If you’ve ever read this blog, you’ll know that I have no shortage of literary crushes. Why else would we have a Literary Hunk of the Month? Still, the decision of who to crown reigning Hunk of February started to feel somehow more important, what with the hearts and flowers and reminders from Hallmark about sending your love the very best. How could I ever choose one fictional superman when there are so many to adore?
Then I realized how easy that decision was. Because when it comes right down to it, Edward Fairfax Rochester wins for me every time. (Unless Jamie Fraser is in the running, but he’s already been covered, and he can’t be the hunk of every month…or can he?)
Seriously, though, Rochester stole my heart the very first time I read Jane Eyre, the minute he fell off of his horse and shouted, “What the deuce is to do now?” and he’s owned it ever since. He may not be all that attractive. He may frown and curse and be an outright grump sometimes. He may not be fond of the prattle of children, may tease Jane a bit too much upon their first meeting, and may be way too prone to dark moods. He’s flawed, and far from the dashing prince of fairy tales. When he rides in on his dark horse, he crashes straight into our fair maiden, and instead of rescuing her, he needs her help in getting back on his feet. He’s a completely complicated human being, and that’s exactly why I love him.
Here’s the thing with Edward Fairfax Rochester—he’s a lot of talk. He likes to play the role of bad boy and pretend to be a crank, but this man has a heart of gold. While he claims to not like children, he takes in a ward—a child of an ex-lover, a child he knows he hasn’t fathered. He calls little Adele a brat, but he brings her presents from Paris and hires a governess instead of sending her off to boarding school. His best friend is his dog. If Rochester were living in the 21st Century, he’d probably subscribe to Dog Fancy and have some sort of jacket for Pilot, “just to hold off the chill.” He’s mastered that tortured-by-his-past-while-concealing-his-inner-pain act, but underneath that gruff exterior, the guy is a total softie. (Just don’t let him know that you’ve caught on to that.)
Make no mistake—Rochester has his faults. Namely, that Big Bertha of a Secret he hides upstairs. We can get angry with him for keeping his past (and, okay, present) from Jane, but we can also see the man he could have been had his family not put his life on this course. We can forgive him, because above all else, the number one thing that makes Rochester such a worthy hero is his love of our poor, plain, obscure and little Jane. While he may party with the Blanche Ingrams of the world, he is never for a moment blinded by them, or blinded to all of Jane’s wonderful qualities. From day one he sees her as his partner. He speaks freely with her, appreciates her intelligence, her fortitude, her strength. He wants to know what is on her mind constantly, and we know that they will never run out of things to talk about. He loves her for her spirit and her soul and knows that he simply cannot exist without her. He is the only character—except, perhaps, for Helen Burns—who sees Jane for exactly who she is and loves her for it. For that, how can we help but love him?
There are so many reasons why Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. Rochester is definitely one of them. When she created our dear Edward of Thornfield Hall, Charlotte Bronte gave us the anti-hero-ish hero we always wanted but never knew we were looking for. Even though he withholds the truth, even though he’s moody, even though the most romantic line he can come up with is to say that he would bleed inwardly if his Jane ever left—
—Reader, I’d marry him.
To me, there are two can’t miss Rochester portrayals that are very different, but each capture the man perfectly: Toby Stephens in the 2006 BBC version and Michael Fassbender in the 2011 adaptation.