Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Monster is Born.

All through her childhood Charlotte Brontë – with her brother Branwell – filled tiny book after tiny book with her stories of Angria – the imaginary land that she and Branwell created between them. Her stories featured brooding Byronic heroes and beautiful, submissive heroines, who were frequently to be found languishing in ‘durance vile in damp dungeons. All very melodramatic, overheated and adolescent.

Her first attempt at “grown up” writing was the ill-fated The Professor, which – although streets ahead of some of the stuff churned out by modern authors – wasn’t exactly what you might call a world-beater. In fact it was so much not a world-beater that her publishers – Smith Elder – sensibly refused to touch it in her lifetime. (After her death, of course, it became a hot little number which no self-respecting publisher could resist.) She couldn’t shake off her Angrian “style” and although you can see glimpses of the writer she was eventually to become, it’s best read as more of a curiosity than a great English classic.

The most convincing chapters are those set in Belgium. Those, in other words, that were drawn directly from her own experience.

In 1842 she and sister Emily had enrolled at the Pensionnat Héger in Brussels in order to further their education and ready themselves to run a school of their own back in Haworth. Charlotte fell painfully and unrequitedly in love with Constantin Héger – the man who ran the school with his wife (that’s him in the picture). He was a loving father and a faithful husband and did not reciprocate in any way, but her obsession with him was to have a profound effect on her life and writing.

When she finally accepted that no-one was going to touch The Professor with the proverbial barge pole, Charlotte tried again. This time she resurrected her favourite character from her Angrian stories – the arrogant, brutally handsome (yawn, yawn) Zamorna – and cross-fertilized him with her idealized mental portrait of Constantin Héger.

In the process, she created a monster.

She created Edward Fairfax Rochester.

I can’t remember when, exactly, it dawned on me that Rochester was odious, but I presume it was probably in my 30s, by which age my ‘slimeball detector’ was fully developed.

I’m reasonably certain that the first time I read the scene, early in their relationship, where Rochester tells Jane about his affair with Celine Varens I just thought, “Ooh. A man of the world. How jolly thrilling.” The second time I read it – many years later – I thought, “Wait a minute. This thirty-something year old man is telling a unworldly teenage girl, and his subordinate to boot, about his unsavoury sexual history. Oh yuck.”

And it gets worse. It gets much worse.

Remember the part where our plucky heroine prevents him from being flame-grilled after Mad Bertha’s midnight peregrinations? Yes? Good. Now consider what he does next. Having made it pretty obvious that his feelings extend beyond gratitude, Mr Arch Manipulator decides to ‘test’ her. He deserts her, he brings the Ingram party back to the house and allows them to humiliate her, he reduces her to tears, he pretends to be courting Blanche Ingram and THEN he pulls that idiot gypsy-fortune-teller stunt.

Hands up anyone who wouldn’t have found the nearest blunt object and crowned the arrogant git with it.

He not only plays with Jane’s emotions, he also callously uses and misleads Blanche Ingram … and before anyone pipes up and says “Ah but …” – no she does NOT deserve it, even if she is an insufferable cow. (We’ll pass lightly over what Blanche Ingram’s characterization tells us about Charlotte Brontë and her innumerable shoulder-borne chips, because that’s a whole OTHER hatchet job.)

Then, just when you think he can’t possible get any more obnoxious, the Crown Prince of Creeps trumps himself.

That proposal. That hideous, toe-curlingly manipulative proposal. He’s made her completely miserable, he’s messed with her head, he’s convinced her that she’s being sent to Ireland … and then he just pops the question as if he’s suddenly remembered he’s supposed to be in a romantic novel.

He’s attempting bigamy. He’s lying by omission. He’s declaring undying love for little Jane, while all the time he knows he can’t contract a legal marriage. When he’s rumbled, his justification is that Bertha isn’t really his wife because she doesn’t have any discernible oars in the water. He was tricked into marrying her, you know. Oh yes he was … blinded by her beauty and unaware of her depravity until it was too late, blah, blah, blah …

Everybody go “A-h-h-h …”. Poor lamby love. You weren’t too hard to manoeuvre into marriage, were you? As my mother would say, “Where there’s a willy there’s a way …”.

So … There’s Jane in her best wedding frock, stricken, sobbing and about to hot foot it over the moors to do some good melodramatic freezing and starving for a few pages and what does he do to try to persuade her to stay? He tells her the rest of his mucky life story, for crying out loud. And when that doesn’t work? He goes berserk. In one of the weirdest and most chilling passages in 19th Century literature, he loses it completely. In fact, in retrospect, it looks dangerously like a temper tantrum.

I could go on (and on, and on …) but you get the picture.

Jane Eyre is one of the greatest wish-fulfilment exercises in English literature. To a great extent, Charlotte Brontë created the governess in her own image – little and poor and plain. Rochester was Monsieur Héger reimagined. Poor mad Bertha – could she have been Madame Héger … nutty as a fruitcake and destined to be dropped from a great height just for being in the way?

Not nice, Charlotte. You’re a vicar’s daughter, remember? Now go and write a grown up book. I’ll even give you the title. You can call it Villette.

Most classic works of fiction have some sort of message for the reader. As far as I can tell, the only useful message in Jane Eyre is that if you’re offered a job as governess by a short-tempered man who suffers from dramatic mood swings, demand to see a complete inventory of the contents of the house before you sign the contract … and pay particular attention to the attic.

(Exits, stage left, moving rapidly and keeping low …)

65 comments on “A Monster is Born.

  1. Mark Thwaite
    April 11, 2008

    Rochester: you bad cad! But, you know, Jane is more than a match for him. His worldliness is pretty thin — he got conned fairly easily and has a huge capacity for pent-up guilt; her lack of worldliness is almost zen! You can be worldly and wise without travelling the globe and sowing your seed!

    Oh, I’ve added you to the aggregator btw!

  2. RosyB
    April 11, 2008

    Thank you Mark! That’s really nice of you. I was just about to chime in with Jane is more than a match in terms of being one of the most irritating characters herself – all that saintly goodness and long-sufferingness-ness-ness.

    “He’s attempting bigamy. He’s lying by omission. He’s declaring undying love for little Janey-pops, while all the time he knows he can’t contract a legal marriage. When he’s rumbled, his justification is that Bertha isn’t really his wife because she doesn’t have any discernible oars in the water. He was tricked into marrying her, you know. Oh yes he was … blinded by her beauty and unaware of her depravity until it was too late, blah, blah, blah …

    Everybody go “A-h-h-h …”. Poor lamby love. You weren’t too hard to manoeuvre into marriage, were you? As my mother would say, “Where there’s a willy there’s a way …”.”

    I’m beginning to detect a bit of a theme this week linking the Tolstoy, Jude and Rochester. That these books are trotting out all the cliched excuses and stereotypes about male sexuality and manipulative women…Perhaps we are forgetting they are 19th century. Or maybe that shouldn’t excuse them as the 19th century was the great time for odious attitudes to women and sex. Do you think we just have too many feisty females on this site????

    I really agreed with what you said about Rochester and his first wife. Dodgy dodgy dodgy…

  3. Lisa
    April 11, 2008

    Thanks Mark, that’s great!

    Well, the first time I read Jane Eyre I was quite little (obviously thinking her name was pronounced Jane Ire) and I didn’t like Rochester at all. Not at all. I couldn’t forgive him for keeping Bertha in the attic. Why didn’t he just kill her before Jane came along, I wondered. Spent much of the second half of the book wondering when Rochester would go to the attic with his shotgun. Was sorely disappointed. Obviously I was a child with few morals, as murder seemed the obvious solution.

    Next time I read JE I was a teen. I started to warm up to Rochester, but disliked Jane with her prissiness. Wondered why in fact Rochester hadn’t killed that annoying governess.

    Last time I read JE was at uni, in tandem with Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Wondered why the two women didn’t club together and club Rochester.

    I expect the next time I read it I’ll want them all to be blinded and maimed and live in a sewer.

    I still love Jane Eyre, however. Jane’s childhood is masterfully written.

    Great piece, Moira. I do love this hatchet week. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s Time Traveller’s Wife piece by Mary.

  4. rosyb
    April 11, 2008

    “Last time I read JE was at uni, in tandem with Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Wondered why the two women didn’t club together and club Rochester.”

    LOLOL Lisa – Yes,

    “I still love Jane Eyre, however.”

    Jude, Eyre, even DH – There MUST be some classic you hate, Lisa – surely? Come on, tell us.

    Moira – but you like Heathcliff, though, don’t you? What’s the difference?

  5. Lisa
    April 11, 2008

    Not fond of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff not for me. Although he did have a lot of dogs, I seem to remember, which is always a good thing.

    But I’ve read and loved every one of Lawrence’s novels. Adore his short stories too. I think maybe I am predisposed to liking books. I can count on one hand the novels I’ve despised. Top of that list would be The Celestine Prophecy, as I’ve said before.

  6. ACW
    April 11, 2008

    I don’t think Mr Rochester’s actions can properly be defended in any logical way. The only defence that people who feel forced by their circumstances into the position of being an unfaithful spouse have, is that we all have only a short time in this world, and we all want to be happy. Sometimes that makes other people unhappy. As long as you try your best to minimise the unhappiness of others, I don’t think I could blame you for being unfaithful, or letting others make false assumptions. One could say that he didn’t try hard enough. You could say that he expended a lot of energy on his one inner-anguish, but didn’t seem to be thinking of Jane or Bertha much at all. I got the feeling that it WAS his best try though – he didn’t know how else to handle his feelings. He’d hardly had a touchy-feely upbringing himself, had he?

  7. Sally
    April 11, 2008

    Oh, but he’s so sexy! Men can get away with a lot by being sexy. And he does get maimed, blinded, burnt and abandoned by his fiance (and then his house burns down), so it’s not like he doesn’t suffer for it.

    I think part of the point of Mr R’s randomness is that Jane needs a random character as a counterbalance for her independence, stubborness, wilfulness and determination. Running away into the night? Running her own school? Refusing to accept a decent proposal of marriage and … worst of all … accusing good christian benefactors of hypocrisy! In the eyes of 19C society, Jane is most certainly not a good little governess and she doesn’t want a good little husband. I know it’s terrible that being a rake in Paris makes you sexier, but it does to the reader and it does to Jane.

  8. Anne Brooke
    April 11, 2008

    No! No! Rochester is sex-on-legs (well, obviously) – he’s a shit-hot love god and any normal woman should be drooling like a gloop machine after one glance from his dark sultry gaze!!! He and Heathcliff are my ultimate muses (well, along with my husband, naturally) and I have based my life on longing to be Jane, or Cathy. Or preferably both. Oh yes, they can do what they like with their manly ways, as far as I’m concerned!

    Ooh, and the Professor is fairly hot too!


    Really, people, what are you on???!!!??


  9. Anne Brooke
    April 11, 2008

    Ooh, PS and they’re soooo adorably vulnerable underneath it all as well. What could be hotter??



  10. Lisa
    April 11, 2008

    “drooling like a gloop machine…” LOL!

    Oh we’re hard-hearted on Vulpes this week. Medusas all.

  11. kirstyjane
    April 11, 2008

    What a superb piece, Moira.

    Rochester’s a disgusting creature. He’s no more a great or sexy creation than all those awful men in the Marianne books. At least Juliette Benzoni knew she was writing trashy fiction. Ha!

  12. Ariadne
    April 11, 2008

    Oh, I didn’t like Jane Eyre (the novel) at all. Disliked Rochester immensely, fet the whole relationship was very show-off ‘we’re soooo unconventional, look at our sexy relationship, lurve knows no bounds,’ when what it boils down to is old-fashioned boring selfishness and self-obsession. His treatment of Bertha was vile by the standards of any century.
    Actually, I don’t like any Bronte novels – none I’ve read, anyway.

  13. Tris
    April 11, 2008

    Yes Jane is a bit too self denying really. The thing about dark romantic heroes is they are not meant to be nice? Or PC.

    Just alluring?

    As for Cathy and Heathcliff – you probably wouldn’t want them to move in next door but the glory is they deserve each other?

    It’s goffick innit?


  14. Tris
    April 11, 2008

    And I love Villette

  15. marygm
    April 11, 2008

    I’m a bit torn on this one. I agree with Anne that he’s a sexy bit of stuff which let’s him get away with a lot but then I think ‘yes, but don’t marry him.’
    Jane’s childhood was so devastating that I badly wanted her to find True Love and so I was prepared to blinker myself to a lot of R’s faults. Maybe poor Jane was the same. It’s been a long time though, maybe I wouldn’t see it through the same eyes now.

  16. Jackie
    April 11, 2008

    Oh good, someone else thinks Rochester was a manipulative creep. I always thought it was Jane’s gullibility and starvation for love that left her so open to his machinations. He liked to toy with people. I never understood why so many people found that deceptiveness appealing.
    Heathcliff was at least straightforward. Even though I’ve never forgiven him for his cruelty to dogs. I liked Heathcliff even before I saw Ralph Fiennes play him in all his feral glory.

  17. JJ
    April 11, 2008

    Heavens,woman. Do you feel better now? That’s what I CALL a hatchet job.

  18. Moira
    April 12, 2008

    Yes thank you, JJ. I do feel better now. :mrgreen:

    Rosy – About Heathcliff … Yes, I DO like Wuthering Heights; rather more than ‘like’,
    actually …

    But Heathcliff is an entirely different matter to Rochester.

    Neither of them, of course, is a real human being. They are purely fictional creations, fortunately.

    When Emily Bronte created Heathcliff, she wasn’t inviting anyone to like him. Charlotte said that Emily didn’t know what she was doing when she created Heathcliff. Piffle. She knew exactly what she was doing. She deliberately created a monster. Charlotte’s was accidental. That’s the difference.

  19. Sam
    April 12, 2008

    My first thoughts were, ‘I bet it’s Rochester’! But then I opted for Heathcliff because I’ve not actually read Jane Eyre. God, I don’t like being proved wrong.

    Really well-written piece, Moira. Really enjoyed it.

  20. Simon
    April 12, 2008

    I agree!

    But Mr. Rochester looks like Mr. Match of the Year in comparison to Heathcliff, the most detestable, selfish, cruel, evil and generally despicable creation in all the fiction I’ve read. He loves no-one but himself, and Wuthering Heights is a tale about the destructive power of hate, not a great love story.

  21. Jackie
    April 12, 2008

    No, you’re wrong, Simon, WH is about the obsessive power of Love, which like any obsession, can be destructive if it reaches a certain level. I’m wagering you’ve never really experienced obsession of any sort, or you’d recognize the singlemindedness of Heathcliff’s feelings towards Cathy. He loved her more than his own life, but in a possessive, dangerous way.
    You wouldn’t say all those insulting things about Jay Gatsby, would you? He felt the same way only much, much milder. But he cloaked it in a civilized veneer which was less frightening than Heathcliff’s feral intensity.

  22. Sam
    April 13, 2008

    Jackie, I’m wagering you’ve never actually read The Great Gatsby, otherwise you’d know that the whole point of the book was that Gatsby didn’t ‘cloak’ his true feelings (he told Daisy that he loved her in front of Tom, after all), and that Gatsby’s demise was Fitzgerald’s way of showing us how true feelings get corroded by the super-wealthy’s ‘vast carelessness’.

  23. Moira
    April 13, 2008

    I’m wagering you’ll lose your wager, Sam …:mrgreen:

    Rosy – I’m with you on Wuthering Heights. It’s not a love story. It’s something both more complex and more primitive than that. It’s an extraordinary piece of writing.

    Parts of it are highly naturalistic … EB’s descriptions of the minutiae of everyday living, for instance … but mostly it’s a work unbelievable ferocity.

  24. rosyb
    April 13, 2008

    “Wuthering Heights is a tale about the destructive power of hate, not a great love story.”

    I agree with this, I don’t think it’s a great love story either and I’ve never seen Heathcliff as a romantic hero as such. But as a tale about the destructive power of hate it’s bloody marvellous. And Heathcliff, as an avenging outsider, force of nature, destroying a very hypocritical, smug cruel society, is pretty compelling as well. After all, Cathy’s great love wasn’t that great – because she couldn’t get over the fact he was a nobody and treats him with condescension because of it. She is the one caught between society and nature, as it were. I see it much more as one of those denying your true nature tales.

    What I don’t get about WH is why everyone always insists on treating it as naturalistic. “Oh, but Heathcliff isn’t very nice. I wouldn’t want him round to tea.” Well no!!! You wouldn’t! But at no point does EB really signal that these are naturalistic characters? They are bigger than that. I probably wouldn’t have Richard III round to tea either but he’s utterly fantastic. (I would, actually.) The whole point is that these sort of characters are larger than life and questions of “I don’t think they are very nice” aren’t really the point.

  25. Jackie
    April 13, 2008

    Moira is right Sam, I’ve read The Great Gatsby at least 4 times. I didn’t say that he hid his feelings, rather that he presented them in a more acceptable package. My point in citing that book was that he, like Heathcliff, yearned for the past and someone who chose riches rather than be true to their own heart. They each set about reinventing themselves, Gatsby more so, in the hopes of reawakening that person’s feelings. That was the sole focus of their existence. Though Daisy was still alive, she was as lost to Gatsby as Cathy was to Heathcliff.

  26. Sam
    April 13, 2008

    *cough cough splutter* I think you’ll find that you definitely did say he hid his feelings. Unless I’ve missed some vital rearrangement of the English language and ‘cloaked’ no longer means to hide or conceal.

    ‘Cloaked’ and ‘presented’ aren’t interchangeble!

    (And neither are ‘civilized’ and ‘acceptable’, but we’ll steer clear of that one.)

  27. rosyb
    April 13, 2008

    But, admit it, you still lost your wager!🙂

  28. marygm
    April 14, 2008

    Not only that, Sam but you’re wrong. To cloak has two meanings: ‘to hide’ and ‘to cover with’ and I think it’s fairly obvious that Jackie meant the second in her comment.
    But don’t let this being wrong discourage you, I’m sure as a man you’re well used to it. 😉
    (That’s what you get for walking into a den of vixens!)

  29. Catherine Czerkawska
    April 14, 2008

    Moira, find myself agreeing about Jane and Rochester. Never much liked Mr Rochester. Once I had read Sargasso Sea I began to understand why. But I really really wanted to kill prissy Jane (or shake her till her neat little head fell off). All the same, I still kind of enjoy the book. How can that be? Because it’s a good story well told I suppose!
    Spot on with Wuthering Heights, Rosy (my all time ultimate favourite novel) – of course Heathcliff isn’t real or nice but that doesn’t stop him from being bloody marvellous. Cathy and Heathcliff, it has always seemed to me, are completely ‘other’ in the way that the ‘fairies’ are other and heartless and exceedingly dangerous but all too disturbingly ‘real’ in Celtic folk tales.

  30. Sam
    April 14, 2008

    Hail Mary

    Thank you for your comment.

    I agree that ‘to cloak’ can also mean ‘to cover’, and that ‘to cover’ doesn’t always mean ‘to conceal’ (I might cover you in kisses, for example), but when ‘to cloak’ is used in the ‘to cover’ sense it is (always?) in the ‘to conceal’ definition of ‘to cover’ (I would not cloak you in kisses, for example). But I’m sure you’ll come up with a counterexample that will leave me suitably dumbfounded.

    But don’t let this being wrong discourage you, I’m sure as a man you’re well used to it.

    Nice to see that gender persecution is alive and well on Vulpes.

  31. marygm
    April 14, 2008

    Well Sam, so glad to hear that your persecution hasn’t oppressed you to the point of being unable to retaliate!

    I would counter though that in an example such as “he cloaked his disdain in politeness” this means the disdain is very perceptible (and therefore not hidden) but is not overt.

  32. Sam
    April 14, 2008

    I can see what you’re trying to get at.🙂

    But that sentence doesn’t make good sense in the ‘to cover’ definition of the word. At best it’s ambiguous, at worst it doesn’t do the work you want the sentence to do.

    I think you mean, ‘he couched his disdain…’

  33. rosyb
    April 14, 2008

    Oh hells teeth people!

    Jackie said “cloaked ” in a civilised veneer. Dressed it up, therefore. Made it less threatening.

    Is everyone going to have to play dictionary definitions when they put a comment on here – could be rather daunting? Not to mention a tad…err…pedantic? Hmmm? Mmmmm? :):):)

    (For some reason that italicised “couched” is really disturbing me.)

  34. Sam
    April 14, 2008

    I don’t feel that to dress up and to cloak are synonomous, by the way.

  35. marygm
    April 14, 2008

    Well they both refer to garments of clothing. Close enough for me.
    OK, Rosy, I’m shutting up now. 🙂

  36. MaryW
    April 20, 2008

    Thank you for saying this. JE was marvelously romantic to read when I was a teen–and now all I want to do is smack the smirk right off Rochester.

  37. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    But isn’t this (in answer to the original post) why Rochester has to be brought down? Why he has to be disfigured, disabled, isolated and relieved of his social and financial status? Even if you feel the need to strip away the Christian context of the story, it’s still essentially a moral tale about a bad man being punished, and a brave woman being rewarded. I love the way the heroine says to herself, in effect, ‘No, I’m worth more than this,’ and walks away. “I care for myself,” is the pivotal phrase she uses, I seem to remember.

    When I read the novel as a teen I thought she was being prissy in rejecting him, but I didn’t understand how the arrangement Rochester was suggesting would have degraded her, and how he needed to redeem himself before he was worthy of Jane.

    Interesting post, and discussion!

  38. Moira
    April 25, 2008

    Spot on, Kate. According to the novel-writing ‘rules’ of the time, Rochester had to be punished for his sins …

    (Emily, of course, just went her own way regardless of the rules … Got to love that woman …:mrgreen: )

    It’s just curious to me that so many people (not many of whom have popped up on this thread to defend him … but I know they’re out there) don’t seem to think there’s anything at all icky about his behaviour. I’m not terribly convinced, either, that Charlotte thought it was all that reprehensible.

  39. Moira
    April 25, 2008

    Well, perhaps “rules” is overstating it a bit … but the novel-reading public of the time generally expected wrong-doers to get their come-uppance, didn’t they and were a bit shocked if it didn’t obviously happen?

    It’s not quite such a ‘given’ today … you can never be reasonably certain any more that good will triumph – and the lines between good and bad and black and white have been blurred – just like real life. Grey has descended upon us.

    And yes … I agree that pride was one of Rochester’s big problems … that a breathtaking degree of self-centredness.

    Mind you, some 21st century males probably haven’t moved on too much in that respect.

    (I said SOME guys … SOME … okay?)

  40. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    He’s chiefly guilty of the sin of pride, isn’t he? He treats Jane like a possession, and he makes her very conscious of his superior status with his inappropriate gifts. He doesn’t ‘read’ her properly because he’s too bound up with his own feelings, and he certainly doesn’t respect her in the full and true sense of the word. So he’s got to be brought down and taught humility, while Jane learns to be emotionally independent (which is a big step up from claiming to Helen that she’d submit to being trampled by a horse* if it wold make someone would love her). I’d say the author’s quite clear about what Rochester’s done wrong, and why he needs to be taught a lesson.

    I’m not sure those are rules “of the time”, particularly, though. Usually evil characters in fiction are punished, even in contemporary novels, and the maladjusted or flawed learn to be better. Such resolutions are our consolation for the shortcomings of real life!

    *Or something like that.

  41. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    I think fiction’s job is still (partly) to suggest a Great Moral Order where in real life there often appears to be none. Redemption, whether partial or full, remains a huge theme across all the genres. I can’t think of a single story I’ve read in the last year where either the villain doesn’t get some sort of pay-back, the good guy some degree of reward, or someone doesn’t learn something crucial about themselves and so become a better person. I’m not saying such tales don’t exist, just that the drive to read about a fair and balanced universe is probably just as strong today as it was in the 1800s.

    I also think Charlotte and Emily Bronte were both *extremely* good at blurring the lines, as were any other novelists of the Victorian period. I suspect the writers who weren’t are the ones who’ve fallen out of favour – authors like S K Hocking, and A L O E – because of the simplicity of their moral frame.

  42. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    Sorry: that should have read, “…as were many other novelists of the Victorian period”.

    From my own reading, I’d say writers in the past were just as capable of suggesting complex characters with flaws, capable of stirring up a range of emotions, as are modern authors. I really don’t believe it’s a case of Victorian characters = good or bad: modern ones = shaded.

  43. rosyb
    April 25, 2008

    This is interesting – seems to relate to a lot of crime novels. But hasn’t there been a move from the detective restoring the moral order and a universe explainable in terms of motive to concentrating on unexplained horrors and the motiveless murder, and the unnamed threat continually there (thinking of Patricia Cornwall type books here). Even if the “baddie” is punished, I am not sure the modern detective novel restores the moral order so much as leaves you feeling that the world is threatening, inexplicable and random. That feels like a definite move in terms of how the genre works to me.

    Perhaps i’m wrong though. I haven’t read hugely widely in crime genre.

  44. Moira
    April 25, 2008

    I’ve never read any horror fiction … lots of crime and science ficton novels though – more when I was younger, but still a few from time to time. They’ve definitely shifted their approach over the years There’s a lot more moral ambiguity around these days.

    I agree about the well-known Victorian novelists, Kate. They are still with us because they were SO much better than the others … but it was the others I was chiefly thinking about. They stuck firmly to the conventions of the time (‘conventions’ was the word I was looking for before … not ‘rules’) and I honestly doubt it ever occurred to Charlotte to do anything else. She didn’t, after all, know she was writing one of the all-time greats of world literature. She just wanted to get a book published.

    We can’t know what was going on in her head, but we do know – from her correspondence – that she was desperate (and I don’t think that’s too strong a word for it) to be considered respectable. The accusations of ‘coarseness’ leveled at her and her sisters really rankled. She wasn’t a girl to buck convention. Rochester had to get his come-uppance because that’s what the readers expected.

    I’m not a huge reader of modern fiction, but I do still pick up the occasional novel (more often now since I’ve been writing for Vulpes) … and – to me at least – that clear-cut distinction between bad guys and good guys has definitely gone a bit fuzzy.

    I was fascinated by this comment of yours though …

    “I think fiction’s job is still (partly) to suggest a Great Moral Order where in real life there often appears to be none …”

    I’m not arguing with it at all … I’m just intrigued by it, because the thought had never occurred to me.

    Wouldn’t like to write an opinion piece on it for us, would you? :mrgreen:

  45. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    I used to read a great deal of horror fiction in my teens and there was certainly that sense of the world being “threatening, inexplicable and random” – nice phrase. That said, even though whatever-it-was always came back to life in an epilogue – from killer slugs to insane clowns – there was usually a ‘deserved punishment and reward’ angle to the plot.

    That’s not to say there weren’t innocent casualties along the way, but then that’s also true of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. To have a novel where absolutely everyone on the side of good walked the world in a state of invulnerability would tax the narrative within a very short time.

  46. Moira
    April 25, 2008

    Well, I think we’re going to have to differ on the relative merits of Jane Eyre and Villette … but I have to say that I DO like the way Charlotte ended Jane Eyre, not with the Jane ‘n’ Eddie Cosy Show, but with St John Rivers. It’s a really beautiful close.

    She was a girl for off-beat endings, wasn’t she?

    And I’ll accept that as the t-shirt version of Villette!

    But we’ll hold you to that Opinion Piece … when you have the time. 🙂

  47. Moira
    April 25, 2008

    I graduated to Jackie from Bunty …

    Oh … My lost youth …

    Sweet poem … and really not a bad sentiment, whatever its poetic merits. Cough.

    I’d be far too embarrassed to share the poems I cut out and kept in my youth …😯

  48. Moira
    April 25, 2008

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, Kate. 🙂

  49. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    If life calms down at all!

    What motivated CB to show Rochester being brought down was, I would agree, part of a conventional morality, based on Christian teachings. ‘Jane Eyre’ is an explicitly Christian book. It ends not with a misty-eyed view of lovers reunited, but St John’s urgent letter saying how he’s moving towards heaven.

    However, what happens to Rochester is also there to balance what’s happening with Jane, which is a very modern assessment of a woman growing in practical and emotional self-confidence to the point where she can reject the conventional path of marrriage. And in essence Rochester isn’t a villain, but a man with serious flaws which he has to address before he can claim his reward. (You could argue that Jane’s reward is her inner poise and self-sufficiency. Rochester and babies are the icing on her cake.)

    Are there not modern equivalents to the S K Hockings etc? Modern novels may not be driven by Christianity, but there are plenty around where the bite of the tale is that the goodies win the day and the baddies get sorted.

    Incidentally, from what I remember of ‘Villette’ – a novel which I haven’t read for twenty years, so bear with me – much of it’s an extended howl about how unfair life is if you’re a less than raving beauty. I think ‘Jane Eyre’ has a much better narrative shape, and benefits from a more outward-looking and braver heroine.

  50. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    This whole discussion has just reminded me of a poem printed in Jackie magazine in the 70s that I liked so much (hey, I was *very* young) I cut it out and kept it. The last two couplets went something like:

    “First you make your life worth sharing
    Then you find a man who’s caring
    Make sure you meet that special guy
    With self-respect and head held high.”

    Really, that could have been written for our Jane! And yet, as I’ve said, the romance is only one element. Both Rochester and Jane have a spiritual journey to make of their own.

  51. Kate Long
    April 25, 2008

    It can’t have been any worse than the stuff I wrote.

    Irritatingly, I can’t find my copy of JE. But I discover I have two of WH – perhaps one of them ate Jane!

    Thanks for a very interesting discussion.

  52. K Hastings
    July 20, 2008

    Very clever take on “Janey-pops” and her life misadventures. I wrote a rather off-the-cuff paper for a senior seminar on the Brontes in praise of Rochester, arguing that Jane was more than his match. After digesting this article’s low opinion of the selfish ignoramous Rochester, I have to agree that poor little Jane’s brain must have leaked out her ear at some point. She is completely duped and by the end of the novel she is the perfect Stepford Wife, the brainwashing process complete. You have convinced me of the complete erroneousness I was using to see this novel. For a moment there I was seeing it through my professor’s romance-filled eyes, but your discussion is so sound and pen so wicked that I am totally won over now in the opposite direction. Thank you for the mental exercise. I very much enjoyed it.

  53. Pingback: Maureen Freely: The Other Rebecca « Vulpes Libris

  54. Ksotikoula
    December 21, 2008

    I found this a little late, but better late than never!
    I think we are making a huge mistake by trying to judge Rochester as a real person. In real life I would say to Jane “get as far away as you can!”. But in the novel, as Charlotte Bronte wrote it and it is a fact either we like it or not, he is clearly a good character. He could have pretty much any woman he wanted but he chose plain, modest Jane. And this isn’t a freak of his. He really loved her. He would not get into this trouble of risking a bigamy for anyone else. His drama is that now he has found the woman he wanted from the beggining, she is too ethical to stay with him and he can’t change the past. Yes, he does it the wrong way, but he believes Jane is still a child and he has difficulty to make her see him as a man since their age difference is huge. In fact although his game is cruel I fell almost sorry for him because he was obviously very much in love with her a long time before she gets there and his effort of controlling his feelings was touching.
    Another point I wanted to stress is that his relationships with women were always wrong and he clearly didn’t know any better. I always wondered why, if he was such a clever man to handle accuratelly both Jane and Blanche, he fell victim to women that wanted him only for his money and cheated on him? His behavior the month before his wedding with Jane shows that clearly. He thought women are happy when they are spoilt and get presents. This is very convincing detail for me. This is how he was brought up. And the fact that he had all these failed relationships make me feel more safe on Jane’s side that he will be faithful because he had tried much of everything, had no satisfaction and no repressed desires. His telling Jane of his mistresses was no bragging. He was admiting he was the cheated one. Not much of a Don Juan there!
    He also tells Jane from the beginning he is a rake. In fact he tells her many things but not too clearly because he knew she would go. That was wrong and though I can understand why he did it I still consider it wrong. So did Charlotte, that following the lines of a Greek tragedy punished him severely.
    To end with, I trust Jane with Rochester as long as the pen of Charlotte leads him.🙂 Because she plays the part of Providence in Jane’s life and loved her too much to let her die alone or get entangled in a bigamous marriage. And that sense of justice really is an element of the book that appeals to me since society and life tend to be so unfair. But I consider it unfair to project to Rochester whatever flaws real men in our lives could have. He is an exception in that book. And I really don’t want to confuse him with Heger whom I despise. I believe he truly gaven reason to Charlotte to love him because she was not mad to randomly develop a feeling for a married man and then didn’t had the decency to sent a letter to say he was not interested. I wish he was in sentiments the 1/8 of what Rochester was. But Charlotte was strong. Chose to see only what good things that love gave her, namely her greatest experience of life she wanted to fire up the writer that was hidding inside her and also a chance of introspection.
    I have the same opinion about Wuthering Heights: Take them as you find them. As long as I tried to connect the heroes with what I knew of life it was difficult to understand them. Now I can see them more clearly, without judging them with societal criteria. Sorry if this is too long!

  55. Ksotikoula
    December 21, 2008

    I’m sorry but I forgot them most important fact in his defence. That he was the only one to say to her more or less “Be yourself and I will love you for what you are!”. What is more important that this full acceptance for an orphaned, love searching girl? Acceptance is the psychological word for love🙂. She feels more free in his presense than in anybody else’s despite the fact that he is a despotic man in manners, because she can humor him and ignore him whenever she wants.

  56. Moira
    December 22, 2008

    You hopeless romantic you … 🙂

    But you despise Contantin Heger? Why? What did the poor bloke do to deserve that?

  57. Ksotikoula
    December 27, 2008

    I don’t know if I am hopeless romantic, as in my real life Rochester would not be my type really (either I am too prudent or too timid I don’t know which🙂 and I wouldn’t have Charlotte to protect me from having to pick up the pieces of my heart afterwards) but I like him for Jane and I can see what Charlotte had envisioned him to be.
    She writes to her publisher’s:

    “Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent; he is ill-educated, misguided; errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience: he lives for a time as too many other men live, but being radically better than most men, he does not like that degraded life, and is never happy in it. He is taught the severe lessons of experience and has sense to learn wisdom from them. Years improve him; the effervescence of youth foamed away, what is really good in him still remains. His nature is like wine of a good vintage, time cannot sour, but only mellows him.”

    Literature is addressed to sensible beings. If you can’t recognize what is right and wrong you could get false impressions even from the bible. Lol!

    I despise Heger for the reasons I mentioned in my previous message (false encouragement) plus the way his family presented the Charlotte case: They said she just fell in love with him, he didn’t know it and later she sent him letters. He wasn’t interested, he tore them up and his wife sew them together to have evidence against Charlotte. Later when Madame Heger died, her daughter Louisa showed the letters to the surprised Heger who again threw them away.
    Well this is not plausible. In 1855 when Gaskell wrote “The life of Charlotte Bronte” she went to Brussels. Madame Heger refused to see her, but Heger met her and showed her 2 of the letters Charlotte wrote to him. But if he had torn them up and his wife had saved them, he wouldn’t have them to produce them! So in 1855 the letters must have been intact. That is 12 years after Charlotte sent them (the last being sent at 1842-3). And I wonder: why keep the letters of a woman that you are not interested in at all? I am not suggesting that he was in love with her. Simply that he liked her and they indeed had a kind of bonding, which is also evinced by the fact that Madame Heger didn’t think that tie negligible and strongly fought it although there was never an issue of adultery.

    Now I present you an explanation that Lyndan Gordon supports that satisfies common sense better. She believes (and I fully agree) that a woman like Charlotte doesn’t fall in love with a married man without having the slightest encouragement. Heger was known to use his personal charm with his students:

    “I often give myself the pleasure, when my duties are over, when the light fades. I postpone lighting the gas lamp in my library, I sit down, smoking my cigar, and with a hearty will I evoke your image – and you come (without wishing to, I dare say) but I see you, I talk with you – you with that little air, affectionate undoubtedly, but independent and resolute, firmly determined not to allow any opinion without being previously convinced, demanding to be convinced before allowing yourself to submit – in fact, just as I knew you, my dear L—, and as I have esteemed and loved you.” (Letter another student of his)

    He knew how to caress with language and if he talked to Charlotte like that, recognised her gift, had the same taste in literature, was so good as to leave her books and presents, was close enough to age with her, I can hardly see how she could avoid falling in love with him, being also so much isolated (“what I naturally and inevitably loved” JE). He also knew the dynamics of a teacher-pupil relationship and he really used them. I think it was truly fate for Charlotte to meet that man that also matched her personality in another way. She liked powerful personalities (that is also what she admired in Emily). She liked the challenge of seeming to submit to his strenght but still defying him (through her devoirs where he writes her the comment “it is not polite to disillusion your reader” when she teases him). Although he was harsh at times with her, she understood that he did it because he expected more from her and wanted to push her to her limits of her creativity. He was her teacher, her employer, her pupil (she learned him English). And then Madame intervenes because she correctly thinks that Charlotte is falling in love. Gordon says that she knew Heger was susceptible and had to watch him in a school full of girls. But Charlotte was surprised. She never thought Madame would feel threatened by her. She was his wife, he was devoted, she was the mother of his children and all Charlotte wanted was to preserve her spiritual bond with him (there goes the “dog in the manger” in Villette). She (Charlotte) certainly must have had feelings and desires about Heger, but she wouldn’t ever intervene in his marriage and probably wouldn’t like to admit even to herself except perhaps in that famous confession of hers. So she can’t handle the pressure by madame and her not being able to see him anymore and she resigns. But no, madame needs her until the end of semester and sends Heger to talk to her to convince her to stay, which he does. He knew he had power over her and liked to use it. I don’t believe he was unaware of her attachment to him.
    After her return to England and those desperate letters (which madame read) he didn’t have the kindness to tell her he wanted to drop the correspondence although Charlotte writes to him:

    “Perhaps you will say to me “I no longer take the slightest interest in you Miss Charlotte, you no longer belong to my household, I have forgotten you”. Well Monsieur tell me so candidly – it will be a shock to me – that doesn’t matter – it will still be less horrible than uncertainty”.

    And I truly believe he would give her what he wanted from him, support and his being her mentor, but didn’t want to go against his wife that had taken a definite dislike to Charlotte. He was playing from a safe side. He had everything he wished, a wife, a family, a career. Charlotte was interesting and original, but he could live without her.
    So after that indifferent and careless behavior with her he still survives till today (because of Charlotte) in his impeachable image of a family, pious gentleman and all fault rests with her, as Gaskell thought that all this was a figment of her imagination. Well she was not mad.
    To conclude with Gordon’s point of view, she thinks he destroyed her letters to protect Charlotte, because he believed she would be misunderstood by others like it happened with his wife. She also rightly comments that madame preserved the letters not as evidence, as they didn’t acquitted exactly her husband. Madame herself Gordon claims logically could not help to wonder at some point seeing the vehement emotions of Charlotte exactly how much her husband had contributed to their birth (“I looked at my love: that feeling which was my master’s–which he had created” JE). She preserved the letters, so as to not fall to wrong hands and spoil the image about her husband which she had created. She always tended to search his garbage bin and she termed his behavior to students as “a respectful avowal of tender sentiments”.

    After all that you will wonder how I can still defend Rochester if the prototype was so bad. I believe Charlotte (and that shows what a strong woman she was) chose to see beyond her natural disappointment to what truly good was in this relationship. She had found a man that recognised her gift and thus gave her freedom to express herself (the great thing also Rochester gives to Jane), he was her mentor and also gave her something realistic to write about, something she could sympathise and put her soul into. Totally different than those nonsense Angria tales where she was identified with a male prototype to cover sexual urges unexpressed and censured for a woman at that era. She was always adopting male names and had a competitive relationship with her brother because that gave her freedom. She had not developed that woman voice she expresses in Jane Eyre and Villette. Partly Heger woke that in her. So she embarassed her love, her most strong experience in her life until then and gave life to a novel that in stead of being bitter is a hymn to love.

    This is probably longer than the inicial article. I am so emabarassed. lol!

  58. Ksotikoula
    January 2, 2009

    In the last paragraph I meant to write “embraced her love” and not embarassed😦 .

  59. Moira
    May 19, 2009

    Sorry to have taken so long to reply, Ksotikoula … It’s nice to see someone with the courage to try and defend the poor man.

    I heartily applaud your loyalty, while I slightly question some of your logic.

    You say that Charlotte would not have fallen in love with Heger without some encouragment from him. Well, actually, yes she would. It was, in fact, a classic teacher-pupil ‘crush’ – in other words not real love at all (such as she eventually – albeit briefly – found with Arthur Nicholls) but an infatuation … as displayed by millions of fans of film and TV stars around the world.

    He was undoubtedly a charismatic teacher … and we can tell from his surviving letters to other pupils that he had a very personal approach, but those same letters tell us that he treated all of his pupils in that way.

    As to why he still had that torn up letter … that’s easy. By that time, Charlotte Bronte was a megastar. If you found yourself in possession of a dynamite letter written by someone who was as big as say … Brad Pitt … would YOU throw it away? Because that’s the sort of scale of fame we’re talking about.

    And he was, after all, only human.

    And as for Charlotte trying to tell us “Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent” … Oh dear. How I chuckle every time that one comes up. Of course he’s selfish and self-indulgent. That’s EXACTLY what he is. He doesn’t care a fig for anyone’s feelings except his own.

    We must resist the temptation to turn Charlotte into a saint. I’ve read Lyndall Gordon’s book. She obviously likes Charlotte. I don’t – or at least, she isn’t a person I’d have wanted to meet in real life. Reading her (hundreds and hundreds of) letters leaves you with a not entirely favourable impression of the lady. She was a far more complex person than either Mrs Gaskell or Lyndall Gordon portrayed.

    It is too easy to paint Heger (and Arthur Nicholls and Patrick Bronte) as the villains of the piece. It was done for years in the cause of beatifying Charlotte. The truth – as it nearly always does – lies somewhere in the middle ground.

  60. Christina
    May 27, 2009

    What an outstanding article, Moira! And the discussion has been very entertaining and enlightening as well, everyone. Wish I’d come across this site sooner!!

  61. ksotikoula
    June 20, 2009

    Hi Moira!
    I just saw your answer. I disagree that Charlotte’s feelings for Heger were just a crush. It would not in my opinion have such long term effects, if it was something so superficial. I am glad, however, that you can see her love for Nicholls which many people doubt.

    I agree also that Heger had a personal approach in teaching. And I can understand what you mean that he treated all his students in this way. There are many people who believe in the advantages of a platonic love between teachers and students because it gives a further inner initiation to a student to rise up to the expectations of a teacher. However, it was wrong of him to pursuit this course with Charlotte because of her age, character, isolation and need for love. And I believe he knew and understand her well enough. I don’t mean to say he did it on purpose. I believe he realized his mistake when it was too late. Most people think he was so indifferent to her that he is presented as a villain. But when after Charlotte’s death Ellen Nussey wrote to him to tell him she was going to publish Charlotte’s letters and she wanted from him some devoirs, he said to her that in her letters are seen “the very beatings of that sick heart”. He erases the adjective sick and substitutes it with “wounded heart” and then again erases it to return to “sick” (malade). This shows to me that he was still trying to define his own role and blame in this story. He decided not to take up any responsibility for it, but at least he put some thought in it. He also writes to Ellen that the devoirs would lose some of their spontaneousness because it is these and the letters that would suffer more in translation “the way (he adds) that she whispered them in my heart’s ear” (so he was not as insensible as people and his own family tried to present him in order to construe for him an unimpeachable image).

    About the letters the question was this: Did he or not have them in his possession? According to his wife he tore them up immediately after reading them and his daughter says that, when she showed them to him before dying, he was surprised. So according to them he didn’t know of their continued existence after his destroying them. But how can this be possible since in the meantime he showed them to Gaskell? And in what condition were they? Intact or torn? Wouldn’t it be weird to show torn letters to Gaskell? And if he did show them torn, why was he again surprised when he saw them before dying? Someone there is lying. And I don’t think the better for this family for exploiting the fame of a person whom they had hurt so much in the past. Why they were human and ethical after all in this and Charlotte who was the only one who suffered from this story was the unethical one?
    It is different to keep a letter from a famous admired by you person and a hated one. There is a difference in intentions as well. Madame thought perhaps that this would expose what a nuisance and unethical woman Charlotte was and maybe some people think so, but what you most see in her letters is pain and suffering, the existence of feelings that were never to be met.

    This being said I don’t believe that Charlotte was a saint or always a victim. She had weaknesses but that makes her more human. Smith and Heger were by no means great in their behavior towards her, but I believe that it was partly her fault or willingness to risk in being drawn to people like them. She was adventurous and liked strong personalities (that is why she missed noticing the quiet, seemingly dull Nicholls). They (Smith and Heger) were magnetic personalities and they seem almost magical beings in her novels, not because she presents an ideal image of them (far from it), but because of her adoration for them. She knew how to love people despite their flaws. She was an idealist in a way and that is the element I believe that you fail to understand in Rochester’s case. He is meant to be a tragic and epic figure in a way, while you only see a selfish man. He is very close to Oedipus as a character in having that great pride in him, the arrogance, the irascibility and the belief in his strength, which all bring the inevitable fall of both. He is ready to fight with gods and demons to keep Jane. He can not change the past (that is a fact) and he can not leave his life’s meaning to slip away. He is chooses to bear all the burden and responsibility and sin for both of them in order to leave her in an illusion of a pure life, because he knows she could not live otherwise being the person she is. But Jane doesn’t need an all-mighty protector and besides her need for an equal relationship, she is being denied the chance to make her own decision. That is what he fails to see. Despite his being capable of appreciating her real character, he is full of preconceived patterns of behavior which tries to function in wrong situations. He has a lot to learn about being together with a person (and his experiences never helped them in this) and needs humbling down too, to understand that there are more ways in being with another, than his being a giver and protector. He is not selfish but immature. If he was selfish, he would never progress as much as he does in the end.

    By the way, Madame Heger was never meant to be portrayed as Bertha, a mad woman in this novel, so Jane Eyre is not as immature a novel as you claim. The only element borrowed from the real story was the longing and the pain of unfulfilled desire to be with someone you can not.

  62. hrileena
    November 3, 2009

    I must say I too have always found it difficult to accept Rochester as a romantic lead. Not only is there the whole mad-wife-locked-in-attic issue, but once you’ve got past that (and it is not an easy thing to get past!), there’s the fact that he apparently intended to ‘marry’ Jane, when he knew perfectly well that he was in no position to marry anyone. Marriage to a man who was not available to be married would have rendered Jane less a wife and more a slave, dependent on his every whim and fancy — and he had to have known this — the fate of the so-called ‘fallen’ woman was far from pleasant, and that is essentially what ‘marrying’ him would have made Jane. And you didn’t even have to be ‘fallen’ for the label to stick, you just had to be poor and a whiff of scandal had to hang about you.

  63. Gnaritia
    August 4, 2011

    It has been fascinating to read the main post and all the comments in here; this has given me indeed great food for thought and I have discovered there are always two parts of the coin, and it is up to us to choose the one to look at.

    Emotionally, I am and have been for many years now very attached by Mr Rochester, the hottest romantic hero that you can find in literature, to my opinion. Logically, I completely agree that he can be seen as a narcissistic dude and that in real life, you’d better run fast from him.

    I enjoyed reading both the opinions against and those defending Mr Rochester, and I would say that every assertion of Bronte regarding her character can be construed from a destructive or constructive angle equally. Putting apart the personality of the writer herself (that I know very little about) and even what she wanted to transmit or say in her novel, truth remain that the beauty or the ugliness of her novel is still in the eyes of the reader. Take for example the confessions of Rochester about his love for Celine. Surely, if we think that hot details might have been given, this falls completely out of place and would indeed show a perverse character. But if you think that he only told her the details given by Charlotte, you can think about a lonely person wanting to communicate with another human being; someone having been hurt in the past, and who wants to share his story with another fellow human that takes time to listen to him. Then the part about locking the mad wife in the attic. It can be of course seen as an extreme of a selfish and cruel behaviour (to just get rid of someone you once loved in this monstruous way). But it can be also taken word-by-word from what Charlotte wrote, that there was really no other choice (well, I don’t remember why he could not have left her in Jamaica, but the rest about choosing between a mad house and a livable place to stay can be reasonable).

    I guess my only conclusion from these two different possibilities of looking at the character is that he still remains one of the hottest romantic heros in the literature, but that I would certainly wouldn’t like to meet him or have anything to do with him in real life.

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  65. Pingback: “My Brontë is better than your Brontë”– The Great Vulpes Libris Brontë Slapdown. | Vulpes Libris

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