Marriage and Fiction: Reader, I married him…
The Last chapter of Jane Eyre begins with these four words, “Reader, I married him.” As if with marriage the narrator wished to close the story, which started when Jane was a ten-year old orphan living unhappily with her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed, and spiteful cousins; Georgina, Eliza, and John. She later went through the deprivations and severity of Lowood boarding school for poor girls, run by the dreadful Mr. Brocklehurst, where she trained, and later worked as a teacher. When she was eighteen, she applied for a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she met and fell in love with Mr. Rochester, who almost dishonoured her by preparing a bigamous marriage. He was already legally married to Bertha Mason, whom he had imprisoned in his attic. Bertha committed suicide, and Jane and Rochester were finally able to celebrate a lawful wedding, in the final chapter of the novel.
It was a Victorian convention to end novels in this way, indicating that virtue led to the stability and happiness which marriage represented. The problem here is that Mr. Rochester was neither virtuous nor stable, and every reader is aware of that. Whether you believe that this was the end of the story of Jane Eyre is, of course, up to the reader. This is what the narrator, Jane Eyre, a romantic and innocent twenty-year-old, thought would happen. But how reliable a narrator is Jane, the young, naïve woman who is blindly in love with Edward Rochester?
Readers have seen Edward Rochester through Jane Eyre’s eyes. She loved him in spite of his lies, and there were many of them. Rochester always denied being Adele’s father, and he insisted that he was unmarried, even in a church, as Richard Mason accused him of being betrothed to his sister. He blames everyone else for his problems; his father, his brother, Richard Mason, his first wife, and he even accuses Jane of bewitching him into loving her. Rochester is innocent in his own eyes, and he convinces Jane of his guiltlessness; this does not necessarily mean he convinces the reader. Readers make their own decisions.
Rochester is bad-tempered, conceited, and aggressive. He tries to humiliate Jane when she first arrives at Thornfield, and teases her mercilessly with Blanche Ingram, and his other guests. He reminds her constantly that she is not attractive, “You—poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are.” (Chapter XXIII) He even threatens Jane with these words, “Jane, I am not a gentle-tempered man—you forget that: I am not long-enduring; I am not cool and dispassionate. Out of pity to me and yourself, put your finger on my pulse, feel how it throbs, and—beware!” As a result of his violence she is forced to ask for God’s help, “I did what human beings do instinctively when they are driven to utter extremity—looked for aid to one higher than man: the words “God help me!” burst involuntarily from my lips.” (Chapter XXVII)
Jane does not finally tame him. He is rendered physically passive, after the accident due to partial blindness and a stumped arm, and emotionally sunk, because he has lost the two women who were sustaining his vanity and ego. When Jane finally returns, he recovers his physical and emotional strength, because he is now someone’s unconditional “master” once more. The question is: how long will Jane be able to continue with the idyllic life she imagines she will lead for the rest of her days? Is marriage the end of a story, or the beginning of another, greater adventure?
We can ask ourselves some questions in order to foresee how their relationship may well develop: Will Jane be content to spend the rest of her life as a recluse at Ferdean? Will Rochester be content to do the same after he recovers his sight and his health? What will happen once they have a family? Will Rochester relinquish his central role in her life in favour of a child or children? Are they really well suited? Do they have the same outlook on life? Does he have any consideration for his servants? Orphans? People in difficulty? Has he any religious beliefs, as she does? Does she like hunting and inconsequential social gatherings? Their conversation was lively while they were flirting, but now the conquest has been made and mundane daily matters will take over, how will “sir” react? How will the gentry of the area take to Jane? There is a large age-difference between them, what will happen when Rochester ages or dies and she is still relatively young?
Jane is the narrator and protagonist of Jane Eyre, but the novel ends when she is still a very young woman who has a whole life ahead of her. Jane Eyre is one of the greatest characters in literary history; her life cannot end with marriage to an egotistical, dishonest, and idle member of the Victorian gentry. I wanted more. Jane Eyre, the impressionable young bride, deserves a life of her own, so I imagined Jane Eyre Rochester, the woman, and wrote her story, twenty-two years after her marriage to Edward Rochester, in All Hallows at Eyre Hall, because marriage is not the end of a fictional life; it is the beginning of another novel.
Can you think of any other ‘unfinished’ novels ending in marriages, which need to be continued?