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Why Mr Rochester is NOT a creep

I know the article “Mr. Rochester is a Creep: A List” by Edan Lepucki is just plain linkbait, and that by posting about it here, The Millions is/are (whatever) getting linklove, but I’ll ignore that for now. As a “somewhat” obsessive Jane Eyre fan and definite “Team Rochester” member, my temper has been roused and will not be settled will less than a passionate rebuttal.

While the webcomic that the article links to is one I’ve seen before and used to have as a wallpaper on my computer (although it completely ignores the fact that Anne wrote more than just Tenant), calling two of the finest authors of the English language “deeply weird” is not on! Charlotte and Emily weren’t weird. Heathcliff, fine – asshole, psychopath, creepy and duplicitous are all words that can be used to describe him. I can think of a few more to add to the list as well. But Rochester?! (The author hasn’t read Wide Sargasso Sea yet – it’s going to be like a dream come true. Jean Rhys wasn’t exactly “Team Rochester” either.)

I’m impressed at how civil I managed to comment on the blog itself, frankly. But I had no wish to get banned from a blog I had only come across for the first time today! 😉 Speaking one’s true mind is better left to one’s own blog. Which in my case is this one! So let’s get to it!

1. a) Read up on 19th century mental healthcare, then judge him for keeping his wife at home rather than in a mental institution. b) Not letting her out – for her own safety as well as the safety of everyone else. Have you read the book? She has a penchant for starting fires. Arson isn’t a particularly socially accepted activity. Especially not when you live in the same house.

2. The truth does come out at the altar, because if he had said “yah, btw, Janet – I’m already married, so umm, yeah … We’re still cool, right?” wouldn’t have been much of a plot device. (Charlotte did love her Plot Devices. I shall go into those when I finally review the Book itself.) And it would have turned the whole thing into Emo Fest, because not only would Rochester be brooding over the fact that he can’t legally wed Jane, she’d brood over the fact that she can’t be Rochester’s wife. The year and a day thing – we’ll never know. He might have told her, he might not have. A year and a day is a bit symbolic and traditional, but in a sense, if they had been married a year and a day, it meant they were “properly” married, no turning back. My big question to this point is: Since when was keeping Bertha a secret from the world a crime? How would you like it to be married off to a stranger under false pretenses because your relatives were greedy and only to discover that you’re stuck with someone for life that you have no connection with, no sympathy for and cannot love. Your life is a misery. While trying to forget her by ignoring her is not a very pleasant strategy, I can see where he’s coming from.

3. Forgetting the fact that they had vastly different views on sex (and a lot of other things) in the 19th century. He can’t see any likeness to himself in Adèle and Céline wasn’t exactly one for being chaste or even faithful, so why should he entertain the notion that he has a bastard daughter? Nowadays, we have DNA tests to prove paternity once and for all – they could only go by looks and behaviour, and Adèle matched Rochester in neither. When Céline dumped her child on him (which she did, so she could bugger off to Italy with her latest flame), he could have turned her into the nearest orphanage and left her to rot. He didn’t. He made sure she was looked after and then arranged for her to come to England and even be educated, and he’s doted on her for years, but yeah, let’s forget all that and get hung up on the fact that he doesn’t admit paternity. Bah.

4. Oh for heaven’s sake! So dressing up in drag makes you a creep? Nice one, I shall let the gay and/or transvestite communities know. Bet they’ve never heard that one before. The way kneeling is mentioned sounds creepy because you make it sound dirty. It’s not dirty, nor creepy. Jane is being asked by an old gypsy woman (as far as she knows at the time) to kneel so the gypsy can make out her features and thus tell her fortunes (Charlotte Brontë was into physiognomy, and physiognomy was a really big deal at the time). And also, the reason for dressing up in the first place is to try and figure out what’s actually going on in Jane’s plain, poor and obscure little head, as she plays her cards close to her chest. Does she love him? Does she not? Is she even interested in him at all? He’s the master of the house, she’s technically a servant. Neither are in a place to say “Edward, by the gods do I fancy you something rotten!” or “Janet, I’m head over heels in love with you, like I’ve never known love before”. Again, interpreting the book with 21st century eyes and forgetting it was written 160-odd years ago, in the late 1840s. Times change, and society with it.

5. WTH! He never says he’s engaged to Blanche Ingram! He constantly implies that he is to be wed and mentions Blanche as a potential bride a number of times, but he never proposes to her. Jane thinks he must have proposed as everyone is so intent on Blanche becoming Mrs. Rochester, but he never goes beyond flirting with her. And yes, he does basically say he wasn’t really going to marry her and only led Jane on to be jealous. While I can agree that it’s an unusual strategy to get someone to fall madly in love with you, it’s not cruel to Blanche. If he really was engaged to her, fair enough, but he never was. And besides, she only pursued him for his money anyway – as soon as she found out he wasn’t worth a third of what she thought, she turns a cold shoulder, proving she had no romantic notions about him. He was only the means to an end, i.e. her future sugar daddy, not the means to achieve future wedded bliss and a Happily Ever After. I’d call her a callous bitch, not “a pill”, and she didn’t have a heart for Rochester to break in the first place.

6. OMG, jumping to conclusions much?! If I wanted to jump to conclusions too, I could suggest that it’s quite obvious the author has never known love as overpowering and passionate as that between Edward Fairfax Rochester and Jane Eyre. But like I said, that would be jumping to conclusions. If you’re so blindingly in love with someone and they leave abruptly and you have a keepsake, you’d keep it close to you at all times. If this happens to be a necklace, most easily carried around the neck like it’s designed to be, so what? Does the author have some sort of latent homophobia or something? I can’t help but wonder.

7. He’s never described as pretty and that Jane is plain is mentioned every other chapter. And yet, they find each other. They are soul mates. It doesn’t matter that he’s rich and she’s poor or that there’s 20 years between them (a fact I’m surprised wasn’t pointed out in the list! Most people would have an issue with that kind of age gap, even if I don’t). Both are orphans and life hasn’t been terribly kind to either of them, so they have plenty of common ground. Why do you need to be physically attractive to be attracted to a person? There is more to attraction than the outer shell.

And if we’re going to quote passages, why not this one?

“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”

He sees her as his equal, she feels like an equal in his presence, yet all of society around them would say they are NOT equals because he’s the master and she’s the poor, unconnected governess. What does society and their views matter when you are with the one you belong with? Screw convention.

Sandra M Gilbert and Susan Gubar might have interesting ideas about what Rochester “means”, but you can’t understand where Rochester comes from if you don’t know about Charlotte Brontë and her life. He’s a fantasy version of her beloved Monsieur Constantin Héger, that’s why you’ll see similarities between Rochester and Monsieur Paul Emanuel (Villette). Edward Fairfax Rochester is one of the most intriguing and complex characters in literary history. Powerful and passionate, he’s the Alpha Male, the stereotypical Mills & Boon hero – rich, arrogant, dominating yet with such a puppy-like love for the One Woman. He’s an archetypal Lost Soul, a Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold, redeemed through love.

So to summarise, in the polite way: I say what I said when I first finished Wide Sargasso Sea: “Well, I disagree.” Wholeheartedly. Mr. Rochester is, quite contrary, a dish. He has been one since the mid-1800s and continues to be so today. Creep, eh? Pretty enduring character, though. Let’s see where Sparkles is in 160 years (if anyone can still remember him). Now there’s a creep.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

20 thoughts on “Why Mr Rochester is NOT a creep

  1. Ah Traxy! I think the other post was very tongue-in-cheek. But I’m sure I would be upset too if someone was bashing John Thornton!

  2. @Phylly: Yes, it was very funny in the choice of phrasing, I thought so too. 🙂 The original post is what’s known as “linkbait” – write a post about a subject where people are bound to disagree with you, especially if it’s a list (“why did you include X but not Y?”) and people will link to it, thus driving traffic to your website. It’s a textbook search engine optimisation (SEO) trick. But hey, two can play at that game! ;D

    @Melissa: Thank you! 🙂 I do tend to get a wee bit over-excited when it comes to Mr. Rochester. Ahem.

  3. Hi there, Traxy,

    Thanks for reading my original post on Rochester, and for this lengthy response. I’m glad you didn’t write some mean comment on The Millions, which would have merely hurt my feelings and kept me on the defensive! 🙂 I appreciate that you kept the civil tone; sometimes it’s just too easy to fight on the internet which keeps true discourse from developing.

    I had never intended my essay as “link bait”–if it had been, I wish it hadn’t take me so long to write! I simply write what’s captured my interest and imagination. The list seemed the best way to present the points.

    Right now I’m in the middle of writing a long, serious essay for the site, and this Mr. Rochester piece emerged because I wanted to take a break to write something light and short. I thought I’d established the comic tone by prefacing that I was reading the book for fun–as I wrote, “history and analysis be damned.” I did indeed take these elements of Jane Eyre out of context–but that’s where the humor lies.

    I will say that my interpretation of Rochester’s treatment of Blanche Ingram was supported and articulated really well by the commenter after you on The Millions. I’d check her out.

    Of course I have nothing against cross dressing, in the bedroom or out of it, but considering it in the world of nineteenth century Britain with a contemporary lens, it becomes funny. Much of my humor is irreverent, but it wasn’t my intention to offend any particular community, and I’m sorry if I did.

    I do love how the book declares love and equality as the reasons to marry, particularly in an era when the meaning and purpose of marriage was debated and changing (as it is now). Part of me, though, wonders if Jane might have ended up marrying Sir John had he been the first man she met and spent much time with. But I know that’s just me being cynical.

    And, I know there’s no need to defend myself, but because I am feeling particularly smitten with my husband today, I’ll just say that I have indeed known deep and true love, and perhaps that’s also related to my distaste for Mr. Rochester, whom I read as dishonest (you must agree) and manipulative (can be debated), even if his dishonesty and manipulation are for good reason or are born from good intentions, and even if he does redeem himself tenfold in the end. My own love did not begin so dramatically, but, you know, our courtship and marriage probably wouldn’t make such a good novel!

    As I said in my essay, I love Jane Eyre. It’s an incredible book. I love it even with the ending because it deepens my understanding of Jane and how she conceives of the world and herself. I don’t have to agree with her choice to be interested in it and to believe it. It simply makes my interpretation of her character different from yours. I understand what Bronte intended us to feel for the couple…but, you know what they say: the author is dead.

    Even if I’m not on Team Rochester, I do think he’s a compelling character who merits much discussion, both of the serious and the not-so-serious. (And anyway, this helps you: we don’t have to fight over him!)

    Anyway, thanks for reading my work and commenting on it further.

  4. Why is Mr. Rochester awesome? Well, he just is. He’s the perfect mix of mystery, clever wit, passion, and his own personal brand of attractiveness/seduction (and tight pants).

    Jane Eyre has been my favorite book ever since I read it for an English class in high school (that was a few years ago). I go for almost every Jane Eyre-related thing I can get my hands on. So I really loved your list of why Mr. Rochester Is Not a Creep. And also your reviews of “sequels” and additions to the Jane Eyre (like “Mrs. Rochester”). Bravo!

  5. Thanks for your passionate defense of Mr. Rochester. I’ve left my own comments on Edan’s essay rather than here, because Team Rochester doesn’t need any help on this site.

    If you want to come to the US on/about March 11, you can stay with me and my family. I’ve already arranged for my girls to be sleeping elsewhere that night.

  6. Right on! And let’s not forget that it was actually Blanche who deserted Rochester after he started a rumor that his fortune was smaller than she supposed. Who doesn’t like to make the person they love jealous? It’s actually very relatable, especially from a teenage perspective such as mine. In high school we are constantly using the “Rochester method” and encouraging others to throw themselves on us in order to make the REAL object of our affections feel jealous. It’s a common practice.

  7. I really liked all that ^ and, i think Mr Rochester’s major fault, if you’re gonna pick one, is that he is too smart and calculating, in the same way Jane herself is calculating. He loves her, probably instantly, yet wont admit it or show it to her, till he’s certain. Half the things he does, yeah, it’s slightley strange, but we could argue that Jane herself is unusual, and these “love tests” are things he’s set up to determine her character. Again and again he’s testing her (bertha’s brother injured, the bed on fire,) and she does exactly as shes told. Poor guy was probably thinking nothing could phase her, if it wasn’t wrong. Anyways, Team Rochester ftw.
    p.s, Ugly in their times, could be handsome in ours. Random thought 😀

  8. I agree with the most recent comment: ugly in their times could be handsome in ours. Rochester sounds gorgeous to me. Big chest, huge black eyes, flowing dark hair, strong nose, glowering brow… man, he sounds like that hot Armenian guy I work with. My my my. I will always be Team Rochester.

    -Beth

  9. I totally agree with this blog post. Before I started (and haven’t finished after checking it out from the library 3, yes, 3 years ago) reading the unabridged version, I read the Great Illustrated Classics version, and loved it. The pictures depict Rochy as very handsome, and I assumed that that’s how he was supposed to be. Then I kept seeing him like that, and Jane in the GIC book looked around 14, Adele with blond hair in better ringlets, Helen with ringlets when she first meets Jane, and stone-cold Blanche “dark as a Spaniard” with a permanent sneer on her face, calling poor little Jane “thing”. After watching the 2006 BBC version on YouTube, Toby Stephens forever became my Edward Farifax Rochester. He is a tremendous actor, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous, even though he’s currently 33 years older than me as of 2011. I hated how he got a Ouija board and HIRED a gypsy. I could have done without the board, and I really wanted to see him dress up like an old gypsy. (And when he paid the woman, I sensed a little bit of a slurred, average American accent like my own. Maybe he did it on accident, or he was molding and changing the character, after all being born in Middlesex Hospital, London, England, UK… I don’t know. Probably accidental. (But you can’t forget Space Cowboys!) Probably.) And Blanche! Ugh, don’t get me started. She was a BLONDE! And she was very fair skinned. Toby was just perfect. He’s Edward, in the same way Ruth Wilson is Jane Eyre, Andrew Buchan is St. John Eyre Rivers, and Mary and Diana are, well, Mary and Diana. I was expecting Pilot to look different. Bertha wasn’t insane enough for me, and a little too pretty. I thought that Ruth was very pretty, too. I liked her hair down better, not in that braid-to-bun style that she had it in. Oh well. But anyway. I love this story, and the 2006 BBC adaptation. Edward Rochester (TOBY STEPHENS) FTW!!
    And yeah Beth, (person above my comment) that description does make Edward sound gorgeous, and definitely not “fall-in-love-the-first-time-you-look-at-him”-ish. That’s like a lot of men girls always are attracted to. Like Rami Malek (Ahkmenrah (Night at the Museum), Kenny (The War at Home), Merriell “Snafu” Shelton” (The Pacific), Marcos Al-Zacar (24), Hassan (Over There), I could go on). He’s not really that hot first glances (I’ll admit), but one look into those freakishly mesmerizing green and silver eyes, and those precious little lips he has, and you can turn away, but have to, in fear of becoming too overwhelmed. But, where was I? Oh, yeah!

    Team ROCHESTER! And Team RAMI MALEK!
    From, RandomScreenwriterChickYouDon’tKnow

  10. GREAT defense of Mr. Rochester. I agree with you that the best way to analyze him too is to know about Charlotte’s life and her love that influenced many of her novels (Jane Eyre, Villete, The Professor).

    Mr. Rochester is a very important character in literature. He has become a prototype for a Byronic hero that has been imitated far adn wide since the publication of Jane Eyre.

  11. I think it’s funny that the thing he’s most often judged for is having flaws, which is a trait that is generally lacking in modern “romances” (although it pains me a little to sum up Jane Eyre as solely a Romance)and books in general. Of course he’s not perfect– who would want to read an entire book about a character with no major flaws or obstacles to overcome? How boring that would be.

  12. I agree all the way! Loved your comments on that blog. Cannot imagine anyone finding Mr. Rochester a creep. He is a gem, I’m head to toe infatuated with him.

  13. don’t have to read the blog to disagree. but isn’t the author’s summation contradictory to his own comments?
    REAL LIFE is complicated; maybe that’s the reason so many of us can appreciate these stories and for me a happy end is what we all strive for.
    btw (i of course have a more suitable choice for most romantic literary character)

  14. I just find it interesting that you complain over and over again that the original article doesn’t account for the time period in which the book was written all the while refusing to acknowledge the fact that the second sentence of said article explains that (for fun) the book is being viewed solely by the standards of today’s society. To quote: “much fun can be had by viewing an older book with a contemporary gaze–analysis and history be damned”; the parameters were set up early in the piece so why did you read it if you couldn’t handle the rules set forth? It is like me deciding to read the Lord of the Rings knowing full well that I don’t like fantasy and then proceeding to complain about the lack of stark realism and existence of goblins!

  15. Have you seen all versions of Jane Eyre on YouTube? Check out 1973 Rochester. All of 1973 JE is perfection. I never thought there could be one better than.1983 but the Gypsy is superior in 1973 version. I need to read the novel.again to see whose is on the nose. Love your blog. Keep trucking.

  16. Since the day I have read Jane Eyre , I’m rereading it. Coz I can’t place it down. I’m restless coz I don’t think Rochester is what been painted by wide sargasso sea or how antirochester people talk about him now.
    I watched 2011 movie, 2006 BBC series . I liked toby and Ruth very much. Their chemistry is mind-blowing. Toby is mesmarizing as Rochester. I have already seen it several times and I rewind the scene where he suddenly changes his face or mood and I fall in love with him all over again.
    My husband doesn’t agree with me about Rochester being a golden heart. But uhhh he always see gray as total black anyways.
    I would like to add few more points here.

    If he wanted he would have gotten any girl on the planet including Blanche Ingram given the fact he had fortune and lots of women were interested in marrying for money. He was rich and although not very handsome ( he is handsome for me) he had a charm. As Mrs Fairfax said he is very popular among women. So why didn’t he charmed his way out and married already.
    He didn’t have to wait for 15 years of life of desolation for that. As nobody knew about his wife, he would have had a wife a long time back without anyone’s interference.

    He while returning from his journey, wanted to leave the life of sin behind and he wanted to make amends with life. That’s why he chooses a plain, little, obscure Jane Eyre coz she is free of sins and can take him out of sinful life.

    Bertha has suffered but he could have left her behind or put her up in mental institution or he admits himself put her into the fernadean which would have killed her by it’s damp walls. But he didn’t do either.
    Bertha tried to kill her own brother. And he himself was horrified of her. He didn’t even want to go near her.
    Her own brother ,her own flesh and yet Rochester is the bad person to keep her well and alive. That brother didn’t even want to take responsibility but Rochester is supposed to coz he was tricked into marrying her.
    Even after Jane leaves he keeps her in the same place. Frankly If he had been bad, he would have left her to other place or left her to die somewhere. Seeing her would have reminded him of the tragedy she was the reason for. Instead, He in the end tries to save her as seen by people as well. He doesn’t leave even a servant behind. At the cost of his eyesight and his hand. Who does that?? A creep?? Yeah right.
    Maybe he wronged Bertha by not letting anyone know about marriage. I feel that he tried to do amends in the end. One thing for sure even if he had let the news of marriage out, he would have to keep her the same way as he did. Under the Grace Poole’s constant observation as Bertha had arsenist qualities.

    One more point , he brought gifts for Adele. He might be seen rude but he took care of everything and everyone around him. He cared for Adele as well as Mrs Fairfax in his own ways. In the end he had given up all the hopes and moved himself to the same place which he feels would have killed his wife.

    He sure wasn’t a creep although he has a lifetime of sins to amend to. But who doesn’t? Nobody is white washed in real world. So why in books? He had his days of sin and he paid more than enough.
    I will always love Jane Eyre and Rochester.

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