My Dear Charlotte Brontë,
I must sever our relationship. There’s no use beating around the bush. I have realized after decades of blindness and a year of soul searching that you are the reason my love
life is in shambles.
I suppose one could argue that this would be better addressed to him — and after years of dedicated devotion and single minded love of Mr. Rochester — I can totally see why you’d think that. However, I know that this letter must be for your eyes as you created him, the basis of all my girlish dreams and the sad, yet inevitable, crash-and-burn of 2008.
The hero you created is manipulative, selfish, and controlling; he willfully deceives and milks his dysfunctional past to lure a young-enough-to-be-his-daughter employee into a relationship. This relationship was doomed from the start, not least because instead of protecting her, he set her up in almost every possible way. Mr. Rochester epitomizes “the dirty old man” motif, but you make it romantic and grant him approval in the guise of a mysterious and brooding Byron.
Then there’s the other woman. Of all the “right things to do” regarding Mr. Rochester’s first wife, none were tried. Whether he could have divorced her or not, is not really the point (although I would argue he had enough money he could have done this relatively easily). The point is that you had him hide his wife away from everyone. He insists this is because she is insane, but even her incredibly violent and almost vampiric act against her brother could be explained in a rational way. I would also like to note that evidence of her madness is circumstantial, subjective, and widely based on her husband’s (questionable) testimony. (For another perspective on Bertha’s “madness,” I suggest reading Wide Sargasso Sea.)
Mr. Rochester’s lies are pitiful, but the heroine you created is naive. You gave her spirit and inquisitiveness, but despite her experiences with the Reeds, Mr. Brocklehurst, and Lowood, she lacks wisdom. Thankfully, she has her principles, but for a woman who is constantly getting screwed by those who are meant to protect her, she quite gleefully waltzes into Mr. Rochester’s trap.
And it is a trap.
The reader is meant to feel sympathy for Mr. Rochester because he was also trapped (he said) into a relationship. The reader is lead to use this sympathy to forgive Mr. Rochester for his willful deception of Jane. Since when does two wrongs make a right?!
(About the time it’s OK to blame an author who died 150 years ago for my romantic woes. That’s when.)
But I digress.
Since then I’ve re-read the novel countless times as well as watched every television or movie adaptation which only solidified a now deeply ingrained belief in “the rake reformed”.
While it is true, some rakes do reform, it does not change the bigger truth that many do not and no one reforms as a result of love (hear the derisive emphasis on the word “love”). People change because they have a need to better themselves.
Last year, I decided to do a Jane Eyre movie marathon and once I was half way through the second film, it finally struck me how abusive Mr. Rochester really is, especially in the scenes involving Blanche Ingram. Look closely how he uses her to manipulate Jane’s emotions… and vice versa! The extent in which he did so is actually quite cruel to both women, but because Ms. Ingram is a cold bitch, we’re conditioned not to feel any sympathy toward her, only to Jane.
In addition, notice how you have him use little Adèle to further play with Jane’s emotions. Knowing that Jane has developed a strong relationship with the young girl, he pretends to yank Adèle out of her life in an intentionally heartless manner, move her to a far off location without consulting her first, only to then laugh it off with a proposal of marriage. A proposal he cannot make in good conscience. A proposal that he does not make public. A proposal that leads to a rushed ceremony.
Within the context of Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester is not romantic because he sees his soul mate in Jane. You made him impatient, forceful, and secretive with details that – as his soul mate – Jane had a right to know. His question was, did Jane love him – could she really love him – without knowing the full truth about him? He was so selfish, paranoid, and controlling, he could not just be honest and let her decide for herself.
One theme of the novel is that true love will triumph in the end. This is exactly what happened: Jane and Mr. Rochester are united in marriage, and despite his many physical disabilities, they are happy and he finds healing.
So my question is, would the ending have been so different had Mr. Rochester just been honest with Jane from the beginning, made a healthy(ish) resolution with his first wife, and then pursued Jane?
If true love always triumphs, then the answer is yes. To take it further, Ms. Brontë, they could have been together without all the collateral damage. I speculate that Mr. Rochester’s ultimate humiliation could have been completely avoided as “Bertha” appears to have been acting out of jealousy (note her specific destruction of Jane’s wedding veil), a jealousy that Mr. Rochester has shown great skill in promoting.
So to conclude this rather lengthy letter, I must reiterate my need to break up with you. Through your example, I developed a habit of seeing all men through Mr. Rochester-colored-glasses, which only lead to much heartbreak. Having now forced myself to see the truth of me, of humanity, I am obligated to say good-bye and good riddance. You no longer have an influence over me and I hope that others will come to the same realization without the same pain.
I also wish to give a strong recommendation for your sister’s powerful novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, about a woman who, after recognizing her tragic naïveté, makes all the right decisions regardless of feelings or perceived difficulty. I was not impressed to discover that after her death, you went out of your way to stifle her literary influence.
Sincerely and without regret,
A Former Rochester-Girl and Current fan of Anne Brontë