This post is part of this year’s April Challenge to write a post a day. I’ve chosen to write about my greatest literary passion: Jane Eyre. Today it’s all about Jane Eyre’s Husband. Edward Rochester himself will tell us all about his life. This is Edward Rochester’s autobiography.
My name is Edward Fairfax Rochester. My honourable surname, dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. It’s etymology is related to a fortress, ‘chester’ meaning Roman fort in Old English. My family has lived in Yorkshire since the 12th century. My surname was briefly changed to ‘de Rochester’ after the Conquest, which was probably when my ancestor moved from Kent, where there were too many Norman invaders, to Yorkshire.
My first famous ancestor was Damer de Rochester, a brave soldier who had been struck by a cannon ball on Marston Moor in 1642, fighting for the Parliamentarians against the Royalists. My father used to say that was why King George, whom he considered a vengeful man, had denied my grandfather a Peerdom.
My mother’s surname is also of ancient Anglo-Saxon origins. In this case, the Fairfax were landed gentry who have always lived in Yorkshire. My mother’s older brother, retained all the land, as was customary. Her father remarried, when his wife died, and her younger step-brother, was later disowned and became a clergyman. My mother was rather fond of her little brother, so she insisted my father should employ him as vicar at Hay church, and when he died, his wife, Mrs. Fairfax, was employed as our housekeeper.
Mrs. Fairfax was a good woman who knew her place and never boasted of her husband’s relationship with the landowning Fairfax family. My parents cut off their relationship with the Fairfax shortly after they married. My mother’s family considered the Rochesters too fierce and warlike. I’ll admit, my father was never a patient man, much like myself, but he was an honourable Rochester.
Our house, Thornfield Hall, and the nearby church, was built by my ancestors in the 12th century, shortly after moving to Yorkshire. Additions were made in the 13th and the 17th centuries.
The Hay district church stood just beyond the gates of Thornfield Hall. It was a small village place of worship, which was erected, when the original house was built in the 12th century. My grandfather renovated the older derelict building. It was the church where my grandparents were buried, where my parents married and were buried, and where my brother, Roland, was buried, too, in the family vault at the front of the altar. It was the same altar where I had stood as Jane’s groom, twice. It is where we christened our son, too. My unfortunate first wife, Bertha Mason, was buried anonymously in the graveyard.
This quiet, secluded place of worship, which would also be my last resting place, had been Roman Catholic before Henry VIII’s ecclesiastical reform, and although we had become Anglicans, not wanting to vex the King, there are still many reminders of our ancient religion, both in the church and in our minds.
I once confessed to Jane that I had brought Adele over from France when her mother died on the Roman Catholic principle of expiating numerous sins, great or small, by one good work. Adele was my expiation, and she was the person who brought Jane to me, so perhaps we shouldn’t have swapped our ancient beliefs so easily. In any case, officially, I’m an Anglican.
I was the spare, the second son, who would not inherit my ancestor’s lands. I hated being second best to my brother, simply because he had been born first. He was a whining, fair-haired and sickly Fairfax, like my mother. I was my father, and grandfather’s living image. I was the Rochester, but my brother, Rowland Rochester was destined to inherit what was mine. I realized I would always be the aimless and unlikely replacement to my brother, and behaved recklessly in my youth.
My father and my brother schemed to get me as far away as possible, out of the country, to be rid of the troublesome young man I had become. So, my father provided me with a wealthy marriage. He had an old acquaintance, Mr. Mason, a West India planter and merchant, whose possessions were vast. Mason had a son, Richard and a daughter, Bertha Antoinette. He offered thirty thousand pounds as dowry for his daughter, and my father signed the deal. I left college and was sent out to Jamaica, to espouse a bride already courted for me. My father told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish Town for her beauty, and this was no lie. She was a beautiful woman, tall, dark, and majestic, and I was suitably dazzled. Her family wished to secure me because I was of a good race, but they did not tell me the truth until it was too late.
Miss Mason was Mr. Mason’s step-daughter. She was a creole, like her mother, his first wife, who was shut up in a lunatic asylum, and there was a younger brother, who was a dumb idiot. I soon learned her splendid dresses, and demure glances were a farce, because she had been familiar with other men on the island. I had been tricked to marring her.
I found her nature wholly alien to mine, her tastes obnoxious to me, her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and singularly incapable of being led to anything higher. In short, she had a pigmy mind. I found that I could not pass a single evening, nor even a single hour of the day with her. Soon she showed me her outbreaks of violent and unreasonable temper.
I lived with that monster for four years, on that infernal island, until I received news that both my father and my brother had died, and the Rochester Estate was mine, at last. I brought her back with me. Her brother insisted and what could I do? He reminded me of the dowry and I told him that it was insufficient for everything I had put up with, and still had to endure.
I made sure she was well fed and comfortably hidden in my attic. I paid a trustworthy woman to look after her. She had everything she needed, but her madness spiraled after our arrival in England. She escaped and tried to burn the house down, on several occasions
I could not stand living under the same roof as her, even though I never saw her, but I heard her. I began to abhor Thornfield Hall, so I travelled to the continent in search of a good and intelligent woman. Instead I fell under the spell of the beautiful but fickle opera singer, Celine Varens.
Six months before Jane arrived at Thornfield Hall, Celine gave me her daughter, Adele, affirming she was mine. I tell you Pilot is more like me than Adele! Celine abandoned her child, and ran away to Italy with a musician or singer. I am convinced I am not her father, but hearing that she was quite destitute, I took the poor thing out of the slime and mud of Paris, and transplanted it here, to grow up clean in the wholesome soil of an English country garden.
You see, my goodwill has always turned against me. I vowed never to become involved with a beautiful woman again.
One day, nine years after returning from Jamaica, I met a small, pale, elf-like creature who stole my heart. I fell in love with her youth, her naiveté, her quick, sharp mind and her generous spirit enraptured me. However, I soon learnt she was as independent and headstrong as I was selfish and scheming. I had to have her as my wife, not my employee or my mistress. I wanted her skin on my skin, our bodies joined as soon as possible, so I devised a plan.
I thought she was too young to realize she loved me yet, so I had to make her feel jealous, I invited Blanche Ingram, a beautiful woman, who was the antithesis of Jane. Blanche was tall, with raven hair and dark eyes. She wore expensive clothes and jewels to catch a husband. She was also a snob and a bitch. I would tease them both nicely. It was a game for my enjoyment. I knew Jane would win. She already had my heart and Blanche was only after my money. I would never marry a dark beauty again, I had already done that once. I wanted a real, English rose, on this occasion. An intelligent, soul mate. I wanted Jane Eyre.
After Jane left Thornfield Hall, when Richard Mason cruelly interrupted my first wedding attempt, the lunatic’s madness escalated. She succeeded in burning down the house, and when she went up to the battlements to throw herself down, I tried to save her. I swear that’s why I went up there, but she threw herself off, after burning down my ancestral home.
I had lied, and I had broken the law, God’s law and man’s law, to make Jane mine. I even tried to ruin her, by trying to convince her to be my mistress. I would have done anything in my power to have her back at my side, but she disappeared like a summer breeze. I became a desperate and brooding beast living in a decrepit and secluded manor house with two old servants.
I was crippled. On one arm, I had neither hand nor nails, but a mere, ghastly stump. My face had ugly burn marks, and I was almost blind. My eyes could only perceive a glow. Everything around me was a ruddy shapeless cloud, until a year later, when my fairy returned.
After the fire, I had a long time to think about my deeds. I did wrong to Jane. I would have sullied my innocent flower, breathed guilt on her purity. I began to experience remorse, repentance, and the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I prayed that Jane would return to me and promised the heavens that I would be a better man. When she returned to me, I humbly entreated my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto.
After we married, I recovered the sight of one eye, and learned to cater for my needs with one hand, instead of two. I held my son in my arms and saw he was a Rochester, like me, and thanked God for the second chance I had been awarded. I would try to be the man Jane Eyre deserved for the rest of my days.
I know some people don’t believe in me, and I can understand that. They think I can’t change, but I know I can. I’m not sorry for my past, I did what I had to do. I was a reckless youth and I married the wrong woman, but I was misled by my father and enticed by selfish women. None of it was my fault.
I’m only sorry for the unjust way I treated Jane. You may think I’m not good enough for Jane, and that’s true, too, but I’m going to try to be a better man for her. I will not go back to my gallivanting ways and I will never hurt her again.
Dear Reader, do you believe him?