Mr. Rochester is a Creep: A List

August 20, 2010 | 2 books mentioned 70 4 min read

I love the disturb-factor in classic literature.  Once you’re out of the classroom, much fun can be had by viewing an older book with a contemporary gaze–analysis and history be damned.  Pick up Pamela by Samuel Richardson, for instance: the eponymous heroine escapes the sexual advances of her employer, Mr. B., time and time again…only to fall in love with and marry him by the book’s end.  Attempted rape: so hot.  When a girl says no, she really means maybe.  Too bad, though, that Pamela is so dull.  I don’t think  I could stand another go at it, even with all the life lessons therein.

coverI’m thinking of Pamela these days because I just finished re-reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontё.  Oh the Brontё sisters!  I haven’t yet read Anne’s books, but based on this comic, I think I might like them.  Charlotte and Emily, meanwhile, were deeply weird, and they (or, okay, their protagonists) were into some deeply weird men.  They remind me of that friend–we all have that friend–maybe you are that friend–who consistently falls in love with assholes.  Just dump him already, we think!

And, Mr. Rochester, if he isn’t an asshole, he’s a psychopath–or, simply creepy and duplicitous.  I can’t believe he was voted most romantic literary character in a British poll last year.  That’s messed up.  Are they kinkier in England?  (The Telegraph article on the subject, by the way, mentions that the results were revealed at a literary festival, where “guests were served pink champagne by scantily-clad waiters.”  Oh dear.)

Let’s consider some points against old Edward, shall we?

1. We should just get the big one out of the way.  Dude keeps his first wife locked up. He never lets her out, if he can help it.   “Bitch is crazy!” he cries, but that is no excuse.

2. Not only does Mr. Rochester lock Bertha up, he keeps her a secret from everyone in town–including Jane!  After the truth has come out (at the altar, no less, minutes before he’s about to marry–or “marry”–Jane), Rochester insists that he was planning to tell his new wife the truth after a year and a day of marriage.  Sure you were, Edward, sure you were.

3. Adele, Mr. Rochester’s little French ward, might possibly his daughter, but, you know, her mom slept around, so he’s not entertaining that notion very seriously.  He’ll be her benefactor, sure, but he will never ever be her dad.

4. When Mr. Rochester has the rich guests staying with him at his estate, he goes off to attend to some business or other, and in his absence, a gypsy fortune-teller comes to read the fortunes of the ladies.  Jane goes to see said gypsy in the dark library, and remarks that the woman’s face “is a strange one.  It looked all brown and black: elf-locks bristled out from beneath a white band which passed under her chin, and came half over her cheeks or rather jaws.”  The gypsy talks mostly of Mr. Rochester, and, surprise, surprise, she IS Rochester.  That’s right, Jane’s boss has dressed up in drag, and put on a little minstrel make-up, and asked the house’s governess to kneel before him.  “I wonder with what feelings you came to me to-night,” she/he says.  Why Jane doesn’t throw up in her mouth a little when she discovers his little game is beyond me.

5. When dressed as a gypsy, Mr. Rochester tells Jane that he’s engaged to be married to one of the women visiting, Blanche Ingram.  Later, after Jane has confessed her love, he admits that his engagement to Miss Ingram was only a ruse to get Jane to react.  He basically says, “I wasn’t really going to marry her!   just wanted you to be jealous, little fairy of mine!”   No matter how much of a pill Miss Ingram is, and she is a pill, this charade just seems cruel.

6. At the end of the book, Rochester is blind and maimed from the fire that ultimately destroyed Thornfield Hall and killed Bertha.  (He does rescue the servants and tries to rescue his wife–I’ll give him that.)   But once Jane has declared that her love for him still remains, he reveals that for the past year, he’s been wearing the pearl necklace (ahem) he had given  her during their engagement.  Some might call this romance, I call it a problem (by morton here).  I wouldn’t be surprised if Rochester likes to wear Jane’s underwear, too.  Or, let’s be honest: Bertha’s.

7. Mr. Rochester is ugly.  Before you start to yell at me, let me say this: I love that the heroine of this novel isn’t good looking.  That’s  interesting, refreshing, and complicated.   But, you know, if a man is ugly, he has to have one hell of a personality. And if he’s going to have a fake history and a secret wife, he needs to be smokin’ hot to get away with it.  (Two words: Don. Draper.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jane Eyre. Its story–part Gothic tale, part romance, part first-person confession–is beguiling.  Its heroine–independent yet innocent, obsessed with stories and weak to the power of them–is complex and believable.   And the prose will have you underlining every other page:

I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing.  I abandoned it and framed a  humbler supplication, for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space; “Then,” I cried, half desperate, “grant me at least a new servitude!”


He who is taken out to pass through a fair scene to the scaffold, thinks not of the flowers that smile on his road, but of the block and the ax-edge; of the disseverment of bone and vein; of the grave gaping at the end…

covercoverNow that I’ve finished the book, I’m ready to finally check out Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which I’m told gives the first Mrs. Rochester the humanity she deserves.  I should also get to The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, for I’m sure they can provide some context for and interpretations of this beloved classic.   I’m curious what Mr. Rochester, and the abiding love readers have for him, means.

is a staff writer and contributing editor for The Millions. She is the author of the novella If You're Not Yet Like Me, the New York Times bestselling novel, California, and Woman No. 17. She is the editor of Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers As We Never Saw Them.


  1. By the sounds of this article, you’re going to absolutely LOVE “Wide Sargasso Sea”. :]

    Calling two of the finest authors of the English language “deeply weird” rubs me the wrong way. Bit harsh, innit? I hope you get around to reading Anne’s books as well (and the rest of Charlotte’s if you haven’t already) – you’ll probably find “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” particularly interesting, as that’s basically what the Hark! A Vagrant comic is based on (“Agnes Grey” hasn’t really got anything to do with it).

    You’re wrong on #5. As much as he faked courtship of Blanche Ingram, he never actually proposed to her – thus, he’s never engaged with her. As for dumping her, she’s the one dumping HIM as soon as she hears the rumour that he’s only got about 1/3 of the money he’s said to have. Her interest was in his fortune, nothing else, which is what he suspected all along, and through spreading that rumour, got it confirmed.

    As for the rest of the points you have against Mr. Rochester… the least said on that subject, the better, as Mrs. Reed said to Mr. Brocklehurst. They can be summed up, just like “Wide Sargasso Sea”, with the phrase: “Well, I disagree.”

  2. This is hilarious. I study women’s lit from this era and am cracking up at your post. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband, who asked me why chicks (his word) fall for Mr. Darcy but not Mr. Knightley. I told him it was that dark-brooding-Byronic-hero thing.
    BTW, although Mr. Rochester never proposes to Blanche Ingram, the way he courts her is fairly serious, and it would have been pretty shocking for him to dump her without proposing—which is why he arranges for her to do the dumping. Because once there was an engagement (or, like Ingram & Rochester, an “understanding”), people assumed the couple might possibly be having sex. A women who had been engaged or seriously courted had the hint of scandal about her (see also Marianne from Sense & Sensibility). But if the woman was the one to break off the engagement, people assumed she was still “pure,” and all that.
    In any case – enjoyed this post. I’m a first-time visitor to your site, but will be adding you to my RSS reader!

  3. I guess my love for Rochester made me blind to his creep-factor. Thanks for opening my eyes. I still sort of love him though.

    This is the third time Jane Eyre has come up this week. I think it’s time for a re-read.

  4. Oh wow!! I thought I was the only one!!! I have always loved “Jane Eyre” and it’s one of my all time favorite books. But Mr. Rochester has ALWAYS creeped me out. I never really liked him. My friends thought I was nuts, but now I can show them your list and say, “See, it’s really YOU that’s crazy.” Heh. Great post!

  5. If you think the love readers have for Rochester is interesting, I hope you read Richardson’s Clarissa. Lovelace was so adored by female readers that in subsequent editions Richardson sought to make him even more cruel.

  6. I know we’ve actually talked about the troublesome Mr. Rochester, but yeah, outlined the way that you bullet point it here, there is no doubt that Rochester is a total psychopath.

    I just shuddered, cause he’s so gross. (and you’re right, he should be hot if he’s going to be all those things. but sadly, many psychopaths are just charming, so looks don’t matter!)

    But, you are also right, Jane Eyre is a great character. She just got herself into a bad situation. We can only hope Edward is going to treat her right now that he’s burned up & half blind.

    As you know, (because we are friends) I am reading Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is so brilliant. And Anne is now my absolute favorite Bronte sister. And that webcomic nails it right on the head as to why we should all love Anne.

    I can’t wait to read Wide Sargasso Sea, too. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on that!

  7. I forgot to mention Tatiana’s love for Onegin in Pushkin’s novel in verse. This whole “bad boy” thing has been around for a long time.

  8. This ought to be a regular feature. While re-reading Bleak House this year, I came to the shocking realization that Esther Summerson is a total bitch. The woman may be a classic Dickens heroine, but she never shows nor expresses any compassion for anyone, other than herself. It’s left to the reader to do that for her. Seriously, this time around, I envisioned her filing her nails while Jo wastes away in the gunsmithery.

  9. I agree with Traxy. This is serious business and not to be taken lightheartedly. The characters in all of these books are precious gold mines of depth that defined generations of literary characters and will continue to do so until the Internet ruins people’s ability to concentrate for more than 140 characters at a time. Or until Jesus comes back. Whichever one comes first. Or until Mr. Rochester comes back. And when he does, he will not be amused by the likes of you who have gone to such great lengths to besmirch the name of one of the most lovable characters in the history of Great Literature. Shame on you for this vicious and libelous attack on Mr. Rochester. Were alive today, he would surely say to you, “Then judge me, priest on the gospel and man of the law, and remember with what judgment ye judge, ye… Off with you now.” And I would be all like, “Word!”

  10. This is hilarious! Great blog.

    My choice is John Galt, a character in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I think it’s really hard to think of him as a person. First, he’s too ideal. Second, he’s the pure embodiment of Rand’s world view. I wonder if he believes in it more than she did.

  11. Thanks for this. I never really liked Jane Eyre (I think it’s because I read Austen’s Northanger Abbey first, which is a delightful parody of gothic novels), and I especially disliked Mr. Rochester. So. creepy.

  12. I’ve been arguing about this with a friend for years, myself coming down on the anti-Rochester side. Humorously enough, I was always the one dating assholes and she was always telling me not to, yet she found herself swept away by Rochester…

  13. Every time I read Jane Eyre, I fall in love with Rochester. And every time I close the book, I think, “God, he’s a creep.” I think the reason so many woman love Rochester is part of the spell of the book and the language. If you identify with Jane at all, I think it’s nearly impossible not to love what she loves — and she is head over heels for Rochester. Then you close the book and remember his faults.
    Though I love the novel, I don’t always understand why some readers idolize him as “the perfect man.” I would never want to meet a man like Rochester, mostly for the reasons in this list. He is not the guy you bring home to meet your mom. Maybe he’s the guy you date for a while — because he knows how to have a good time — but you cut him loose before he gets any ideas about locked attics or wearing your clothes.

  14. Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Whether or not you love Rochester, I think we can all agree how much Jane Eyre rocks.

    Also, I’d love, love, love to start a column about beloved characters that I hate. Also, I could write at length about the characters I love, whom everyone else finds awful…

  15. I adore Jane Eyre, of course. Part of Mr. Rochester’s appeal is that he’s a great talker, a great teaser and cajoler, and Jane knows just how to talk back to him–that’s what’s so engaging about both of them.
    As for Wide Sargasso Sea–it’s very effective, and also so creepy, I had to set it outside my house when I was done reading it. Couldn’t sleep in the same house with the book!

  16. Although I recognize the teasing tone of this article it always bothers me to see that many people judge Rochester’s character according to his behavior to Bertha and his having affairs while his main offense is not telling Jane the truth and involving her in an impossible situation. In the case of Bertha he did after all the best he could at times of no medication and lack of scientific knowledge and if you think his behavior cruel then look at “The woman in white” which is based on a true story. Bertha had an one to one treatment and was confined for her own safety as well. She could end up forgotten, “missing” in an overcrowded asylum where she could lose her life due to lack of attendance. So intended maltreatment is something that Charlotte Bronte would never have her hero commit, because we could never forgive him for that. Charlotte presented Bertha in such a wretched state not due to neglect but only because Rochester would seem justified to claim that he was married to a shadow (Bertha is hardly human) and so partly justified to wish to start his life all over with Jane and because she didn’t want Jane to be seen as a marriage-dissolving woman who could cause Bertha pain.

    About Rochester’s affairs I am a little puzzled that this seems offensive to some people. If Rochester lived today he could have the option of a nice divorce and have as many affairs as he liked without anyone judging him. So what are we? More morally correct or simply more hypocrites of condemning his behavior just because we have an alternative? His point is that the essence of marriage consists in mutual love and understanding (something that was missing from the beginning of his marriage to Bertha) and not in papers sign before law and God. If this is not a modern/contemporary attitude I don’t know what it is.

    On the other subjects I am not very keen on his tricks to earn Jane’ s affection, but Charlotte Bronte makes it clear that there are many things to be corrected in this guy in order to be worthy of Jane. He is immature, believes he is above God and human laws, so he can rectify all, he can be manipulative and hide the truth, so he must learn how to behave to women all over again. But he has his good points too. He is intelligent and can be tender, he is dutiful to Adele and Bertha (he doesn’t lie about loving them or pitying them, so in a way he is sincere, but he takes care of them), he is capable of love and can change. Sadly he learns the hard way.

    I have also to admit that I hardly think I would fall in love with him had I met him in real life because he is not my type at all and because the guy smells “trouble” from miles away, but I wouldn’t want anybody else for Jane’s partner although there are great guys in literature (like Oak from “Far from the madding crowed” or Adam from “East of Eden” who are really nice character and nearer to my taste of men) because I love their teasing interactions. So Rochester for me is a man that I half feel I should like to slap, but at the same time I would like so much to kiss in most of the book. Lol! To confuse you even more, I would not want him for my daughter because she would eventually be hurt, but if he made me feel like Jane does with him, then I would say “what the hell we only live once”. I wouldn’t trust him a bit as a real man but as long as he is guided by Charlotte Bronte who thought him a good man and worthy of Jane’s love I think all would turn all right in the end.

    I laughed about Jane’s underwear but I don’t find it weird at all. He thinks Jane is lost or even dead and wants a keepsake from her. Even today when somebody dies the most difficult part is throwing away his/her clothes not only because they are very personal belongings but because they carry the smell of the departed even if we don’t realize it and smell is a very important factor in our interactions with others. I am very certain that Rochester frequently visited her room during her absence and wouldn’t be surprised if he lied on her bed. I am sorry if I have made it even more weird with this comment but Victorians had some even more “morbid” habits about death such as making ornamental personal objects like rings and lockets out of someone’s hair.

    About Blanche Ingram, I think she got what she deserved. She was the one who ridiculed herself by courting him in front of others in such a gross fashion. Rochester didn’t even have to deceive her that he is interested. She just picked him and started the game.

    I enjoyed your post anyway :)

  17. I have read Wide Sargasso Sea, but not Jane Eyre, and I’m firmly convinced Rochester is not a creep, but a monster. I won’t even read about that bastard in Jane Eyre. You have a wonderful treat in store from Jean Rhys!

  18. @Sara: Interesting point about the breaking off of relationships back in the day. :)

    @MJH: Like, word! ;) (Very finely attuned sense of sarcasm you got there – I applaud you!)

    @ksotikoula: Spot on! Couldn’t agree with you more.

    @Edan: I should point out that I did really enjoy your post. It was very well-written and funny. I just happened to disagree with it. ;) But yes, I do think you’re going to enjoy WSS. It’s a really good book, but it’s not in keeping with the facts as laid out by Charlotte Brontë, so it irks me. If she had just re-named the characters, it would’ve been really enjoyable. :)

  19. I still have a hard time seeing Mr. Rochester as a psychopath when the book offers Jane’s other, and much creepier suitor, St. John, as comparison. St. John not only has her do a bunch of tasks for the purposes of surreptitiously training her to be a good missionary’s wife, he also commands Jane to marry him after explicitly telling her he doesn’t love her! While Mr. Rochester was a strange guy with dark secrets, he always seemed to me to be a pretty good match for Jane, who was pretty weird and dark herself.

  20. Very good point, Michelle. Their repartee is great fun to read.

    I have got to read Wide Sargasso Sea!

    Traxy, thanks for clearing that up, and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece despite its thesis. I love how much mileage we’ve gotten out of this one fictional character!

    Natalya, on this second read it occurred to me that, had she met St. John first, Jane might have become his wife–that is, he would have taught her what marriage should and could be, and she would not have the conception of love and marriage that she ultimately comes to after meeting and falling for Rochester. I tend to think that yes, Jane is a dark weirdo like Rochester, but that part of why she falls for him is that she’s never really known a man before he comes along…it’s all in the timing…(But that’s just me being cynical.)

  21. Thank you for saying what I’ve thought since I first read this book. I’ve never been able to understand why women swoon over Rochester — or, for that matter, over Heathcliff, who was a nasty, hateful passive-aggressive.

  22. @Jesse Baker.
    Jesse, please don’t formulate an opinion of Rochester from a novel written by someone else (with her own agenda). Go directly to his creator, who had this to say of her progeny (in a letter to her publisher):
    “Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent… [he] errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience…. He is taught the severe lessons of experience and has the sense to learn wisdom from them. Years improve him…. Such, at least, is the character I meant to portray.”
    Rochester rocks!

  23. @ Edan: I was trackin’ with you for the majority of your post, I could see your points even though, like Traxy, I didn’t necessarily agree.

    Your points, in the context of time period and with a perspective of a little more grace for the man duped into marrying a crazy woman, might get a little shaky. But let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to sometimes dive into a diatribe?

    Anyways, I was not in direct disagreement, and really enjoyed the reading the posted informed and uninformed opinions offered, until you mentioned Mr. St. John Rivers.

    “Natalya, on this second read it occurred to me that, had she met St. John first, Jane might have become his wife–that is, he would have taught her what marriage should and could be, and she would not have the conception of love and marriage that she ultimately comes to after meeting and falling for Rochester.”

    Really? What marriage SHOULD and COULD be? Could, sure. But SHOULD? Know why I take issue with this?
    Because the man is a machine. He is an unfeeling robot, and Jane recognizes it.
    (Pulls out her annotated copy of Jane Eyre and indignantly flips to the page)

    Rivers: “God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you must– shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you– not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service” (393).
    (Pardon the lack of swooning at his underwhelming proposal)

    Eyre: “If I join St. John, I abandon half myself: if I go to India, I go to premature death. … What then? He does not care for that: when my time came to die he would resign me, in all serenity and sanctity, to the God who gave me. … He will never love me; but he shall approve me … He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon; and that is all” (395).
    (Gasp, shudder; Yes, we women are just swept off our feet by the prospect of a loveless marriage)

    Honestly, I liked the man at the beginning, and even thought he might make a suitable guy for her as Rochester had suddenly and epically failed.. until he opened his mouth. I was fine with him being the quiet, brooding intellectual, until his rants about her Christian duty. I for one, am an Evangelical Christian, and I would resent anyone telling me that my “Christian duty” is to marry them, and essentially leave my mind out of it.

    Again, your post was entertaining, just had to throw my hat into the ring, so to speak… and correct what I saw was a gross misstatement. No harm intended. (smile)

    Now I should probably get back to the 10-pager on Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’Urberville’s that I’m neglecting to write in favor of my own little diatribe.

    Brontë, Charlotte, and Beth Newman. Jane Eyre: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 1996. Print.

  24. Thanks for your comments, Rae. I just wanted to pop in to say I totally agree with you about St. John, and I think the book wants every reader to feel as we do. I meant to say, the book seems to be teaching Jane (and the reader) about marriage and its purpose. Had impressionable Jane met St. John first, she might have different ideas and perceptions about what a wife is, and what a relationship between a husband and wife “should” be like–taught to her by St. John,.

  25. Thanks for writing this, Edan, I thought it was very funny. It reminded me of a contest asking fans to condense opera plots to Twitter length (La Boheme: Seamstress pals around with bohemians in a December-May affair. Receives muff as parting gift.). It also inspired me to consider an alternative plot, that would not have everyone “creeped out” by the most powerful Byronic hero of our time. Here’s what I came up with: Bewitching governess moves in and master of the house realizes she is his soulmate. He tells her he wants to marry her with full disclosure: his now-mad wife lives upstairs and gets out occasionally during the full moon. The governess declines and seeks another position to insure his attentions are thwarted. What a page turner! Charlotte would have made a lot of money with that plot. :)

    I think Traxy, MJH and ksotikoula have done an excellent job with their arguments and I was going to leave it in their capable hands until I read your latest reply, ending with “Had impressionable Jane met St. John first, she might have different ideas and perceptions about what a wife is, and what a relationship between a husband and wife “should” be like–taught to her by St. John.”

    First, I disagree with your opinion of Jane; she is NOT impressionable. She has a clear conscience and a very strong sense of integrity. During her first conversation with Rochester, she lectures him on repentance. She goes on to describe her bewilderment that Mr. Rochester is courting someone so inferior (and conventional!) as Miss Ingram. Jane also points out that she would have died from jealousy and despair, but kept quiet, if Miss Ingram had been successful at charming Mr. Rochester. In the Moor House section of the story, she analyzes St. John Rivers the same way – he has denied his love of Miss Oliver and asked Jane to become his partner in a passionless marriage. She puzzles over the situations before her and draws her own conclusions.

    Second, there is a theme to Mr. Rochester’s life until Jane puts him in his place by refusing to becoming his mistress: he makes huge mistakes but can’t redeem himself because he isn’t properly remorseful. He is married already, but thinks keeping Bertha locked away at Thornfield (instead of at Ferndean-where she would DIE FASTER) will atone. (Please note also that Mason, after his sister tried to kill him, pleads with Rochester to keep her at Thornfield.) He has had 3 mistresses, but thinks bringing up one of their offspring in England will atone. He is about to commit bigamy, but because he is saving Jane from friendlessness, comfortlessness and cold, it will atone. Result: he loses Jane, and deservedly!! It is not until Rochester passes through the valley of the shadow of death at Ferndean that he “acknowledges the hand of God in his doom.” Then he prays to God for death so that he can join Jane again, and miracle of miracles! his soul calls out to hers and four days later she appears on his doorstep (cue: “Amazing Grace”).

    And my third and last point, this is not an unequal relationship! After Jane makes up her mind to be true to herself, Rochester grabs her and shakes her, saying: “Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild, free thing looking out of it, defying me, with more than courage…. Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it—the savage, beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house; but the inmate would escape to heaven…. And it is you, spirit—with will and energy, and virtue and purity—that I want: not alone your brittle frame….” And he lets her go, instead of carrying her upstairs and having his way with her ala Rhett Butler.

    It is that last passage that I always come back to when I contemplate the characters of Rochester and Jane. It is a very powerful snapshot of their relationship, and of Jane as a unique and unconventional woman, who overcomes adversity, realizes her self emotionally, and subsequently chooses he whom she loves best as her life partner.

  26. Re: Rochester courting Blanche Ingram – while it would be a horribly heartless thing to do to someone you knew was headoverheels in love with you, I understood that Jane was so successful at hiding her feelings. Jane regarded her love as hopeless at best and inappropriate at worst. Struggling to keep her face composed when she first sees Rochester after coming back from Gateshead, her self-congratulatory thoughts are, “I too have a veil.” Rochester on the other hand is more used to being persued. Jane describes his courtship of Blanche as one choosing not to seek, but rather to be sought, and to be all the more alluring for it. (can’t find the blessed direct quote). He, trying to shake her calm, dash her on the rocks, wake her up, using the same emotion that woke him up to Celine Varens’ inferiority, doesn’t realize that Jane already went over the rapids. It shows an incredible insecurity on his part, and it was a mistake…but I think it was a mistake not meant to be cruel. Even so, Rochester has to grow up, quit being so self-centered, and learn to value other people before Jane can have a happy ending with him. His character growth redeems him.

  27. Just found this thread and wanted to point out that it might not be fair to fault Rochester for keeping her locked up in the attic. After all – look at the 19th century alternatives! At least he didn’t send her to Bedlam.

    That said – definitely a little creepy!

  28. Glad I found this article. I’ve always felt appalled that people think of Rochester as romantic, despite my love of the book. I love the book because I love Jane’s character and spunk, and I have a soft spot for lonely bookish orphan stories. But I have equally wished, heartily, that Charlotte had written a different ending, where Jane found fulfillment without falling either into St John’s or Rochester’s arms. My sole consolation is that Jane’s marriage to Rochester didn’t proceed until they were on more equal terms. Rochester needed to be taken down several pegs, and it’s a shame he had to be blinded to achieve that, but he was marginally more worthy of Jane in that state. (I still have fears of some sort of weird whiny co-dependency between them though… Rochester was a little too abased, a little too needy by the end for me to feel Jane was making a smart move by marrying him).

    As much as I appreciate this article, it doesn’t begin to touch on why I thought Rochester was creepy. His creepiness was less tangible than the obvious things like locking up the former wife. For me, it had to do with his entire attitude toward Jane:

    1. Jane was almost a pet to him. His very worship of her, objectified her. His insistence of her as some sort of fairy-creature implied a lack of seeing her as a real, complex, and whole person. She was an image for him.

    2. Rochester’s violence was barely constrained. The scene where he talks about not being able to possess Jane’s spirit, no matter what he does to her frame might seem like reassurance to some… but to me, it seems to exhibit such barely suppressed physical violence (such temptation toward trying to subdue her physically), that it screams of high potential for future abuse. What happens the next time when he can’t reason himself down from his impulse to subdue her? The impulse, by itself, is extremely disturbing to me.

    3. His cold disregard for Adele. HIs verbal dismissal of her as being essentially a stupid brainless child, seems cold and emotionally abusive. Yes, he fulfills his financial responsibilities (maybe even goes beyond strict necessity by letting her live in his house), but the condescension with which he treats her speaks really poorly of his character. To me, he comes across as pretty narcisistic, interested only in someone like Jane who can spar with him intellectually. There’s nothing wrong with intellectual sparring (it’s part of the joy of reading the book), but it’s also inherently an activity that’s about Rochester and his own ideas… there’s no altruism or concern for others in those interactions… and the trouble is that these seem to be the *only* type of interaction he has.

    Anyhow… thanks for the article. It’s gratifying to know I’m not the only one who finds him deeply disturbing. I really wrestle with the characterization of Jane Eyre as a feminist work because of Rochester. Charlotte just really confuses me: how she can create such a beautifully strong-minded character as Jane and yet let her waste herself on being “owned” by someone as possessive as Rochester is beyond me. I continue to re-imagine my own ending, where Jane discovered her own self-possessed strength and eschewed both suitors to seek something better for herself.

  29. I found this site having just seen the new film (and so re-read the book). This initial article is absolutely hilarious and speaks to us all! But I think that much of our horror over Rochester is due to the huge historical void we have. Even with Pride and Prejudice, it makes so much more sense when you consider the plight of women in this time period. It was GRIM! I teach history, and so much of the yuck factor in this book seems historically connected. Women were so limited – marriage or hard work was about all you could hope for. People died right and left in your life. As for Rochester’s wife, the above posts are correct – the”insane” were caged, sometimes hand and foot, and rotted away in horrid condition. Her living with a “maid” in the attic was far better than the normal alternative. Likewise, Jane’s experience with men was zero, with love and interpersonal connections was almost zero, and her ability to see any issues with Rochester would have been zero. Rochester, for his part, sounds fairly kind for someone of his position in that time period. The fact that he kept the wife in his home, took in the child (also not expected in that time period), and was willing to consider marrying a governess all speak for his progressive nature (in that time period). He certainly could have abused Jane, as would have been nothing unusual in that time period, without marrying her. A more “normal” and upright person of the time would have left the wife in Jamaica in a nut house, never taken the baby in, and married Blanche without caring if she loved him. As for Jane, I think the author above is totally correct in saying that, with her limited world experience, she would not have understood what it meant to be in love if she had met St John first. In sum, Rochester’s creepy, older man, abusive, self-centered, bizarre, attitude would not have excluded him from being a fantastic “catch” in that time. He had tons of money, was kinder in a way that went against the customs of the time, and was able to see the beauty in Jane (and express it – that also seems very positive for that day and age.) His offensive references to Jane as a little elf, etc., almost as if he considers her a little child, would not have seemed in bad taste to the Brontes – but scream “psycho” to us…. Abusive tendencies are also a more modern-day observances. Men had carte-blanche in that time period – so he would have actually appeared somewhat restrained to readers of that time, I would think.
    The appeal in that novel is that Jane is chosen by what would have appeared to be a “great catch” despite her poverty and plainness. Her brains and interesting character make her appealing to Rochester, who could have married the best looking”well connected” woman in town, and that gives him some redeeming qualities. Her character provides him with the opportunity of self-reflection and maturation. By our standards – a big loser. For that time period, not so bad. For a woman in her financial position, it’s either the whacko or the suicidal missionary. I would choose Rochester! Once she inherits the 20,000 pounds, then Jane would have had some choices. But remember, she is seeking “home” and has almost no worldly experience beyond terrible abuse and survival.
    But one question: Why the heck does he call her Janet? That drives me crazy! It reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Little One, sprite, etc. are bad enough, but Janet???????
    Like Pride and Prejudice, these are really interesting primary source glimpses into the culture and customs of the time.
    Go see the new movie – it’s terrific (although very edited due to time constraint.)

  30. This is a very interesting thread. I particularly appreciate Alicia’s insights about the historical context. This helps tremendously in understanding Rochester, whom I must admit, I didn’t find at all sympathetic until now. Many thanks!

  31. I love Rochester. I always have. I love his energy, I love his chatty sarcasm and his big black eyes and the way he takes care of less fortunate creatures like widows, orphaned children, old dogs, and crazy women. I love that he isn’t content with just spending money and getting laid and tooling about the Continent. I love that he’ll play piano and dress up. I love that he talks constantly about pretty much anything drifting through his head. I love all that black hair.

  32. I think Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre is portrayed as a complex, flawed man, but ultimately, a good man. This is typical of a Romantic hero. Romanticism is not about feel-good gooeyness, but raw human emotion. He is dark & weird, but so is Jane Eyre (and Charlotte Bronte herself), and that’s exactly why they are Romantic.

    Concerning some comments about Wide Sargasso Sea – Mr. Rochester is not the same character in that novel. I have not read Wide Sargasso Sea, but I have seen a movie adaptation. In Jane Eyre, he is a victim concerning his dealings with Bertha, not a cruel, money-seeking man driving a woman to insanity.

    Some important notes about Mr. Rochester as portrayed in Jane Eyre vs Wide Sargasso Sea (and please excuse any inaccuracies; neither is 100% fresh in my mind):

    – He married Bertha without knowing her or her family well, never being along with her or able to talk to her much before the marriage. The marriage was arranged by the families, as both were wealthy. It was extremely common in those times for wealthy families to arrange their children’s marriages. This does not make Mr. Rochester cold or materialistic, it makes him a son who is obedient to his father’s wishes & who acts in accord with the customs of the time. His father & brother are also to blame, as they were aware of her madness & that it ran in the family; they are the ones who were money-hungry.

    – Bertha was not an orphan in Jane Eyre. She had plenty of family, all who concealed her illness from Mr. Rochester before the marriage to trick him into marrying her. She also had a brother who kept in touch with Mr. Rochester & visited her in the attic. Her family lied about other things about her also, including her age.

    – Bertha was showing signs of madness from the beginning of the marriage, displaying a violent & unreasonable temper towards Rochester & the servants, and she got progressively worse. In addition, the novel implies that she had “vices”, namely intemperance (drunkenness) and unchasteness (promiscuity / adultery). She was also described as coarse & small-minded, with vulgar tastes, gross & depraved even, but even traits these Mr. Rochester tolerated at first. It’s stated that these caused him agony, implying he was publicly humiliated by her cheating & drinking while in Jamaica Town, having his own reputation tarnished. It also states that her family had a tendency for mental illness, as Bertha’s mother was insane also. These vices of hers are also stated to have caused her insanity to set in earlier than her family history indicated it would. So Bertha’s mental illness in Jane Eyre was NOT Rochester’s fault.

    – Bertha was not renamed by Mr. Rochester. Her name on their marriage certificate was: Bertha Antoinetta Mason. Her brother does not call her Antoinetta either.

    – Mr. Rochester could not divorce her because it was not legal to divorce a mad wife. I suppose this was the government’s way of making sure someone would care for a crazy woman, instead of her becoming a burden on them (?).

    – Mr Rochester was depressed at his circumstances, being married to an insane woman who was cruel & crude even in her brief moments of sanity at the beginning, and so he travelled about seeking to distract himself. He said he never gave into full debauchery because it reminded him of Bertha’s vices, further implying she was debauched before descending fully into madness.

    – Mr. Rochester (and the novel) makes no negative comments about the ethnicity of Bertha or her family. He describes her as very beautiful also. He admits to marrying her because he was blinded by her beauty. He states her family history would not have bothered him a bit had she been a good wife.

    – Mr. Rochester was not cruel to lock Bertha in an attic. In those days, people were not compassionate towards the mentally ill because they didn’t really understand mental illness or know how to treat it. The only place for the mentally ill were mad houses where they would treated like animals, far worse than being kept in an attic with the personal attentions of a caretaker. Also, Bertha was violent towards herself & others. Keeping her confined was for her safety & that of others. He did not lock her up until she was confirmed mad by a doctor either.

    – Mr. Rochester risked his own life to save Bertha from the fire. He sacrificed his own happiness for many years by taking responsibility for a mad woman that he was tricked into marrying. Clearly, he was not THAT selfish.

    – I’m not sure how the novel Wide Sargasso Sea portrayed Mr. Rochester’s personality, but in the film he was shown as quiet, reserved & disinterested in people. In Jane Eyre, while he is a bit cold with sardonic humor & is occasionally manipulative & less than honest, he is also outgoing, talkative, sociable, humorous & witty, and curious about other people, initiating conversations with them.

    While he is not warm, he does show fairness, generosity, & concern for the welfare of others. For example, he cares for an orphan girl who is not his legitimate daughter. It’s implied she may be his illegitimate child from a high end whore, and it’s likely he thinks she is his child, but back then there’d be no way to know for sure. Most men in his position would not have taken on that responsibility nor been expected to take it on. His servants also seem to respect him & even enjoy when he is around.

  33. I think Saint John is worse than Mr. Rochester. But that’s beside the point…

    At first, I didn’t like Rochester. He was cold, distant, and direct. Over time, like Jane, I began to like him more and more. This is probably due to the fact that, when reading the book, we’re reading the mind of Jane Eyre, who is deeply in love with Rochester. She finds him amazing. So I also did come to find Rochester very nice. However, there was always something…..might I say…..unsettling(?) about him. I liked him, but not completely. Something was always in the way. I can’t explain it. The moment I thought that he was truly a great guy, he would do or say something that contradicted that thought. For example, not telling Jane about his locked-up wife. He was not very honest with Jane. But then he would repent, Jane would forgive, and so would I, forgetting about Rochester’s faults until, once again, he disappointed me. It’s difficult to explain. I love him because Jane loved him, yet in the back of my mind there has always been something telling me that Mr. Rochester isn’t completely right. That is is not I that is in love with this man, but rather Jane.

    Anyway, you have good points. I just finished reading the book today, actually. Never has a book made me think more than that of Jane Eyre. Brontë has a way with your mind. She somehow forces you to think, to pay attention to ever word, every detail. It is like no other story. I do highly recommend it. You shall not be disappointed.

  34. Jane Eyre surprised me a lot. i thought it would be the worst book ever because its so old, but it was actually pretty good. it takes a bit to get into though.
    again, this book surprised me HEAPS in how good it actually ended up being!

  35. “Mr. Rochester is ugly”.

    Well, yes, he is… but, what does that have to do with him being a creep?

  36. I was sort of annoyed that Mr. Rochester got to marry Jane. Like, I was happy for her because she loved him, but he was totally a creep and didn’t deserve her. That said, when I was in high school, I was kind of into smart, vaguely dangerous guys like that, so I did feel like I understood why Jane liked him.

  37. Ok, your review is stunted at one very shallow level, I am afraid…. The point of the story is that a man who extremely flawed, has done terrible things (attempted bigamy), attempted to corrupt an innocent girl because of his obsessive love and hopes, can be loved by God enough to show him how wrong he was, he can be changed by a womans’ moral perfection, strenght and love.
    It is meant to show women as the strong gender, and it is deeply feminist.

    The perfection of this book is how such a moral bankrupt person as him can also be worthy of love and if redemption is possible.

    I wouldn’t change one of his faults, and the writing is so amazing that Bronte gets you to love him despite everything.

  38. Is Edward Rochester a creep? Methinks not.

    Mr Rochester has plenty of faults. He is rash, brusque, vain, self-centred and morally immature and he makes some very poor decisions. But I think the claim that he is a creep, an asshole and a psychopath (and that those who consider him an appealing romantic hero are seriously weird and messed up) are unfounded, and I will explain why.

    Let’s start with Adele. We will never know whether she is Rochester’s daughter or not, since Charlotte chose to leave that open. What we do know is that Rochester is sincerely convinced she is not his own but the child of a stranger and a woman who betrayed him. Nevertheless he takes responsibility for her. While he is not exactly a doting and indulgent guardian, he is a conscientious one, he makes sure that Adele is looked after well. Think of how easily he could have been resentful towards her. Also, compare his care of Adele to how Mrs Reed treats her own niece.

    Then you suggest that it is a “problem” that dear Edward might enjoy putting on ladies’ clothes sometimes. Let’s set aside the question of why cross-dressing should in itself be considered creepy (though one might argue that in a man so bristling with testosterone, this would be decidedly a good sign) and ask simply whether there is any evidence in the text that Rochester has a penchant for it. Item the first: He wears Jane’s pearl necklace under his cravat. Under his cravat – he’s not exactly parading it. Others have pointed out that Victorians liked keepsakes, even somewhat morbid ones. I fail to see how this is an indication of anything other than sentimentality. It is corny, perhaps, but not creepy. Item the second: The gypsy episode. The house party at Thornfield play charades one day and everybody is dressing up for that purpose. From the ease with which this pastime is suggested, accepted and organised it seems clear that this was a socially uncontroversial undertaking, no more disturbing than dressing up for Halloween. Clearly it inspired Mr Rochester to try his own little charade later. Now, does he don a shoulder-free robe, pearl earrings and a feathered silk turban on the occasion? No, he takes on the role of a grimy old crone, wearing cloak, broad-brimmed hat and headscarf. In other words, his apparel has been chosen for the purpose of concealing his identity. I think it is extremely farfetched to call this a manifestation of cross-dressing.

    Then there is the suggestion that when Gypsy/Rochester asks Jane to kneel, he is lording it over her or perhaps even staging a symbolic fellatio. But let’s picture the situation accurately as it is described in the book: Rochester is seated. He is not making Jane abase herself before him, he is asking her to come down to his eye level.

    Of course there are other, entirely different issues with his masquerade. It is deceitful and manipulative, it indicates a person who can be reckless when he wants to get his own way. Fair enough, I’d rap his knuckles for that. On the other hand he accepts Jane’s reproach that he has been unfair and he apologises. And ultimately, what harm has he done, what harm could he even potentially have done? He gave people an opportunity to make a fool of themselves if they wished. Sensible Jane was in no danger of that. One could ask if she might have broken down and confessed his love for him there and then? Unlikely, but I dare say if she had, then he would have made his proposal there and then. Because the point of the whole exercise was, after all, to find out what she really thinks of him.

    So, Mr Rochester, you say, is ugly. Where does it say that again in the book? Ooops, it doesn’t. The words Charlotte uses to describe his looks are dark, stern, heavy, broad, square, grim, decisive, strong, firm etc. She also says his brow looked “ireful” and “thwarted” but only “just now,” that is, just after he fell off his horse – the implication is that at other times it did not look so. In other words, he is no Leonardo di Caprio or Orlando Bloom and he would never be chosen for a boy band. Neither does he fulfil the notion of beauty of his time, namely smooth, regular, harmonious and symmetrical features, blond curls and soft, white skin. He looks rugged, weather-beaten, careworn and virile. He has “very fine,” “lustrous” and “brilliant” eyes. Never once does Jane call him ugly. Georgiana calls him (well, his portrait) ugly – do we want to put much trust in Georgiana’s judgement? He himself goes on sometimes about how he wishes he’d be more handsome – fishing for compliments, much? I would not deny that he is vain. And besides, besides, besides, even if he were ugly, what of it? You say “if a man is ugly, he has to have one hell of a personality.” I’m sorry, but not only is that among the most illogical things I’ve ever heard, but it is also a notion Jane would never subscribe to. She is firmly in the “Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder” camp and she knows that “not all is gold that does glitter.” But, yes, sure, anyone who prefers an Aragorn to a Legolas is weird…

    What else did you level against him? Cruel treatment of Blanche Ingram? The same Blanche Ingram who, mercenary fortune hunter that she is, receives him with coldness after she hears a rumor that he is not really a billionaire but just pretty well-off? I’m sure her heart was broken, yeah. Or did you mean it was cruel to Jane? Oh, we as readers know how she suffered, true, but remember that he doesn’t. All he ever sees is her calm, composed outside. For all he knows, she doesn’t give a toss about him. So, being self-centered and reckless, he tried to see if he could make her jealous. Does he deserve a kick in the shin for that? Yes. Does it make him an asshole and psychopath? I hardly think so. He wants to have some degree of certainty that she loves him before he lays his heart at her feet. Because, you know, women have hurt him in the past.

    The main point, of course, is Bertha. So, he is a bad man because he locks her up in the attic with a personal attendant. I’d like to know – what are his alternatives? Either to let her roam free to attack people and set fire to things or to let her rot in a mental asylum. Or, as he mentions, to accommodate her in that other house he has, the one that is damp and unhealthy, in the hope that she’ll die soon. Or perhaps he could have abandoned her in the Caribbean. Seriously, what do you suggest he SHOULD have done with her? You imply she is not really insane, that this is just his excuse, but she was declared insane by doctors, and while setting fire to Rochester’s bed could at a pinch be seen as the act of a vengeful and enraged but basically sane person, biting and sucking blood from your own brother who has popped in to say hello surely is not normal.

    Rochester claims that he does the best he can, and as I said above, it is hard to conceive what he could have done differently. He tells us that he was appalled when he found out about Bertha’s family history and the tricks that had been played on him, but he adds “I would have made them no subject of reproach to my wife, even when I found her nature wholly alien to mine.” He describes her as trite, narrow-minded, common, obnoxious, coarse etc but says “I restrained myself: I eschewed upbraiding, I curtailed remonstrance, I tried to devour my repentance and disgust in secret, I repressed the deep antipathy I felt.” One can hardly accuse him of not trying. For four years he lived with Bertha while her “vices” worsened, “they were so strong, only cruelty could check them and I would not use cruelty.” It could be argued that we have nothing but his word that he really behaved with such forbearance, but Jane’s observation during the struggle in the attic that he “could have settled her with a well-planted blow: but he would not strike: he would only wrestle” confirms his claim. Besides, I trust his sincerity. This may seem strange, since he has kept up such a massive deceit for such a long time, but it is not at all paradoxical if you consider that he is always willing to admit his faults and does not spare with self-reproach. Now the truth is out, he would not invent a history just to make himself look better. So I believe his account of his relationship with Bertha is as truthful as anyone’s account of such a deeply personal story could be.

    Did it look different from her perspective? Of course it would, but given that she really is mentally unstable, her perceptions would be warped to say the least, in any case, they would not be more reliable than his. Having said this, I did like Wide Sargasso Sea. I thought it was a delightful book in its own right, fascinating and beautifully atmospheric. However, it is what in fanfiction circles is called an Alternative Universe story, that is, a story in which certain parameters are different from the ones set out in the original work. It does more than reverse perspectives, it redefines the characters. Rhys’s Antoinette is not the same as Brontё’s Bertha and her Rochester is certainly not Brontё’s Rochester, in other words, Wide Sargasso Sea proves nothing. To go off on a tangent, I read that Jean Rhys had been horrified by the way Bertha was portrayed by Brontё and had seen this as comment on Caribbean people and people of mixed ethnicity, hence her desire to set the record straight. I think this was a fallacy. Brontё never suggests that Bertha’s cultural or ethnic heritage had anything to do with her defects; she presents it entirely as a result of family history. Furthermore, she also portraits some bona fide English people in a hugely unflattering way – old Mr Rochester, the Reed family, or Mr Brocklehurst. Do we call her therefore an anglophobe? No, we don’t.

    To come back to what I said at the start: Rochester has plenty of faults, there is no doubt about that. But who doesn’t? Perfect literary characters like Mr Knightley are fantasy creatures; Rochester is far more realistic. There is much in him one might want to complain about, but in reality we do not like or love people for their lack of faults, we like or love them for their positives, for their merits. And Edward Fairfax Rochester has bucketloads of merits. Here they come:

    He is disinterested. He has nothing to gain from bringing up Adele, he would have incurred no reproach if he had disowned her, but that is just a marginal issue in this context. The central point, the one that sticks out like Mount Everest, is that at a time when people in his position habitually made matches based on connection and fortune, he is willing to marry a woman who can give him absolutely nothing in the way of worldly advantages. Austenites are inclined to credit Darcy for his decision to marry Elizabeth who has only £1000 and an uncle who is “in trade” i.e. a successful businessman. Darcy feels he can overcome these very substantial obstacles after much struggle and mental anguish. Rochester, were it not for Bertha, would not have hesitated for a second to marry Jane, who has nobody in the world and who boasts a grand fortune of FIVE SHILLINGS. Darcy has to swallow his pride before he proposes to a woman of such low connections as a minor esquire and a country attorney. Rochester brushes aside all consideration of rank the moment Jane mentions them: “Station! station! – your station is in my heart.” And she isn’t even beautiful! It may be debated just how “plain” Jane actually is and I think there would be enough evidence to claim that “plain” in this case means basically “nothing fancy” rather than “butt ugly.” However, regardless of whether she is really ugly or just fair to middling, it is clear that Rochester’s regard for her has absolutely nothing to do with her looks. As far as beauty is concerned, his creed is “Been there, done that, got the heartbreak.” So let’s get this straight: An immensely rich, powerful, spoilt, sought-after man loves and wants to marry a girl PURELY for her personality and he treats her not with condescension but as his equal. That alone would make him admirable.

    But that is not all. He is great company. Mrs Fairfax comments that he is “so talented and lively in society.” He is clever, witty, cultured, musically gifted and he has a great sense of humour. So much of his conversation with Jane is delightful banter – just think of the scene where he gives her money for the journey to Gateshead. Jane says she hears him talk “with relish,” that he delights in opening her mind and has both cordiality and frankness.

    He can admit his faults. He asks for forgiveness, so sincerely that Jane gives it instantly. He can humble himself, he reproaches himself, and I think much of his gruffness and brooding stems from his dissatisfaction with himself. With regard to marrying Bertha he says, “Oh, I have no respect for myself when I think of that act! […] gross, grovelling, mole-eyed blockhead that I was.” Even starker: “I was wrong to attempt to deceive you […] I wanted to have you safe before hazarding confidences. This was cowardly.” This is a fine and rare quality, especially in a man.

    He is generous. He treats his employees well. When he dismisses Mrs Fairfax, he doesn’t just give her a lump sum, but a lifetime’s annuity. He keeps his mistresses in lavish style and settles substantial amounts on them when he leaves them (“I was glad to give her a sufficient sum to set her up in a good line of business.”). He pays Grace Poole generously and is prepared to increase her salary even further. Most of all, he despairs that Jane might be destitute, he “would have given me half his fortune, without demanding so much as a kiss in return, rather that I should have flung myself friendless on the whole world.”

    He has genuine concern for other people, and that doesn’t just mean Jane. When Thornfield is on fire, “he went up to the attics when all was burning above and below, and got the servants out of their beds and helped them down himself, and went back to get his mad wife out of her cell.” Yes, he risks life and limb to save the woman who has been the bane of his life for fifteen years and who is the cause of his separation from Jane. No doubt he knew that she had started the fire. It would have been the perfect opportunity to be rid of her. But no. As the innkeeper says, “It was all his own courage, and a body might say, his kindness, in a way, ma’am: he wouldn’t leave the house till every one else was out before him.” Courage and kindness, even at a time when he had sunk into deep depression.

    He has an abundant capacity for loving. Jane says, “Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved.” There is nothing lukewarm about Mr Rochester. Behold this, all ye commitment phobics of the world.

    He respects Jane as a full human being who can make her own decisions. “And your will shall decide your destiny.” Again, for a man of his time, for a man even of our time, this is a precious trait. When Jane doubts the sincerity of his proposal, he handles the situation admirably. “Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited. I will be still too. [,,,] Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another.” In spite of his own raging passion, he gives her space to think. Yes, he tries to persuade her to become his mistress, though this is not how he perceives it. Still, he does not coerce her. He urges her to decide in his favour, again giving her space: “Go up to your own room; think over all I have said and, Jane, cast a glance on my sufferings.” At all points of crisis he tries to persuade and convince, but he never forces her hand.

    Finally, consider what Jane has to say about him after no less than ten years of marriage:
    “I hold myself supremely blest […] because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. […] I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine […] All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is bestowed on me.” In spite of the humungous disparity of their fortune, experience, social status and age, Edward and Jane have successfully and durably created a relationship of complete mutuality. How easy it would have been for him to be patronising. But here is a man who truly respects his wife.

    Would I want to marry Edward Rochester in real life? Probably not. He does come with a great deal of baggage, and I am not as selfless as Jane. But to her, selflessness is in her nature, it suits her. She was even willing to accept a premature death as the probable outcome of going to India with St John Rivers. And there I have at last arrived at my ultimate point: Yes, there is a creepy and deeply disturbing character in the novel and I would be seriously worried for any woman who fancies him. That man, however, is not Edward Rochester, but St John Rivers. Consider the effect he has on Jane: “By degrees, he acquired a certain influence over me that took away my liberty of mind: his praise and notice were more restraining than his indifference. I could no longer talk or laugh freely when he was by. […] I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, wrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation.” This is not healthy at all, and at this point he hasn’t even asked her yet to become his missionary wife. St John has the nerve to define who Jane is. He tells her she is “formed for labour, not for love.” When she resists his charming proposal, he threatens, “it is not me you deny, but God.” He has neither respect for her views and decisions, nor any humility concerning his own. “Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself forever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity.” And just to drive his point home really emphatically, he reads to her from Revelation that “the unbelieving shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” No kidding, he threatens her that she will go to hell unless she does as he tells her. What would I call such a man? The words asshole, creep and psychopath spring to mind…

  39. I am amazed that people are reading my essay and commenting four years after its publication. Thank you all for your feedback!

    Just to clarify and emphasize once more: I am a big fan of the novel, and of Bronte! Also: this essay is meant to be a bit cheeky, and the comedic tone should be taken into consideration.

    Thanks for reading!

  40. In my current state of acute Rochester fangirling, I am liable to failing to see the humour… ;-)

    Interestingly, when I first read the novel twenty-odd years ago, I didn’t care much for him, probably because I never had any interest in men significantly older than myself. Nowadays he is younger than me. It’s kind of charming that these novel heroes don’t age.

  41. WOW! That’s a mighty spirited defence of Rochester, Virtuella. Well articulated. As a fellow Rochester fan, I now love him even more!

  42. I came across this essay about a year ago, and it inspired me to start my own blog – something I only got around to yesterday, and am still learning how to work! “Jane Eyre” of course shall feature on it eventually, but the heated response with which your portrayal of Mr Rochester has been greeted slightly puts me off for now… I laugh every time I read this (in between nodding in wholehearted agreement, of course…) Thank you again – this continues to be hilarious, and very true!

  43. How did I miss this??? Excellent, excellent piece, although I have always found Rochester compelling as opposed to creepy. Got the cheeky humor, but the responses are fascinating. You either love or hate Rochester.

    @ Virtuella — you nailed it beautifully! I was starting to lose faith in our cross-dressing, marriage-ignoring hero, but like supergram i think i love him even more now.

    “Yes, there is a creepy and deeply disturbing character in the novel . . .” Exactly what Charlotte meant us feel about St. John Rivers — a man who lives to celebrate the death of everything Jane (and we, perspicacious readers) hold dear — freedom, spirit, and love. So well-said!

    Someone up-stream was horrified by Rochester’s vehement swearing that he couldn’t just possess the cage, he had to have the mind — she had to love him back. They were worried that he would hurt her somehow, all that passion might make him violent??? But it’s that passion (versus the dry death of love and life that St. John offers) that makes me love and root for him, and that makes him, finally, worthy of Jane.

    Just so enjoyed this!

  44. How dare you insult rochester! I think you’re not thinking of this in terms of standards at the time. Keeping the crazy wife locked up was by far more humane treatment than most people with mental illness received then.

    Something creepy you missed out though is the fact that he kept a vial of drugs in his dresser for emergencies. What was this… Cocaine? Heroin? Not sure, and though cocaine was common and relatively acceptable in these days… Stashing it away for an emergency is slightly creepy creep.

  45. Ita incumbent on me up state that Mr Rochester kept his wife in far better comfort than she would have had at any Asylum in the 19th century let alone the early portion of it. Anyone arguing the point that Bertha was mitreated is very incorrect. Also, let’s not forget that she tried to kill Edward, her brother, possibly every memento of the household and herself.

  46. Omg! Virtuella, you broke it! That’s a beautiful description of Rochester! Charlotte was proud of you! You did understand the character perfectly!

  47. I so love this!! I completely agree!!! That sad thing is this story is like a Disney movie compared to Wuthering Heights! Lol I can’t even imagine why WH is loved for anything other than possibly its prose.

  48. Hi, “Mr. Rochester Is A Creep” people. Its been a long time!

    By a strange serendipity, there is an event going on starting Saturday that crosses the Atlantic and is a week-long Jean Rhys read-in. You can find it on Twitter, and hook into the details at:


    Jean Rhys wrote “Wide Sargasso Sea,” which revamps Jane Eyre from Bertha’s POV, and Rochester definitely hits pretty high on the “Creep Meter.”

    STOP BY!

  49. This is one of the best commentaries I’ve seen. It’s extremely difficult for me to wrap my brain around what, exactly, Jane sees in him, other than the fact that beggars can’t be choosers, and let’s face it – she didn’t have a lot of options. Correct me if I’m wrong – Rochester married his 1st wife for her money – found out on the honeymoon that he’d been tricked into marrying a lunatic because he’d apparently spent zero time courting her at all prior to their nuptials. He then gets mad that no one had bothered to tell him that his bride’s mother was in a loony bin – like it’s not something about which he could have inquired. Rather than getting an annulment, he carts her off to his estate in England where he locks her up in the attic while he gallivants around out of town chasing tail. Apparently, no other woman has ever been good enough for him since. He thinks that they are all after being mistress of Thornfield, like he’s doing a woman a favor by marrying her & making her responsible for his big crazy house in the middle of nowhere. He uses Blanche Ingram to get Jane to confess her love for him, all the while knowing that a marriage to either one of them would have been considered bigamous, because he’s too lazy to get his marriage to Bertha annulled and have her committed. He’s just a big giant tease.

  50. 2010! How is this just now popping up in my news feed? Well, I can’t help responding to this well-traveled balloon. As to Rochester, he never rocked my socks, but yeah, it’s the Byronic thing: a hero more sinned against than sinning but sinning up a storm nevertheless. Rochester is a monster, until you parse his choices. For example, keeping a severely mentally deranged woman locked up in the penthouse. It is supposed to be horrifying, until you consider the alternative. Madhouses were considerably worse than anything Bertha had to contend with, and she was too homicidal and nymphomaniacal to be allowed to roam about the shrubberies. Because she was “out of her senses,” she presumably wasn’t capable of suffering but only of inflicting suffering. You know. On him. So, actually, his cruelty was actually an act of self-annihilating mercy. Yet, in a further gothic twist, his mercy/cruelty is still unforgivable, because he took Bertha for better or worse, and rather than own “worse,” he neglects the obligatory love he has taken a sacred vow to have for her and attempts to hide the marriage altogether. Bronte wants you to understand Rochester without losing sight of the fact that he is guilty, guilty, guilty–to forgive him, but not too much. Hence the bbq, which removes both the technical obstacle (Bertha) and the moral obstacle, for Rochester willingly goes through the fire to redeem his hated wife (who is, after all, innocent by reason of insanity) and is thereby redeemed himself. He is humbled and Jane is able to lead him to a new life, using her own druthers–a preferable alternative to being lead into bigamy and goodness knows what else (!) by a proud man with a screwball moral compass. The genius of Bronte is that after exposing Rochester for the creep his is, she pulls off this amazing back flip, making him look pretty darn tasty by locking Jane and the reader up with St. John for months on end. The Wide Sargasso Sea is a must read, but the one you must, must, must read is Fielding’s answer to Pamela: Shamela. Not only is it painfully hilarious, Fielding’s introduction is a sharp-as-knives observation on the weirdly prurient and morally off-kilter ironies of Pamelamania.

  51. Just throwing this out there. We’re never told by a reliable source in the entire novel that Jane is plain or unattractive.

    Rather people who sit above her socially constantly reinforce the idea that she is poor and should do nothing to be attractive, like when Brocklehurst comes to the school and orders their heads shaved because some have too long or too curly hair naturally and gripes about them washing their clothes too often. They’re unattracitve because they are poor and orphans.

    Jane is plain/unattractive because she lacks the wealth to be good looking.

    Its very much the same to how Cinderella is bullied by her stepsisters and called cinder girl, but fixes it all with expensive clothes.

  52. Please!!!!!!!
    It’s not real ! Only a story written by a young woman who , after all led a very sheltered life

  53. Actually I think seen in a modern perspective mr Rochester is probably less of a creep than he is in the perspective of his time. In a modern context his wife being raving mad, and him having a possible child from a previous relationship with an independent woman like an operasinger would have been perfectly normal and a raving mad wife would have been someone he could divorce to marry Jane. There would have been much less need for concealment to pursue happiness or to bend to convention. Seen in a modern light he is a man doing his best to seek happiness, and he is doing no intentional harm. There is no evil two-timing in or cheating on either wife or Jane as his marriage is not an actual relationship. And his courtship of Ms Ingram would have been nothing but what many of us do which is to date multiple people at a time in pursuit of something that eventually clicks. I think what makes Mr Rochester interesting as a romantic character at the time is precisely how imperfect he is and at the same time how he is a character who defies convention first by falling in love with and wanting to actually marry a governess rather than simply seduce her and throw her away as he could if he wanted to as a gentleman of the time. He is a flawed character, a human hero, rather than a superhero. Someone dealt a bad hand by social mores trying to not throw his wife on the bin even though she is stark mad, while also trying to marry a woman he loved and give her the respect she deserves and deserves from society. And also walking away from an attractive rich glamourous woman because he loves Jane Eyre, an imperfect woman who challenges him, rather than simply obey him. I don’t really think your analisis proves he is creepy in a modern context. On the contrary I think it shows that in a modern context this would have been a man less prone to lying to live up to impossible rules. A man who sought a modern woman as well.

  54. One commenter asks why Mr Rochester refers to Jane as Janet occasionally – it’s an endearment, a shortening. A contraction of Jane-ette, “little Jane”.

  55. I’m really shocked by you writing if he was hot we could forgive him. Like no?!?! What the hell, that is the most toxic shit ever. If he was hot he’d still be a total dick. And I agree, he’s a dick. He’s super mean to Adele, who’s just a child. He’s arrogant. He cheats on his wife instead of getting her treated. But these things would NOT be forgiven if he was hot. Jesus.

  56. To many excusing Rochester’s locking up Bertha for her “madness”: her going insane might really have to do with Rochester driving her as such.

    It is a plausible explanation since Bertha to me is even poorly characterised herself, as only described to us through his lens which makes the account somewhat unreliable knowing he had lied to Jane upon their marriage ceremony.

    The more I thought of this, the more it made sense and the more the character of Rochester to me feels off putting.

    I believe part of the sustained appeal for him is due to the influence of modern mass media; the way he had been portrayed in many adaptations as another with dark, quite roguish good looks (looking at you Timothy Dalton, Toby Stephens and Michael Fassbinder).

    And he really wasn’t a looker as described particularly in the book. I believe on screen media has that towering influence how we read the character’s looks and even reinforce our “beautification” of them to comfort our imagination.

    But I believe if we were reminded more of honest visual portrayals consistently by the likes of Orson Welles and Ciaran Hinds, these might highlight better his actual unbecoming characteristics.

    Nevertheless, I’m not often particularly fond of byronic heroes (unless I read a good deconstruction of them). They just often come off to me as silly man children. Just my opinion so excuse me here.

  57. I just ran across this and so totally disagree.I love Rochester and his love for Jane..Circumstances made him into an abrupt, sarcastic with wit,person and for Bertha.He kept her instead of locking her in an institution and he should have.I did not like the way he treated Adele,but otherwise..absolutely loved Rochester!That crack about the pearls,a but much,it was all he had.Many women wish and hope for a smidgen of that kind of love.

  58. Oh yes, let’s deconstruct and completely misconstrue a beautiful classic because we are modern “feminists” who have nothing meaningful to contribute. Your whole essay was ridiculous but your point about Mr. Rochester keeping the pearls as a relic of Jane, interpreting it as perverted, just shows your own degraded and warped way of thinking.

  59. Also dear Virtuella, whoever you are you have done Charlotte and me a big proud! You are like the antithesis to the writer of this article, whereas she misinterpreted such an amazing character and downplayed Charlotte’s creative genius, you perfectly captured what Charlotte was trying to say and you understood and explained this very raw and flawed but extremely loveable character, you have done him justice :’)

  60. Dead on–Rochester is a creep. I’m an attorney who’s represented domestic violence survivors for 30 years, and I have long thought Rochester and Heathcliff are part of the cultural fabric that influences women to disregard signs of abusiveness. Not blaming the women–it’s more complicated than that, but no great service either.

    Rochester isn’t as bad as Heathcliff, who beats the hell out of Isabella Linton solely because she isn’t Cathy. But in my mind Rochester’s worst sin is tricking Jane into bigamy. If she’d gone through with it, she’d have been a ruined woman had it come out later. Remember Rachel Jackson, Andrew’s wife? She was the one who got painted as the whore.

    Not saying that Rochester didn’t have some good qualities, principally his respect of Jane’s intelligence. Just that as a cultural archetype, he’s bad news.

    I still love the character of Jane, especially her integrity and intelligence. I always thought the shifting of the power that came about because of Rochester’s blindness was what made it a happier ending, especially considering, as someone pointed out, women didn’t have a whole lot of options back then.

    Mad respect for the Bronte sisters for getting books published back then, but I much prefer the Jane Austen heroes.

  61. I agree with you on some of the points, but most definitely NOT number. 7. Like, what the heck? It’s unfair to judge people by their looks. Besides, it’s kind of sexist to say you think the heroine being ugly is refreshing but the male lead being ugly is not.

  62. You forgot to mention in #3 that Rochester was still married to Bertha when he was running around with the French opera singer who then claimed that Adele was his.
    The man is an adulterer on top of an almost bigamist.
    Also, while I don’t agree that Rochester should have locked Bertha up in the attic, there’s no reason why we should be ringing the alarms for her freedom either.
    The woman is legally insane, as evidenced by her stabbing and biting her brother (he also claimed she drank his blood) and setting fires in order to afflict harm and death on others.
    At the very most Rochester should have taken her to an asylum under an alias if he was too shamed to call her his wife.
    Yes, asylums were horrible places back then but a dangerous person can’t be free in society. She had to be detained in some way to keep others safe.

  63. “And if he’s going to have a fake history and a secret wife, he needs to be smokin’ hot to get away with it.”

    Timothy Dalton IS smoking hot.

  64. What a nice article! I agree with you. After reading the novel, I thought I can even write an argumentative essay to show why you should hate Mr. Rochester. He even does not search for Jane, but just an advertisement and he waites Jane to do everything. I am shocked to hear that he was chosen as the most romantic one. Thanks for these great ideas. I hate Mr, Rochester :D

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