By Sara Tomaszewski
for the course Love Among the Ruins
Instructor: Marie-Thérèse Blanc
False Expectations of Love in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre depicts the coming of age of a young woman, Jane, who encounters love as she comes to work as a governess at Thornfield Hall, an isolated gloomy mansion in England. Edward Rochester, the owner of the property, soon becomes dear to her heart. After a dismal childhood, Jane finally experiences admiration, kindness, and respect. She and Rochester form a perfectly matched couple, but complications ensue before their final seamless union. Yet it is precisely through this portrayal of the growing love between Jane and Rochester that Charlotte Brontë raises false romantic expectations of love, which may “mess up” the reader’s love life. More precisely, the strong bond that joins the couple from their first encounter, the complications that make love thrive, and the fairy-tale-like happy ending that puts an end to their sorrows present a desirable view of love that is, more often than not, untrue to real life.
The strong emotional bond that brings the protagonist, Jane, and Edward Rochester together in Brontë’s Jane Eyre supports the idea that each person has his or her other inseparable half. Rochester admits to Jane that “for ten long years [he] roved about [Europe]” looking in vain for his ideal in a woman (318). Jane Eyre brings to life ancient Greek convictions of love. Rochester’s restless pursuit of a right companion reflects Aristophanes’s belief that happiness in love can only be reached once two people – two halves destined for each other – are merged into a whole (Plato 24-25). In the Victorian novel, when Rochester finally encounters Jane, he is instantly drawn to her. Jane also becomes obsessed with Rochester, which she confesses to the readers, saying: “He is of mine … I feel akin to him” (176). Jane and Rochester share a strong and affectionate love, and they form a seemingly inseparable bond. The portrayal of their relationship, in the light of Aristophanes’ beliefs, underlines an unrealistic romantic expectation that everyone can find his Jane or her Rochester.
Jane Eyre also depicts romantic love as a long process that requires obstacles and complications in order to thrive, thus providing readers with a view of love that is slightly offset from reality. As Jane falls in love, she compares herself with the antagonist, Blanche Ingram, who is a better match for Rochester, socially. Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, tersely points out the difference in social class between Jane and Edward, saying, “gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses” (271). Jane is unaware that her master, in fact, feigns courtship of Miss Ingram to make her jealous and to “assist” her in falling madly in love with him, despite the social conventions of rank separating them. Jane and Rochester have to face yet another complication that culminates in the novel’s climax. As it turns out, at their wedding, Jane Eyre discovers that Rochester is already married to a madwoman, the antagonist, Bertha Mason, who lives in a third storey room at the mansion. Rochester lamely explains his unfortunate situation, saying: “I meant … to be a bigamist: but fate has outmanoeuvred me” (298). Jane therefore runs away from her beloved, but instead of straying away, she starts thinking about the meaning of love and decides to open her heart to the voice of passion. Throughout the novel, then, there is a sense that complications are necessary for love to exist and this urges a desire for dramatic, difficult relationships in the readers.
Jane Eyre ends on a positive note that reflects elements of a fairy tale, which contribute to an unrealistic depiction of love. After Bertha Mason’s death in the final fire, which also costs Rochester his sight, the two lovers are reunited at last. The plot of the story relies on improbable events: the complications linked with Jane’s desire for a conventional marriage and an equal status are solved by the fire and the deus ex machina that accounts for Jane’s unexpected inheritance of a fortune from her late uncle. The couple’s love grows back from ruins, which is emphasized by the symbolism of a chestnut-tree struck by lightning. The image of “plants [growing] about [the] roots … [taking] delight in [the] bountiful shadow” serves as a metaphor for the renewal of the couple’s love into a caring, accepting, and affectionate attachment (458). Jane explains that her union with Rochester gains in strength and that she feels utterly happy to “live … with what [she loves] best on earth” (464). The typical fairy-tale resolution shows that there is no such complication that cannot be solved, which raises false expectations of both love and life itself.
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre risks confusing vulnerable readers by presenting a desirable vision of love that is based upon false expectations. Brontë emphasises the inseparable aspect of love that keeps Rochester and Jane together, like tightly bound halves. She then points out the importance of hurdles and complications for love’s growth. These complications are finally miraculously opposed to a blissful resolution that portrays conventions typical of a fairy tale. While “messing up” the readers’ love life, the descriptions of the heightened state of emotions felt by Jane and Rochester add a romantic flavour to the novel and inspire a powerful emotional response.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Prospero Classics Library, 2000.
Plato. “The Speech of Aristophanes.” Love Among the Ruins. Ed. Marie-Thérèse Blanc. Montreal: Dawson College, 2012, 24-25.