Mr. Thornton vs. Mr. Rochester

My wrists are still somewhat sore (and yes, my left wrist started hurting too after having to do all the work while the right wrist took a vacation… it’s been a rather sorry time and then my heel started hurting again, as I broke a small bone in it this spring… I’ve been hobbling to my job at the library, however, hoping to find something to do that didn’t involve too much walking or too much moving of books or too much typing or too much eye strain since my eyes also are sensitive…. at least my internal organs are still all in good working condition!) but I am spilling over with book news nonetheless.

First off, I have developed a belated crush on those Penguin hardcover clothbound classics everyone has been raving about for a while. I’ve especially been eyeing the copy of Sense & Sensibility since I’m rereading it right now and my copy is getting quite ratty and this one has a blue background with pink flowers. I usually never (ever) like hardcovers, but these ones feel right somehow. And they also have an edition of Cranford! Also, the copy of Sense & Sensibility has two really interesting essays (or introductions or whatever) in the front and back of the book and you can read them, in their entirety, on Amazon with that whole handy click-to-look-inside feature. The essay at the end of the book is all about secrecy and sickness in the novel and it makes me want to read more commentary (or criticism) on Jane Austen’s novels. I’ve mostly avoided that in the ten plus years I’ve been loving her books because I wanted to have my own experience with them. I’ve avoided her biography too and most of her unfinished work and letters but that could change. It’s nice to have something still new by or about a favourite author.

Also Claire of The Captive Reader is perhaps influencing me? I finally read Wives & Daughters this year after hearing how much she loved it and eventually went on to more Elizabeth Gaskell, all of which I’ve enjoyed (I just finished North & South on the first of October, more of that in a bit).

She also told me she’s never liked Jane Eyre. I loved that book in my early 20s, so was rather shocked that it could be disliked, but then, dear reader. I started rereading it myself this year. First I found Jane’s childhood too depressing and had to stop for some pick-me-up Victorian mill worker strikes and romance and a ridiculous number of sudden deaths in the north of England (ie, North & South). Then I found… oh gosh. I found I didn’t like Mr. Rochester anymore. I was so looking forward to reading Jane’s romance (especially after putting myself through Villette earlier this year), but soon became very put out by the way Rochester manipulates Jane. They say they have a ‘natural sympathy’ with each other, fine they’re becoming friends, etc and then he flirts with another woman (uh spoiler?) to get Jane to care for him more, he hopes so much that she won’t care what the consequences are. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Jane Austen steadily (and yes, as a kind of moral guide in life) while only giving the Brontes the occasional nod, but I’m really not into that kind of thing anymore. This article in The Millions gives a pretty good run-down on why yes, Mr. Rochester is a Creep. (Although the crossdressing part doesn’t really bug me. Just the ‘romantic’ manipulation.) So that’s why I’ve left Thornfield Hall and gone back yet again to Barton Cottage and those sensitive, sensible Miss Dashwoods.

In comparison to Mr. Rochester, Mr. Thornton of North & South, although both are considered byronic heroes, is a much more admirable chap. He’s honest about his feelings, rough as they often are. He shows vulnerability, compassion, he wants to learn more about great literature, he gets mad and jealous, he’s determined as a bulldog… I really like all the feelings he shows, even if they are ‘negative’ feelings, he openly acknowledges having them. It’s very refreshing. Mr. Darcy, another one of those byronic types, is a little flat in comparison. And while Mr. Rochester shrouds himself in mysterious self pity, he is definitely not honest. Mr. Thornton has risen from an even more potentially crippling past and he’s not complaining. I also like that Mr. Thornton acknowledges Margaret as his social better and looks up to her. Both Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre are much poorer than their romantic partners, they are the social inferiors, much as they claim the right to human equality. I have this theory that Elizabeth Gaskell’s heroes (and George Eliot’s come to that) may just be more well-rounded than Austen’s or Bronte’s (in my opinion obviously, I don’t want to start wars here) because she was married, she had a more realistic view of men. Just a thought.

I also loved the realistic portrayal of Margaret having to deal with stressful family situations in North & South. I could relate, as my husband is still home recovering from surgery while I’m off (as already mentioned) hobbling in to work. I found it comforting to find a fictional character going through something similar. So there’s a few thoughts on the satisfying goodness of North & South. It’s growing on me and I’m sure I’ll return to it often.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that I don’t really like writing reviews with plot descriptions and a catchy hook so you’ll read it with a few neat and descriptive adjectives thrown in and all that, especially if it’s a classic book. I just like sharing a few thoughts or quotes. What I’d really prefer even more than that though, is an essay style free-for-all, with no worries about spoilers. I’d rather discuss the interesting parts of the book, hopefully with others who’ve already read it, instead of trying to sell it to someone new. How do I make that work on a blog outside of the classroom though? (This is part of the reason I’m thinking of going back to university for more English classes in January!)

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24 thoughts on “Mr. Thornton vs. Mr. Rochester

  1. Christina says:

    I really enjoyed your thoughts on North and South as compared with Jane Eyre. I like both books, but N&S is by far my favorite of the two. I agree that Mr. Thornton is a much better hero than Mr. Rochester; what I like about him is that he has a strong sense of moral uprightness. Even though he can be harsh, especially toward his mill workers, he is always fair and always tells the truth — and he’s just as hard on himself as he is on other people. By contrast, Mr. Rochester strikes me as selfish: he wants to be with Jane so much that (SPOILER) he is willing to commit bigamy, and he doesn’t seem to care at all that he’s put her in an impossible position.

    Have you seen the BBC miniseries of North and South? I just watched it the other day, so it’s fresh in my mind…anyway, if you haven’t seen it, you need to!!!

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks Christina, I was worrying I might have turned Jane Eyre fans off! I own the North & South miniseries actually (and watch it more often than I read the book, sadly), it is wonderful and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since reading the book.

      I don’t like the tendency to over-romanticize literary characters (19th century or otherwise) until they become fantasy figures rather than real people, so I really enjoyed reading North & South this time around.

      • Iris says:

        Sorry for commenting a second time, but I wondered.. I was never able to find the soundtrack for North & South and I so loved the music in that series (as well as the series themselves). Would you happen to remember where you found it?

        • Carolyn says:

          I downloaded it from here, which I found through a fansite. I don’t know if it’s the official soundtrack, but it’s got the music without dialogue and I love listening to it.

    • Andrea says:

      Charlotte said in a letter to WS Williams “Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent; he is ill-educated, mis-guided, errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience: he lives for a time as too many other men live—but being radically better than most men he does not like that degraded life, and is never happy in it. He is taught the severe lessons of Experience and has sense to learn wisdom from them—years improve him—the effervescence of youth foamed away, what is really good in him still remains—his nature is like wine of a good vintage, time cannot sour—but only mellows him. Such at least was the character I meant to pourtray.” You think wrong about him.

  2. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    I love everything about this post – so much so that I am breaking my sick bed silence to comment. Your comment about Mrs Gaskell writing more complex male characters than Austen or Bronte is one I definitely agree with and though I hadn’t really thought about the influence of her husband on this perspective before it makes a lot of sense. How interesting that your perspective on Jane Eyre has altered so much in relatively few years. Also, I’m just so glad you’re enjoying Gaskell!

    I also covet the pink and blue hardcover Sense & Sensibility. I already have the Penguin clothbound edition of Emma and keep meaning to pick up more in the series (because they’re gorgeous) but haven’t yet done so. Yet another item to add to my T0 Do list. How stressful. 😉

    • Carolyn says:

      Hooray, it’s so nice to hear from you, Claire! I’m wondering if my perspective has changed because I’ve gotten married in the last few years and what I used to find romantic in Jane Eyre when I was single, just seems not right now. Knowing I can trust someone is more important for me now. 🙂

      I think Chapters is re-releasing those books later this month! I’ve been checking for them online somewhat obsessively lately… I found copies of Emma and Cranford in the bargain section of Chapters today and was quite pleased. The Pride and Prejudice looks rather ugly, but the rest are pretty tempting.

  3. bookssnob says:

    Controversial, Carolyn! Controversial!!

    Jane Eyre is one of my greatest literary loves but I am not above seeing its faults – the whole St John section, for starters – and I can see where you are coming from. However, I do think that you have to look at Rochester within the context of a) the period, and b) the intentions of Charlotte Bronte.

    Rochester is a selfish and demanding man, granted. He wants Jane and will do anything to get her. He is used to being flattered and pampered and having every whim catered to. He is proud and often inconsiderate of Jane and her feelings, but then he has never had to consider anyone else. He is the stereotypical Victorian male bachelor, rich and (not really) single and free to behave as he wishes, because for a man, moral consequences are of no matter. Men didn’t have to worry about their reputation or unwanted pregnancies, for example.

    However, over the course of the novel, Rochester changes. He mellows, becomes humbler, becomes willing to compromise, and values Jane even the more for her stance against him. He sees himself in a new light and understands that he did wrong and is sorry for it. He knows Jane is too good for him, and is immensely, humblingly grateful for her decision to stay by his side at the end.

    I’m not excusing his behaviour, but the way I see it, is that he comes a long way over the course of the novel and he pays dearly for his mistakes. I think what is most powerful about his character is that he cares so passionately for Jane, and he is a very compassionate man – he takes care of Bertha in his own home and provides her with everything she needs to be as a safe and comfortable as possible. He didn’t need to do that.

    Rochester is a typical Alpha Male – the loveable rogue. He’s not perfect and Bronte doesn’t try and make him so. I think by making Jane love him, she shows how irrational the human heart can be, and how people diametrically opposed can fall in love.

    I wouldn’t say that Bronte or Austen are unrealistic about men, I just think that they are writing from a place of passion, whereas Gaskell wrote more from a place of social conscience. Her priority was never romance, but social reform. Therein lies the difference, in my opinion.

    I love these discussions – do them more often!

    • Carolyn says:

      Maybe I’m too impudent, but I’ll take that as a compliment. 😉

      I know I haven’t gotten to the part where Rochester reforms, so if I do go back to it, I might change my mind again… I got stuck with Jane left in the dark holding a bandage on bleeding Richard Mason and it was all very creepy and then I thought of all the long way still to go, through St. John and all and I’m afraid I got tired of waiting around for Rochester to shape up! Jane nearly dies after leaving him, I really didn’t feel up to reading about that either. 😦

      I find Charlotte Bronte almost cruel in her depiction of life, in both Villette and Jane Eyre. Likely it was merely a reflection of her own struggles, which in her passionate way she flings at the world through her writing, but when I’ve been through something similar (somewhat hurtful childhood, extreme loneliness and depression), I find reading about how she depicts it really brings the sting of those memories back to me. I don’t find her comforting the way some people do. I like the character of Jane Eyre, but find it so hard to watch all the struggles she goes through.

    • Traxy says:

      I agree with bookssnob, who said what I wanted to say (but much more eloquently). Would also like to add that while I love Rochester, I also love Mr. Thornton! He’s more similar to Darcy than Rochester if a comparison has to be made, but ohh, does he wipe the floor with Darcy!

      Now, Richard Armitage (Thornton ’04) playing Rochester… now, there’s a thought…

  4. Iris says:

    I stumbled across your blog and I’m now hooked, because someone that writes such astute observations on Mrs. Gaskell is bound to become a favourite blogger of mine. I definitely agree with your idea that Elizabeth Gaskell writes more well-rounded male-characters than Jane Austen.

    As for Jane Eyre, I am planning to reread it soon and I have to admit that I expect to love it like I did when I was 15. But your post has made me hesitant.

    • Carolyn says:

      Hooray! 😀 I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but I guess I haven’t been commenting anywhere that much lately, I’ll have to amend my ways! I thought I was the only one getting into Elizabeth Gaskell just now, but it seems she’s becoming popular with other people too. There was even a book tour for her at the end of September, since her birthday was 200 years ago.

      I think I am in the minority with Jane Eyre and really, this has perhaps been a bad time for me to read it, I might like it again when I’m less stressed. Don’t hesitate on my account. 🙂

  5. Yvette says:

    I must agree with Booksnob. I fell in love with Mr. Rochester when I was a young girl and I’ve just simply never fallen out. Yes he is selfish and demanding and impossibly spoiled and elitist. But he is a man of his times. AND he does change, Jane changes him, draws him out. Through her he begins to notice that, perhaps, the thoughts and emotions of others should be considered as well. And, let’s face it: he does try to save his mad wife at the end – he risks his life to do so. He is, at heart, a passionate man and maybe, today, a passionate man is someone to be leery of? To my mind he has always been that Impossible Ideal: a larger than life hero who, in reality would probably be impossible to live with, but in imagination, is all the ‘young woman’ in me could ask for. But then, I am of a different era, age-wise, and that might have something to do with it. ; )

    I’ve just recently discovered your blog, Carolyn and am liking it very much.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks for commenting, Yvette, it’s always nice to share the book discussion. When (if?) I finally finish rereading Jane Eyre, I’ll see if I’ve changed my mind. I do like the recent mini-series of Jane Eyre, but I find Rochester whines and protests about his former youthful innocence a bit too much in the book, as if who he is in the present is not under his control. I don’t mind his passion or grumpiness, I just wish he could be honest with Jane from the start. He doesn’t treat her as an equal in that way.

      • Minerva says:

        You say Charlotte is cruel in her books… I ask you, what did you expected from a gothic novel? A perfect story with irreal characters without flaws and mistakes? The gothic literature have dark atmosphere, mysteries, the characters are not perfect, they do bad things and good things, etc. Mr Rochester is the most real character real I’ve read! He has virtues and defects, he does mistakes and learn from them. Yes, he was wrong in pretended to commit bigamy, but he is a byronic hero! And, like i said before, he has virtues and defects, he does good things and bad things (like a real person). In gothic literature the most part of characters are like him! You think Rochester is a selfish man who just think in himself. You’re wrong! Charlotte said in a letter to WS Williams : ” Mr. Rochester has a thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor self-indulgent; he is ill-educated, mis-guided, errs, when he does err, through rashness and inexperience: he lives for a time as too many other men live—but being radically better than most men he does not like that degraded life, and is never happy in it. He is taught the severe lessons of Experience and has sense to learn wisdom from them—years improve him—the effervescence of youth foamed away, what is really good in him still remains—his nature is like wine of a good vintage, time cannot sour—but only mellows him. Such at least was the character I meant to pourtray.”
        I see the gothic literature is not for you. I don’t want to imagine you reading something of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Anna Radcliffe, the Brontë sisters or Elizabeth Gaskell’s gothic tales! Keep reading Jane Austen!! She wrote a lot of pretty stories and perfect men…

  6. Yvette says:

    No he doesn’t treat her as an equal, though she says he does at some point in the story. But my feeling is that if SHE believes it, then who am I to quibble? No he isn’t honest with her, that’s the skeleton of the story, IF he were honest, there would NO story – so there IS that. He isn’t perfect. He can’t be. If he were, then again, no story. And by the way, he pays for his imperfection by losing most of his eyesight in the end. It’s not as if he gets away with all this bad behavior. ; )

    But I think he very honestly believes that past events have shaped him (and anguish makes his reprehensible behavior excusable) and in a way, this is a daring rationale. God hasn’t shaped him, events have. A very Darwinian thought.

    Let’s not forget he IS taking care of the little girl who he believes is NOT his – meant to mention this in my earlier post. He risks his life in the end, he doesn’t do away with the mad wife – I mean, he could have dumped her overboard on the trip from the islands.

    In these, rather important ways he is an exemplary person. Just NOT a modern man. I don’t blame him for that.

  7. Katherine says:

    A lovely comparison of the two heroes. I’m delighted I’ve come across your blog! I first read Jane Eyre when I was about seventeen and while I liked it, I must admit it was never a favorite.

    Just a little side-note, I love the Penguin covers too! I came across them while at a boutique a few months ago and have been eying Cranford and Sense and Sensibility (my favorite Austen tied with Persuasion) since.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thank you Katherine! I recently started following both your blogs, November’s Autumn (love the title) and the Elizabeth Gaskell blog, which I didn’t know you were running, but am so glad someone started one, it’s about time! 😀 I’ll have to get out and comment more now.

      I’ll be interested to discuss Sense & Sensibility with you then, I’ve recently reread it, so will post a few thoughts at some point soon.

  8. Erica Marie says:

    Jane Eyre and North & South are two of my favorite books. While I believe you’re right, Mr. Rochester isn’t honest and he tries to manipulate Jane, isn’t a great part of the story when Jane refuses and leaves? It shows true strength, despite the fact that she loves Mr. Rochester. Jane wasn’t about to commit bigamy. If she had known about Mr. Rochester’s wife from the beginning she would’ve left right away. Though Mr. Rochester was prepared to commit a terrible sin, Jane was ready to fight it and turn her back on the man she loved in order to do what was right.

    • Carolyn says:

      Hi Erica, thanks for stopping by. 🙂 I’ve picked up Jane Eyre again, so may have to revise my opinion at some point…! I do love Jane and the writing is so beautiful and detailed and rich in a way that Jane Austen’s isn’t.

  9. Anita Hinds says:

    Hi! I just came across your blog and I am absolutely delighted. After watching two BBC adaptaions of Jane Eyre, I just had to read the book; my first Charlotte. Read Emily and Ann but more about that later. Jane Eyre is fast becoming my favourite book ever. I love Jane and I love Rochester. Yes he has all the faults, but the crimes he is accused of aren’t crimes given the time, and a lot has been said about that. I love Rochester becasue he loves Jane 100% and she loves him. (WOW… that’s a lot of loving!)
    few things I noticed snd I must follow your blog for that –
    1) mrs gaskell. She is a discovery for me and I can’t believe I hadnt come acrooss her writing before. Cranford, Wives and Daughters are just fantastic books. Haven’t read N&S yet but that’s next. Look forward to your blog on her.
    2) jane austen. For the life of me I cannot enjoy her. I ryead northanger abbey and disliked it. Started S&S but couldnt go beyond 100 pages. Have seen most of the book adaptations and loved them but cannot read the books. Any thoughts?
    Gosh, didnt mean to write so much. Just wanted to congratulate you on a great blog and thank you for covering my favourite topics, books and writers.
    Anita

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