I am thrilled to welcome my friend Rachel from a Fair Substitute for Heaven to the blog today as my first guest blogger for my All Things Jane celebration! Rachel and I "met" last fall when we both served as judges on the historical fiction panel for the inaugural INSPY Awards. Since then we've discovered a shared appreciation of things like Siri Mitchell and Lynn Austin novels, the television show White Collar, and ROCHESTER (to name a few).
I was so excited when Rachel accepted my invitation to write a Jane Eyre-themed guest post - and when she said "give me a post that is ALL ABOUT ROCHESTER!" - I said go for it. :) I couldn't be happier with the result - when she sent me this article yesterday I loved it so much I read it four times in a row. And then I was overcome with terrible pangs of jealousy because I wish I'd written this myself. *wink* Enjoy...
Face it ladies, we love us some Rochester. He is the epitome of the brooding Byronic hero sparking reincarnations from Angel in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series to Edward in the notoriously disturbing Twilight phenomenon. His miscreant past, dark and enigmatic demeanor and total infatuation with Jane (not to mention his ability to call to her across the moors) make him one of the most resounding heroes of that ever-so-heroic-19th Century. If you’re a female of the imaginative, bookish sort then, at one point or another, some form of Rochester has been your literary leading man.
Rochester (and his ilk) possessed my brain in teenage-hood through my early university years. For years, it was Bronte or Bust. Every hero I fell for: from Neil MacNeil in Catherine Marshall’s Christy, Paul Emmanuel in Charlotte Bronte’s (I would argue) better and more autobiographical, Villette, Dean Priest of the Emily of New Moon trilogy by LM Montgomery( read her journals: she was a MASSIVE Rochester fan---even going so far as to write Rochester into Dean) were Rochester-esque heroes with dark, hovering thoughts just waiting for heroines to draw light from the vapid recesses of their bleak centers.
Why do we sit through fabulous adaptations of Jane Eyre ( including the 2006 Toby Stephens version---which remains my personal favourite and the recent Michael Fassbender) and the not-so-fabulous Jane Eyres (the awkward Orson Welles, to the acting-so-hard-to-brood-I-scare-myself Timothy Dalton, to Ciaran Hinds bellowing his way through the 1998 screen treatment) in hopes of catching yet another glimpse of a character so often reincarnated and so steeped into the literary cultural consciousness?
Well, for one, who doesn’t want a hero who bemoans: “Why did you waste your tears on that callously, cold stoop when you could have had my shoulder” (or something drippingly romantic like that…. ?) We are infatuated with Rochester’s Jane-infatuation. From the moment he arrives on ebony horse near stormy, crumbling Thornfield, to the earliest conversations that pry secrets by candlelight out of Jane’s direct glances, we know that we have reached a partnership of equals. Rochester challenges Jane; he covets her thoughts and yearns to penetrate her mind to extract what she thinks of him.
For a gender that spends the better part of our lives discussing what his “signs” meant and whether he will call on Day 3 or 4 and what did his picking up the cheque mean and “ do you think he thinks this makes me look fat?” and having friends log into his facebook profile (you know… the usual)…. having Rochester spend the better part of his connection with Jane bafflingly attempting to unravel her utmost core is a welcome opposite--- a pleasant reprieve.
Plain Jane she may be; but Rochester is besotted nearly from the beginning.
Is it not interesting to note that the same title that sits listlessly on the top of Works of Great Female Fiction is also known to reduce women to sappy romanticism? Can we really pair our viewing of Jane Eyre as a proto-feministic work that speaks for women’s independence, self-worth and value while still falling hard for the hero who inspires her to pen: “Reader, I married him”, leaving her days of independent willfulness behind? ABSOLUTELY--- because this is a marriage of equals.
Rochester inspires hope for the besotted Bookish gal: a rich, tortured man with means and connections who could have had (and has had) his pick of the most beautiful women recognizing that his true self yearns for his soul mate: a willful governess whom he deems his intellectual equal.
Jane attests that her love for Thornfield stems from her feeling of equality and asserts: “I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom ,conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave,and we stood at God`s feet, equal-as we are……” We want equality, gals: in relationships and out of them. Women still make 75 cents to every dollar a man makes. We see that while Nicholas Cage can play a romantic lead, only the thinnest, most toned heroines can grace Hollywood’s celluloid screens. Equality is sexy and brooding, enigmatic, puzzling, perplexing, demanding and problematic Rochester seems to view Jane on his level. It allows room for our own frailty and shortcomings. It inspires us to yearn for something that doesn’t require us to put our make-up on or regret that extra brownie or feel guilt about that body pump class we missed.
The 19th Century male was circumscribed to believe women were naught but lowly, fallible creatures prone to hysterics who should never be out of reach of their smelling salts… ha! Rochester fell for Jane and Rochester proved it wrong.
Jane Eyre is the tough chick’s love story and Rochester, all scarred and swarthy, with deep belting voice and a rather ungentlemanly past, is the perfect tough chick foil.
Most of all, he allows us to believe that we can find our ultimate happy ending….simply by being our opinionated, self-conscious and problematic selves.
Thanks again, Rachel, for joining in my celebration of All Things Jane. WELL SAID. Long live Rochester and Jane! :)