Meet Edward Rochester
"[S]ince happiness is irrevocably denied me, I
have a right to get pleasure out of life: and I will get it, cost what it may."
This declaration in Chapter XIV of Jane
Eyre shows what has motivated Edward Fairfax Rochester through much of his life. Married off by his family to
a woman who has become a nearly unbearable burden, the master of Thornfield Hall has roamed the continent, seeking
what she could not provide him.
It is this temperamental sinner who brusquely
welcomes Jane to Thornfield ... and who feels, in her presence, a sudden chance at redemption.
Mr. Rochester makes a strong physical impression, as reported by
Jane at their first meeting [Chapter XII]:
"I traced the general points of middle height
and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered
eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might
While most acquaintances may never get beyond his
dark sternness, Jane comes to know him well enough to sense more within him [Chapter XIV]:
[H]e had great, dark eyes, and very fine eyes,
too — not without a certain change in their depths sometimes, which, if it was not softness, reminded you, at
least, of that feeling.
KIND HEART, HARSH
As an heir and master of Thornfield Hall, Rochester
is accustomed to using money to get his way. Jane notices, though, that he treats her better than a simple employee
[Rochester] "What! you are my paid subordinate,
are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary ground, will you agree to let me hector a
[Jane] "No, sir, not on that ground; but, on
the ground that you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I
However, when Jane, in the same passage, opines
that "[N]othing free-born would submit to [insolence], even for a salary," Rochester scolds her from his
viewpoint as a man of the world:
"Humbug! Most things free-born will submit to
anything for a salary; therefore, keep to yourself, and don't venture on generalities of which you are intensely
In like manner, Rochester does not mince words when
describing people who have opposed or ill-treated him, such as the lover of his French paramour Celine
"[A] brainless and vicious youth whom I had
sometimes met in society, and had never thought of hating because I despised him so
To her credit, Jane doesn't overlook his mean streak, though she acknowledges it
has a likely cause [Chapter XV]:
[G]ratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face
the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not
forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. ... I believed that his
moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of
them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate.
Later in that chapter, fearsome circumstance (a bed
set afire) brings them together, and Rochester lets his feelings for Jane begin to slip out:
"You have saved my life: I have a pleasure in
owing you so immense a debt. I cannot say more. Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the
character of creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different; — I feel your benefits no burden, Jane."
... "I knew," he continued, "you would do me good in some way, at some time; — I saw it in your eyes when I first
beheld you: their expression and smile did not" — (again he stopped) — "did not" (he proceeded hastily) "strike
delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing."
Reflecting on those events in the next chapter,
Jane starts to explore her romantic chances with Rochester. Speaking with Jane about Blanche Ingram, Mrs. Fairfax
unwittingly discourages this pursuit:
[Fairfax] "But you see there is a considerable
difference in age: Mr. Rochester is nearly forty; she is but twenty-five."
[Jane] "What of that? More unequal matches are
made every day."
[Fairfax] "True: yet I should scarcely fancy
Mr. Rochester would entertain an idea of the sort."
Later, even when Jane convinces herself that it would be illogical for Rochester
to marry Blanche, she feels her own naivete must be preventing her from comprehending society's views on love and
marriage [Chapter XVIII]:
It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom
only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband's own happiness offered
by this plan convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant:
otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act.
Rochester makes his feelings plainer (though still not plain) in his role as the
gypsy in Chapter XIX. Before revealing his true identity to Jane, he observes:
"If you knew it, you are peculiarly situated: very near happiness; yes,
within reach of it."
Just as in grammar school, you can tell two people may be "in like" if you see
them teasing each other. A charming example from Chapter XXI, as Jane is preparing to answer Mrs. Reed's
"I wish I had only offered you a sovereign instead of ten pounds. Give me
back nine pounds, Jane; I've a use for it."
"And so have I, sir," I returned, putting my hands and my purse behind me. "I
could not spare the money on any account."
"Little niggard!" said he, "refusing me a pecuniary request! Give me five
"Not five shillings, sir; nor five pence."
"Just let me look at the cash."
"No, sir; you are not to be trusted."
(Inclusion of this scene, with the proper playfulness by both characters, is a
high point of some of the Jane Eyre movies.)
Rochester's warmth toward Jane continues in Chapter XXIII, as she
[H]e smiled at me with a certain smile he had of his own, and which he used
but on rare occasions. He seemed to think it too good for common purposes: it was the real sunshine of feeling — he
shed it over me now.
Despite these signs of affection, Jane still believes that Rochester cannot
possibly feel for her as she does for him, and that he will marry Blanche. Hence her incredulity when he proposes
to her in Chapter XXIII:
"Do you doubt me, Jane?"
"You have no faith in me?"
"Not a whit."
TERRIBLE TALES, A RUSHED PARTING
In Chapter XXVI, after the wedding has been ruined, Jane discovers the awful
secret that Rochester has kept. While the reader may have formed a low opinion of Rochester's conduct up until now,
it's hard not to sympathize with him as Jane narrates his encounter with the attic creature:
"Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know — such are the
endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have" (laying his hand on
my shoulder): "this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the
gambols of a demon ...."
When, in the following chapter, he tells her of his West Indies misadventures,
she expresses pity for him. He hopes this feeling will translate into something more affectionate:
"Your pity, my darling, is the suffering mother of love: its anguish is the
very natal pang of the divine passion. I accept it, Jane; let the daughter have free advent — my arms wait to
As his tale moves on to his European rovings, though, she sees him in a different
"Jane, I see by your face you are not forming a very favourable opinion of me
just now. You think me an unfeeling, loose-principled rake: don't you?"
"I don't like you so well as I have done sometimes, indeed,
Although she disdains some of his earlier behaviors, as well as his insistence
that they stay together, Jane continues to idealize Rochester. Following her sudden departure from Thornfield,
while she endures many difficult days, thoughts of him keep her spirits from flickering out [Chapter
Why do I struggle to retain a valueless life? Because I know, or believe, Mr.
Rochester is living: and then, to die of want and cold is a fate to which nature cannot submit passively. Oh,
Providence! sustain me a little longer!
REUNION AT LAST
During her sojourn with the Rivers family, Jane must accustom herself to a wholly
new situation, and quite a few chapters pass with no mention of her former master. Lest we think he is gone from
her thoughts, she informs us otherwise [Chapter XXXIV]:
Perhaps you think I had forgotten Mr. Rochester, reader, amidst these changes
of place and fortune. Not for a moment.
And yet, while he lives in her thoughts, she cannot imagine them being joined in
any other way. Later in that chapter, she dismisses any possibility of a reunion:
In leaving England, I should leave a loved but empty land — Mr. Rochester is
not there; and if he were, what is, what can that ever be to me? My business is to live without him now: nothing so
absurd, so weak as to drag on from day to day, as if I were waiting some impossible change in circumstances, which
might reunite me to him.
When, their souls having called out to each other across a great distance, Jane
and Rochester are together once again, she revels in the ease of their communion, perhaps in contrast to her
feelings about St. John [Chapter XXXVII]:
There was no harassing restraint, no repressing of glee and vivacity with
him; for with him I was at perfect ease, because I knew I suited him; all I said or did seemed either to console or
Meanwhile, Rochester starkly depicts his time without her:
"Doing nothing, expecting nothing; merging night in day; feeling but the
sensation of cold when I let the fire go out, of hunger when I forgot to eat: and then a ceaseless sorrow, and, at
times, a very delirium of desire to behold my Jane again. Yes: for her restoration I longed, far more than for that
of my lost sight."
I will conclude with a statement that echoes Rochester's earlier declaration,
after Jane saved him from his flaming bed, that "Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in
the character of creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different ...." Now, as the story nears its
end [still in Chapter XXXVII], Rochester again describes the unique place Jane has in his heart, along with his
willingness to drop his former stiff-necked pride:
"Hitherto I have hated to be helped — to be led: henceforth, I feel I shall
hate it no more. I did not like to put my hand into a hireling's, but it is pleasant to feel it circled by Jane's
little fingers. I preferred utter loneliness to the constant attendance of servants; but Jane's soft ministry will
be a perpetual joy."
And it was.