Mr Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

On the morning of Edward’s eighth birthday, his father issues a decree: He is to be sent away to get an education, exiled from Thornfield and all he ever loved. As the determined young Edward begins his journey across England, making friends and enemies along the way, a series of eccentric mentors teach him more than he might have wished about the ways of the men-and women-who will someday be his peers.

But much as he longs to be accepted-and to return to the home where he was born-his father has made clear that Thornfield is reserved for his older brother, Rowland, and that Edward’s inheritance lies instead on the warm, languid shores of faraway Jamaica. That island, however, holds secrets of its own, and not long after his arrival, Edward finds himself entangled in morally dubious business dealings and a passionate, whirlwind love affair with the town’s ravishing heiress, Antoinetta Bertha Mason.

Eventually, after a devastating betrayal, Edward must return to England with his increasingly unstable wife to take over as master of Thornfield. And it is there, on a twilight ride, that he meets the stubborn, plain, young governess who will teach him how to love again.

Thoughts

There have been countless adaptations of Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte and first published in 1847, and the character of Edward Rochester has long fascinated many readers. When the reader first meets him in the Bronte novel, he is a brooding man hiding a dark secret which is later revealed to be a first wife hidden in his attic. Rochester later reveals a story of how he was duped into marrying a Creole woman in Jamaica who quickly descended into madness. Rochester brings her back to England where she is kept securely in rooms in the attic for her own safety and to protect others from her violent nature.

Mr Rochester depicts the life of Edward Rochester from his childhood through to his eventual marriage to Jane Eyre. The book is divided into several parts which follow Rochester at different periods in his life. Much of his early life actually mirrors of that of Jane, albeit without the same levels of cruelty, as we first meet Rochester at Thornfield where he reveals his mother died when he was young and he is largely ignored by his father and older brother. Rochester longs for affection and mostly gets it from the servants but he is cruelly ripped away from Thornfield when he is sent away to school.

Unlike Jane’s harsh experience at Lowood, a school for poor and orphaned girls, Rochester finds himself in an eclectic place with two other boys with whom he become good friends. Rochester enjoys his time at the school, however he soon learns good things can’t last forever as the other boys eventually move on. Life at the school is never the same for him but Rochester dedicates himself to his studies until his father decides it is time for him to earn his living.

After meeting with his father for the first time in years, Rochester is bluntly told Thornfield and the rest of his father’s holdings in England will be inherited by his older brother and he will receive nothing. Since Rochester will have to make his own way in the world, an apprenticeship is arranged for him at a mill where he spends the next few years learning about manufacturing. However, Rochester eventually learns his father’s plan has always been for him to go to Jamaica to take over the business there. Since there is nothing for him in England, Rochester is excited about his new prospects in Jamaica and he soon becomes close to the Mason family. Rochester soon falls in love with the daughter of the household, Bertha, who is exquisitely beautiful.

After Rochester and Bertha are married, it doesn’t take him to realise the wild nature he so loves is actually a sign of something far more serious and he watches in horror as she steadily declines into madness. Furthermore, Rochester soon learns his marriage to Bertha was pre-arranged by their fathers long before he ever set foot in Jamaica and he has been used as a pawn. Resigned to his fate, Rochester makes a promise never to abandon Bertha but it backfires when he receives the news his older brother and father are both dead. Realising he can never be happy in Jamaica. Rochester returns to England to claim Thornfield but he is forced to bring Bertha with him and his only hope lies in finding a way to divorce her.

With Thornfield soured by Bertha’s presence, Rochester travels extensively throughout Europe, living in Paris for a time, where he becomes guardian to Adele, the young daughter of a courtesan he once courted. Realising Adele needs security, he brings her home to Thornfield where he engages Jane Eyre as governess.

While I enjoyed the book for the most part, the chapters following the young Rochester from boyhood to early manhood are very slow and required a lot of patience. The Rochester we are introduced to is quite sensitive and your heart goes out to the lonely little boy who is starved for affection, yet as the same time you can’t really identify with him as the man he will become. Of course, the adult Rochester has been shaped by the experiences the young Rochester has yet to endure so it is easy to brush this aside. When Rochester finally gets to Jamaica and the character of Bertha is introduced, the attraction between them is evident but it all seems to happen rather quickly for such an important event in his life.

Rochester ignores the disquieting elements of Bertha’s personality because of his desire to have her as his wife but her fall into complete madness practically happens overnight. Rochester is shattered when he realises he has been duped into marrying her but its nowhere near as devastating as it should have been. We then have a brief telling of Rochester’s adventures in Paris and an account ion his fling with Adele’s mother who also betrays him when he realises she has been seeing other men. Although this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him since he practically stole her from her previous lover.

When Rochester returns to Thornfield Hall and Jane finally enters the story, things become even more complicated as Shoemaker introduces a lot of the dialogue from the original book and it doesn’t sit well with her own prose. Familiar scenes are presented from Rochester’s point of view but they don’t seem to gel with the original tone and Rochester just isn’t the same man. As fascinating as it was having the story told from a different perspective, I really never understood when exactly Rochester fell in love with Jane or even what it was about Jane that drew him to her.

While Mr Rochester was an interesting read, it just didn’t work for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t be averse to reading more books by Sarah Shoemaker.

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