This week our columnist Annie West revisits one of English literature’s best known heroes, Charlotte Bronte’s Mr Rochester.
Some time ago I had fun writing about one of my favourite characters: Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Upstanding, oh-so-correct, honourable, responsible, rich and good looking – what a man! Perfect a subject for romance. That made me think about the other men who people our romances. The ones who mightn’t be quite so honourable and upstanding, but who are just as riveting.
Fanfare here for Edward Fairfax Rochester, owner of Thornfield Manor. Brooding employer of innocent, serious Jane Eyre. A man of mystery who delights in learning more about the prim, starchy little woman who’s come to work for him.
First up Rochester isn’t good looking. The author goes out of her way to say so. She even has Rochester ask Jane if she thinks he’s handsome to which she replies immediately ‘No, sir.’. He’s described like this:
His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height, [since Jane is tiny that’s tall] and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful just now [his horse had pitched him onto the ice!]; he was past his youth but had not reached middle age; perhaps he might be thirty-five.
Later Jane explains:
My master's colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,--all energy, decision, will,--were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me...
Hm. Personally, I have a soft spot for a man with a broad chest, dark features and expressive eyes. As for energetic, decisive and wilful – it sounds like a handbook for some of our better known romantic heroes.
Unfortunately before I read the book I saw the black and white film, featuring Orson Wells in the title role. That film put me off Jane Eyre for years. You can see why. Mr Wells doesn’t do brooding gothic-style hero well. To bring Rochester to life an actor needs intensity and charisma. Look at Timothy Dalton or Toby Stevens in the role and you’ll see what I mean.
When they meet Rochester indulges in an intriguing game of discovering Jane’s identity without disclosing that he’s her employer. Before long we know Rochester feels something for Jane, but what precisely we’re not sure.
Mr Rochester is rich, respected, authoritative, strong and intrigued by the heroine. He’s shaping up clearly as hero material. But there’s a side to him that makes him even more fascinating. Jane herself says:
Remember, the shadows are just as important as the light.
I think that might be the key to Edward Rochester. The shadows that haunt him and make him a man unable to live a carefree life, unable to relax despite his wealth and power. Shadows that make him crave the simple, honest love of a devoted woman like Jane and urge him on to reckless action. Rochester will do anything, even flout the laws of state and church to get what he desires so badly.
Rochester is tied helplessly to the incurably and dangerously mad woman he wed years before. He can’t free himself of her and still feels responsible for her. Yet he craves love and when he comes to know Jane he falls for her, totally and unequivocally. His complete fixation on her is one of the things that makes him appealing to the reader. He says to Jane:
'I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you--you'd forget me.'
Not only does he care for her, he’s not afraid to admit it! He’s vulnerable to her.
But unlike a more upright man, Rochester takes desperate action to be with the woman he loves. He plans to commit bigamy to find happiness with Jane. When the truth is discovered, he faces the situation head on but cannot be sorry for it. We have a portrait of a strong, determined man, desperately in love and unapologetic for his attempt to have the woman he needs.
The strength of his passion and his desperation to hold onto Jane, are, I believe, part of his appeal. Don’t we adore a hero who’ll go to any lengths to win the woman he loves? We’re appalled by his actions but also by the situation he’s in. Even those who stopped the wedding feel sympathy for him.
The fact that he then suffers terribly when Jane leaves, and is crippled trying to save the life of the mad woman who’s been the bane of his life for so long, redeems him, for most readers at least.
Edward Rochester is dangerous – he’s willing to take Jane to wife in an adulterous marriage that would ruin both of them if it’s discovered. On the other hand he’s driven by love, the need to possess the one woman who means everything to him. He’s brooding, mysterious, clever, decisive, devious and intriguing. He suffers for love and is ultimately saved by it. If you like your heroes on the dark side, Mr Rochester is definitely one for you.
Do you like dangerous, dark heroes, or are you attracted by someone a little more respectable? Are you a Rochester fan or a Darcy fan? Or do have prefer another sort of hero altogether?
Annie’s own heroes are often desperate and for a while at least her heroines see them as a danger to their freedom and definitely to their ability to think straight! Her current hero, Khalid, finds in Maggie a sexy, strong heroine who turns his world upside down. He's driven to actions he'd never before considered. THE DESERT KING’S PREGNANT BRIDE is a mid April release in the US. You can read an excerpt or enter a contest to win the book on her website. You can also buy the paperback or ebook now.