Academic | Essay Contest
Topic Two: Do you believe the love between Jane and Rochester is realistic? If so, what accounts for their strong attachment to each other despite the differences between them
In the classic novel Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë skillfully combines Gothic romance with heartfelt realism to create a relatable depiction of two passionate, imperfect souls finding love and solace in each other. Through Jane's candid narration the reader witnesses the development of the tender yet turbulent relationship between her and Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield Manor. Some might consider their attachment to be implausible because the two are strikingly dissimilar both in personality and in life experience. Furthermore, Brontë's story line occasionally appears too fantastic to be taken seriously. For example, the dialogue is often histrionic. When Rochester realizes Jane intends to leave him after the discovery of his living wife, he hurls himself onto the sofa, crying in wild tones, "Oh, Jane! my hopemy lovemy life!" (321). Without further explanation, such dramatic declarations seem absurd. If passionate feelings were the sole basis for their love, Jane's and Rochester's bond would inevitably weaken since all emotions are temporal. Thankfully, their mutual devotion does not lack deeper justification; strong reasons bind the pair together despite their differences. To this reader, their love appears realistic in three ways. First, unlike fairy-tale characters who have little in common besides a shared longing for romance, Jane and Rochester meet each other's essential needs through their complementary strengths. Second, the two do not fall in love blindly; on the contrary, their love is founded on mutual respect and full acceptance of each other's flaws. Finally, through embracing humility they achieve a healthy interdependence. These three realistic qualities of Jane's and Rochester's relationship provide the groundwork for a fervent and enduring love.
To the casual reader, Miss Eyre and Rochester appear so different that their romantic relationship is unexpected and puzzling. As Rochester himself observes during their initial meeting, "twenty years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience" separate them (136). Indeed, in many respects they are polar opposites. Jane is "childish and slender" in appearance while Rochester is muscular and commanding, with "granite-hewn features" (315, 134). Whereas Jane is habitually subdued and takes care to appear outwardly composed, Rochester's willful nature often leads to passionate outbursts. However, his physical energy and athleticism are offset by his internal despondency. His ignominious marriage to the mad woman Bertha nearly two decades before still plagues him, resulting in a bitter, negative view of life. Jane's gentle disposition and hopeful outlook contrast sharply with his brooding tendencies. Surprisingly, our heroine's submissive exterior belies her fiery and stalwart spirit. As a child Jane's instinctive reaction to the cruelties administered by her cousins is righteous anger; her courage is not dampened by their bullying. The differences between Jane and Rochester are indeed substantial. Nevertheless, a thoughtful examination of their relationship reveals a mature and undeniably realistic love.
Jane and Rochester are ideally suited to meet each other's emotional needs because of their complementary natures and life experiences. For Jane, who has suffered much abuse and neglect, Rochester provides loving friendship and intellectual stimulation. At the age of eighteen, Jane's desire for liberty and experience of the world leads her to assume the position of governess at Thornfield. Already "weary of her existence all passive," her brief run-in with Rochester on a silent lane stirs her longing for excitement (119). As they become more acquainted, Jane delights in his intelligence and broader worldly experience. Also, his kindness and conversation provide her with the companionship she craves. In his company, her "thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up" (149). Rochester's attraction to Jane is more complex and stems from his desire to escape the misery and solitude caused by his mad wife. His wretched experiences with the unchaste and obnoxious Bertha Mason convinced him to value virtuous character and intellect above physical beauty. For ten years he has searched for "an intellectual, faithful, loving woman," to no avail (314). When he meets Jane, he is refreshed by her good sense and spirit. Discovering her to be also intelligent and pure of heart, he soon comes to consider her his "good angel" (317). After a life "passed half in unutterable misery and half in dreary solitude," he discovers in Jane a good woman that he can truly love (317). Jane's and Rochester's complementary strengths make their attachment natural and understandable; each fills a void in the other wrought by years of loneliness and longing.
The passionate love between Jane and Rochester is further founded on a mutual understanding and respect for each other's character. They do not experience love at first sight; rather they examine each other's character and learn to appreciate each other's strengths and weaknesses. Jane is fully aware of Rochester's flaws; he is "proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description" (149). Nonetheless, she earnestly believes him to be "naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed" (150). Though conscious of his weaknesses, she recognizes his potential and encourages reform. Rochester is initially drawn to Jane because of the stark contrast between her and his crass wife Bertha; however, he soon develops genuine affection and respect for the young girl. During their initial conversations, he plies Jane with abrupt, personal questions. He is pleased to see her lift "a keen, a daring, and a glowing eye" to him and to hear her "ready and round answers" (316). In maturity and intellect she is his equal, and her self-confidence enables her to converse frankly with him despite his seniority. Rochester also admires Jane's virtuous character. Ultimately it is her integrity which saves their relationship from disaster. Her strong sense of right and wrong prompts her to depart from Thornfield after Bertha's existence is revealed. Had Jane instead succumbed to Rochester's pleading and continued living with him, Rochester would certainly "one day regard [her] with the same feeling" of contempt he feels for his former mistresses (314). In remaining true to her conscience, Jane makes possible their eventual reunion and lawful marriage. Their mutual respect and acceptance of each other's flaws form the foundation of a lasting love.
Finally, the conspicuous imbalance in Jane's and Rochester's relationship resolves into a healthy interdependence as a result of Rochester's physical crippling. In a successful marriage both partners must be able to give and receive love. A lack of such mutuality inevitably leads to marital dissatisfaction. Before the tragedy, Rochester's willfulness and pride in his own masculinity lead him to dominate the relationship. Immediately after their engagement he pronounces his intention to travel the continents with Jane at his side and presents her with expensive dresses and jewelry. The more he lavishes upon her, the more her cheek burns "with a sense of annoyance and degradation" (270). In attempting to shower her with endless gifts, Rochester stifles Jane's independence and self-worth. She ably resists his efforts; however, one senses that she would always be thus compelled to defend herself in order not to be smothered by him. After a fire at Thornfield deprives Rochester of his sight and the use of his left hand, his and Jane's roles shift noticeably. His pride and independence are shaken by his physical loss. When Jane returns to him following Bertha's death, she finds him considerably humbled. He confesses that "hitherto I have hated to be helpedto be led...but Jane's soft ministry will be a perpetual joy" (449). His dependence on her for visual guidance forces him to accept aid and provides Jane with the opportunity to express her love in a practical way. Ten years after their marriage, Jane reflects that "it was that circumstance which drew us so very nearthat knit us so very close!" (454). Truly, through embracing humility and learning to give and receive from each other, they achieve the interdependency necessary for a healthy marriage.
The story of Jane Eyre is not only a superior Gothic romance, but also a captivating, relatable tale of love found in unexpected places. The two truly are opposites who discover in each other the complementary qualities each seeks for fulfillment. They find true comfort and companionship in each other. They acknowledge each other's imperfections and past mistakes, yet nevertheless choose to love and respect each other. Both grow in experience and wisdom throughout the narrative and at the end, they are able to live interdependently while at the same time retaining their identities as independent individuals. Without doubt, these three realistic qualities of Jane's and Rochester's relationship are what give Jane Eyre its emotional impact and lasting relevance.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Signet Classic, 1960.