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Edward Rochester has many disappointing relationships. Some aspects are out of his control, like Bertha s insanity, but nothing the man does seems to help his case along. He is bitter and alone and succeeds best at pushing people away.
Edward and Bertha Rochester s union results from a typical marriage arrangement between families in Victorian England. Rochester s father left all of his land to his older son, Rowland, as was typical among the upper and middle classes in England. England had long been practicing primogeniture, wherein the oldest son inherits both the land and money of an estate. In the upper and middle classes, property and wealth were usually left to the eldest son in order to preserve the family line. Rochester s father had to ensure that Rochester was provided for, but Rochester says that he could not bear the idea of dividing his estate and leaving me a fair portion (p. 332, ch. 27). Instead Rochester s father did what was commonplace among the upper class in regard to younger sons: arrange a marriage or join the clergy. In Rochester s case, a profitable marriage was arranged.
In securing a marriage to Bertha Mason, Rochester s father provided his son with a fortune and the Mason s in return received a rise in social standing. Rochester met his bride and was dazzled, stimulated: my senses were excited I thought I loved her (p. 332, ch. 27). Bertha s family wished to secure [Rochester], because, [he] was of a good race (ibid.). In exchange, Rochester would receive Bertha s dowry of thirty thousand pounds. This was a very typical situation; Bertha s family made their fortune in trade, which was not considered respectable in upper class society, and they wanted to belong to one of the upper echelons of English society. Rochester, although he had a good name, needed money to survive. Rowland died while Rochester was married to Bertha, leaving Edward with his fortune and estates because Rowland had no sons to entrust his estate. Nonetheless, Rochester found himself in a predicament, which he cannot extract himself from.
It would have been very difficult and expensive for Rochester to get a divorce in the Victorian period. In addition to this, Rochester married Bertha before she was insane, which was the grounds he would have used had he attempted divorce proceedings. So it was not possible for a divorce to be granted, as Bertha became insane after they were married. When Rochester informs Jane of his past with Bertha, he is rather callous and cruel in describing his feelings for his wife. He refers to Bertha as a hideous demon a filthy burden a maniac (p. 336, ch. 27). He no longer considers her to be a person.
Yet with the knowledge that he has a failed, hellish marriage, Rochester proceeds to court Blanche Ingram (or at least so it appears), whom he describes as a fine woman tall, dark, and majestic (p. 332, ch. 27). Blanche is in somewhat of the same predicament that Rochester was in before he married Bertha. She is of the nobility, while Rochester is at the upper end of the middle class. Blanche needs to marry for money and is willing to marry beneath her in exchange for Rochester s rise in society. He does not appear to care for Blanche, yet he uses her to tease Jane. In fact he seems to be very cold towards Miss Ingram, evading her probing questions about his wealth. This is best exemplified by Rochester s trick on his guests, when he dresses like a gypsy, and tells them their fortunes. Rochester, as the gypsy, informs Jane he is aware that Blanche seeks a different type of fortune, namely his.
Rochester uses the gypsy disguise as a test, and it proves to Rochester how superficial Blanche is. Blanche comes out from her reading quite upset by what the gypsy has told her, she had obviously not heard anything to her advantage (p. 223, ch. 18). Once Rochester starts the rumor that his fortune is not nearly as large as people had been led to believe, the Ingrams are suddenly no longer interested in Rochester courting Blanche. Perhaps Rochester sees himself in Blanche, for she must marry for money as well. Jane is happy when Rochester tells her that he does not love Blanche, but she is disturbed by the way Rochester exploited Blanche s feelings in order to determine the nature of Jane s. While Jane chastises Rochester for his treatment of Blanche, she has hardly anything to say about the more serious injustices that he inflicted on Bertha.
Rochester is an outsider. While he is of the upper middle class, he also detached from his position because of his life experiences. He has seen the corruption and unhappiness that has grown out off his playing the part of the dutiful, younger son. Rochester has met someone whom he thinks he will be happy with, Jane Eyre, only to have that chance at happiness destroyed by Bertha s brother. Society and his role in it disillusion Rochester. He hints at contempt for the system while at the same time maintaining proper etiquette.
Jane is also an outsider, though not necessarily by choice. From the time that she is born, she is looked down upon with hatred and has been forced to stand up to bullies. By belonging to the low end of the societal totem pole, society pays her no mind. She has endured upper class scorn, starting with the Reeds, and throughout her education at Lowood, so much so she feels almost insignificant when she finally reaches Thornfield Hall. At Thornfield she feels like she belongs until Rochester brings guest back to the house and insists that Jane remain in the room with them. She is continually insulted by the Ingrams. They assume she is too stupid to play any sort of game and pretend to only see her if they hard enough in her direction. Blanche, in particular, treats her in a condescending manner. Does that person want you? she inquired of Mr. Rochester, (p. 251, ch. 21) referring, of course, to Jane. Blanche goes out of her way to make Jane feel inferior in front of everyone, including Rochester. Blanche knows Jane is Adele s governess and yet refuses to acknowledge her existence.
Once Jane meets Rochester, she begins to think that maybe she is not so unimportant, that, in fact, she and Rochester are actually equals. After returning from Gateshead after Mrs. Reed s death, Jane accuses Rochester of playing games with her because she is socially inferior, but stands her ground in her belief that they are equal. At first, Rochester appears to believe that they are equal: My bride is here because my equal is here, and my likeness (p. 282, ch. 23). However, he soon proves to Jane that he really does not think that way. He tries to buy her jewels, satins, and silks and starts to describe her as blooming, and smiling, and pretty and fairy-like (p. 286-7, ch. 24). During their engagement, Rochester treats her as if she was now his possession, which granted, is how wives were seen in that day and age, but totally contrary to how Jane wished to be treated. Jane has nothing to call her own, but she resents Rochester acting as if she is now a doll for him to play with.
Mrs. Fairfax provides an example of the double standard of the social class in regard to governesses. When Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall Mrs. Fairfax greets her and is thrilled to have a companion because she (Mrs. Fairfax) can t fraternize with the servants as they are beneath her. Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Fairfax does not think it is proper for Jane to marry Rochester, and when informed that they do intend to wed, tells Jane that gentlemen in [Rochester s] station are not accustomed to marry their governesses (p. 284, ch. 24). While Jane is thinking of intellectual and emotional equality, Mrs. Fairfax is thinking more along social lines. When Jane tells her it does not matter, Mrs. Fairfax alludes to a secret, something that might happen unexpectedly, so Jane should be on her guard. Mrs. Fairfax might not know the entire story concerning Bertha and Rochester but she is aware that something is going on and is trying to protect Jane from disappointment.
It is precisely because Jane is so different from Blanche Ingram and Bertha Mason that Rochester is attracted to her. Unlike demonic, insane Bertha or socially acceptable, condescending Blanche, Jane is fresh and new, not shackled by societal dictates. Rochester can love Jane for herself, not because of duty to his family or thought of a dowry, but simply for her. After Rochester leads everyone to see Bertha, he tells them that Bertha was why he wanted to marry Jane: And this is what I wished to have I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout (p. 322, ch. 26). Jane, in return, loves Rochester because she believes they share a profound sympathy of mind and spirit (p. 303, ch. 24).
It is very convenient that Jane inherits from her uncle and discovers she is in fact from a family of wealth and respectability. With her inheritance of five thousand pounds, Jane is now an heiress and is independent, having no need for a man now. The fact that she no longer needs Rochester means that she can go to him freely, with no restrictions. And due to the convenient fire that killed Bertha and left Rochester crippled, he too can marry freely. His infirmities and her inheritance seem to bridge a gap made by society s rules and conventions between the classes. When Jane does find Rochester, he no longer can treat her as something to own, but now must accept her for who she is. He does so and is happy just to have her with him. It would have been easy for Jane to enter society now with her respectability and money, however, she chooses to retreat instead with Rochester and lead a peaceful life at Ferndean. It would seem that Ferndean is the one place with no skeletons, and a place where Jane and Rochester can live equally and in peace with each other.
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