Jane Eyre (Or, Listening to Prozac)

from Frankly Scarlett, I Do Give a Damn! by Beverly West and Nancy K. Peske, 1996

Mr. Rochester must have been aware of the entrance of his new governess, but it appeared he was not in the mood to notice her, for he never lifted his head as she approached. Jane Eyre should have realized then that he had passive-aggressive tendencies that would one day escalate into a full-blown dance of deception, ultimately undermining the foundations of their intimacy and preventing fully satisfying coital relations, but she was too busy mentally constructing overly ornate, fustian, nineteenth-century, nonsensical, compound sentences to see past the nose on her face.

“Let Miss Eyre be seated,” said Rochester, and there was something in the forced stiff bow and the impatient yet formal tone that seemed further to express his inability to let down his defenses and bond with women, retreating instead into his own world, brooding over the past, watching Star Trek reruns, and surfing the Internet in search of cybersex. His harsh caprice laid Jane under no obligation. On the contrary, a decent quiescence under the freak of manner gave her the advantage, if only she could figure out how to phrase it without too many semicolons.

“So you are newly come from Lowell School. What do you think of that institution?” he asked, pressing her to reveal herself while he revealed nothing.

“I was near starved, tortured by the pompous and meddling Mr. Brocklehurst, exposed to typhus, and badly neglected in the areas of artistic expression and individual creativity. I was also beaten regularly and then was told I was being sent to hell for my disagreeable disposition. I suppose they thought I ought to be standing on my head naked spinning a pie plate on my toe and whistling Dixie at that treatment,” she replied.

Mr. Rochester raised his formidable eyebrows. “Miss Eyre, you are of singular mind and temperament.”

“You got that right. And by the way, I don’t do windows,” said Jane, laying firm boundaries right from the outset.

“What sort of furniture is in that mind of yours?” said Rochester, peering quizzically into her eyes, as if straining to decipher her mental motif.

“I’m sort of into rattan at present. It’s light and easy to rearrange.” She said. “Why? Are you considering redecorating? Because I don’t do that either.”

He shook his head and turned toward the window, away from her piercing gaze. “Jane, your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to be given which shall awaken it.” He said, making the typical male mistake of underestimating his governess. “You think all existence lapses in as quiet a flow as that in which your youth has hitherto slid away. Floating on with closed eyes and muffled ears, you neither see the rocks bristling not far off in the bed of the flood nor hear the breakers boil at their base. But I tell you – and you mark my words – you will come some day to a craggy pass of the channel, where the whole of life’s stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult, foam and noise: either you will be dashed to atoms on crag points or lifted up and borne on by some master wave into a calmer current – as I am now.”

“I’m sorry, I dozed through most of that, but it’s clear that somebody’s got a little excess baggage he’s carrying around and projecting onto others. And you seem awfully preoccupied with water images, which are, as you know, symbolic of an inability to deal with strong emotion as well as a reluctance to trust women, probably stemming from a conflicted relationship with your mother. Are you by any chance afraid of spiders?” said Jane, remembering that article about Freudian symbolism, which she had read in a recent issue of Psychology for Governesses, that linked arachnophobia with a subliminal fear of a powerful mother.

Mr. Rochester ground his teeth as he paced, obviously the precursor to a serious case of temporomandibular jaw syndrome.

“You really ought to be careful about grinding your teeth like that. It can create serious headaches and balance difficulties while flying, which would be a real problem for a guy like you who wants to travel constantly and avoid the personal demons lodged here at Thornfield,” said Jane, aware of her employer’s tendency toward avoidance behaviors.

Rochester arrested his step and struck his boot against the hard ground. Some hated thought seemed to have him in its grip and to hold him so tightly that he could not advance.

“Yes, yes, you are right,” said he. “I have plenty of faults of my own, and I don’t wish to palliate them, I assure you. I have a past existence, a series of deeds, a color of life to contemplate within my own breast. I was thrust on to a wrong tack at the age of one and twenty, and have never recovered the right course since.” (Of course, had Rochester simply asked for directions at a gas station, perhaps he would have found his way ‘ere this.)

Jane thought immediately of her young French charge, Miss Adele, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the master of the house, despite his claims that he and Adele’s mother had been “just friends.” Jane may have newly come from Lowell School, but she wasn’t born yesterday, “What happened? So you knocked somebody up, right? That’ll teach you to go courting without a condom.”

He turned to her with wounded eyes (which Jane was a real sucker for, given her own victimized past, which compelled her to engage in codependent dynamics fueled by an unconscious repetition compulsion, despite the warnings against such behavior that she had read in an article inVictim’s Lifestyle) and said, “I might have been very different; I might have been as good as you – wiser- almost as stainless. I envy your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory, which no gush or bilge water has turned to fetid puddle.”

“Hold on, buster,” said Jane, unwilling to enable his avoidance behavior any longer or to comply with this overly romanticized and erroneous portrait of herself as some perfect embodiment of the nineteenth century’s rendition of the waif look, which had never suited her, or anyone else for that matter. “You don’t have an exclusive arrangement with tragedy. If you don’t call being forced to stand on a stool in the pouring rain while some sadomasochistic headmaster threatens you with the fires of hell just on account of your economic status bilge water, than I don’t know what is. And as for being stainless, it’s only because I’ve forgiven myself. Let me tell you something. Guilt is a useless emotion. You start blaming yourself for every misstep, next thing you know, you’re married to some half-crazed banshee who’s burning your house down every time she slips out of her straitjacket and past the drunken, underpaid servant guarding her in the west wing. Is this ringing any bells here?’

Rochester merely shrugged, unwilling to reveal the secrets of either his inner psyche or the rubber guest room in the attic.

Months passed before Mr. Rochester finally broke down his defenses and addressed the issues head-on, not only because he had a compelling need to confess, but because he had it really bad for his plainspoken young governess and her pointed censures. “Jane, I feel I can speak to you as freely as if I were writing my thoughts in a diary. Not three in three thousand raw school-girl governesses would bust my chops the way you do, and it really makes me hot. Please, punish me.”

“While I do have a considerable background, gathered at the Lowell School, in the finer arts of discipline and physical punishment, I believe that what you need, Mr. Rochester, is not some Victorian dominatrix casting out your demons with each flick of her cat-o’-nine tails, but a little twentieth-century psychoanalysis to help you get in touch with your inner child. I sense that there are difficult issues you are unwilling to confront, particularly when it comes to the women in your life, so let’s talk about the batty babe in the belfry.”

His eyes grew dark. A stormy countenance prevailed, with poor road conditions and a sixty percent chance of thunder showers by morning, and he spoke in low tones. “After a youth and manhood passed half in unutterable misery and half n dreary solitude, I have for the first time found what I can truly love – I have found you. You are my sympathy – my better self – my good angel – I am bound to you with a strong attachment.”

“You’re avoiding the issue.”

“I think you good, gifted, lovely –“

“Do I sense a fear of confrontation?”

“Because I feel and know this, I am resolved to marry you. And just forget about the broad in the attic. She’s just a poor plot device designed by some sexually frustrated quill-penned spinster to prevent me from getting my rocks off. So what do you say? Me, you, the French Riviera, long nights strolling along the Cote d’Azure, sipping champagne cocktails at the Negresco, you in a string bikini, me in a Speedo, as the sun sets?”

His proposition stunned her, for she had no inkling that the master of the house could ever love a plain Jane such as herself, particularly since she was far too self-conscious to wear a string bikini. Although she was drawn to glowering bad-boy types, she had a head full of negative thought patterns, clearly the residue of a deprived childhood, as she was informed by that article in Psychology for Governesses, which established a clear link between orphaned childhoods spent in drafty nineteenth-century institutions run by sadomasochistic headmasters and low self-esteem in later life. But she had managed to muster up enough confidence in her twenty-odd some years on the planet to know that while she may have a poor body image, she was not a bigamist and told him so in no uncertain, overly protracted nineteenth-century terms.

“Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours. It would be bitter, wicked to marry you when I know, and you know, and you know I know, and I know you know that the babe in the belfry is your lawfully wedded wife.”

He threw up his hands in tortured resignation. “So you would condemn me to live wretched and to die accursed? Is there no remedy?”

This new vulnerable approach to their relationship’s difficulties softened Jane’s. She found herself smiling at him remembering a little piece she’d just read in Madwoman’s Weekly about revolutionary new advances in the treatment of bipolar illnesses, and she ventured, “Edward, sweetie, have you heard about these new wonder drugs they have been using in the treatment of the mentally ill? They are having marvelous success with few side effects, and I was wondering, perhaps your wife is suffering from a chemical imbalance. Maybe she can lead a perfectly healthy, normal life, free from extreme mood swings that manifest themselves in the form of violent, pyromaniacal outbursts. Why don’t we send for a specialist who can prescribe an experimental course of the medication? Then, if it is effective, you can divorce her without guilt and we can put the past behind us.”

Well, I was right about the wonder drugs. Mrs. Rochester is now a fully functional and independent woman happily running a gift shop in Kingston, Jamaica; in fact, she filed for a no-contest divorce, having met and engaged to a rakish wayfarer with a hoop in his ear and a motherlode of plundered booty, which the tourists go mad for.

And Mr. Rochester? Reader, I married him, in a quiet ceremony in a small country church in the old village of Nice. We honeymooned there on the Cote d’Azur, swimming topless in the forgiving waters of the Mediterranean. Mr. Rochester seemed to have put his demons and his negative coping behaviors behind him and acquired a new lease on life as well as his own subscription to Governess Today – and I have become a featured columnist.