Several hundred pages of Jane Eyre deal mostly with the development and nature of Jane and Rochester's relationship. The following discussion provides a context for you to consider the dynamics which fuel Jane's love for Rochester. Keep my suggestions in mind as you read the novel and decide which theory or theories apply.

You may think none applies and develop your own theories. Certainly I want you to do your own thinking on this topic. I have only one requirement: you must be able to explain your interpretation and to support it with evidence from the text.

At this point in the novel, we don't have enough information to speculate about Jane's appeal for Rochester. We will deal with that issue later.

Jane and Mr. Rochester

Jane is initially intrigued by Mr. Rochester. The morning after his arrival, she asks Mrs. Fairfax for more information about him. She becomes increasingly attracted to him, even though he is often brusque with her and, some readers believe, abusive. Rochester's attentions transform Jane, "So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred; my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength" (p. 149). She is finally so in love with him that he displaces God and becomes "an idol" for her (p. 279). Why is Jane so attracted to Rochester? Consider the following possibilities.
  • He brings a sense of life and of excitement to the stagnant life she feels she is living at isolated Thornfield. Think of her restless walking on the roof, her looking out at the horizon and yearning for a direct involvement in life, and her reluctance to return to Thornfield after her walk.

    In helping him with his horse, she has a sense of usefulness; she is actively involved in a life outside her own--however briefly. (Her helping him is a pattern in their relationship. As you read the novel, watch for the ways in which she helps him, even to saving his life.)

    He brings her his experience of the world, which she does not know because of her youth and her sheltered life and which she wants to know about. She says, "he liked to open to a mind unacquainted with the world, glimpses of its scenes and ways...and I had a keen delight in receiving the new ideas he offered, in imagining the new pictures he portrayed, or followed him in thought through the new regions he disclosed" (p. 149). In addition, he tells her of a male sexual world forbidden to a young lady.

  • His interest in her is intellectually stimulating and implicitly flattering. He is her superior in age, in social status and power, in his position as her employer, and in his experience of the world, yet he engages in conversation with her as though she were an equal. Jane perceives immediately that Rochester is not treating her as a paid subordinate, "you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency" (p. 137). She sees his telling her about his mistresses as a recognition of her superior qualities, "The confidence he had thought fit to repose in me seemed a tribute to my discretion: I regarded and accepted it as such" (p. 148).

    Jane has been treated as an inferior and been in an inferior position her entire life; in this position she cannot express her feelings, desires, thoughts. Her outbursts are rebellion against being devalued and inhibited; a sense of the injustice of being treated in this way consumes her at times. She struggles against Mrs. Reed to assert her self-worth and to protest being treated unfairly. At Lowood she achieves success and recognition by conforming to the rules of the school and by adopting the values of Miss Temple and Helen Burns. Even so, her position as a student and as a teacher is still inferior . She is not free to express her own essential nature.

    After Miss Temple leaves, Jane ardently desires to find a life which is free and varied. But her desire for self-expression and freedom and her desire for more life experience are blocked by social and economic restraints:

    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!" (p. 86).
    To be of interest to Mr. Rochester, to be treated as an equal rather than as a subordinate would fill very deep needs in Jane. Both as a child and as an adult, Jane needs to maintain her status as a lady, to remain independent, and to assert her self-worth.

  • Jane and Rochester are engaged in a power struggle. Their conversations show that struggle. For example, he tries to force her to reveal herself and her feelings for him; she refuses to reveal herself. As his employee, she cannot acknowledge feelings for him. As a lady, she cannot acknowledge feelings for him first; in fact, a lady is not expected to have romantic feelings for any particular man until he is accepted as a suitor and fiance.

    In his efforts to force Jane to reveal herself, Rochester becomes increasingly abusive/cruel and causes Jane great pain. Romantic readers might say that Jane submits to his "abuse" because she loves him. Other readers might say that Jane, as an abused child, accepts abuse because it is so familiar and, in that sense, comfortable. She does not recognize--or perhaps care to acknowledge--that Rochester is abusing her emotionally. There is a school of psychology which theorizes that women are by nature masochistic; this theory explains Jane's submission to abuse as natural in the male-female relationship.

  • Jane has been the Other throughout her life. At Lowood she is able to adapt and suppress part of her nature so that she fits in. But once the restraining influence and example of Miss Temple are gone, Jane's passionate nature re-asserts itself; in other words, she reverts to being the Other. In Rochester, she meets someone as passionate as she is, as imaginative as she is. Having met a kindred spirit, she no longer feels like the Other. She asserts the similarity of their natures several times, "For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract: I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him" (p. 178).

    You may prefer to see her as the outsider, rather than as the Other; the discussion of the previous paragraph still applies. Just replace the words the Other with the outsider .

    It is painful to feel alien from everyone else, not to fit in anywhere, and not to have a home and family. Jane does not explicitly state that she is searching for a home and a family, for a place where she is accepted for who she is; nevertheless, is Jane unconsciously driven by these needs? At Thornfield and with Rochester, she feels at home and accepted for who she is.

  • Jane finds Rochester sexually attractive. Notice how often she describes him physically, emphasizing his power, his energy, and his athletic body. Is it relevant that Jane has met very few eligible men, let alone received their attention and engaged in challenging, one-on-one conversation with them?

  • Rochester--the dark, magnetic, mysterious stranger--is a Byronic hero, a character type developed in Byron's poems. The Byronic hero broods over and is tormented by an unnamed sin. His contempt for conventional morality leads him to rebel against it and to defy fate. Though moody, cynical, and defiant, he is capable of deep, strong affection. Because the Byronic hero is unpredictable and dangerous, he is exciting. The masterful and passionate Byronic hero appeals romantically to many women and dominates their love and sexual fantasies. Does Rochester appeal to Jane, to the reader, and perhaps to Bronte for his Byronic qualities?

Chapter 14 (Pages 130-142)

What are some of Rochester's Byronic traits?
  • Moodiness. Rochester treats Jane with mood swings, sometimes friendly, sometimes not, but she is not offended because she realizes "that I had nothing to do with their alternation" (p. 131). Is it also possible she does not necessarily expect to be treated kindly?

  • Masterfulness. He commands her appearance and her placement before the fire; he sits with his back to the fire (fire will be an important element in their relationship). The fire shadows his face to her and reveals her face and, presumably, her feelings, to him. Can their their positions be interpreted as an expression of his attempt to control their relationship?

  • Mysterious past, unspecified sin, and suffering. Rochester's conversation is mystifying with its vague allusions to past transgression and the possibility of reform and redemption.
As you read, watch for Rochester's Byronic traits and for other expressions of his Byronicism.

Jane holds her own in their conversations; you may even think she comes out ahead in their game or power struggle. She responds intelligently to his comments. When he orders her to speak, her smile is "not a very complacent or submissive smile either" and she sits silent. He apologizes, "I don't wish to treat you like an inferior"; however, not wanting to give up his advantages, he quickly adds, "I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience" (p. 135). Jane agrees to allow him "to hector" her (hector means to bully with words) because he forgot that she was his employee/dependent/inferior (pp. 136-7).

Rochester's conversations are unconventional and, therefore, new and stimulating to Jane. Some of his conversations are so improper that Bronte prepares for and justifies them by having Rochester say that people will tell her secrets because they can trust her (p. 138). His detailed revelation in the next chapter of his romantic/sexual relationships exemplifies his shocking frankness with a young lady.

Chapter 15 (Pages 143-154)

Rochester is prone to the emotional convulsions, torment, and conflicting passions which are typical of the Byronic hero. As Rochester tells her about his "grande passion" for Celine Varens (really a sexual infatuation?), he is suddenly seized by powerful emotions:
Pain, shame, ire--impatience, disgust, detestation--seemed momentarily to hold a quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebony eyebrow. Wild was the wrestle which should be paramount; but another feeling rose and triumphed; something hard and cynical; self-willed and resolute: it settled his passion and petrified his countenance (p. 145).
Jane wonders about this response but stops thinking as about it as "for the present inexplicable" (p. 148). Rochester's torment, however, may be an element in his appeal for Jane, "I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it" (p. 150). Is nurturing and soothing pain a trait usually associated with women? Is it a powerful motive in itself and in Jane?

The second incident in which Jane helps Rochester occurs in this chapter (in the first incident, she helps him when his horse falls). She extinguishes the fire in his bed and saves his life. Alone in her bedroom afterward, Jane is torn by a conflict between passion and reason:

I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy. I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened my hope, bore my spirit, triumphantly towards the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy,--a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back. Sense would resist delirium; judgment would warn passion (p. 154).
The image of an agitated ocean shows the intensity of the conflict between Jane's reason and passion. Reaching the shore of course represents Rochester's loving her; her own love is driving her toward that goal or shore. But her good sense drives her back. The last sentence clearly states the nature of the conflict. The language of this sentence weighs in against passion; that is, she chooses judgment and sense rather than "delirium" and "passion."

Chapter 16 (Pages 155-164)

All day Jane looks forward to discussing the fire during her evening conversation with Rochester and asking him about Grace Poole, even though her questions might annoy him. The risk of angering him seems to be a pleasant prospect for Jane,

It little mattered whether my curiosity irritated him: I knew the pleasure of vexing and soothing him by turns; it was one I chiefly delighted in, and a sure instinct always prevented me from going too far: beyond the verge or provocation I never ventured; on the extreme brink I liked well to try my skill. Retaining every minute form of respect, every propriety of my station, I could still meet him in argument without fear of uneasy restraint: this suited both him and me (160).
Is the pleasure Jane feels due to her ability to manipulate Rochester, i.e., to control him? Is she a willing participant in their power struggle? Is Jane one of those people who find danger attractively exciting?

After Jane rescues him from the fire, Rochester does not want Jane to go and all but declares his love. In the morning, however, he leaves without a word to Jane and with no indication of how long he will be gone. Has he upped the ante in their power struggle? Jane suffers not only from his leaving but also from Mrs. Fairfax's telling her about the beautiful Blanche Ingram.

In a display of self-honesty and emotional strength, Jane reviews her feelings for Rochester and her situation,

          "You," I said, "a favourite with Mr. Rochester? You gifted with the power of pleasing him? You of importance to him in any way? Go! your folly sickens me. And you have derived pleasure from occasional tokens of preference-- equivocal tokens, shown by a gentleman of family, and a man of the world, to a dependent and a novice. How dared you? Poor stupid dupe!   . . . It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot possibly intend to marry her; and it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must devour the life that feeds it; and, if discovered and responded to, must lead, ignis-fatuus-like, into miry wilds whence there is no extrication ["] (p. 163).
Jane knows the dangers of encouraging a secret love and of loving her employer, who would at most see her as a potential mistress, not as a prospective wife. Jane's sense of self is too strong to allow such a possibility. She chooses reason over passion; she determines to discipline her feelings by painting a picture of Blanche Ingram with every beauty and drawing a picture of herself, in black and white, with every flaw and comparing them, to her own disadvantage. This "course of wholesome discipline" enables her to endure the pain of watching Rochester with Blanche Ingram "with a decent calm" (p. 164), though not without pain.

Chapter 17 (Pages 164-184)

Jane struggles to stop thinking of Rochester, without, however, humbling herself "by a slavish notion of inferiority" (p. 164). Jane consistently upholds her own self-worth and asserts the integrity of her essential self, even if her position as a governess places her in a socially inferior and economically dependent position. She is prepared to find other employment and leave Thornfield (p. 165).

Jane watches Rochester's guests arriving through the window, a position that parallels her situation in the room: she is physically present but socially separated. Later in the drawing room alone with the ladies, she sits in the shade (i.e., away from the fire and separate from the ladies) and is half- hidden by the window-curtains (p. 176). Jane is subjected to the deliberate cruelty of Blanche and her mother; Rochester makes no effort to spare her any humiliation or pain from their malice. (Incidentally, the conversation of the Ingrams is highly artificial and unconvincing, perhaps reflecting Bronte's unfamiliarity with their social class.) Jane is forced to watch the interplay between Rochester and Blanche and to suffer in silence.

Although he pays no attention to Jane, Rochester is conscious of her. He follows her when she slips out of the room, unable to bear her torment any longer. Rochester perceives her pain, "a few more words would bring tears to your eyes--indeed, they are there now, shining and swimming; and a bead has slipped from the lash and fallen on to the flag[stone floor]" (p. 183). She denies being depressed. Rochester expresses his desire to know what is bothering her, "If I had time, and was not in mortal dread of some prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all this means" (p. 182). Does Rochester really not know why Jane is suffering? Is he expressing a genuine concern for Jane? Or is he making one more move in their power game? Is he in control of their relationship now? Why does he order her to come to the drawing room the next evening, to be subjected to the same humiliations? Why does he suddenly break off his speech, "Good-night, my -----"? (p. 184)?

Bronte Syllabus

M, April 16 Bronte, Online overview
Jane Eyre, pp. 6-68
**Supplemental Reading**
      The Novel
W, April 18 Jane Eyre, pp. 68-130
F, April 20, Online class
Jane Eyre, pp. 130-184
Caucus: To read and to send postings
M, April 23 Jane Eyre, pp. 184-244
W, April 25 Jane Eyre, pp. 244-302
F, April 27, Online class
Jane Eyre, pp. 302-355
Caucus: To read and to send postings
M, April 30 Jane Eyre, pp. 355-417
Paper 2 due
W, May 2
Jane Eyre, pp. 417-461
**Supplemental Reading**
      Jane Eyre as the Other

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