Gross “Heroes”: Mr. Rochester
I’m sure there has got to be other people who didn’t fall madly in love with Mr. Rochester, right? Right?!
I didn’t understand the Jane Eyre obsession. I grew up super sheltered, I couldn’t understand why what I saw as an adultery story was so popular among the strict people I knew. I still find that part odd, I think they probably loved Jane’s courage in following her conscience first (that is the part where I have the most respect for her).
When I finally did read Jane Eyre, it was right after I read Wuthering Heights, which I think was just way more my cup of tea at that point.* I was around 17 or 18. I’m a Marianne (who is close to Cathy Earnshaw) NOT a Elinor (who is close to a Jane Eyre), and I was at my most Marianne-est. Also my ideal type then was probably something along the Captain Wentworth lines, Aquila from Lantern Bearers, the bitter, strong, still waters run deep type which is how I saw the younger Heathcliff, I guess.
I did enjoy reading Jane Eyre though, more than I expected. However, I didn’t like much less love Mr. Rochester. I feel like there was a lot of Mr. Rochester swooning where I read or hear of books. Just the way he was described put with his personality and age, he just wasn’t my type at all. I just didn’t get the hype. I was also no fan of Jane, I will never love the goody-goody types. I also found St. John (more like my type in the sort of quiet intensity way) more interesting than Rochester, probably in part because he irritated Jane who was, to me, disgustingly sappy over Rochester who didn’t deserve it. Oh, yeah, Rochester was grossly sappy, that was probably a major turn off to me, at least now, that may have been part of it then as well? All I know is that I never cast him as my hero in my mind.
I can’t remember, but I think I may have watched the Ciarán Hinds version (and I was obsessed with that actor then) during this period.
When I reread the book later, I appreciated the story more, and I think perhaps Mr. Rochester didn’t scare me as much? I think when I read it again, I was in the middle of trying to compare multiple movie versions (and I was QUITE attracted to Toby Stephens who didn’t look like the book Rochester, and I just loved his attitude). I found parts funny, but I definitely didn’t like the essence of the book Mr. Rochester or many of the movie versions (Ciarán Hinds now seemed goofy to me) as a hero of my type.
I think even later I tried to reread it a third time, and by this point the age difference appeared QUITE creepy. He’s a 35 old (yet he always seem to be old to me no matter my age, just the way he is described, probably also compared to my naivete in terms of general experience) after an 18 year old (one of my sisters was near that age then). And yeah, combined with his domineering attitude, not great vibes. And they were just so goopily, sappily gross with each other.
So the age difference, there are pretty big age difference in Jane Austen. Emma was at least 21, that in terms of maturity can be quite a big jump from 18, don’t love that difference, especially since Knightley was an adult when she was born, and they knew each other. The worst was Marianne. She was 16 or 17 when she and Colonel Brandon met, he was 35. However, in these type of old books the girls are presented as adult,** in that time period they would have been considered so, they seem fairly mature in the case of Emma and Jane, so that can lessen the creepiness ever so slightly. Also none of the movie portrayals ever really show the age difference as it really is.
I think for some reason the Rochester age difference comes across as waaay creepier than even Marianne and Brandon. I think part of this because Brandon was so straight-laced and reserved and respectful while Rochester is creepy period even were there no age difference. Also, Jane is in his household, is alone in the world, and is seemingly under a fascination/obsession with him which doesn’t feel deserved. Plus, like I said, Rochester, no matter my age, feels older. He is very cosmopolitan, very worldly, written in a way to very much show the age difference (of course Brandon feels older as well . . . because he’s dry as dust)
Rochester is creepy, obsessive, licentious, completely unrepentant over his many sins, very patronizing and controlling and yet makes himself out as the victim quite often. Ew, no thank you.
*When I reread the books several years later I could see that Emily Brontë just didn’t have the same talent or at least didn’t develop it as well as Charlotte, the writing quality is markedly lower in Wuthering Heights than Jane Eyre.
**I find it hard to believe that any possible historical maturity differences could be that great, brains don’t finish developing into the early twenties, and I believe puberty was quite a bit later in older times, at least for the lower classes with malnutrition. Could a “woman” of 18 (which wasn’t always the age of adulthood, for awhile it was 21, I think it switched back and forth for awhile) really have the same intellectual and emotional maturity as a 35 year old man, does it really seem like a good arrangement to have that kind of imbalance? What does that say about the type of man as regards his character and ego that he wants that? It is at best vaguely creepy at worst predatory. And then there are the older women whose only potential husbands are going after barely adults. And the young women, who haven’t been encouraged to look very far in the future by greedy parents or bad circumstances, they have to live with an old man or as a widow at a young age, especially since aging then was far faster than now!
I liked the gothic style of Jane Eyre but never really cared about any of the characters. And Mr. Rochester isn’t my type and I thought he was a bit creepy too.
I was Wuthering Heights level drama the first time I read Jane Eyre. Heathcliff (before it turned super dark) was my gothic man at that point. Rochester just rubs me the wrong way. Jane irritated me as well, except for the part where she stood up to Rochester
Lol I still love him. They’re well suited, in terms of sense of humour and intelligence and they just click. I like how they tease each other! St John is so humourless and pius. Nowadays you wouldn’t expect someone to stay married to someone who has dementia or something either – Rochester doesn’t put her in an asylum, she just has a live in carer. Is he a bad man? Kinda. But Jane sees his flaws and takes the good with the bad. I love Jane!! The Toby Stephens version captures their dynamic the best I think. (The age difference is weird – but she’s mature for her age and he’s a big kid, so it balances out better than Marian and Brandon at least!) Agree to disagree on this one!
Oh, I LOVE Toby Stephens version, but then that version doesn’t have the super creepy age difference, and Toby Stephens doesn’t match the book Rochester in my mind.
“does it really seem like a good arrangement to have that kind of imbalance?”
This is a really good question… I think we take the historical age imbalance in marriages for granted, but I’m unsure if it was as acceptable as it was common. Victoria and Albert were only 3 months apart, and they set the example in many ways. It’s something I’d love to research more about.
I read Jane Eyre when I was 12 and naive, and I had a big crush on Rochester. 😆 I don’t know if it was just a phase cause I haven’t read it since, and I’ll admit I have a thing for Byronic types and the Beauty & the Beast trope. The objective side of me tends to agree with you now. I think he was terribly manipulative, and poor Jane didn’t have anyone else so she naturally became attached to him. I do think that story is more common in the old days; women had so few options and everyone lived in smaller world.
JE is very similar to my favorite book, Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. Except Pushkin makes it VERY clear his “hero” is a jerk. And I think that’s why I like it better; it’s very real and honest, but still leaves you questioning what the characters really feel for each other.
I would be curious to see what stats are available about the difference in age in marriage at various points in time. I do know that we often assume everyone married quite young in all time in the past, but that doesn’t actually match the stats, for example during the World Wars there was a super low dip in age compared to previous times and then immediately after. Also social class and geographic areas play a part.
I give Jane more agency than that. I think she did make her choice, I just don’t happen to like her choice and on his side, I think he did wrong, I’m not sure that she really allowed herself to be mislead. As to the realism of this fact, well all the emotional attachments, the circumstances, etc. in the Bronte novels, they all seems extremely gothic and not super realistic. I feel like the Brontes lived in their heads more than the real world.
Personally I don’t quite understand the hype around Rochester either (although briefly mistaking someone for an elf in the woods made me laugh) Love the gothic style of the book though.
The age gap thing is definitely creepy. I know it was a thing that happened in history but it’s still uncomfortable even if it’s in something I like (like Emma)
He does have funny parts.
I feel like most of the Jane Austen movies don’t cast with the actual age gap . . . except with Marianne and Colonel Brandon, which is part of why I dislike the film Brandons.