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September 19, 2011

Does Jane Eyre Deserve Better?

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Jane Eyre is widely regarded as one of the greatest love stories in classic literature. On the surface, it isn’t difficult to see why. A poor, orphaned girl who never really had much going for her lands a job working for a tall, dark, mysterious (not to mention wealthy) stranger, and the two are immediately drawn to one another. Their relationship is, of course, tumultuous and fraught with deceit (on Rochester’s part), but eventually all is mended and they ride off into the proverbial sunset (because the literal sunset would have been too hot). That certainly sounds like the stuff that true love stories are made of, but... is it really?

Photo from the BBC Mini-series of Jane Eyre
Point: Jane Eyre is a Beautiful, Enduring Love Story and Anyone Who Argues Otherwise is a Callous, Unfeeling Troglodyte

Anybody who knows anything about real, passionate love knows that it cannot be felt for someone who is simple, kind and without any drama or baggage. Yes, true - Rochester has a secret past, and true, he is not the classically handsome, charming prince of fairy tales, but that is just what makes him so intriguingly irresistible. A woman is drawn to a man’s faults and shortcomings as much as she is to his more traditionally attractive qualities - you don’t have to have aced your PSAT to know that.

The fact is that, despite Rochester’s lies (or untruths, whatever you’d prefer to call them) and the rocky road upon which their relationship travels, Rochester does love Jane, from the very beginning. He does not conduct himself ideally, but his intentions and his feelings are pure from the outset. Also, you have to admit that he finds himself in a pretty prickly situation. He had no idea when he married Bertha 15 years earlier that she was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. As crazy goes, there’s a big difference between screaming irrationally about the choosing of bathroom tile patterns and setting fire to your husband.

Given the circumstances, Rochester acted about as nobly and judiciously as one might, and he is surely to be forgiven when you consider how deeply and passionately he loved Jane, and all that he underwent in the process of winning her in the end. This guy literally gave his right eye to be with her.

Photo from the BBC Mini-series of Jane Eyre
Counterpoint: Rochester is a Huge Waste of Space, and Jane Should Have Kicked Him to the Curb

Excuses, Shmexcuses. Jane Eyre is just about the most perfect woman you ever could meet - she’s kind, intelligent (she was a teacher, after all), sweet and forgiving (perhaps a bit too forgiving?), and star of her very own novel. Talk about the total package!

On the other hand, you’ve got Rochester, who represents everything you should not be looking for in a husband. Secretive, brusque and rude in demeanor, capriciously violent and unsympathetically cruel - he locked up his poor, mentally disturbed wife for goodness sakes.  And he doesn’t even have good looks to make up for the rest of it! What does this girl see in him?

We’ll tell you what she sees in him. Danger. Unpredictability. Imperfection. She is attracted to something that needs to be fixed, not something real and lasting. That’s rudimentary AP Psychology for you. Theirs is the relationship that you have when you’re in junior high school and your parents beg you to drop the loser and pray you’ll grow out of it. While this may seem all well and good for a slice of unreality (it is good for the dramatic demands of fiction), does any of this sound healthy to you?

If these circumstances took place in real life, would we applaud this as a magical love story, or would we try and get this poor, misguided woman into therapy?

If you've read Jane Eyre, let us know your opinion on these points in the comments section!

About the Author:
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references.  We believe that any topic, like Jane Eyre or PSAT, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less.  Check out Shmoop's website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.


Unknown said...

Jane Eyre is my favorite love story of all time! I fell in love with Rochester and his cursed self, and was so proud of Jane for withstanding temptation and then when it seemed all was well later, she came back to her own true love ;)

LOVE Jane Eyre thank you for the post!!

I just wish I could find a good film rendition of the story. Too often too many things are left out

Amy Finnegan {} said...

Mrs. Ali, if you haven’t seen the 2006 BBC mini-series, watch it asap! I must re-watch it at least every other month, and never ever tire of it. I think it’s such a near-perfect adaptation that the movie that came out a few months ago made me want to scream with frustration! I thought they absolutely slaughtered the story (but I know a few others who really liked it. It was soooo boring, if you ask me). But really, you’ve got to see the BBC mini-series if you haven’t already. You can find it on Amazon, and I think it’s on Netflix as well.

As for my own opinion on the debate, I’m on the side of Timeless Love Story! Jane Eyre is my all-time favorite classic novel, and I read it every year. Jane is my heroine to top all heroines, so kind and patient, and . . . good. She’s just a very good person who I wish I could be best friends with. And yes, Rochester is a bit of a mess, but this is a gothic romance, so how else could he be? There just HAS to be a few skeletons . . . err, crazy wives in the closet (or in this case, attic).

Another thing about Jane Eyre is that it’s a near perfect novel, if you ask me. It has an incredibly good plot, with twists and turns all over the place (and it all makes sense in the end), and the character development is up there with the best.

I have but two things about the novel that make me sort of laugh (and not in a good way). 1) Really, Jane, the guy who found you nearly dead in the middle of nowhere turned out to be your long lost cousin? And 2) Rochester is a bit pathetic/mushy/needy in that “Is this Jane Eyre’s face?” scene at the end.

BUT I still LOOOOOVEEEE this novel! (and the BBC mini-series, to bits and pieces!)

GREAT post,! Thanks so much!

MKHutchins said...

Hmm. I haven't read Jane Eyre, but I'm not very big on "they just loved each other soooo much". I used to tell my husband that true love was doing the dishes, but he exceeded expectations and showed me it's actually getting up in the morning with a cranky baby so your wife can catch some sleep. Brooding secretive man? I'll pass and go for the dishwasher hands, thanks.

Super Pi said...

I like Jane Eyre a lot! I love that she is good, patient, loving and kind. I don't like that Rochester is manipulative and moody. I think all the Bronte sisters were drawn to dark, moody, (I hesitate to say evil), reformable men. I love that it works out between Jane and Rochester.

I don't like it because it sets a really bad standard. SO many young women are drawn to the dark man and end up in a horrible, abusive relationship because their man doesn't change and they think they can help him reform. "Just look at Jane Eyre and Rochester."

I think that Jane would have been happy wherever she was placed because she's that kind of a woman. She's strong, good, and wonderful. She would have found joy wherever she went. I don't think she should have gone to India, but as an independent woman, she could have found joy. I guess she did--because then Rochester was maimed and his secrets were gone and he worked out his problems on his own. That's where Jane and Rochester succeed. Jane waited until he had cleaned out his closets himself and then they worked on a marriage.

All of the other Bronte sister's stories, and most of our own, don't work out with brooding men because we don't let them clean out their closets of their creepy wives. And that Rochester wanted to as well. Rochester didn't want to keep the secrets. He was tricked into the marriage and then did the best he could to care for the wife using the practices of the day. That's why their love story succeeded. I don't like him for bringing in Blanche though. That was really low of Rochester. Blegh.

I like the story, I like them, and I'm glad that Jane waited until Rochester had brought himself to her level. She didn't lower herself to his. And that's why they succeeded. She would have kicked him to the curb if he hadn't cleaned out his attic. (She did when she left.)

Taylor said...

I'm a callous, unfeeling troglodyte who thinks Rochester is a huge waste of space, and Jane should have kicked him to the curb. :)

To me, it was an unsafe romance. He was a bear and she had a traumatic past - the last thing she needed was a violent husband/lover. And who's to say if Jane ever went bonkers, that Rochester wouldn't lock her up as well and move on to the next woman?

Having said all that, I am interested in the new BBC series. :)

Meredith said...

Okay, so Mr. Rochester totally sucks for a lot of this book, but I know Jane really loves him and I want her to be happy, so I always root for them. But I am so glad that he's been humbled/changed before they actually get married.

Rebecca (RivkaBelle) said...

I need to see both the 2006 miniseries and the new movie!

I first read Jane Eyre when I was...15? Maybe 16, but I'm pretty sure it was sophomore year. Anyway. I loved the story. It was dark and mysterious, but also romantic in a painful and aching way that for some reason really reached into my young heart. Jane was the topic of my first ever college research paper too, so I've got strong feelings towards her story...

...I haven't reread it in a while (need to fix that), but from what I remember: while Rochester isn't a Darcy- or Knightley-type figure, he is doing what he thinks is best. He's making a mess of things, but it's done with a heart that's (mostly) in the right place. I think his faults are what make him the perfect hero for Jane. She needs him, even all of his mistakes.

Sarah P. said...

Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time and I love the romance of it and I have one comment about the opposing viewpoint. "If this were a real life relationship"...I like to stop things right there because it isn't a real life relationship. It's fiction! It isn't meant to be a treatise on how to live your life and how to find the husband of your dreams. It's a piece of fiction the explores a stormy relationship in a timeless way. Also, Jane does kick him to the curb, for a good long time. When she finds out he isn't exactly what he claimed to be, she leaves. That's a strong woman. She doesn't go back until she finds out that he is a widower and is finally available to her in all the ways she wants. That actually sounds pretty healthy to me. She stays true to herself and her moral standards, even though her passions are reminding her of Rochester every step of the way.
Ahhh, she's a strong woman and I love her. :)

Rosebriars said...

Awesome post. I've never read Jane Eyre (or had an inclination to do so despite my severe bibliophilia) but now I plan to get a copy out of the library tomorrow! And I'll be sure to report back once I've read it.

Rosebriars said...

I finally read it. It took me over 2 months because I just couldn't get into it; after reading this post and all the comments about the love story it was a bit of a shock that the story starts when she's a young child and she doesn't even meet Rochester until about 40% of the way through the book.

I didn't really enjoy it that much; I didn't find it particularly surprising and I think that attempting to marry while already married is beyond reprehensible. I'm of the "if he really loved her he would have TOLD her about his wife, and then if she still wanted to marry him they could have gone ahead" camp. It wasn't his attempt to be a bigamist that upset me so much as his deceit to Jane, who he supposedly loved deeply.

BUT, I'm glad I read it. Reading it filled a big gap in my literary experience, so to speak.

Jaina said...

In real life, I'd send Jane to a therapist who would explain all the problems with her relationship, and I'd kick Mr. Whats-his-name to the curb. I have to say that I did not enjoy the latest movie (which I've been told is the best retelling), and I have no urge to go read the novel. Where is the attraction? What am I missing? It isn't even depressing for a good reason, or emotional in a good way. It's just about a guy who does trashy things for trumped-up reasons, and a girl who's had a horrible childhood (the only part I liked, before it went downhill - I thought they had something there!) and is a bit of a pushover. No offense to those who absolutely love this book, though, I'd just choose a Jane Austin any day.

I want a book.

Valette M. said...

I LOVE Jane Eyre even with all it's faults. :)
"I want to win a book."

Agnes said...

I love Jane! It may seem weird now but back then there were a lot more "Mary Sues", think Fanny Price in Mansfield Park...
"I want to win a book."