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Mr. Rochester is a Creep: A List

By posted at 6:52 am on August 20, 2010 42

I love the disturb-factor in classic literature.  Once you’re out of the classroom, much fun can be had by viewing an older book with a contemporary gaze–analysis and history be damned.  Pick up Pamela by Samuel Richardson, for instance: the eponymous heroine escapes the sexual advances of her employer, Mr. B., time and time again…only to fall in love with and marry him by the book’s end.  Attempted rape: so hot.  When a girl says no, she really means maybe.  Too bad, though, that Pamela is so dull.  I don’t think  I could stand another go at it, even with all the life lessons therein.

coverI’m thinking of Pamela these days because I just finished re-reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontё.  Oh the Brontё sisters!  I haven’t yet read Anne’s books, but based on this comic, I think I might like them.  Charlotte and Emily, meanwhile, were deeply weird, and they (or, okay, their protagonists) were into some deeply weird men.  They remind me of that friend–we all have that friend–maybe you are that friend–who consistently falls in love with assholes.  Just dump him already, we think!

And, Mr. Rochester, if he isn’t an asshole, he’s a psychopath–or, simply creepy and duplicitous.  I can’t believe he was voted most romantic literary character in a British poll last year.  That’s messed up.  Are they kinkier in England?  (The Telegraph article on the subject, by the way, mentions that the results were revealed at a literary festival, where “guests were served pink champagne by scantily-clad waiters.”  Oh dear.)

Let’s consider some points against old Edward, shall we?

1. We should just get the big one out of the way.  Dude keeps his first wife locked up. He never lets her out, if he can help it.   “Bitch is crazy!” he cries, but that is no excuse.

2. Not only does Mr. Rochester lock Bertha up, he keeps her a secret from everyone in town–including Jane!  After the truth has come out (at the altar, no less, minutes before he’s about to marry–or “marry”–Jane), Rochester insists that he was planning to tell his new wife the truth after a year and a day of marriage.  Sure you were, Edward, sure you were.

3. Adele, Mr. Rochester’s little French ward, might possibly his daughter, but, you know, her mom slept around, so he’s not entertaining that notion very seriously.  He’ll be her benefactor, sure, but he will never ever be her dad.

4. When Mr. Rochester has the rich guests staying with him at his estate, he goes off to attend to some business or other, and in his absence, a gypsy fortune-teller comes to read the fortunes of the ladies.  Jane goes to see said gypsy in the dark library, and remarks that the woman’s face “is a strange one.  It looked all brown and black: elf-locks bristled out from beneath a white band which passed under her chin, and came half over her cheeks or rather jaws.”  The gypsy talks mostly of Mr. Rochester, and, surprise, surprise, she IS Rochester.  That’s right, Jane’s boss has dressed up in drag, and put on a little minstrel make-up, and asked the house’s governess to kneel before him.  “I wonder with what feelings you came to me to-night,” she/he says.  Why Jane doesn’t throw up in her mouth a little when she discovers his little game is beyond me.

5. When dressed as a gypsy, Mr. Rochester tells Jane that he’s engaged to be married to one of the women visiting, Blanche Ingram.  Later, after Jane has confessed her love, he admits that his engagement to Miss Ingram was only a ruse to get Jane to react.  He basically says, “I wasn’t really going to marry her!   just wanted you to be jealous, little fairy of mine!”   No matter how much of a pill Miss Ingram is, and she is a pill, this charade just seems cruel.

6. At the end of the book, Rochester is blind and maimed from the fire that ultimately destroyed Thornfield Hall and killed Bertha.  (He does rescue the servants and tries to rescue his wife–I’ll give him that.)   But once Jane has declared that her love for him still remains, he reveals that for the past year, he’s been wearing the pearl necklace (ahem) he had given  her during their engagement.  Some might call this romance, I call it a problem.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Rochester likes to wear Jane’s underwear, too.  Or, let’s be honest: Bertha’s.

7. Mr. Rochester is ugly.  Before you start to yell at me, let me say this: I love that the heroine of this novel isn’t good looking.  That’s  interesting, refreshing, and complicated.   But, you know, if a man is ugly, he has to have one hell of a personality. And if he’s going to have a fake history and a secret wife, he needs to be smokin’ hot to get away with it.  (Two words: Don. Draper.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jane Eyre. Its story–part Gothic tale, part romance, part first-person confession–is beguiling.  Its heroine–independent yet innocent, obsessed with stories and weak to the power of them–is complex and believable.   And the prose will have you underlining every other page:

I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing.  I abandoned it and framed a  humbler supplication, for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space; “Then,” I cried, half desperate, “grant me at least a new servitude!”

And:

He who is taken out to pass through a fair scene to the scaffold, thinks not of the flowers that smile on his road, but of the block and the ax-edge; of the disseverment of bone and vein; of the grave gaping at the end…

covercoverNow that I’ve finished the book, I’m ready to finally check out Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which I’m told gives the first Mrs. Rochester the humanity she deserves.  I should also get to The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, for I’m sure they can provide some context for and interpretations of this beloved classic.   I’m curious what Mr. Rochester, and the abiding love readers have for him, means.





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42 Responses to “Mr. Rochester is a Creep: A List”

  1. Traxy
    at 9:23 am on August 20, 2010

    By the sounds of this article, you’re going to absolutely LOVE “Wide Sargasso Sea”. :]

    Calling two of the finest authors of the English language “deeply weird” rubs me the wrong way. Bit harsh, innit? I hope you get around to reading Anne’s books as well (and the rest of Charlotte’s if you haven’t already) – you’ll probably find “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” particularly interesting, as that’s basically what the Hark! A Vagrant comic is based on (“Agnes Grey” hasn’t really got anything to do with it).

    You’re wrong on #5. As much as he faked courtship of Blanche Ingram, he never actually proposed to her – thus, he’s never engaged with her. As for dumping her, she’s the one dumping HIM as soon as she hears the rumour that he’s only got about 1/3 of the money he’s said to have. Her interest was in his fortune, nothing else, which is what he suspected all along, and through spreading that rumour, got it confirmed.

    As for the rest of the points you have against Mr. Rochester… the least said on that subject, the better, as Mrs. Reed said to Mr. Brocklehurst. They can be summed up, just like “Wide Sargasso Sea”, with the phrase: “Well, I disagree.”

  2. Sara at Keeth Ink
    at 10:28 am on August 20, 2010

    This is hilarious. I study women’s lit from this era and am cracking up at your post. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband, who asked me why chicks (his word) fall for Mr. Darcy but not Mr. Knightley. I told him it was that dark-brooding-Byronic-hero thing.
    BTW, although Mr. Rochester never proposes to Blanche Ingram, the way he courts her is fairly serious, and it would have been pretty shocking for him to dump her without proposing—which is why he arranges for her to do the dumping. Because once there was an engagement (or, like Ingram & Rochester, an “understanding”), people assumed the couple might possibly be having sex. A women who had been engaged or seriously courted had the hint of scandal about her (see also Marianne from Sense & Sensibility). But if the woman was the one to break off the engagement, people assumed she was still “pure,” and all that.
    In any case – enjoyed this post. I’m a first-time visitor to your site, but will be adding you to my RSS reader!

  3. Nicole
    at 10:41 am on August 20, 2010

    I guess my love for Rochester made me blind to his creep-factor. Thanks for opening my eyes. I still sort of love him though.

    This is the third time Jane Eyre has come up this week. I think it’s time for a re-read.

  4. sariah
    at 12:09 pm on August 20, 2010

    Oh wow!! I thought I was the only one!!! I have always loved “Jane Eyre” and it’s one of my all time favorite books. But Mr. Rochester has ALWAYS creeped me out. I never really liked him. My friends thought I was nuts, but now I can show them your list and say, “See, it’s really YOU that’s crazy.” Heh. Great post!

  5. Minerva
    at 12:51 pm on August 20, 2010

    If you think the love readers have for Rochester is interesting, I hope you read Richardson’s Clarissa. Lovelace was so adored by female readers that in subsequent editions Richardson sought to make him even more cruel.

  6. cecil
    at 12:53 pm on August 20, 2010

    I know we’ve actually talked about the troublesome Mr. Rochester, but yeah, outlined the way that you bullet point it here, there is no doubt that Rochester is a total psychopath.

    I just shuddered, cause he’s so gross. (and you’re right, he should be hot if he’s going to be all those things. but sadly, many psychopaths are just charming, so looks don’t matter!)

    But, you are also right, Jane Eyre is a great character. She just got herself into a bad situation. We can only hope Edward is going to treat her right now that he’s burned up & half blind.

    As you know, (because we are friends) I am reading Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is so brilliant. And Anne is now my absolute favorite Bronte sister. And that webcomic nails it right on the head as to why we should all love Anne.

    I can’t wait to read Wide Sargasso Sea, too. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on that!

  7. Minerva
    at 12:53 pm on August 20, 2010

    I forgot to mention Tatiana’s love for Onegin in Pushkin’s novel in verse. This whole “bad boy” thing has been around for a long time.

  8. duckwise
    at 12:56 pm on August 20, 2010

    This ought to be a regular feature. While re-reading Bleak House this year, I came to the shocking realization that Esther Summerson is a total bitch. The woman may be a classic Dickens heroine, but she never shows nor expresses any compassion for anyone, other than herself. It’s left to the reader to do that for her. Seriously, this time around, I envisioned her filing her nails while Jo wastes away in the gunsmithery.

  9. MJH
    at 12:57 pm on August 20, 2010

    I agree with Traxy. This is serious business and not to be taken lightheartedly. The characters in all of these books are precious gold mines of depth that defined generations of literary characters and will continue to do so until the Internet ruins people’s ability to concentrate for more than 140 characters at a time. Or until Jesus comes back. Whichever one comes first. Or until Mr. Rochester comes back. And when he does, he will not be amused by the likes of you who have gone to such great lengths to besmirch the name of one of the most lovable characters in the history of Great Literature. Shame on you for this vicious and libelous attack on Mr. Rochester. Were alive today, he would surely say to you, “Then judge me, priest on the gospel and man of the law, and remember with what judgment ye judge, ye… Off with you now.” And I would be all like, “Word!”

  10. Samantha Rowan
    at 2:08 pm on August 20, 2010

    This is hilarious! Great blog.

    My choice is John Galt, a character in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I think it’s really hard to think of him as a person. First, he’s too ideal. Second, he’s the pure embodiment of Rand’s world view. I wonder if he believes in it more than she did.

  11. Sara
    at 4:54 pm on August 20, 2010

    Thanks for this. I never really liked Jane Eyre (I think it’s because I read Austen’s Northanger Abbey first, which is a delightful parody of gothic novels), and I especially disliked Mr. Rochester. So. creepy.

  12. Nicole Gharda
    at 5:14 pm on August 20, 2010

    I’ve been arguing about this with a friend for years, myself coming down on the anti-Rochester side. Humorously enough, I was always the one dating assholes and she was always telling me not to, yet she found herself swept away by Rochester…

  13. Mr. Rochester: An incredibly charming creep « Notes in the Margins
    at 5:21 pm on August 21, 2010

    [...] Rochester: An incredibly charming creep I wish I had written this list of reasons Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre is a creep, because it is point-for-point perfect. It is every reason why you, reader, should loathe his [...]

  14. Sara
    at 5:41 pm on August 21, 2010

    Every time I read Jane Eyre, I fall in love with Rochester. And every time I close the book, I think, “God, he’s a creep.” I think the reason so many woman love Rochester is part of the spell of the book and the language. If you identify with Jane at all, I think it’s nearly impossible not to love what she loves — and she is head over heels for Rochester. Then you close the book and remember his faults.
    Though I love the novel, I don’t always understand why some readers idolize him as “the perfect man.” I would never want to meet a man like Rochester, mostly for the reasons in this list. He is not the guy you bring home to meet your mom. Maybe he’s the guy you date for a while — because he knows how to have a good time — but you cut him loose before he gets any ideas about locked attics or wearing your clothes.

  15. Edan
    at 7:16 pm on August 21, 2010

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Whether or not you love Rochester, I think we can all agree how much Jane Eyre rocks.

    Also, I’d love, love, love to start a column about beloved characters that I hate. Also, I could write at length about the characters I love, whom everyone else finds awful…

  16. Michelle Huneven
    at 7:30 pm on August 21, 2010

    I adore Jane Eyre, of course. Part of Mr. Rochester’s appeal is that he’s a great talker, a great teaser and cajoler, and Jane knows just how to talk back to him–that’s what’s so engaging about both of them.
    As for Wide Sargasso Sea–it’s very effective, and also so creepy, I had to set it outside my house when I was done reading it. Couldn’t sleep in the same house with the book!

  17. ksotikoula
    at 6:42 am on August 22, 2010

    Although I recognize the teasing tone of this article it always bothers me to see that many people judge Rochester’s character according to his behavior to Bertha and his having affairs while his main offense is not telling Jane the truth and involving her in an impossible situation. In the case of Bertha he did after all the best he could at times of no medication and lack of scientific knowledge and if you think his behavior cruel then look at “The woman in white” which is based on a true story. Bertha had an one to one treatment and was confined for her own safety as well. She could end up forgotten, “missing” in an overcrowded asylum where she could lose her life due to lack of attendance. So intended maltreatment is something that Charlotte Bronte would never have her hero commit, because we could never forgive him for that. Charlotte presented Bertha in such a wretched state not due to neglect but only because Rochester would seem justified to claim that he was married to a shadow (Bertha is hardly human) and so partly justified to wish to start his life all over with Jane and because she didn’t want Jane to be seen as a marriage-dissolving woman who could cause Bertha pain.

    About Rochester’s affairs I am a little puzzled that this seems offensive to some people. If Rochester lived today he could have the option of a nice divorce and have as many affairs as he liked without anyone judging him. So what are we? More morally correct or simply more hypocrites of condemning his behavior just because we have an alternative? His point is that the essence of marriage consists in mutual love and understanding (something that was missing from the beginning of his marriage to Bertha) and not in papers sign before law and God. If this is not a modern/contemporary attitude I don’t know what it is.

    On the other subjects I am not very keen on his tricks to earn Jane’ s affection, but Charlotte Bronte makes it clear that there are many things to be corrected in this guy in order to be worthy of Jane. He is immature, believes he is above God and human laws, so he can rectify all, he can be manipulative and hide the truth, so he must learn how to behave to women all over again. But he has his good points too. He is intelligent and can be tender, he is dutiful to Adele and Bertha (he doesn’t lie about loving them or pitying them, so in a way he is sincere, but he takes care of them), he is capable of love and can change. Sadly he learns the hard way.

    I have also to admit that I hardly think I would fall in love with him had I met him in real life because he is not my type at all and because the guy smells “trouble” from miles away, but I wouldn’t want anybody else for Jane’s partner although there are great guys in literature (like Oak from “Far from the madding crowed” or Adam from “East of Eden” who are really nice character and nearer to my taste of men) because I love their teasing interactions. So Rochester for me is a man that I half feel I should like to slap, but at the same time I would like so much to kiss in most of the book. Lol! To confuse you even more, I would not want him for my daughter because she would eventually be hurt, but if he made me feel like Jane does with him, then I would say “what the hell we only live once”. I wouldn’t trust him a bit as a real man but as long as he is guided by Charlotte Bronte who thought him a good man and worthy of Jane’s love I think all would turn all right in the end.

    I laughed about Jane’s underwear but I don’t find it weird at all. He thinks Jane is lost or even dead and wants a keepsake from her. Even today when somebody dies the most difficult part is throwing away his/her clothes not only because they are very personal belongings but because they carry the smell of the departed even if we don’t realize it and smell is a very important factor in our interactions with others. I am very certain that Rochester frequently visited her room during her absence and wouldn’t be surprised if he lied on her bed. I am sorry if I have made it even more weird with this comment but Victorians had some even more “morbid” habits about death such as making ornamental personal objects like rings and lockets out of someone’s hair.

    About Blanche Ingram, I think she got what she deserved. She was the one who ridiculed herself by courting him in front of others in such a gross fashion. Rochester didn’t even have to deceive her that he is interested. She just picked him and started the game.

    I enjoyed your post anyway :)

  18. Jesse Baker
    at 10:22 am on August 22, 2010

    I have read Wide Sargasso Sea, but not Jane Eyre, and I’m firmly convinced Rochester is not a creep, but a monster. I won’t even read about that bastard in Jane Eyre. You have a wonderful treat in store from Jean Rhys!

  19. Traxy
    at 5:53 am on August 23, 2010

    @Sara: Interesting point about the breaking off of relationships back in the day. :)

    @MJH: Like, word! ;) (Very finely attuned sense of sarcasm you got there – I applaud you!)

    @ksotikoula: Spot on! Couldn’t agree with you more.

    @Edan: I should point out that I did really enjoy your post. It was very well-written and funny. I just happened to disagree with it. ;) But yes, I do think you’re going to enjoy WSS. It’s a really good book, but it’s not in keeping with the facts as laid out by Charlotte Brontë, so it irks me. If she had just re-named the characters, it would’ve been really enjoyable. :)

  20. Natalya
    at 10:51 pm on August 24, 2010

    I still have a hard time seeing Mr. Rochester as a psychopath when the book offers Jane’s other, and much creepier suitor, St. John, as comparison. St. John not only has her do a bunch of tasks for the purposes of surreptitiously training her to be a good missionary’s wife, he also commands Jane to marry him after explicitly telling her he doesn’t love her! While Mr. Rochester was a strange guy with dark secrets, he always seemed to me to be a pretty good match for Jane, who was pretty weird and dark herself.

  21. Edan
    at 3:19 am on August 25, 2010

    Very good point, Michelle. Their repartee is great fun to read.

    I have got to read Wide Sargasso Sea!

    Traxy, thanks for clearing that up, and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece despite its thesis. I love how much mileage we’ve gotten out of this one fictional character!

    Natalya, on this second read it occurred to me that, had she met St. John first, Jane might have become his wife–that is, he would have taught her what marriage should and could be, and she would not have the conception of love and marriage that she ultimately comes to after meeting and falling for Rochester. I tend to think that yes, Jane is a dark weirdo like Rochester, but that part of why she falls for him is that she’s never really known a man before he comes along…it’s all in the timing…(But that’s just me being cynical.)

  22. Kate
    at 10:05 pm on August 27, 2010

    Thank you for saying what I’ve thought since I first read this book. I’ve never been able to understand why women swoon over Rochester — or, for that matter, over Heathcliff, who was a nasty, hateful passive-aggressive.

  23. Read This! « Law and Conversation
    at 1:12 am on August 30, 2010

    [...] the time.  It recently referenced two fun articles on Jane Eyre.  The first, by Edan Lepucki, trashes Mr. Rochester and also swipes at Charlotte and Emily as “deeply weird.”  The latter criticism, IMO, is quite unjustified, so I was delighted to find that the second [...]

  24. supergran
    at 4:43 am on September 2, 2010

    @Jesse Baker.
    Jesse, please don’t formulate an opinion of Rochester from a novel written by someone else (with her own agenda). Go directly to his creator, who had this to say of her progeny (in a letter to her publisher):
    “Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent… [he] errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience…. He is taught the severe lessons of experience and has the sense to learn wisdom from them. Years improve him…. Such, at least, is the character I meant to portray.”
    Rochester rocks!

  25. Jane Eyre and mental illness « Law and Conversation
    at 1:09 am on September 6, 2010

    [...] to read or reread Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.”  In that post, I referenced two totally delightful articles analyzing the book and Mr. Rochester in particular that I came across [...]

  26. Mr. Thornton vs. Mr. Rochester « A Few of my Favourite Books
    at 2:47 am on October 11, 2010

    [...] giving the Brontes the occasional nod, but I’m really not into that kind of thing anymore. This article in The Millions gives a pretty good run-down on why yes, Mr. Rochester is a Creep. (Although the crossdressing part doesn’t really bug me. Just the ‘romantic’ [...]

  27. Rae
    at 10:37 am on December 20, 2010

    @ Edan: I was trackin’ with you for the majority of your post, I could see your points even though, like Traxy, I didn’t necessarily agree.

    Your points, in the context of time period and with a perspective of a little more grace for the man duped into marrying a crazy woman, might get a little shaky. But let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to sometimes dive into a diatribe?

    Anyways, I was not in direct disagreement, and really enjoyed the reading the posted informed and uninformed opinions offered, until you mentioned Mr. St. John Rivers.

    “Natalya, on this second read it occurred to me that, had she met St. John first, Jane might have become his wife–that is, he would have taught her what marriage should and could be, and she would not have the conception of love and marriage that she ultimately comes to after meeting and falling for Rochester.”

    Really? What marriage SHOULD and COULD be? Could, sure. But SHOULD? Know why I take issue with this?
    Because the man is a machine. He is an unfeeling robot, and Jane recognizes it.
    (Pulls out her annotated copy of Jane Eyre and indignantly flips to the page)

    Rivers: “God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you must– shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you– not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service” (393).
    (Pardon the lack of swooning at his underwhelming proposal)

    Eyre: “If I join St. John, I abandon half myself: if I go to India, I go to premature death. … What then? He does not care for that: when my time came to die he would resign me, in all serenity and sanctity, to the God who gave me. … He will never love me; but he shall approve me … He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon; and that is all” (395).
    (Gasp, shudder; Yes, we women are just swept off our feet by the prospect of a loveless marriage)

    Honestly, I liked the man at the beginning, and even thought he might make a suitable guy for her as Rochester had suddenly and epically failed.. until he opened his mouth. I was fine with him being the quiet, brooding intellectual, until his rants about her Christian duty. I for one, am an Evangelical Christian, and I would resent anyone telling me that my “Christian duty” is to marry them, and essentially leave my mind out of it.

    Again, your post was entertaining, just had to throw my hat into the ring, so to speak… and correct what I saw was a gross misstatement. No harm intended. (smile)

    Now I should probably get back to the 10-pager on Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’Urberville’s that I’m neglecting to write in favor of my own little diatribe.

    Brontë, Charlotte, and Beth Newman. Jane Eyre: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 1996. Print.

  28. Edan
    at 11:36 am on December 20, 2010

    Thanks for your comments, Rae. I just wanted to pop in to say I totally agree with you about St. John, and I think the book wants every reader to feel as we do. I meant to say, the book seems to be teaching Jane (and the reader) about marriage and its purpose. Had impressionable Jane met St. John first, she might have different ideas and perceptions about what a wife is, and what a relationship between a husband and wife “should” be like–taught to her by St. John,.

  29. Nan
    at 9:19 pm on February 10, 2011

    Thanks for writing this, Edan, I thought it was very funny. It reminded me of a contest asking fans to condense opera plots to Twitter length (La Boheme: Seamstress pals around with bohemians in a December-May affair. Receives muff as parting gift.). It also inspired me to consider an alternative plot, that would not have everyone “creeped out” by the most powerful Byronic hero of our time. Here’s what I came up with: Bewitching governess moves in and master of the house realizes she is his soulmate. He tells her he wants to marry her with full disclosure: his now-mad wife lives upstairs and gets out occasionally during the full moon. The governess declines and seeks another position to insure his attentions are thwarted. What a page turner! Charlotte would have made a lot of money with that plot. :)

    I think Traxy, MJH and ksotikoula have done an excellent job with their arguments and I was going to leave it in their capable hands until I read your latest reply, ending with “Had impressionable Jane met St. John first, she might have different ideas and perceptions about what a wife is, and what a relationship between a husband and wife “should” be like–taught to her by St. John.”

    First, I disagree with your opinion of Jane; she is NOT impressionable. She has a clear conscience and a very strong sense of integrity. During her first conversation with Rochester, she lectures him on repentance. She goes on to describe her bewilderment that Mr. Rochester is courting someone so inferior (and conventional!) as Miss Ingram. Jane also points out that she would have died from jealousy and despair, but kept quiet, if Miss Ingram had been successful at charming Mr. Rochester. In the Moor House section of the story, she analyzes St. John Rivers the same way – he has denied his love of Miss Oliver and asked Jane to become his partner in a passionless marriage. She puzzles over the situations before her and draws her own conclusions.

    Second, there is a theme to Mr. Rochester’s life until Jane puts him in his place by refusing to becoming his mistress: he makes huge mistakes but can’t redeem himself because he isn’t properly remorseful. He is married already, but thinks keeping Bertha locked away at Thornfield (instead of at Ferndean-where she would DIE FASTER) will atone. (Please note also that Mason, after his sister tried to kill him, pleads with Rochester to keep her at Thornfield.) He has had 3 mistresses, but thinks bringing up one of their offspring in England will atone. He is about to commit bigamy, but because he is saving Jane from friendlessness, comfortlessness and cold, it will atone. Result: he loses Jane, and deservedly!! It is not until Rochester passes through the valley of the shadow of death at Ferndean that he “acknowledges the hand of God in his doom.” Then he prays to God for death so that he can join Jane again, and miracle of miracles! his soul calls out to hers and four days later she appears on his doorstep (cue: “Amazing Grace”).

    And my third and last point, this is not an unequal relationship! After Jane makes up her mind to be true to herself, Rochester grabs her and shakes her, saying: “Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild, free thing looking out of it, defying me, with more than courage…. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it—the savage, beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate would escape to heaven…. And it is you, spirit—with will and energy, and virtue and purity—that I want: not alone your brittle frame….” And he lets her go, instead of carrying her upstairs and having his way with her ala Rhett Butler.

    It is that last passage that I always come back to when I contemplate the characters of Rochester and Jane. It is a very powerful snapshot of their relationship, and of Jane as a unique and unconventional woman, who overcomes adversity, realizes her self emotionally, and subsequently chooses he whom she loves best as her life partner.

  30. Tasha
    at 1:34 am on March 22, 2011

    Re: Rochester courting Blanche Ingram – while it would be a horribly heartless thing to do to someone you knew was headoverheels in love with you, I understood that Jane was so successful at hiding her feelings. Jane regarded her love as hopeless at best and inappropriate at worst. Struggling to keep her face composed when she first sees Rochester after coming back from Gateshead, her self-congratulatory thoughts are, “I too have a veil.” Rochester on the other hand is more used to being persued. Jane describes his courtship of Blanche as one choosing not to seek, but rather to be sought, and to be all the more alluring for it. (can’t find the blessed direct quote). He, trying to shake her calm, dash her on the rocks, wake her up, using the same emotion that woke him up to Celine Varens’ inferiority, doesn’t realize that Jane already went over the rapids. It shows an incredible insecurity on his part, and it was a mistake…but I think it was a mistake not meant to be cruel. Even so, Rochester has to grow up, quit being so self-centered, and learn to value other people before Jane can have a happy ending with him. His character growth redeems him.

  31. KT
    at 2:52 pm on March 29, 2011

    Just found this thread and wanted to point out that it might not be fair to fault Rochester for keeping her locked up in the attic. After all – look at the 19th century alternatives! At least he didn’t send her to Bedlam.

    That said – definitely a little creepy!

  32. Jesse
    at 12:44 am on April 6, 2011

    Glad I found this article. I’ve always felt appalled that people think of Rochester as romantic, despite my love of the book. I love the book because I love Jane’s character and spunk, and I have a soft spot for lonely bookish orphan stories. But I have equally wished, heartily, that Charlotte had written a different ending, where Jane found fulfillment without falling either into St John’s or Rochester’s arms. My sole consolation is that Jane’s marriage to Rochester didn’t proceed until they were on more equal terms. Rochester needed to be taken down several pegs, and it’s a shame he had to be blinded to achieve that, but he was marginally more worthy of Jane in that state. (I still have fears of some sort of weird whiny co-dependency between them though… Rochester was a little too abased, a little too needy by the end for me to feel Jane was making a smart move by marrying him).

    As much as I appreciate this article, it doesn’t begin to touch on why I thought Rochester was creepy. His creepiness was less tangible than the obvious things like locking up the former wife. For me, it had to do with his entire attitude toward Jane:

    1. Jane was almost a pet to him. His very worship of her, objectified her. His insistence of her as some sort of fairy-creature implied a lack of seeing her as a real, complex, and whole person. She was an image for him.

    2. Rochester’s violence was barely constrained. The scene where he talks about not being able to possess Jane’s spirit, no matter what he does to her frame might seem like reassurance to some… but to me, it seems to exhibit such barely suppressed physical violence (such temptation toward trying to subdue her physically), that it screams of high potential for future abuse. What happens the next time when he can’t reason himself down from his impulse to subdue her? The impulse, by itself, is extremely disturbing to me.

    3. His cold disregard for Adele. HIs verbal dismissal of her as being essentially a stupid brainless child, seems cold and emotionally abusive. Yes, he fulfills his financial responsibilities (maybe even goes beyond strict necessity by letting her live in his house), but the condescension with which he treats her speaks really poorly of his character. To me, he comes across as pretty narcisistic, interested only in someone like Jane who can spar with him intellectually. There’s nothing wrong with intellectual sparring (it’s part of the joy of reading the book), but it’s also inherently an activity that’s about Rochester and his own ideas… there’s no altruism or concern for others in those interactions… and the trouble is that these seem to be the *only* type of interaction he has.

    Anyhow… thanks for the article. It’s gratifying to know I’m not the only one who finds him deeply disturbing. I really wrestle with the characterization of Jane Eyre as a feminist work because of Rochester. Charlotte just really confuses me: how she can create such a beautifully strong-minded character as Jane and yet let her waste herself on being “owned” by someone as possessive as Rochester is beyond me. I continue to re-imagine my own ending, where Jane discovered her own self-possessed strength and eschewed both suitors to seek something better for herself.

  33. Alicia
    at 10:52 am on April 21, 2011

    I found this site having just seen the new film (and so re-read the book). This initial article is absolutely hilarious and speaks to us all! But I think that much of our horror over Rochester is due to the huge historical void we have. Even with Pride and Prejudice, it makes so much more sense when you consider the plight of women in this time period. It was GRIM! I teach history, and so much of the yuck factor in this book seems historically connected. Women were so limited – marriage or hard work was about all you could hope for. People died right and left in your life. As for Rochester’s wife, the above posts are correct – the”insane” were caged, sometimes hand and foot, and rotted away in horrid condition. Her living with a “maid” in the attic was far better than the normal alternative. Likewise, Jane’s experience with men was zero, with love and interpersonal connections was almost zero, and her ability to see any issues with Rochester would have been zero. Rochester, for his part, sounds fairly kind for someone of his position in that time period. The fact that he kept the wife in his home, took in the child (also not expected in that time period), and was willing to consider marrying a governess all speak for his progressive nature (in that time period). He certainly could have abused Jane, as would have been nothing unusual in that time period, without marrying her. A more “normal” and upright person of the time would have left the wife in Jamaica in a nut house, never taken the baby in, and married Blanche without caring if she loved him. As for Jane, I think the author above is totally correct in saying that, with her limited world experience, she would not have understood what it meant to be in love if she had met St John first. In sum, Rochester’s creepy, older man, abusive, self-centered, bizarre, attitude would not have excluded him from being a fantastic “catch” in that time. He had tons of money, was kinder in a way that went against the customs of the time, and was able to see the beauty in Jane (and express it – that also seems very positive for that day and age.) His offensive references to Jane as a little elf, etc., almost as if he considers her a little child, would not have seemed in bad taste to the Brontes – but scream “psycho” to us…. Abusive tendencies are also a more modern-day observances. Men had carte-blanche in that time period – so he would have actually appeared somewhat restrained to readers of that time, I would think.
    The appeal in that novel is that Jane is chosen by what would have appeared to be a “great catch” despite her poverty and plainness. Her brains and interesting character make her appealing to Rochester, who could have married the best looking”well connected” woman in town, and that gives him some redeeming qualities. Her character provides him with the opportunity of self-reflection and maturation. By our standards – a big loser. For that time period, not so bad. For a woman in her financial position, it’s either the whacko or the suicidal missionary. I would choose Rochester! Once she inherits the 20,000 pounds, then Jane would have had some choices. But remember, she is seeking “home” and has almost no worldly experience beyond terrible abuse and survival.
    But one question: Why the heck does he call her Janet? That drives me crazy! It reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Little One, sprite, etc. are bad enough, but Janet???????
    Like Pride and Prejudice, these are really interesting primary source glimpses into the culture and customs of the time.
    Go see the new movie – it’s terrific (although very edited due to time constraint.)

  34. Donna
    at 9:42 am on May 18, 2011

    This is a very interesting thread. I particularly appreciate Alicia’s insights about the historical context. This helps tremendously in understanding Rochester, whom I must admit, I didn’t find at all sympathetic until now. Many thanks!

  35. Bethanie
    at 11:53 pm on August 18, 2011

    I love Rochester. I always have. I love his energy, I love his chatty sarcasm and his big black eyes and the way he takes care of less fortunate creatures like widows, orphaned children, old dogs, and crazy women. I love that he isn’t content with just spending money and getting laid and tooling about the Continent. I love that he’ll play piano and dress up. I love that he talks constantly about pretty much anything drifting through his head. I love all that black hair.

  36. shell
    at 3:49 am on August 25, 2011

    I think Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre is portrayed as a complex, flawed man, but ultimately, a good man. This is typical of a Romantic hero. Romanticism is not about feel-good gooeyness, but raw human emotion. He is dark & weird, but so is Jane Eyre (and Charlotte Bronte herself), and that’s exactly why they are Romantic.

    Concerning some comments about Wide Sargasso Sea – Mr. Rochester is not the same character in that novel. I have not read Wide Sargasso Sea, but I have seen a movie adaptation. In Jane Eyre, he is a victim concerning his dealings with Bertha, not a cruel, money-seeking man driving a woman to insanity.

    Some important notes about Mr. Rochester as portrayed in Jane Eyre vs Wide Sargasso Sea (and please excuse any inaccuracies; neither is 100% fresh in my mind):

    - He married Bertha without knowing her or her family well, never being along with her or able to talk to her much before the marriage. The marriage was arranged by the families, as both were wealthy. It was extremely common in those times for wealthy families to arrange their children’s marriages. This does not make Mr. Rochester cold or materialistic, it makes him a son who is obedient to his father’s wishes & who acts in accord with the customs of the time. His father & brother are also to blame, as they were aware of her madness & that it ran in the family; they are the ones who were money-hungry.

    - Bertha was not an orphan in Jane Eyre. She had plenty of family, all who concealed her illness from Mr. Rochester before the marriage to trick him into marrying her. She also had a brother who kept in touch with Mr. Rochester & visited her in the attic. Her family lied about other things about her also, including her age.

    - Bertha was showing signs of madness from the beginning of the marriage, displaying a violent & unreasonable temper towards Rochester & the servants, and she got progressively worse. In addition, the novel implies that she had “vices”, namely intemperance (drunkenness) and unchasteness (promiscuity / adultery). She was also described as coarse & small-minded, with vulgar tastes, gross & depraved even, but even traits these Mr. Rochester tolerated at first. It’s stated that these caused him agony, implying he was publicly humiliated by her cheating & drinking while in Jamaica Town, having his own reputation tarnished. It also states that her family had a tendency for mental illness, as Bertha’s mother was insane also. These vices of hers are also stated to have caused her insanity to set in earlier than her family history indicated it would. So Bertha’s mental illness in Jane Eyre was NOT Rochester’s fault.

    - Bertha was not renamed by Mr. Rochester. Her name on their marriage certificate was: Bertha Antoinetta Mason. Her brother does not call her Antoinetta either.

    - Mr. Rochester could not divorce her because it was not legal to divorce a mad wife. I suppose this was the government’s way of making sure someone would care for a crazy woman, instead of her becoming a burden on them (?).

    - Mr Rochester was depressed at his circumstances, being married to an insane woman who was cruel & crude even in her brief moments of sanity at the beginning, and so he travelled about seeking to distract himself. He said he never gave into full debauchery because it reminded him of Bertha’s vices, further implying she was debauched before descending fully into madness.

    - Mr. Rochester (and the novel) makes no negative comments about the ethnicity of Bertha or her family. He describes her as very beautiful also. He admits to marrying her because he was blinded by her beauty. He states her family history would not have bothered him a bit had she been a good wife.

    - Mr. Rochester was not cruel to lock Bertha in an attic. In those days, people were not compassionate towards the mentally ill because they didn’t really understand mental illness or know how to treat it. The only place for the mentally ill were mad houses where they would treated like animals, far worse than being kept in an attic with the personal attentions of a caretaker. Also, Bertha was violent towards herself & others. Keeping her confined was for her safety & that of others. He did not lock her up until she was confirmed mad by a doctor either.

    - Mr. Rochester risked his own life to save Bertha from the fire. He sacrificed his own happiness for many years by taking responsibility for a mad woman that he was tricked into marrying. Clearly, he was not THAT selfish.

    - I’m not sure how the novel Wide Sargasso Sea portrayed Mr. Rochester’s personality, but in the film he was shown as quiet, reserved & disinterested in people. In Jane Eyre, while he is a bit cold with sardonic humor & is occasionally manipulative & less than honest, he is also outgoing, talkative, sociable, humorous & witty, and curious about other people, initiating conversations with them.

    While he is not warm, he does show fairness, generosity, & concern for the welfare of others. For example, he cares for an orphan girl who is not his legitimate daughter. It’s implied she may be his illegitimate child from a high end whore, and it’s likely he thinks she is his child, but back then there’d be no way to know for sure. Most men in his position would not have taken on that responsibility nor been expected to take it on. His servants also seem to respect him & even enjoy when he is around.

  37. Nicole D
    at 5:00 pm on November 30, 2011

    I think Saint John is worse than Mr. Rochester. But that’s beside the point…

    At first, I didn’t like Rochester. He was cold, distant, and direct. Over time, like Jane, I began to like him more and more. This is probably due to the fact that, when reading the book, we’re reading the mind of Jane Eyre, who is deeply in love with Rochester. She finds him amazing. So I also did come to find Rochester very nice. However, there was always something…..might I say…..unsettling(?) about him. I liked him, but not completely. Something was always in the way. I can’t explain it. The moment I thought that he was truly a great guy, he would do or say something that contradicted that thought. For example, not telling Jane about his locked-up wife. He was not very honest with Jane. But then he would repent, Jane would forgive, and so would I, forgetting about Rochester’s faults until, once again, he disappointed me. It’s difficult to explain. I love him because Jane loved him, yet in the back of my mind there has always been something telling me that Mr. Rochester isn’t completely right. That is is not I that is in love with this man, but rather Jane.

    Anyway, you have good points. I just finished reading the book today, actually. Never has a book made me think more than that of Jane Eyre. Brontë has a way with your mind. She somehow forces you to think, to pay attention to ever word, every detail. It is like no other story. I do highly recommend it. You shall not be disappointed.

  38. Back Stories and Sequels: Jean Rhys and Jane Eyre, and P.D. James and Jane Austen, too « Law and Conversation
    at 12:02 am on February 21, 2012

    [...] on Charlotte Bronte’s classic 19th-century novel, “Jane Eyre.” It reminded me, of course, of Edan Lepucki’s wonderful essay from The Millions, “Mr. Rochester is A Creep,” which I noted some time [...]

  39. Sappy Chillu
    at 12:11 am on May 6, 2012

    Jane Eyre surprised me a lot. i thought it would be the worst book ever because its so old, but it was actually pretty good. it takes a bit to get into though.
    again, this book surprised me HEAPS in how good it actually ended up being!

  40. Jordan
    at 3:29 pm on October 28, 2012

    “Mr. Rochester is ugly”.

    Well, yes, he is… but, what does that have to do with him being a creep?

  41. Mercury
    at 6:35 pm on October 28, 2012

    I was sort of annoyed that Mr. Rochester got to marry Jane. Like, I was happy for her because she loved him, but he was totally a creep and didn’t deserve her. That said, when I was in high school, I was kind of into smart, vaguely dangerous guys like that, so I did feel like I understood why Jane liked him.

  42. My (Ungorgeous/Non-Pretty Boy) Male Romantic Lead! What Do You Think? | Yaminatoday - A Literary Blog That Entertains & Educates
    at 4:32 pm on March 15, 2013

    [...] Denzel), until I realized two things. First, one of my favorite literary characters of all time, Mr. Rochester, is actually described as ugly in Jane Eyre (and look how women swoon over him), and secondly, [...]

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