Monday, March 23, 2009

Male on Monday: Mr Rochester

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.

17 comments:

  1. Wow, Annie, what a great post! As you know, I have a huge fascination for Mr. Rochester. I love the shadows and the light in his character and the battle between the two. Luckily when I first read JE, I didn't know how the story worked out so I remember wondering about the strange happenings in the house at night and then just being horrified when it turned out he was married. And I kept hoping they'd get their happy ending - which of course they do! I agree with you about Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine was HORRIBLE as Jane! I love the Timothy Dalton and the Toby Stephens versions. They really capture the mood of the book.

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  2. Hi Anna, I thought you'd enjoy a post about Mr Rochester, since you love the darker heroes. Wish I'd read JE before seeing the Orson Wells movie. The two relatively 'recent' productions with Toby Stephens and Timothy Dalton do a great job of showing the appeal of the tortured hero, I think.

    Annie

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  3. Ooh, Annie, you wicked woman - I want to go and re-read JE all over again now. Oh, yes, I adore Mr Rochester - he is so deliciously dark and tortured.I have never seen any of the movie or TV adaptations, though, for fear that they wouldn't live up to the book. But I must say, Mr Dalton looks pretty darn hot in the picture provided... so I might have to risk it.

    But to the real question? Who would I choose between Darcy and Rochester? I'm shallow I'm afraid - like Lizzie I want to live at Pemberley.

    Thanks for such a great post!

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  4. Annie, what a thought-provoking post! I'm a Darcy woman myself. When I first read JE, I thought Mr Rochester too stern and distant for my taste. I giggled over your comment about Orson Welles. That brings me to my kind of hero - one who can make me laugh, who balance out the darkness.

    ~ Vanessa

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  5. Hi Michelle,

    Love your description of Rochester as deliciously dark and tortured. How interesting that you've never seen the adaptations! I only saw them both within the last 12 months and was very taken with them, especially the one with Timothy Dalton which really has great sexual tension between hero and heroine.

    Maybe I shouldn't admit it yet but I have to say I'm a Darcy girl for the long haul. Love to read about edgy, dangerous heroes but Pemberly has a pull all its own (G)!

    Annie

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  6. Oh Vanessa, poor Orson didn't make me smile in the way I want my heroes to make me smile. It's only in retrospect that I find that version amusing. At the time it just left me cold and I thought it was the fault of the story.

    Hm, something so appealing about a hero who can make you smile. Some of my faves are like that.

    Annie

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  7. Great post, Annie. I have to confess I'm far more a Bronte fan than an Austen girl. (The one who fascinates me is Hareton at the end of WH... Uh, stopping now before the lightbulb pings any harder because I have a screaming deadline!)

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  8. Kate, a vote for Jane Eyre! yay! Hm, I have to say I've never been so fascinated by Hareton. Maybe it's time to reread.

    Best of luck with the deadline!

    Annie

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  9. Yes, I'm a vote for JE as well. I never actually compared it to Austen - I always compared it to Wuthering Heights and prefer Rochester to Heathcliff hands down.

    And a HUGE fan of the Toby Stephens version. I also saw the one with I think William Hurt? But TS all the way. He did stern and sexy SO well...

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  10. Great post Annie,

    Have to admit as a teenager when I read all three of these books for the first time, I was one hundred and one percent a Heathcliffe girl. All that dark tormented broodiness just appealed to my overactive hormones at the time.

    And I loved Laurence Olivier in the film (who added a layer of romanticism not really in the book) even if Merle Oberon was a bit of a shrew as Cathy (what a shame they didn't cast Vivien Leigh in the part).

    But if I had to pick between Darcy and Rochester I'd go for Darcy in a pinch. Could never quite get my head around the whole 'locking his wife in the attic' business to be honest. And I always found Jane just a little bit too perfect.

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  11. Hi Donna, another one for Mr R? Interesting that you prefer him to Heathcliff. Strangely, I'd never compared the two.

    Haven't seen the version with William Hurt. Must keep a look out for that one.

    Annie

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  12. Heidi, so many Bronte fans!

    Heathcliff is such a romantic figure, isn't he, though even more dark, I think, than Mr Rochester. As for R locking his wife away, I know I'd feel safer in the house if she was behind a locked door (G)!

    A friend of mine is writing a historical with a heroine who's escaped from a mental asylum - had been wrongly imprisoned there. Apparently it was quite easy for a man to dispose of a troublesome wife by having her declared insane and taken away. At least R keeps her at home.

    Annie

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  13. Annie, I have never liked any of the Bronte heroes, not a one and I endured Jane Eyre at school. BUT your post has me seeing him in a different lightand perhaps I should revisit him. I've visited the Bronte parsonage and seen Haworth and the moors and decided growing up in that environment the Brontes had no choice but to write tortured and brooding. But me I prefer golden gorgeous heroes who are hurting inside but from the outside you're not so certain and that is the trap my heroines fall into every time :-)

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  14. Hi Fiona,

    I'm chuffed to hear you're thinking of revisiting Mr Rochester because of this post. It must have been fascinating seeing Haworth. Suspect you're right about the environment impacting on their tortured, brooding men!

    Can definitely see the appeal of the 'golden gorgeous' heroes you do so well. I enjoy writing some of those too. Isn't it great that there are so many variations on the hero theme for us to enjoy?

    Annie

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  15. I'm an unmitigated Rochester fan; loved him in the book, love him on the screen when portrayed well (which is not as often as one wishes). Some thoughts on your entry & the comments:

    - Jane Eyre never says "The shadows are as important as the light" in the book.

    - It's Toby STEPHENS, not Stevens.

    - William Hurt was painfully mis-cast as Rochester. Even more painfully mis-cast as Rochester was Ciaran Hinds.

    - Heathcliff digging up his dead beloved vs. Rochester humanely locking his crazy wife in the tower? No contest: Heathcliff is so far over the edge as to be unappealing to me.

    - Those who prefer Pemberley can have it -- I'll take the sexy brooding Rochester over the guy with the great estate; you can't sleep with the estate!

    I've seen most of the adaptations, and thought Toby Stephens & Ruth Wilson got the 2 main characters totally right, and the chemistry between them is fabulous.

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  16. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for the corrections. Always good to get things right. Must go and check my edition of JE again. Wondering why the quote is different. Strange indeed.

    Will be interested to see how William Hurt portrayed Mr R.

    Great to have another vote for Mr R. Thanks for contributing.

    Annie

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  17. I vote for Mr. Rochester with Toby Stephens.
    Fantastic.

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