May 8 2014 3:30pm

Jane Eyre’s Edward Rochester: Hero or Not?

Michael Fassbender as Mr. RochesterEdward Rochester is nothing if not divisive. I spent last weekend harassing Megan Frampton about whether Edward Rochester (the ostensible hero of Jane Eyre) is actually heroic. We disagree. However, to do justice to a book that I read repeatedly during my teenage years, I present the five reasons Rochester is a hero, as well as the five reasons he is not. You decide.

Yes—Of course he's a hero:

5. Edward Rochester keeps his wife in the attic. What? You don't think that's heroic? Have you considered the alternative? What would life be like for poor Bertha Rochester in a Victorian insane asylum? Rochester at least has the grace to see that his wife is well cared for.

4. Edward Rochester is tortured. This doesn't necessarily make him a hero, but it makes him appealing in a heroic way. We find we can often forgive a man for past mistakes if he is tortured by them.

3. Edward Rochester is kind. He has taken in Adele, the child of a former paramour, and given her a home without even being convinced she's his.

2. Edward Rochester risks his life to try to save his crazy wife from a burning building. Yes, she doesn't want to be saved. And yes, his life would sooo much easier without her. But he does try to save her.

1. Edward Rochester is a passionate man. He may display that passion in odd and sometimes twisted ways, but there is no mistaking his passion and no doubt that his love for Jane is genuinely passionate.

These are pretty heroic characteristics but are they enough?

Toby Stephens as Mr. RochesterAre you kidding? He's no hero:

5. Edward Rochester keeps his wife in the attic. What kind of a life is that? Yes, we see that she's crazy and kind of hard to manage, but what about the possibility that if she were treated as something other than a dirty secret, she might have improved?

4. Edward Rochester keeps his wife a dirty secret. He married her. He brought her back to Thornfield. She's in his house (albeit the attic. See #5). He's having her cared for. It's apparently neither her fault nor his that they end of married. Why deny her? Doesn't she have enough problems?

3. Edward Rochester is manipulative. He strings Blanche Ingram along, leading her to think he's going to propose marriage and then uses her to make Jane jealous.  He pretends to be a Gypsy fortune teller in order to manipulate Jane and other members of his house party. Not very heroic.

2. Edward Rochester intends to commit bigamy with an unwitting (and ultimately unwilling) young woman. What more can I say?

1. Edward Rochester tries to seduce Jane into adultery when his attempt at bigamy fails, disregarding her strong moral core and concentrating only on his own desires.

Not. A. Hero!

Weigh in. Edward Rochester: hero or not?


Myretta is the co-founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, and on Twitter @Myretta.

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Mary Beth Bass
1. marybeth
Edward Rochester is a Hero!
1. He takes the time to learn exactly who Jane is and loves and admires her for those qualities.
2. She says we are equal and he accepts it he because that's what he believes as well.
3. He does his best to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances.
4. He takes care of his family and his home and his animals.
5. Best proposal scene ever!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I absolutely believe Rochester is a hero. I don't think he starts that way, but I think--just as Jane needs time away from him to come into her own entirely--he needs time away from her. He tries to save his crazy wife because he knows it's the right thing to do (probably before Jane he would have been happy to have her burn). He achieves hero status through the events of the book.
Plus there's Fassbender and Stephens. So yeah, I'm biased.
3. Bell
I've never questioned it, to me he is a hero. I adore Jane and love how much he loves Jane.
Darlene Marshall
4. DarleneMarshall
I'm going with flawed hero, who suffers mightily on his road to redemption.

I'd never seen the Toby Stephens Rochester, but I wouldn't have minded seeing a pic of my favorite, Timothy Dalton.
5. Quynh
When he tried to commit bigamy, that put the nail on the coffin for me. Pure selfishness!
Elizabeth Halliday
6. Ibbitts
Not a hero.
A man. One who has made mistakes, but is keeping up not only his own obligations, but taking upon himself the mistakes of others.
A responsible man.
Not a hero, but a good man.
Then he falls in love with Jane. And loses himself by allowing Jane to fall in love with him.
A flawed man. One who assumes he is due some kind of leeway because he has suffered in silence for so long.
A selfish man. One who is so overwhelmed by passion that he allows his own feelings to outweigh the position Jane is placed in. This is not love. This is lust and passion.
Jane flees.
Death, sadness, lonliness, sorrow, remorse ..... resignation.
A broken man.
A hopeless man.
Jane returns.
A man who discovers what love truly is.
A man who gathers together the strength to accept what has happened in the past and whatever will happen in the future.
A hero.
7. wsl0612
I don't think he was a hero, but a flawed man who became "heroic" at the end. Plus it was difficult for me to think poorly of him for keeping his wife in the attic, considering that her family never let him know of her mental health issues. He could have easily had the woman murdered I think, and gotten away with it.
Jena Briars
8. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
Only my $0.02 - Totally NOT a hero.

I remember loathing him in the book, feeling so unsatisfied with all his shadiness... yet in the recent movie, I fell fast and hard for Fassie. :)
Jennifer Proffitt
9. JenniferProffitt
Totally a HERO!

I actually hated Fassbender's portrayal of Rochester--he was beautiful but I thought the film really made him unsympathetic. In fact, I think each portrayal of Fassbender and Stephens highlighted how Rochester could be both a hero or a scoundrel.

In order to truly judge Rochester as either heroic or not, we need to look at how he was in the end of the book because all of the other events mentioned were part of his journey. At the end, he did indeed try to save his wife, which left him blinded and alone. It was because of Jane's influence that he even attempted, I believe (as you said). Yes, he strings along Blanche Ingram, yes, he tries to marry Jane even when he is already married, BUT when he acknowledges his actions and suffers the consequences--being maimed, blinded, and losing the love of his life--is when he becomes a hero and changes as a person. I think the bigger debate is that he's not actually a good person, he's very flawed like @wslo612 says, but in the end he is a hero. Maybe not deserving of such a good person like Jane, but she makes him better and that's love.
10. BigsGirl
I thought Edward was an unlike able jerk when I first read Jane Eyre. It's hard to think of him as a hero, in the traditional sense. He was in a difficult no win situation.

I agree with those above who said Edward was a flawed hero.
Rakisha Kearns-White
11. BrooklynShoeBabe
You can ask me this question while I'm staring at Michael Fassbender's mug. lol.

It's so hard to judge because he makes a compelling defense for the times he lived in. However, he is lusting over his nanny who is like half his age and Jane is only like 18 or 19 years old. That makes he 21st century pervy, IMHO. But he also respected (and encouraged) Jane's freedom of speech. He wanted her for heart. Flawed hero.
12. Abra
I've always wondered what Bertha did that was crazy before she was locked up. Was she really crazy or just extremely socially incorrect for the time? Is bestial shorthand for very sexually promiscuous? I know she's pretty brutal once the book begins, but by then she's been locked up for a long time.

I think Mr. Rochester is a very passionate man who tries to do the right thing, but is too self-absorbed to see how his decisions affect the females in his life. At the end of the book he is still passionate, but is now aware of Jane as a separate individual with the ability to determine her own fate. Being able to open his mind so drastically is what made him a hero to me.

That being said, Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time. I would have fallen in love with him, particularly if it was the Orson Wells version.
13. Bianca
Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea kinda ruined him as a hero for me.
But he's never really been a hero anyway. At least not a real one. He's way too flawed for a classical hero.
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