Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre is known as a dashing love story. In the book, a mousey woman softens a stoic and rich man’s rigid exterior to give way to a tender relationship. Readers sit in melancholy, wishing to be swept off their feet by a romance just as promising.
However, Jane Eyre is not a love story. It is not the epitome of romance that people should be pining for.
Jane Eyre is the story of a toxic relationship between a middle-aged man and a woman in her late teens. The book should serve as a warning to its readers, but instead, the toxicity is romanticized. This is dangerous to readers who are under the impression that Jane Eyre is a Victorian romance novel.
Jane Eyre gets its name from the book’s main protagonist, a young woman. After spending her childhood with her wicked aunt and enduring a harsh education, Jane embarks on a quest for independence and freedom, while still searching for a place to belong. She takes a job to be a governess for a young girl named Adele. This is a live-in position, so Jane makes her new home in a grand house called Thornfield Hall.
However, the job is not what she expected. Edward Rochester, the owner of the property and Adele’s father, is a harsh man with sharp features and just as sharp of a tongue. His treatment of Jane shows readers a series of red flags, each one more astonishing than the next.
Rochester starts out by blaming Jane for small accidents and refusing to take responsibility for his own actions. He then belittles her and subjects her to harsh scrutiny.
An example of this can be found in one of their first encounters. Rochester commands that Jane chats with him one evening, and through the course of the night, he criticizes her art and her musical ability. He asks her to play him a song on the piano, and she obeys but humbly states that she isn’t a professional. After she plays, Rochester criticizes the quality of her performance.
This is completely unnecessary. Jane already admitted to not being well versed on the piano, yet Rochester goes out of his way to embarrass and shame her.
This is not the only case where Rochester subjects Jane to emotional abuse. Later in the book, Rochester hosts a party and invites many high-class socialites to attend. During this party, he forces Jane to accompany him, even though he is quite aware of how uncomfortable she is with the situation. During the party, a prissy woman named Blanche starts to critique the character of all governesses. Rochester says nothing. He simply sits back and allows Blanche to belittle Jane, everyone knowing that she is within earshot.
There are many other examples of red flags in the relationship between Rochester and Jane. Rochester surrounds Jane (who earned the nickname “plain Jane” in her childhood due to her average looks and unremarkable beauty) by gorgeous and rich women, all just to make her feel small.
Rochester tries to rush into a relationship with Jane, despite only knowing her for a few months. This excites readers, as the romantic tension between the two is nail-biting. However, the red flags prove that further involvement with Rochester will be a nightmare for Jane.
Unfortunately, Jane still develops feelings for Rochester, despite being emotionally abused by him. This teaches readers to ignore red flags in relationships.
Nothing about the romance in Jane Eyre is healthy. Rochester controls, isolates, insults and manipulates Jane throughout the book. He exhibits no regard for her feelings or well-being. He forces her to do tasks that are nowhere near what a governess should be doing. It’s concerning that this story is viewed as a romance. No one should be pursuing ‘romance’ of this kind.
It is all too often that society romanticizes toxic relationships. It is extremely harmful to young people who are influenced by these kinds of stories. It reinforces the idea that brooding men with personality disorders are attractive, and that it is the job of meek women to fix these flawed men.
While Jane Eyre is a well-written story worth reading, the romance between Jane and Rochester is anything but romantic. Readers should be aware that the book glorifies toxic relationships, and they should take the story with a grain of salt.