Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Literary Hunk of the Month: Mr. Rochester

I don’t know about you, but in these lazy, hazy days of summer, there is nothing quite like a good book. (Of course, I say that about any time of year. For me, there is never anything quite like a good book.) Because of that, I have decided to start a new segment honoring those delectable and dashing heroes who recognize and appreciate the awesomeness in our fabulous, feisty heroines. In order to kick “Literary Hunk of the Month” off right, I have no choice but to bestow the first honor on my favorite hero from the bookshelf, Jane Eyre's Edward Fairfax Rochester.

I have often stirred up quite a bit of controversy amongst friends by stating, quite simply, that I find Rochester superior to every man who has ever graced the page of a novel, even Darcy. And here’s the thing. I love Darcy. I love him in the way that I love mint Oreo ice cream. It’s delicious, sweet, full of hidden treasures. I enjoy ordering it from the menu from time to time, and it could have had a strong chance at being my favorite flavor -- if chocolate chip cookie dough didn’t exist. But chocolate chip cookie dough does exist, and even when it’s imperfect – not enough cookie dough, frosty, too many chocolate chips – nothing can hold a candle to it.

But today’s blog isn’t about ice cream, and it’s not about Rochester versus Darcy (though there may be an entry about that in the future.) Today’s blog is about that grumpy, flawed, smoldering man who consumes my heart every time I pick up Jane Eyre.

In fiction, I’ve always had a thing for the Byronic hero – that dark, brooding, secretive, tortured-by-his-past/concealing-his-inner-pain type. (Please note that I specify in fiction. In real life, these traits can translate into “crazy.”) With Rochester, those very faults are part of what make him so appealing. He’s not a shiny prince on a white horse who says the right thing and sweeps the maiden off of her feet. He’s not classically attractive at all, and he swears, and when he rides in on his dark horse, he nearly crashes into that maiden, and needs her help getting him back on his feet. He’s curt, moody, and has, well, a considerable amount of baggage. He’s not a knight in shining armor or a prince at all; he’s merely a man, and once you look past that gruff exterior that he puts up, you can see that he is a man with a big heart. Otherwise, he never would have taken in Adele Varens as his ward – a child of an ex-lover, a child he knew he hadn’t fathered. Despite his proclamations that she’s a brat and that he doesn’t like children, he still brings her gifts from France and hires a governess instead of sending her off to boarding school. After we learn all of his secrets – about Bertha, about his hastily arranged marriage, about how, until he met Jane, he’d been running away from his past – it becomes clear how his circumstances have affected him. It becomes clear what he could have been had life not taken its toll, and it becomes clear what he still can be when he’s in the presence of that bewitching Jane Eyre.

Of all of the things that make Rochester so memorable, it’s his love for poor, obscure, plain and little Jane that secures his permanent space in my heart. Perhaps more than any other character in literature, he falls in love with his partner because of who she is as a whole person. He’s not taken with any exterior, superficial beauty. If that were the case, he would have been with Blanche Ingram. He isn’t blind to all of Jane’s wonderful qualities until some epiphany makes him see her in a new light. All along, he sees Jane for what she is, and recognizes in her the strength, talent, intelligence, and steadfast fortitude that no one, aside from Jane herself, realizes that she has. From the beginning, he treats Jane as an equal, which no one – let alone an employer – has ever done. He offers friendship, which she has only known once, briefly, in childhood. He and Jane speak freely to one another without being concerned over any conventions of the time. They tease. He calls her his “little friend.” He knows that he simply cannot exist without her. It is not one aspect or feature that makes him want to be with her; he needs to be with her because he loves her down to her very marrow. He loves her spirit, her soul. He loves her.

When you have a heroine as magnificent as Jane Eyre, the task of creating a match who is worthy of her seems impossible. And maybe, on occasion, Rochester doesn’t seem worthy, but Charlotte Bronte did something even better. She made him right for her. She gave Jane a true partner, a “second self,” someone whose company she could never grow tired of. In Rochester, we have someone who truly, completely knows and loves the Jane we all know and love. For that reason alone, it’s impossible not to adore him.

In some novels, you get your happily ever after, but you’re left to wonder what life will be like for these characters after the last word has been said. We may see couples embrace and fade to black, or get married and ride off into the sunset, but with some, it can be hard to picture what follows “The End.” With Jane and Rochester, that’s not the case. With Jane and Rochester, we know that the love will never run out, and neither will the conversation. Because of this, they will forever be knit together on the page, and forever knit together in our hearts.

Looking for a good movie version? I recommend both the 2006 BBC version starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, and the most recent adaptation from this year, with Mia Wasikowska and the scrumptious Michael Fassbender (available on DVD and On Demand next month.)


  1. How I love Mr. Rochester! I can't wait to see the most recent movie. I expect I will be watching with you, of course! Love the blog!!! How can you not love Mr. Rochester, especially after reading your ode to him above?

  2. Well put, Steph! I must admit that when you put it that way, I can maybe sort of possibly see how you could put him above Darcy. Maybe.