Table of Contents
2. The Victorian Era
2.1 Profession and Status of a Governess
2.2 Social Conventions and Courtship
2.3 Concepts of Love
3. Character Portraits
3.1 Jane Eyre
3.2 Edward Fairfax Rochester
4. The Relationship between Jane and Rochester
The relationship between Jane Eyre and Edward Fairfax Rochester plays a major part in the novel of Jane Eyre, as Rochester turns out to be the love of Jane's life. At first she finds him rather impolite and cold-hearted, but soon they become kindred souls. When Rochester tries to secure her in a bigamous marriage, he forces Jane to leave him. While Rochester falls victim to his wife, Jane becomes an independent heiress. When in the end they are reunited, the power structure of their relationship has been inverted. Rochester has to learn to depend on Jane, who in the meantime had to realize that she can only truly be happy living with her master.
The story of Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester has often been read as a model for the genre of romance. There are two lovers who must overcome certain obstacles to be reunited in the end and live happily ever after. Such a genuine romance is the product of two lovers who both choose their partner by their own free will. They choose to be with one another because of their feelings for each other and not for other reasons like money, social status or just mere passion. But Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester couldn't be more different regarding their financial situations and social backgrounds. What is more, there is a big difference in their age and also in their intentions. For these reasons I wish to challenge the assumption that this is a genuine romance.
To begin, I want to take a look at the social background of the time Charlotte Brontë wrote the novel. My aim is to point out how the profession and status of a governess at that time looked like to illustrate the class differences between Jane and Rochester and the social conventions of the Victorian era concerning courtship and marriage. Moreover, I want to distinguish between different concepts of love. In the next step, I want to sketch short pictures of the two characters, Jane and Rochester, concerning their attitudes towards life and relationships with the aim of exposing the difference in their social backgrounds and motives. But the main focus of my term paper lies in the analysis of the love story between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. By reference to different scenes, I will demonstrate how severe the differences between these two characters actually are. Eventually, I will try to give an answer to the question whether the love story between Jane and Rochester can be considered a 'genuine romance', that is whether it can be read as a love story based on equally free decisions.
2.) The Victorian Era
2.1) Profession and Status of a Governess
The governess was a profession created by the social alterations caused by the industrial revolution. Although she was hired as a status symbol by new middle-class families to teach their children, a governess was in fact little more than a domestic, working long hours for almost no money. Charlotte Brontë felt that "a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil". Jane is painfully aware of her poor circumstances and the tremendous improvement a situation as a governess would be over her position at Lowood, a step that doubles her salary and raises her social rank considerably. Jane also knows that her new position makes her very dependent on Mr. Rochester, but that she also has the choice to leave Thornfield whenever she likes and advertise again.
2.2) Social Conventions and Courtship
During the Victorian era it was usually the man who had to court the lady into marriage. Parents often regarded their girls as expensive, because they could not work in a profession due to social conventions and could thus not contribute to the family wealth. It was therefore often the aim of the father to dispose of the girls into marriage as soon as possible. Young women were financially secured when they found gentlemen that would pay for their living. Women were thus very dependent on men and also often married older men who were not averse to marry young women.
2.3) Concepts of Love
I want to differentiate between three very different kinds of love affairs. At first, there is love for mere passion, just to answer the temptation. A second type of love affair is marriage with the purpose to achieve better living conditions concerning money and social status. Last but not least, there is eternal love. That is when two lovers truly love each other with all their heart. These concepts are important to remember when analysing the love relationship between two characters.
3.) Character Portraits
3.1) Jane Eyre
An orphan since early childhood, Jane feels exiled as a young girl. Afraid that she will never find a place she can call home, Jane feels the need to belong somewhere. This desire finds balance in her equally intense need for autonomy and freedom. Jane is virtuous and reasonable but also very emotional which shows in her thoughts and even more in her art. During her years at Lowood, Jane acquires the manners, sophistication, and education of an aristocrat while staying poor and lonely. As a governess she finds a position at Thornfield. Jane learns the meaning of class differences as soon as she notices her rising feelings for her employer, Edward Rochester. Though in manners and countenance, they are socially equal, she is also his servant, and thus she cannot believe that he could ever fall in love with her. Her intention to find a husband is most notably her desire to find a 'kindred spirit' and a home, which she believes to find in Rochester and Thornfield Hall. Uncommon for the Victorian era, Jane seeks a relationship in which both partners do respect and treat each other as equals.
3.2) Edward Fairfax Rochester
Rochester is the landlord of Thornfield. He has a stern manner and is not particularly handsome. In addition, Rochester shuns Thornfield as a place, where he will never be happy, especially without an appropriate partner. He was tricked into marrying a lunatic to secure a dowry of 30.000 pounds. He imprisoned his wife, Bertha Mason, and holds her a secret to preserve his reputation. He also tells Jane that he had several mistresses around Europe, but those affairs never made him happy for long. That's why he still tries to find a wife that does meet his expectations. He invites the Ingrams for this purpose, but they are no longer interested in him when he pretends, he were not rich. Only then, does he show real interest in Jane, his governess and servant. And although Jane is socially and economically inferior to him, and although men were widely considered to be naturally superior to women in the Victorian era, Rochester finds Jane intellectually equal to himself. But as it comes to light that Rochester had already been married to Bertha Mason, it also become obvious that Jane is his moral superior.
4.) The Relationship between Jane and Rochester
When Jane returns to Thornfield from her visit to Gateshead, it becomes quite obvious that Rochester had missed and awaited her presence. In a “splendid midsummer” night they meet each other in the orchard. Rochester tells Jane that he is to marry Blanche Ingram and has found her a new position with a lady in Ireland (220f.). By making her suffer, he compels her to express her feelings for him. Jane believes her deepest fears to become reality and that her new home and employer, whom she loves, will be taken away from her. She had thought that Rochester might be her 'kindred spirit' and that he might feel the same, but now Rochester threatens to dismiss her. "The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway, and asserting a right to predominate, to overcome to live, rise, and reign at last: yes, – and to speak" (222). Rochester's conscious manipulation coerces Jane into blurting out her feelings. By pursuing this strategy, Rochester tries to make Jane believe that she would be the one who would suffer from their separation and not the other way around. Only after threatening her with eternal separation he offers marriage to her. In acting this way, he plays on the fact of being her master, the one in charge of the situation. He does not really leave her any decision not to marry him. Jane is rather caught off-guard by this sudden change of heart. Thus, she seeks evidence for his earnestness and asks to "read" his countenance (224). Rochester is afraid she might find out his true intentions for marriage and bids her to get it done with: "You will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page. Read on: only make haste, for I suffer" (224). Blinded by Rochester's manipulation and fearing separation, Jane misses to read between the lines and to further enquire the reasons for his sudden change of heart. Instead, she believes her dreams to come true while unconsciously falling into his trap. Later, when Rochester acquaints Adèle with the fairy tale of his romance with Jane, the little girl turns out to be a much less gullible listener than her governess. When he tells her that he would “take mademoiselle to the moon,” Adèle is rather doubting: "there is no road to the moon: it is all air; and neither you nor she can fly" (234f.). Jane is soon to discover how right Adèle's reasonable objection is that there are no roads to the moon or in other words that reality is not a fairy tale.
Furthermore, there is a big difference in age between Jane and Rochester. Mrs. Fairfax actually believes that it was a mere dream that Rochester informed her about his upcoming marriage, and asks Jane not to laugh about her enquiry: “Now, can you tell me whether it is actually true that Mr. Rochester has asked you to marry him? Don't laugh at me. But I really thought he came in here five minutes ago, and said, that in a month you would be his wife” (232). In the following discourse, she gives tongue to her disbelief, recalling that “he [...] has always been called careful” (232f.). Finally convinced of the proposal, she points out that “there are twenty years of difference in your ages. He might almost be your father” (233). Rochester informs Jane: “Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don't wish to treat you like an inferior: that is (correcting himself), I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience” (116). He obviously believes that through the difference in age he does deserve a dominant role in their relationship, putting Jane into the role of the housewife or his mere mistress. This becomes most obvious, when Rochester solemnly declares that Jane is to become “young Mrs Rochester – Fairfax Rochester's girl-bride” (227).
 Clement Shorter (ed.), The Bront ës Life and Letters, 2 vols., London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1908, 1:159.