It is tuesday, and my love for the novel makes it imperative for me to write a Jane Eyre related post. It just so happens that just this morning I was conveniently arguing with another lit lover in a very heated discussion. I remember back when I was thirteen (oh yes, three years ago seems like a huge amount of time when you're a teenager) I picked up Jane Eyre on a cozy winter night about two days before Christmas. While the rest of my family sat at the coffee table and played an exciting game of Taboo, I nuzzled myself into a corner and resumed my avid reading of the novel. My sister-in-law came over to me and smiled.
"What do you think of the book?" she asked me. By this time I was already past most of the book and in the middle of St. John's proposal, so I was safely assured of my feelings.
"I absolutely LOVE it!" I exclaimed. She laughed and clicked her tongue at me, which led me to inquire what exactly she found unsuitable about Jane Eyre.
"Most readers either like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights," she explained. "I could never take Rochester over Heathcliff."
I remember those words still. At that time I hadn't read Wuthering Heights yet. I did on future occasion, however, and after closing the back cover I understood perfectly what she had said. There's something combative about Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre that makes it almost impossible for anyone to like them both equally. After coming to this realization, I was quickly exposed to the results. It seemed like everywhere I turned there was some type of debate between readers arguing in favor of either Emily Bronte's masterpiece or Charlotte Bronte's impeccable tale. Which one was more popular? Which heroine was the stronger? But the most reoccurring question was who is the better male hero; Rochester or Heathcliff.
Can you really choose either? Asking the question of "who is the better male literary hero" and then mentioning those two names is so contradictory that it's almost paradoxical. Who in their right mind would really define Heathcliff and Rochester as heros? In truth, they could much more easily be categorized as villains. One is an adulterer who attempts to commit bigamy and lead an innocent teenager into a life of sin, the other is a manipulative and resentful rake whose only goal in life is to seek vengeance against those who misused him and torture the woman that loved him. BOTH are intensely gloomy and vicious characters with shady pasts and violent tempers. What good do we actually find in Rochester and Heathcliff besides the intense passion they have for their lovers? And even that eventually leads them to their "demise."
Who is the more resentful of the two? Heathcliff, without a doubt. Who is more manipulative? Arguably, Rochester. I've come to the conclusion that when people ask "who is the better male literary hero", they're really asking who is the more passionate of the two, and THAT is the question that sparks debate.
Of course, as the Jane Eyre lover that I am I would be remiss not to argue in favor of Rochester. How can you get much more passionate than the man who is so in love with a woman that he would risk losing his soul and going to hell just to be with her in life? You can't argue the passion of a man who says, "You are my sympathy--my better self--my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one."
But Heathcliff lovers would say otherwise. They would argue that Rochester's attempt at bigamy would show a weakness of character, a lack of forethought. They exclaim that Rochester had only known Jane for months whereas Cathy and Heathcliff had been in love since they were mere children. They say you can't dispute the ardor of a man who asks his lover to haunt him so that he might never be without her. All are good arguments.
So on which side do you stand? And in reality, is there really any way you can choose between two similar but yet completely different characters? Is there some unwritten code that deems one more "passionate" than the other, when even the word "passion" is subject to opinion? Who knows? But for now I stick with Team Rochester!