Friday, January 23, 2015

Jane Eyre Part 2 : Mr. Rochester's Dark Moods

"I both wished and feared to see Mr. Rochester on the day that followed this sleepless night. I wanted to hear his voice again, and yet feared to meet his eye"  Jane Eyre, Chapter 16

In the previous post I introduced the plot in the classic story Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
The theme of the book, the lonely woman struggling to find her way in a harsh world, resonates with us.  Like Dickens, Bronte created a dark world for children, the harsh school where Jane is sent to be demeaned and emotionally abused. The story is about Jane, but Mr. Rochester is also a very compelling character as a romantic lead. 


Mr. Rochester, at first look, appears to be a sullen, angry jerk.  Almost a bully as he is so sharp with Jane from time to time, baiting her to try to anger her. He's so moody his countenance competes with the shadows at Thornfield Hall. When you delve a little deeper into his past, you find him a little more human, and you can understand his dark outlook on life. 


He has a terrible secret. Throughout the novel, it is hinted at, but only slowly revealed.  When Jane first comes to the Hall, she feels an odd sense of being watched from the shadows. There are queer happenings that frighten her, yet ignite her curiosity. The unease grows, especially at night, making this a great Gothic novel.


The strange events, almost ghostly appearances in the old manor are always blamed on Mrs. Pool, a servant who lives in the upper part of the castle. Mrs. Pool is said to be drinking a lot, and this is supposed to cover up for the mysterious happenings at the manor. If it happened in the night, it was just drunk Mrs. Pool get the drift. Not quite true, but it wards off Jane's curiosity for a time.


Our hero, if you will allow me to call him that, is imposing. Our first introduction to him in the novel is on a dark road at twilight. (Gothic, don't you love it!) He is riding to Thornfield Hall when his horse is startled by Jane's appearance in the mists. The horse throws him. He is injured. 


Jane describes him thus:
"His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth but had not reached middle age, perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but a little shyness (she doesn't know he's her employer yet as she hasn't met him). Had he been handsome, a heroic looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to to stand thus questioning him . . " Jane Eyre, Chapter 12


Okay, tall, dark, imposing, and looking somewhat angry. That is her first impression of him, and ours. Note that she implies he isn't handsome! It is a lovely set up for a Gothic tale, don't you think? 

But wait, there is more to this mysterious, brooding man . . .


Mr. Rochester's secret torments him. He has the keeping of a little girl, Adelle, the child of a French actress he was in love with. The mother died, and he has generously agreed to provide for her as his ward--hence the need for a governess.  So, we wonder in the back of our minds if little Adelle is his illegitimate child. He claims not, but he has so much affection for the girl, it seems entirely possible. Men often did 'adopt' such a child as a ward, claiming them to be the child of a friend or a relation's who had died and asked him to care for the child. This was done to cover the fact that the rich man was actually raising his own bastard. Anyway, from this situation we might be inclined to think that he is pining for a lost love, little Adelle's mama.  

 A Terrible Secret Revealed . . .

Yet, as the story progresses, Mr. Rochester, despite the fact that he's not handsome, according to Jane, and not young--charms her. Jane falls in love with him because he slowly reveals his kinder side as the months progress. (Yes, this is a classic novel from the mid-nineteenth century, not a quickie read romance novel of modern times.)  They are finally set to be married and the wedding day comes. At the wedding, as Jane and Rochester stand at the altar before the vicar in their wedding garb, in walks a man named Richard Mason. He was a guest at the manor previously, and was viciously stabbed by a mysterious someone whom Rochester will not reveal to Jane.   "You cannot marry her--" he insists, "You are already married!"


 At last,  the real reason for Mr. Rochester's deep dark outlook on life. He is married, to a crazy woman he keeps locked upstairs--albeit with a nice room and a woman to tend her. Bertha is crazy. He keeps her a secret, locked away in his home on a deserted wing of the manor, well cared for, but imprisoned just the same. Sometimes, she escapes, because Mrs. Pool, her caretaker, actually does drink too much from time to time and the clever woman slips out to do mischief at night. Clever, dangerous, completely crazy.  

Berta is the one who set fire to Mr. Rochester's bed when he was asleep in the night. Bertha is the one who stabbed Mr. Mason--her own brother.  It was right under our noses all along, right under Jane's nose, but who would think that such a horrific situation would occur? Not us, or Jane.


Poor Mr. Rochester has been angry and disillusioned with life for a long time. He's had to deal with a wife who was mad, a secret kept from him when he courted her in the West Indies. When Mr. Rochester was a young man and his older brother was alive and able to inherit the estate, he went the to Indies to seek his own fortunes. While there, he met Bertha Mason, a wealthy heiress and it seemed her family kept throwing them together socially. He was never allowed to be alone with her to converse before the wedding, according to his own admission. So he married her, and then his brother, the heir died. He had to come back to England with his bride. Once they were away from her family, he started to see a change in her. The odd little quirks turned into violent behavior, and he was forced to keep her restrained. She kept trying to kill him. Even years later, when Jane is at the Hall, there is a mysterious incident where the curtains of his bed are set fire while he's sleeping. Jane awakens, smells smoke, and saves him by waking him up. At the point he did not reveal the secret to her of how this happened or who would do this to him.

He feels betrayed by the Mason family. Bertha was literally foisted upon him, like a sick horse. Apparently, her mother had also gone mad in midlife and it's "hereditary", as far as people in the 1840's believed. So, not only is he stuck with a crazy wife, but if he cannot have an heir with her because the madness might then infect his family line. He can't divorce Bertha. It was illegal to divorce an spouse who is insane. He's stuck with Bertha, forever.


Now, his moodiness and his anger make a lot of sense. He feels cheated, tricked, and hopeless. That's why he's gone from his home a lot. He travels to get away from the painful reality of the crazy lady upstairs, the crazy lady he is ultimately responsible for.

And then came Jane Eyre.  He saw something fresh, clean and intelligent in Jane. She is younger than him by a decade or more, yet she refuses to be intimidated by his dark moods. He fell in love with Jane, saw her as a beacon of hope for his future. Until the interfering brother-in-law appeared and stomped out that hope forever. Jane runs away, goes into hiding, she's so shamed by this episode. Now he has even more reason to be dark and moody! There is a happy ending, but it takes a little while to get there. We leave Mr. Rochester for a bit as the story is told from Jane's point of view, not his. 

If you are interested in Mr. Rochester's back story, there is a novel written about him and Bertha, The Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, in 1966. In the story, she gives a more romantic and sensual feel to Mr. Rochester's relationship to Bertha Mason. It is mostly told from Bertha (whose name is Antoinette, apparently Rochester nicknamed her Berta, in this version). It may not be strictly Bronte style, but it is an interesting and entertaining read. It tells how she met Rochester, and their courtship, as wells as her struggle with a mentally ill mother, and a brother who is also messed up. It's mostly set in the lush Caribbean. Now, mind you, it is a modern interpretation of the classic story, giving us a different character's POV that was not available to us in Jane Eyre. But this isn't any different than the fan fiction stories we guzzle like soda about Mr. Darcy and the Pride and Prejudice world, so enjoy. 

If you are more the movie type, The Wide Sargasso Sea was made into a movie in 1993, I've watched it. The sensual feel of the film is compelling. Antoinette and Mr. R frolic in a pool with a waterfall, and have several sensual scenes that will captivate you.  Here is a link to the movie: Wide Sargasso Sea 

If you click on the link above you will be led to the IMBD movie site and can view a trailer for the film.

Next time, I'll peek into Jane's Character, and why she is such a plucky heroine. 

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