Any avid Bronte reader knows the name Edward Fairfax Rochester and wonders what influenced the author to create this magnificent character. In Mr Rochester, Sarah Shoemaker explores Edward, showing us his story and another side to this historical novel.
Edward felt safe at Thornfield Hall where he was left mostly to his own devices. On his eighth birthday, a letter from his father arrived. “Rowland is now sixteen years of age, high time for him to step out into the world,” it read. “Edward is eight, time to put away childish things.” Rowland was to join his father in Liverpool and then Jamaica. Edward was to go into tutelage with a Mr Hiram Lincoln of Black Hill near Leford and leave his beloved Thornfield Hall forever.
His tutor was stern but friendly and encouraged Edward and the other boys to explore the world through the books and maps in the library. On his 12th birthday, another letter from his father arrived, announcing that it was time for Edward to work for a Mr John Wilson who ran a mill in Maysbeck, where over the next few years he learned all aspects its running.
Edward was then asked to make his way to Liverpool to spend some time with his father learning “the way of things”. He discovered that, eventually, his father’s interests in Jamaica were to be his, but first, he was to be sent to Cambridge to study law. Edward’s time at Cambridge was filled with years of drifting, late parties, groggy mornings or simple romances with town girls. Despite all this, he managed to leave Cambridge with the qualifications his father required.
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At his graduation, he discovered that he was to leave for Jamaica, where he was to meet an old friend of his fathers a Mr Jonas Mason, who has a son with “no head for figures” and an eligible daughter he is keen to see married. His father and Mr Mason have had numerous business dealings and he was looking for a successor. “I cannot recommend this situation highly enough.” his father said.
Arriving in Jamaica Edward quickly acquainted himself with his father’s and Mr Mason’s interests, his son Richard became a friend, and he became enchanted with Bertha, his daughter. After only 3 months Mr Mason offered him a 35,000 pound dowry.
It was shortly after they were married that Edward began to suspect that there was something not quite right about Bertha. Whilst on their honeymoon he found her on the beach slowly drawing a clamshell across her wrists. “It feels good,” she said. Later while they were visiting Kingston she appeared upset, and he discovered that her mother (who he was lead to believe was dead) was in an asylum there with Michael, a brother he had no knowledge of. Later that night he found her weeping, “The baby, I can’t find the baby”, suspecting she had had a bad dream he held her till she settled back to sleep. Over the coming months, these episodes became a regular part of their lives.
With the death of his father, brother and Mr Mason he discovers the truth and feeling trapped, Edward and his now disturbed wife returned to Thornfield Hall. In an effort to keep his promise to look after Bertha, he keeps her hidden in a secret wing, where she became increasingly violent not only to herself but to others.
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The arrival of Jane Eyre throws his life into chaos and leads him, for the first time, to believe that the love he thought he would never feel could be his, but his commitment to Bertha holds him back. The arrival of a young man claiming to be Bertha’s son and his insistence in seeing his mother reveals his secret to the world and everything is lost, including his beloved Jane.
This is a wonderful back story to a classic novel that I simply loved reading and answered so many questions about this mysterious character. It has been years since I have read Jane Eyre but it won’t be long before I pick it up again to continue this classic love story.
Mr Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker is available from the publisher, Hachette Australia. See details here.