in defense of Edward Rochester.

Well, I never thought I would be writing a blog post with that title.

You see, I am not a Rochester fangirl. I don’t much like him for 98% of Jane Eyre, and even when he’s at his best he’s never really come close to being one of my favorite fictional men. But I have recently seen a few anti-Rochester reels on Instagram, and they are what prompted me to write this post. I don’t object to anti-Rochester reels/posts in general—he’s not perfect, and we shouldn’t try to pretend that he is. But those reels left out a significant part of Rochester’s story (arguably the most significant part) in favor of hating on him and saying that Jane should not have married him. And that wasn’t okay, for me. My indignation rose (just ask my sister, haha) and I knew I had to channel that into this blog post. XD

Just a brief caveat: although this post is more or less a response to those reels I saw, I do not want to call anyone out or make anyone feel like an bad person for disliking/hating Rochester. He’s a fictional character, he does some pretty despicable things, and I’m not here to police your opinions. 😉 I simply want to give a more well-rounded look at the character and make some arguments in his defense (almost a devil’s advocate moment, if you will).

With all that said, let’s get into my defense of Rochester! We’ll start, of course, by looking at his bad points—because I don’t want to gloss over those. They must be addressed, and they’re important to the story/his character arc.

THE PROBLEM(S) WITH EDWARD ROCHESTER

The fact that Rochester has been portrayed by so many exceedingly handsome men is not one of his bad points.
(source)

Rochester has issues. Real issues.

He lies to Jane. He gaslights and manipulates her. He hides Bertha in his attic. He has the mindset that, because he has had grave misfortunes in life, he deserves to take whatever tawdry, sensual pleasure he can get from the world. For most of the book, Rochester unequivocally sees himself as the victim, and makes no effort to change or improve himself or move on with his life. These are all real problems with his character, and honestly? It doesn’t quite make sense to me why Jane would fall for him in the first place.

So I am not denying Rochester’s flaws. They are many! I do, however, want to say something about Rochester’s backstory. While a tragic past is no excuse to indulge in sin and general bad behavior, understanding Rochester’s backstory is essential to understanding his character. As a young man, Rochester was tricked into a marriage with a woman who turned out to be quite the opposite from what he expected. And I’m not talking about Bertha’s mental illness, so much as the fact that Rochester found “her nature wholly alien to mine; her tastes obnoxious to me; her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and singularly incapable of being led to anything higher…whatever topic I started, immediately received from her a turn at once coarse and trite, perverse and imbecile.”

Rochester tells Jane he would still love her (Jane), even if she were ‘mad’. Rochester does not hate Bertha because she mentally ill, but because of her character in general (though that is still no excuse to hate anybody, I will say). There is a LOT to unpackage regarding Rochester and Bertha, and I don’t feel qualified to do so (nor is that the purpose of this post). After all, my defense of Rochester is not based upon ‘he had a tragic backstory and therefore all his actions are excusable’. He certainly could have made better choices and lived a far more wholesome life. But his marriage was a severe blow all the same, and we can’t pretend that it wasn’t.

ROCHESTER IS NOT ALL BAD

I know, it sounds insane. XD But it’s true!

I feel as though the whole ‘Bertha was better cared for at Thornfield than she would have been in a Victorian mental institution’ has been discussed a lot. (A friend of mine wrote a whole blog post about the subject, and it’s Excellent.) So I’m not really going to get into it, except to say that it’s true and that Rochester really does his best to see that Bertha is comfortable and safe.

“Let her be taken care of; let her be treated as tenderly as may be: let her—” [Mason] stopped and burst into tears.

“I do my best; and have done it, and will do it,” was the answer: [Rochester] shut up the chaise door, and the vehicle drove away.

Jane Eyre, Chapter XX

Besides the matter of Bertha, and Rochester’s rightness and wrongness in his dealings with her, there are a couple other points I’d like to consider. Adele is one. Yes, Rochester is rather rude to her—I’m not excusing that. But, as they say, actions speak louder than words. Although Rochester wasn’t sure that Adele was his child, he still rescued her after her mother abandons her, brought her to his own house, and took on the responsibility of caring for and educating her. Now, you could argue that it was simply what he should have done (considering Adele might be his child), and that Rochester shouldn’t get any praise for being a decent human being. True enough, in a way. But considering that Celine had betrayed him, and that Rochester could have very easily left Adele in Paris with zero consequences in this life, I believe his actions reveal that he is not as hardened and implacable as he appears (or as he likes to portray himself).

And now we come to something that, no matter what, guarantees there will always be a place in my heart for Rochester: the fact that he tried to rescue Bertha from the fire. Rochester made sure that all the servants were out, and then he went back inside the blazing house to rescue Bertha. She was not in her room, but instead on the roof of Thornfield Hall. Rochester climbed after her, Bertha jumped, the house collapsed in flames, and Rochester was maimed and blinded as a result. Rochester’s heroism in running into a burning Thornfield Hall to ensure that all the servants and Bertha were safe…I do love it. When the moment of crisis came, he did not dwell on his bitterness or hatred, but instead leaped into the chaos and did all he could do for his wife.

There’s also the fact that he did not run away to Europe and engage in a life of dissipation after Jane left him. He didn’t allow himself to be “[flung] back on lust for a passion—vice for an occupation”. You would expect him to do so! Jane was gone, forever. Rochester said that he abhorred Thornfield Hall until Jane came to it. He certainly had the means and motivation to fall back into his old ways. But he didn’t. Jane was still influencing him, even though she was no longer at Thornfield Hall.

A STORY OF REDEMPTION AND FORGIVENESS

One of the themes found within Jane Eyre is that of forgiveness. Near the beginning of the story, Jane passionately tells her aunt Reed exactly what she thinks of Mrs. Reed’s cruelness. Jane also says that she will never visit Mrs. Reed, and never call her ‘aunt’ again. And yet, years later, when Jane learns that Mrs. Reed is very ill, she returns to Gateshead and forgives her aunt fully and freely for all past wrongs. This harks back to Helen’s talk with Jane much earlier in the book, where she tells Jane that it is important to love one’s enemies and follow the teachings found within the Bible.

Later, when Rochester’s deception has been discovered, he asks Jane if she can ever forgive him. Jane forgives him ‘at the moment and on the spot’. But it’s not only Jane’s forgiveness that Rochester needs—he needs to repent and seek God’s forgiveness as well. Jane knew this from the very beginning, if Rochester did not, and she directs him toward that course during one of their very first conversations at Thornfield Hall.

“Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life.”

“Repentance is said to be its cure, sir.”

Jane Eyre, Chapter XIV

Rochester brushes off Jane’s words at the time, but eventually he takes them to heart—and that leads to his redemption.

“Of late, Jane—only—only of late—I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.”

Jane Eyre, Chapter XXXVII

And it is this redemption that I’ve seen ignored over and over again in those Instagram reels. Those reels judge and condemn Rochester for his sins, while neglecting to acknowledge his remorse, repentance, and redemption. Rochester’s repentance is not something he faked so that he could marry Jane. When he repented and began to turn to God, he had no hope of ever meeting Jane again. Rochester’s repentance was true and heartfelt, his redemption brought about not by his own striving but by God’s forgiveness and aid.

I see people complain when others view Jane and Rochester’s relationship as romantic. I see those same people claim that Jane and Rochester’s relationship is toxic. And you know what? They’re right! Manipulation and deception are toxic traits. Additionally, employer/employee relationships are difficult to root for, because of the power imbalance. Rochester has a lot of issues and Jane was right to leave him the first time. Their ‘first relationship’ is not romantic.

But you know what is romantic?

Jane and Rochester supernaturally hearing each other’s voices across the moors because they have each placed themselves in God’s care and submitted themselves to His will. Rochester hardly able to believe that Jane is really there, when he has longed for her for so long. Jane choosing to be Rochester’s wife, not caring about his blindness or missing hand—even when he expects her to leave him. That is romantic, folks. That is earned. And it was made possible because Rochester repented of his past sins and sought God.

If you want a TL;DR of this post, it’s this: Rochester’s redemption arc is why I will always defend him.

IN CONCLUSION

Looking at Jane Eyre with modern eyes has both its benefits and drawbacks. One benefit is that we are able to more clearly examine Rochester’s toxic behavior, gaslighting, etc. and draw attention to how wrong those actions are. Bad behaviors that were perhaps more readily ignored in relationships back in the day are not as easily tolerated now. And that’s a good thing!

But there is also a downside to a modern look at Jane Eyre. Our culture these days is an unforgiving one. Many people do not understand the concept of forgiveness and redemption, especially as our culture moves farther and farther away from Biblical truths. And this leads to people ignoring Rochester’s repentance, choosing instead of focus on his past wrongdoings. That just isn’t fair to his character, or to the story that Charlotte Brontë was trying to tell: a story of redemption, a story of the importance of standing by your principles—and the good that comes of doing so.

Obviously, none of us have to love, like, or accept Mr. Rochester. But neither should we judge him solely by his past, without also taking his repentance and redemption into account.

Rochester didn’t deserve mercy, but it was granted to him all the same. We, all of us, need mercy from the same Source. In that way, as hard as it may be to believe, we are not so very different from Rochester himself.


Something of a side note, but I highly suggest listening to Jane Eyre: The Musical for its wonderful portrayal of forgiveness, Jane’s faith, and the change that came over Rochester after the fire. I mean, there is literally a song called ‘Forgiveness’ (sung by Helen). I can’t recommend the musical enough, for fans of Jane Eyre! And of course there is also the original book and a plethora of film and TV adaptions (some far better than others). All in all, I dearly love the story, Jane herself, and the beautiful tale of redemption woven throughout the book.

Has this post helped you see Rochester in a new light? Or have you always liked him? Or do you completely disagree with me? XD Whatever the case, I’d love it if you commented! Jane Eyre is such a rich story, and I’ll never tire of discussing it. ❤

Eva-Joy

12 thoughts on “in defense of Edward Rochester.

Add yours

  1. Jane was still influencing him, even though she was no longer at Thornfield Hall.

    I have never thought of that, and I love it.

    I mean, I love this whole post, and totally agree with it, so I don’t have a lot to say besides that. But that one thing — I hadn’t thought of that, and it’s such a nugget! Well done!

    Like

    1. I love those ‘aha!’ moments when I read a book or blog post about a favorite story and discover something new like that, so I’m glad you got one of those moments out of this post. It really is such a poignant, heartwarming thought (not to brag on myself, lol). *ships Rochester and Jane forever*

      Like

  2. *applauds*

    While reading this, I was thinking, “Eva really needs to listen to the musical version, she will adore it…” and lo and behold, at the bottom you give it a plug, so that’s great. It’s the only version I’ve found that incorporates Jane’s faith and makes it an integral part of the story, while keeping Bronte’s themes about redemption and repentance. None of the movies (to my recall) focus as much on that (plus, the music is gorgeous — I just listen to “Sirens” on repeat — what a gorgeous song, and then its reprisal later on as part of their choice… delicious shivers!).

    I think it’s wrong to ignore Rochester in his entirety — there are good things about him, and bad things about him. He is gruff, and rude, and petulant, and childish, and controlling… but after Jane leaves him, he goes through a time of intense reflection, through the loss of his sight, and becomes a changed man. The solution to his problem was obvious — to let Bertha die in the fire, but he could not. She was an “innocent,” made so because of her madness, and so he almost died attempting to rescue the very thing that stood in the way of his happiness. With her dead, he could have Jane — and yet, he chose to try to save her. That peels back the layers of toxicity to reveal that deep down, he really does have a good heart, even if his actions do not always show it.

    Also, now you made me want to watch Jane Eyre. And once I start doing that, I’ll have to watch like 6 versions of it. My favorite will always be Tobey Stephens — his interpretation of Edward changed my opinion about him a great deal. He plays it more as playful aggression and sexual chemistry, rather than the angry, shouty, screamy Edward that we usually get. He had a twinkle in his eye and I actually liked him enough that I felt like Jane did, that it would be very hard to leave him. Most other versions I think, “Yes, you should leave. 😛 He’s a jerk!” But he makes a LIKABLE jerk.

    Like

    1. So glad you enjoyed this post!

      Yes, I’ve been a fan of the musical for years. It’s one of my favorite musicals of all time–the music is so beautiful (‘Sirens’, like you said!) and the story is told so well. Even though I’m only going off the songs…haven’t seen a production (yet?). One of Rochester’s lines/lyrics in particular always gets to me: “Why must I have eyes/to see you’re not there” – because pretty soon he’ll be blind and it’s just suuuuch good songwriting. And the finale! ❤

      YES to all that you said about Rochester attempting to rescue Bertha. Like I said, that act will always guarantee him a place in my heart. All he had to do was…nothing (which probably would have been easily justifiable to anyone watching). But he chose to risk his life for her instead. I think another theme in Jane Eyre is true Christianity vs an outward show. Mr. Brocklehurst, for instance, speaks very piously while not exhibiting any form of true, real, heartfelt Christianity. Same with St. John, for that matter. But Rochester, a man who both Brocklehurst and St. John would scorn for a multitude of reasons, does the very Christian thing of nearly giving his life for someone else…and he ends up with a far closer relationship with God than either Brocklehurst or St. John.

      Okay. I need to slow down before this comment becomes another essay. 😉 But yes, he *does* have a good heart! It comes through in his actions, not his words.

      I've recently watched four adaptions of Jane Eyre–none of them were the 2006 miniseries (which I have seen exactly once, a looooong time ago). But I have a subscription to Brit Box right now and it's on there, so I'm going to watch it sometime soon! Looking forward to what I think of Tobey Stephens, and the whole thing in general.

      Like

  3. Great post! I’ve loved the Jane Eyre story for years. Read the book and was mainly familiar with the Samantha Morton/Ciaran Hinds movie version, but saw the Orson Welles one and the miniseries with Timothy Dalton (loved that one!). Yes, the character of Mr. Rochester is rich. I’m always disappointed in the Ciaran Hinds version that the whole repentance and redemption angle was left out. The book is really a Christian novel and that aspect needs to be present for the story to round out. I enjoy hearing the views of others on these great stories. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I haven’t seen the Ciaran Hinds version–not sure I want to, but I might get around to it at some point. I do LOVE the miniseries with Timothy Dalton though! Completely agree about the Christian elements needing to be left in to really complete the story.

      Like

  4. Love this!! Especially what you mention about our current cultural trend of deeming people irredeemable. It’s a very troubling mindset. Holding people accountable and championing justice are good and vital things. Claiming that mistakes or flaws make someone a monstrous lost cause is NOT a good and vital thing.

    Great post!

    P.S. Oh, and thanks for the shout-out. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Totally agree: people are *not* their worst mistake. There is forgiveness and healing to be found, we just have to be brave enough to ask for and accept (and give) forgiveness. ❤ I mean, we should never allow people to just do whatever they want under the banner of love and acceptance, but we should temper justice with mercy.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: