I blame Lord Byron

Now here’s a comparison I didn’t come up with, but probably should have. The Byronic hero as Sexy Douchecanoe:

Rochester is rich and arrogant and moody as hell, and he has peculiar ideas on how to court a woman, including disguising himself as a gypsy to try and uncover Jane’s secret feelings towards him, while also attempting to incite jealousy by lying to Jane about his supposed engagement with Blanche Ingram. He’s very secretive, too, as people tend to be when they’ve indefinitely imprisoned their mad wives upstairs in the attic.

Reading Jane Eyre wasn’t actually a tortuous affair, mostly because I rather liked Jane and, to my surprise, found that she displayed a surprising amount of power and agency in their relationship, despite the inequality of their social positions. (It also helps that Rochester is not quite as terrible to Jane on a day-to-day basis as some of the other men I’ll discuss today.) Yet I was still quite happy to see that, despite loving him, Jane leaves Mr. Rochester after finding out about Bertha, showing a welcome amount of self-respect that, unfortunately, goes by the wayside when she returns to our brooding hero at the end of the story. Rather conveniently, poor Bertha has died in Jane’s absence; meanwhile, according to every analysis I’ve ever read, Rochester is wholly redeemed of his faults and deeds when, during a fire, he loses his sight and one hand saving his servants’ lives, something that might mean more to me if his servants had been the people he’d wronged in the first place. Rochester does absolutely nothing to atone to Jane for how he treated her, and thus I find myself completely unmoved by their supposedly happy ending. He has done nothing to deserve her love, loyalty, or care.

Moving out on the “Worse than Rochester” axis, we find Maxim de Winter of Rebecca:

This novel was definitely a challenge to read, what with the way I had to keep taking breaks to hit my head against a desk as the second Mrs. de Winter trembles and quavers and continuously obsesses over whether her husband is still in love with his dead wife. I understand that Maxim saved our unnamed narrator from a lousy living situation with her former employer and all, but her complete lack of self-esteem and refusal to stand up for herself is just maddening. Still, you’d like to think if something will clue you into the fact that your husband doesn’t deserve you, it’s finding out that he shot and killed his first wife.

It’s almost enough to make you want to set fire to Manderley.





4 comments

  1. McGehee »

    21 February 2016 · 11:02 am

    Some novels are about man’s inhumanity to man (or woman). Others eliminate the middleman.

  2. fillyjonk »

    21 February 2016 · 12:15 pm

    There are a lot of books – Jane Eyre is one – that seem to appeal to the more gothically-minded teen (I liked it at 14) but, hopefully, once a bit of maturity sets in, the person finds, upon re-reading, that the characters really aren’t that wonderful. (Me re-reading Jane Eyre in my 20s).

    Trying to read Wuthering Heights at 30-something was an effort. I did it, because Book Club, but I would say that Heathcliff is perhaps “worse than Rochester.”

    I would suggest that Catcher in the Rye is a more-modern example of a book that many teens like but that causes adults to sigh in frustration because of the main character. (“The world is FULL of phonies, Holden, you just learn to deal with it.”)

  3. McGehee »

    21 February 2016 · 3:05 pm

    Define “many teens.” I was forced to start reading Catcher in high school & don’t remember any of my classmates liking it. I sure didn’t.

    Then again it was, at the time, an all-boys school.

  4. fillyjonk »

    21 February 2016 · 5:32 pm

    I dunno. Some of my (female) friends seemed to like Holden. I remember liking the book at 16, not so much when I read it a few years later.

    Then again, when I read CITR for English class, it was the year after we did intensive study of Greek plays and texts (and The Aeneid – all in translation of course) so it may have benefited by being simple-by-comparison.

    That said, as an adult, I think The Iliad is a better story.

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