Late Thoughts on Past Reading: Would Rochester Have Married Jane Eyre If…

So I often wake up in the middle up the night stricken, and I see something I’ve read in a brand new light, or a new question arises way too late to mention on this blog or in a knee-jerk review.

So the long and short of it is this: I went on facebook the other day and asked the following question: “would Rochester have married Jane if he did not experience his downfall/suffered for his sins?”

Immediately, I received a reply from an artist friend of mine, the fantastic, awe-inspiring and admiration-worthy Dusty Divine:

“If I recall correctly, and it has been a while so I may be wrong, the only reason he did not marry her before his downfall was due to his existing marriage vows. Essentially choosing propriety and a sense of duty over love/happiness. I feel that his fall, while it freed him from his monsterwife, was less about him and his desire to marry her, and more a way to show her character and the depth of her love, since she was still willing to marry him despite his broken state.” He said.

But I was nonplussed. “Right,” I replied, “but let’s just say that he (himself) was kept relatively intact and his wife, Bertha, still committed suicide and burned the house down. He previously swayed between kind and cruel with Jane, was it the tremendous lowness that allowed him to view Jane as an “equal” (at the very least, equal enough to marry DESPITE her newly-given fortune)? Or, that is, equal enough to marry.

His response was quick and thoughtful. “The way I have always seen it, ans it may be a “softer” view on things, is that his course/cruel treating of others, and especially Jane was a construct he had built up as a self defense. He knew that in the end he could not marry anyone he might fall in love with, so he pushed people away by making himself an undesirable asshole. Even more so to anyone who he truly respected/loved. I think that where the swings come from. Over time he softens to her because he has genuine feelings, then he catches himself and puts up those walls stronger then ever. Thus the cycle of of kind and cruel.”

“Ha, yeah. I guess I wonder how much of himself he really needed to “destroy” in order to open up to Jane, if it needed to go as far as disfigurement and if, had he not been disfigured, he would have proposed to her at all and not Blanche, who he straightforwardly told Jane he planned to marry earlier in the book just to make her jealous.┬áIn other words, he’s too much of a self-loathing, classist jerk when he’s physically and emotionally young to marry her, then so down on himself and/or depressed at the end that he offers marriage to Jane freely, not because he loved her with all of his heart but because some voice deep within who previously (BEWARE: perspective assumption) saw as beneath him and treated her thusly said ‘it’s okay now.'”

However, his assessment was more kind than my own: “I must say I’m about at my limit in terms of remembering the finer points of the story, but I always got the sense that Blanche represented the sort of woman that was more similar to his wife, in that most she was pretty but shallow, and that due to his past he no longer had any interest in that kind of woman the fact that in the current society that was the perfect kind of woman for a man in his position. Since he didn’t have any real affection for her, this made her easier for him to marry, knowing that if his secret wife was every discovered it would greatly hurt the woman he married, and so he must marry someone he has no feelings for. However he then couldn’t go through with that in the end, but I feel that was part of the considerations earlier on. Though there was still a level of social pressure affecting his inability to mix with lower classes as well, I think that class was more of a sticking point than any sort of feminist male/female equality or respect. I feel that very early on he gains a respect for her which is the ultimate reason he falls for her.”

What do you think? Given the historical context and presumptions of the time, what would Lord Rochester have done?