Before I discuss the ten lies Mr. Rochester told Jane in Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, I’d like to summarize some key aspects about the nature of lies.
According to Neuroscientist, Sam Harris in his concise and brilliant book Lying, ‘To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true.’
Most people consider there are degrees to lying, from lying out of what we consider kindness, or white lies, to malicious reasons, or black lies, but Harris considers that both types of lies are equally harmful, because the liar is consciously creating a false reality for their victim, the person who is tricked or duped.
Harris claims lies of any color are harmful. Moreover, he reminds us that an ethically superior, noble person does not lie. He affirms that lies cause irreparable damage to our relationships, sacrificing our honesty, and giving up the possibility of deep and meaningful bonds with the people we interact with.
The value of integrity by far outweighs any short-term benefits of lying. A person who lies lacks moral principles, and the victim will lose faith and trust in this person.
By denying reality and lying to ourselves and others, we also make it impossible to face reality or develop meaningful relationships based on honesty and mutual trust.
Now let’s identify Mr. Rochester’s lies to Jane Eyre.
First a warning: this post is not suitable for unconditional fans of Mr. Rochester.
Where to start with the gentleman’s lies? I could organize them according to the severity or the type of lie, but I’m going to take a chronological approach. I’ll identify his lies in the order in which they appear in the novel. I’ll describe Rochester’s lie, identify the intention, and discuss the consequences.
- The first time Rochester met Jane was when his horse slipped on the ice on the causeway. On this occasion, he pretended to be someone else, although he didn’t say he was someone else, he asked about Mr. Rochester, as if he didn’t know this person. He doesn’t actually say he is not Rochester, but he leads her to believe he is not Mr. Rochester. The intention is unclear. I’d say he enjoys being condescending and playing with Jane by leaving her in the dark. He found out who she was, but refused to reveal his own identity, to benefit his amusement, because there was nothing to gain. The consequences were that Jane was surprised and mortified when she discovered his identity.
- Later, he accused Jane of bewitching his horse, which was a downright lie because he was not a superstitious man. His intention in this case was to cover up his mistake. He didn’t want to admit that he was not a perfect horseman who had slipped because he was riding too fast, and perhaps once again, he enjoyed teasing her. He may also have wanted her to feel responsible for his accident. The consequence was that Jane let him know she wasn’t superstitious, and she was not willing to agree with everything he said.
- He said Adele’s mother claimed he was her father, and he denied it. But why else would such a selfish and unloving man take in a little girl as his ward? His intention was to convince Jane that Adele was not his daughter, and the consequence was that Jane felt sorry for him and considered him a victim.
- He pretended to be interested in marrying Blanche Ingram, but he was simply using her to make Jane jealous. That was a double lie, which was disrespectful to both women. The consequence was that Jane handed in her notice, and Rochester confessed he loved her and proposed.
- He pretended to be a gypsy fortune-teller during the party at his house, and although that was a game, ironically, it was the only lie she caught him out on at once.
- He did not disclose the nature of his relationship with Richard Mason, who was his brother-in-law. Neither did he tell Jane that Mr. Mason had come to visit his sister in the attic. He led Jane to believe Mason was dangerous, while in fact it was Rochester who had imprisoned his sister. Although it was not considered a criminal act at the time, he knew it was morally wrong to lock your wife in the attic, which was why he didn’t want Jane to know what he had done.
- He led Jane to believe that Grace Pool was responsible for attacking Mr. Mason the night while he stayed at Thornfield (it was Bertha). This is a lie by omission and commission, because although Jane made the suggestion out of innocence, he repeated the lie maliciously.
- He asked Jane to marry him, although he was already married. He led her to the altar, knowing the marriage would be annulled. He must have realized the bigamy would eventually have been discovered, after his wedding night and honeymoon, ruining Jane’s prospects in the long term.
- When the wedding was interrupted by a lawyer, Mr. Briggs and Mr. Mason, he still denied it all inside the church. He finally admitted he was married and took them to visit his wife, whom he had kept in the attic in a deplorable condition. Even so, he continued to defend his actions. He insisted on the marriage because he considered himself above both divine and man-made laws. The consequence was that Jane left him.
- When the marriage was definitely canceled, he offered Jane a villa in France where she could live as his ‘friend’. He was obviously asking her to be his mistress, although he denied it. He even forcefully tried to persuade her, which was why she escaped from Thornfield at daybreak.
There are two more very serious lies, but there is no explicit proof in the novel.
11 and 12. Perhaps Bertha didn’t start the fire or fall off the battlements. Perhaps he started the fire and/or pushed her. I find it hard to believe Mr. Rochester would go up to the roof to save his mad wife’s life, risking his own, when he could be finally rid of her.
But he wasn’t the only person to lie to Jane Eyre. Here is another post I wrote called Liars in Jane Eyre with a few more liars.
And here are some more posts on Jane Eyre.
Finally, Mr. Rochester promised eternal love, but would they have lived happily ever after?
I have no doubt that Mr. Rochester was in love, or perhaps infatuated by Adele’s young governess, but how long would their honeymoon period have lasted? Bearing in mind his irascible and selfish character and Jane’s generosity, kindness and independence, I doubt it would have lasted longer than her first childbirth.
And that’s the premise of The Eyre Hall Trilogy.