Letter H #AtoZChallenge #JaneEyre’s Husband

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.

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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.

Battle_of_Marston_Moor,_1644

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.

Haddon_Hall

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.

Adele

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.

Bertha

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.

Horse

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.

Wedding

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.

Mr. Rochester Blind

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.

Jane3

Dear Reader, do you believe him?

Jenny, Lady Lilith and Celine Varens: Artistic Representation of Prostitution in Victorian England in Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

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The first manuscript of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem Jenny was buried with his wife, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal , in Highgate Cemetery, in London, and remained in her grave, reportedly in Siddal’s red hair, until it was exhumed six years later and redrafted several times, before it was finally published in 1869. The poem is a first person narration, or monologue, of a writer, who some critics have identified as Rossetti himself, describing the beautiful woman who is lying across his knees, while he gradually unfolds the reasons for the end of their relationship. It is and frank and sympathetic, albeit condescending and biased, account of Jenny, a prostitute in Victorian England.

Rossetti, the poet and the painter, was obsessed with the portrayal of stunning women. He searched for beautiful muses whom he painted, wrote about, married, and befriended, throughout his life. He was particularly infatuated by the biblical myth of Lilith, Adam’s first insubordinate wife. Shelley’s translation of Goethe’s Faust (lines 351-353) inspired both the portrait, Lady Lilith, and his long poem, Jenny.

FAUST: What is that yonder?
MEPHISTOPHELES: Mark her well. It is Lilith.
FAUST: Who?
MEPHISTOPHELES: Lilith, the first wife of Adam.
Beware of her fair hair, for she excels
All women in the magic of her locks;
And when she winds them round a young man’s neck,
She will not ever set him free again.

Rossetti’s Jenny and Lady Lilith are both portrayed as blue eyed and golden haired beauties. Both wear languid and lazy expressions on their perfect faces, and both were wicked women; Lilith was Adam’s headstrong first wife who left him rather than lie beneath him, before being replaced by meek, albeit naïve, Eve; Jenny is a prostitute whose main objective is emptying men’s pockets, and having fun.

The artistic representation of women in Victorian times, depicted them either as the ‘angel of the house’ or the ‘prostitute’. Prostitution was not illegal in Victorian England, but it was a social problem, as most prostitutes were orphans or underprivileged women, who could not live on the meagre wages earned. Prostitution was also a health problem, due to the venereal diseases which abounded.

According to the controversial Contagious Diseases Acts passed in 1864, 1866 and 1869, all prostitutes within a radius of army and military bases were required to register with the police and to monthly submit to an internal examination to verify whether or not they were diseased. If they were, they would be incarcerated in lock hospitals for up to nine months. Although the act was finally revoked in 1882, it was heavily contested, and many Victorian writers, such as Charles Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell were socially aware and active on this account.

According to critics, Rossetti’s poem was of the “fleshly school of poetry,” and much stigma came to be attached to Rossetti’s name as a result. Rossetti’s account is innovative in the sense that he represents the ‘fallen woman’ as a real and contented person, who is treated with caring and respect by the writer while they are together, although he finally abandons her in favour if the respectability and stability his conventional cousin represents.

Jenny contains representations of both extremes. Jenny herself represents the fallen woman, and the narrator’s cousin Nell, represents the angel. Jenny dreams of the money earned by her profession:

Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace
Thus with your head upon my knee;—
Whose person or whose purse may be
The lodestar of your reverie?
On the other hand, his cousin represents honesty and love:
My cousin Nell is fond of fun,
And fond of dress, and change, and praise,
So mere a woman in her ways:
And if her sweet eyes rich in youth
Are like her lips that tell the truth,
My cousin Nell is fond of love.
And she’s the girl I’m proudest of.

The narrator finally decides he must leave Jenny in order to consolidate his relationship with his cousin:

By a far gleam which I may near,
A dark path I can strive to clear.
Only one kiss. Good-bye, my dear.

Although Jenny is the subject of the poem, Jenny herself is silent throughout. In fact she is asleep, and therefore a passive agent, within the narrative. We are informed of her supposed feelings and opinions by the writer, who is clearly trying to justify his callous use and abuse of the compliant girl. Lady Lilith is equally absent, daydreaming into her mirror, perhaps imagining a future in which women are allowed a voice and a more active participation in society.

A contemporary reinterpretation of both Jenny and Lilith should take into account the following considerations. Both women are silenced by patriarchal conventions, and absent from any kind of explicit power. Lilith is lost in thoughts, staring into her own reflection, while Jenny is asleep, lost in her subconscious world. Yet both women fend for themselves, refusing to be a conventional wife and mother. Lilith’s refusal to lie beneath Adam, has become a symbol of resistance to patriarchal authority, and female independence, while Jenny is a survivor and determined to look after herself, on her own, in a man’s world.

Jane Eyre contains no mention directly to prostitutes or prostitution, although there are some allegedly ‘wicked’ or ‘undesirable’ women mentioned during Rochester’s stay abroad in France and Italy, including a reference to Adele’s mother, Celine Varens. Mlle Varens is also voiceless in Charlotte Bronte’s novel. It is Rochester who describes her behaviour and justifies his womanising by telling Jane how he was ‘innocently’ led and fooled by her:

“I installed her in an hotel; gave her a complete establishment of servants, a carriage, cashmeres, diamonds, dentelles, etc. In short, I began the process of ruining myself in the received style, like any other spoony.”

Following the conventions of the time, after Rochester’s marriage proposal, Jane Eyre makes it clear to Rochester that she is prepared to be his wife, but not his prostitute:

“I only want an easy mind, sir; not crushed by crowded obligations. Do you remember what you said of Celine Varens?— of the diamonds, the cashmeres you gave her? I will not be your English Celine Varens. I shall continue to act as Adele’s governess; by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year besides. I’ll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money, and you shall give me nothing but—”
“Well, but what?”
“Your regard; and if I give you mine in return, that debt will be quit.”

Jane is proposing another alternative to the ‘angel’ or ‘fallen woman’ dichotomy. She is proposing the ‘working wife’ who is her husband’s equal regardless of her financial capacity. Jane wants to be Rochester’s wife and his equal, as she claims throughout the novel, not his submissive or inferior. The novel does indeed end on this note of equality. Jane inherits a plentiful sum from her uncle, which will allow her to have financial independence from in her husband, leading to equality in their marriage.

All Hallows at Eyre Hall’, on the other hand, does directly approach the topic of prostitution with reference to various characters in the novel, including Mr. Rochester. One of the narrators, Jenny Rosset, who is based on Rossetti’s Jenny/Lilith, is, in fact, a prostitute, who is directly related to two of the main characters in the novel; Michael and Mr. Mason. Jenny, is a character to look out for. She is far more important than she appears. Both Jenny and her offspring will have an even greater part in books 2 and 3 of the Eyre Hall Trilogy.

On the other hand, Celine Varens, Adele’s mother, who is living in Venice with her latest lover, is referred to in the first volume, and she will reappear in volume II, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, when Adele travels to Italy to meet her mother, whom she believed dead, one last time. Jenny Rosset and Celine Varens represent two different types of Victorian ‘fallen woman’, whose intentions, feelings, needs and desires will be reappraised throughout the trilogy from a contemporary perspective. Jane Eyre herself, as I would have expected, is actively involved in improving the lives of her contemporaries.

More information on the Dante Gabriel Rossetti Archive and Rossetti’s paintings worldwide