Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why we love Mr. Rochester

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! :)


Traxy said...

The only thing I can possibly think of adding to this beautifully composed post is a heartfelt "W0RD!" or possibly "AMEN, sistah!"

Kristin said...

Great post! I really need to read "Jane Eyre" again. :)

P.S. I like Orson Welles as Rochester. :) But then again, that's the only movie adaptation I've seen so far, so I have nothing to compare it to.


Kaye Dacus said...

Thanks, Rachel! This post goes a long way toward explaining why I never liked Angel (I love Spike) and can't stand Edward (I'm Team Get-a-Life)!

While I appreciate Jane's strength of character and individuality, which lead her to making the hard decision she must make in this book, I have issues with Rochester's journey---or lack thereof---in the story. I don't see enough change in him to feel comfortable with Jane's attaching herself to him at the end of the story without walking away with the feeling that she's going to be miserable for the rest of her life, especially considering the dark pit of despair she finds him in after the fire.

But, on the whole, my tastes in romance tend toward the light hearted and unambiguous, toward very conclusive and incontrovertible happily-ever-after ending (fantasy, yes, I know), not the dark, moody, and brooding ambiguity that leaves me wondering and worried about whether or not the characters will ever find true happiness. If I want ambiguity like that, I'd just stick with real life and forgo fiction altogether!

Rachel said...

my favourite in Buffy was Giles!

I always enjoyed the tragic, dark heroes in my 19th Century literature.

Sydney Carton was one of my first crushes ( From Dickens' Tale of Two Cities which I read to shreds around the age 11-12 mark)

I guess I always wanted to save something.

it's that feminine need to be the gal to reform the guy and turn his plight into total happiness :-)

If you walk the shelves of the romance section in secular and Christian bookstores, I think this hero shows up over-and-over again ( rather deliciously in Lynn Austin's AMAZING "Fire By Night" -- one of my favourite Christian novels ever!)

What is great about the canon of literature is we can pick and choose---like velcro to slap on a stream of always-changing decisions and imaginative recesses---exactly what facets of what heroes we want and when.

Fiction: the medium wherein you can always change your mind: from pining for Thornton ( who seems rather Rochesteresque in the BBC version and less so in Gaskell's novel) or Rochester one day and then to Darcy or gorgeous Col Brandon the next

Kaye Dacus said...

Oh, Giles is definitely my favorite on Buffy . . . I meant Spike is my favorite as far as vampire characters go.

And as to the whole "reform the bad-boy" thing . . . you really need to read Love Remains, because I tackled that very issue in that book!

Rachel said...

I WILL! I WILL! I WANT TO READ IT :) so enjoying the Art of Romance :-)

Heather said...

So interesting to hear these thoughts on Mr. Rochester. I think he's so remarkable for his time because he was a hero, yet he had many real questionable things about his personality and past. He was no perfect knight in shining armor, as no is. I think Charlotte Bronte was ahead of her time with this guy. And don't get me started on Wuthering Heights, lol....

Unknown said...

First of all, so sorry I am just now responding to comments...yesterday was nuts. :)

@Traxy - I couldn't agree more. Well said. :)

@Kristin - I'm doing that very thing now, and LOVING it. Another friend mentioned the Orson Welles film, and I know I HAVE to have seen that at some point, but I can't recall anything beyond the scenes of Jane's childhood. I need to rewatch that version asap.

@Kaye - I love how this is basically a continuation of the discussion that occurred on Facebook earlier this week. :)

Good points - however I've got to throw in my two cents' worth, and that is the belief that Rochester most definitely isn't going to make Jane miserable for the rest of her life. ;)

@Rachel - "Fiction: the medium wherein you can always change your mind: from pining for Thornton ( who seems rather Rochesteresque in the BBC version and less so in Gaskell's novel) or Rochester one day and then to Darcy or gorgeous Col Brandon the next" - love that, so true! And thank you again a thousand times over for guest starring on my blog! :)

Unknown said...

@Heather - HI!!! :) "I think Charlotte Bronte was ahead of her time with this guy." - I freely admit to a massive pro-Rochester bias, so I couldn't agree more! :)

Jess said...

Marvelous, my dear. :) Love the bit about independence and feminism and equals. I may not love Rochester as much as you do, but I love your passion and eloquence on the subject of him. ;)

Unknown said...

@Jessica - She is BRILLIANT isn't she? :) BTW, my offer still stands of writing an anti-Rochester piece...restoring balance to the universe and all that. :)

Jeanne said...

What a well-written post! The only thing I disagree with is the Dalton Diss (he was my first Rochester and took me into the world of Bronte) but otherwise, I agree with everything else! Rachel, you've mentioned all of my favorites here--Rochester, Darcy, Brandon and Thornton--so thanks for the Monday morning pick-me-up!

Unknown said...

@Jeanne - Thanks for dropping in! :) Glad you enjoyed this post, I was so thrilled Rachel agreed to be a contributor! And all Rochester fans are welcome here, never fear! ;)

Joni said...

Dude. Dean Priest is creeeeepy. I hated his character (& the whole series) so much, I read the Emily books once and never picked them up again.

BUT since you mentioned LMM, I just thought I'd throw this out there: Doesn't Toby Stephens look an awful lot like Barney Snaith from 'The Blue Castle'?

PS. Sorry about all the blog comments. I am putting off going to bed. ;-)

Unknown said...

@Joni - Aww, no Emily of New Moon book love? Sadness. But that's okay, differences are what make the world go 'round. ;)

I'll have to remember to check in with Rachel about Toby Stephens as Barney, since we once had a casting discussion about his character.

And no need to apologize for the blog comments, I was thrilled someone was reading through the archives! LOL! ;)

Joni said...

My sister and I have been fantasy-casting 'TBC' for YEARS now. We haven't found a suitable Valancy and maybe never will (everyone in Hollywood is too pretty). But TS circa 'Tenant of Wildfell Hall' is DEAD ON.

The Blue Castle is sort of my litmus test - the people I am the very closest too in life are the ones to whom I mention that book and instead of a blank stare I get "I KNOW!!! That's like the best book EVER!" It's such a hidden gem, only the truly quality people have read it ;-)

Unknown said...

@Joni - That's awesome! In this respect you and Rachel are kindred spirits, I think! ;)

Unknown said...

This seemingly, Byronic character in Mr. Rochester has me completely and utterly in love. I have never liked the broad meaningless "pretty boy" type. A man with a self-narcissistic love of himself make me want to just heave! I want a man that is smart, educated, and willing to test my personality. One who notices temptation but is willing to overlook all els because he knows he would never find your match. Rochester is stern, rude, disrupted, flirty, but real. He is himself, and Jane loves who he is. That is the problem with so many relationships now a days people want to "change" someone to fit their needs...."Oh you have to text me every second of the day." or..."I don't want you doing that or treating me like so!" I mean come on ladies, you know who the man is when you start dating him, why change him? It never works! Jane loves Edward for excatily whom he is, no more no less. And that old saying, if you let them go and they come back they were meant to be, if they don't come back, they never were meant to be. Very true in this book. The BBC version with Toby Stephens is the ultimate best. Its the most like the book and the best character likeness of Rochester. Give me a man that is willing to love without the sappy trashy quotes of love that is really overcoats of lust words. I want a real man.