lovely considerations. My view of Rochester and Jane’s relationship is not as rosy as it once was. Frequent re-reads make me doubt Rochester’s claims, and question the reasons for his actions. Considering Rochester’s astute understanding of Jane’s character, his manipulations and deceptions appear to be all the more outrageous and unreasonable to me.
|Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester (JE 2006)|
“I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high.” (Ch 14)
His most telling deductions are made in his guise as the gypsy woman:
“I see no enemy to a fortunate issue but in the brow; and that brow professes to say , – ‘I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.’ The forehead declares, ‘Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms. The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgement shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision. Strong wind, earthquake-shock, and fire may pass by: but I shall follow the guiding of that still small voice which interprets the dictates of conscience.” (Ch 19)
From this extract, and from Jane’s actions which follow later (and which are in exact correspondence with this deduction) it is clear that Rochester sees accurately that Jane favours reasoning as her governing tool; that she won’t simply give into passion or even the opinions or coercions of others.
In that sense, I suppose it is obvious then why Rochester chooses to hide the truth from Jane. He remarks that though he hadn’t wanted to deceive her, he feared that the “early instilled prejudice” would have turned her against him. So he sees that the ever reasonable Jane would not agree to live with him as his wife, and thus saw deception as the only way.
Knowing this, then, the reader has to wonder: was he ever planning on telling Jane? Sure, he says he was going to, but one has doubts; would living with Jane only have made him even more reluctant to reveal this shameful part of his past? And even if he was intending to reveal that he had another wife (though he refuses to see Bertha in that way) did he think Jane would have continued to stay with him after the revelation? I cannot think that she would have simply sat by once he revealed this secret later in their marriage. I see no reason why she would not act just as she does when his secret is revealed by Richard Mason much earlier than Rochester had planned. I believe that if Rochester did stick to his resolution of revealing his past after their marriage, Jane would still have chosen to leave him (provided there were no children involved).
|Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester (JE 2011)|
Rochester is so bent on securing Jane’s love and companionship that he turns a blind eye to the truths that are so plainly revealed to him. Truths of which, by the way, he clearly and frequently exhibits knowledge! This is a man who knows and understands Jane on almost every level. But his desire to unite himself with Jane is so strong that he refuses to see the reasons for which Jane might object to such a union. That seems to me a selfish act.
I know he is kind, and is one of the first people to treat Jane with respect and without reservation (aside from reserving the truth, which in a sense is also an act of disrespect if one wants to put too fine a point on it). But it seems half the allure of marriage with Jane is the fact that she will redeem him. She does influence his views of the world, there is no doubt in that, but Rochester’s intentions to marry Jane seem to be simply another attempt at erasing his first, disastrous marriage.
Did he love Jane entirely for herself? Or did the thought that he could atone for his past actions, do a kindness in helping an individual who was clearly so alone, have something to do with his attraction to Jane?
“It will atone,” he says (in chapter twenty-three) once Jane accepts his proposal. “Have I not found her friendless, and cold, and comfortless? Will I not guard, and cherish, and solace her?”
I don’t know if I should be miffed on Jane’s behalf that he viewed their union as a form of atonement for his previous one. There is desperation in those lines, desperation to right his past wrongs by some misjudged view that he is helping Jane by uniting her to him, when in fact, his actions would do the very opposite. Rochester, himself, states earlier, that Jane has that strength of character which would enable her to continue by herself if needed. Did he have to delude himself into thinking that he was saving her somehow, in order to procure the salvation he wanted from her?
|Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester (JE 1983)|