I just finished Jane Eyre, and I loved it. It was such a beautiful story full of twists and turns and heartwarming sentiments and heartbreaking sentences. When Jane, towards the end, says “Reader, I married him.” I felt my heart burst from joy and gladness. I had been waiting for her to say that for about 200 pages, and finally, my heart could rest and be at peace.
But now, I’m done, and I have an unanswerable question that is consuming me. This question is spoken by Mr. Rochester in chapter XX: “To attain this end, are you justified in over leaping an obstacle of custom-a mere conventional impediment, which neither your conscience sanctifies nor your judgment approves?” And again he asks, “Is the wandering and sinful, but now rest-seeking and repentant man, justified in daring the world’s opinion, in order to attach to him forever, this gentle, gracious, genial stranger; thereby securing his own peace of mind and regeneration of life?”
The end that he’s talking about is happiness and joy and love and peace and the freedom to experience all these things. The obstacle standing in his way is his literal lunatic of a wife, Mrs. Rochester. It’s easy to call people crazy for doing silly things, but Mrs. Rochester was literally a lunatic: mad, insane, psychotic. Mr. Rochester had to lock her up in the attic so she wouldn’t kill everyone. And she still managed to get out and attempt to kill several people, several times.
The question I’m haunted with now is what would be right for Mr. Rochester to do? Because he married this woman and made vows to her, was he stuck? Did he have to remain in that marriage? In that time, conventionality said yes. Religion said yes. Manners said yes. So he did. Is that true for us today? What does our religion today say? Society today would certainly say it’s okay for him to divorce her; you can divorce whomever you like whenever you like for whatever reason you like regardless of his/her state of mind. But what does our religion say about it?
This woman was no longer in her right mind. She wasn’t the woman Mr. Rochester married in the first place. Can he remain faithful to the vows if the woman is not the same woman? Sure, people change, but this change is kind of off the charts. She loses her mind. She bites and sucks the blood from any man that comes into her room. She tries, and finally, successfully, lights the house on fire to kill everyone in it. At what point does that break the vows of marriage?
Granted, Mr. Rochester’s answer to this problem was to take Jane as a mistress, which I don’t think is the correct answer. Surely there must have been a way to break the legal bonds of marriage to this insane woman so that he could truly and properly wed Jane. I don’t blame her for refusing that proposal. But if their wedding had gone on uninterrupted, would Mr. Rochester be in the wrong? That would be bigamy, would it not? But my heart cannot say that he would be wrong. My brain might say that, but my heart says that he is justified. Is there a reconciliation between the two?
Image taken from Silver Petticoat Review. “Classic Romantic Moment: Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester.“