Katy Guest: Mean, ugly bloke seeks plain, irritating governess

Rochester is more in want of a wet-nurse than a wife
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The Independent Online

It is a truth seldom acknowledged that you can tell a lot about a woman from her favourite novel. A single man in possession of a modicum of experience will happily tell you that Austen lovers are generally trying too hard. It does not call for a degree in French to understand that an Emma Bovary fan is unlikely to make for a sensible and constant companion. Hardy lovers may be sensitive daughters of nature, but a girl with a Tess complex is not good fun, especially when she shaves off both her eyebrows and pushes you to join her on the turnip farm. And obviously you'd have to be a masochistic desperado to fall for a lady who names as her heroine that petulant brat Anna Karenina. But reader, if you are a bloke with a crapulous disposition, a big smelly dog and a face like a smacked bottom, you ought to be marrying a Jane Eyreite.

Jane loves Rochester because, she says, she is "grateful". And Charlotte Brontë's so-called hero has to be the most hopeless heartthrob in the canon. Childish, rude and shamelessly ugly, he makes Alec d'Urberville look like a catch. At least the cad Mr D had a sense of humour and an amusing twirly moustache. Mr Rochester is short, surly and so infuriatingly sorry for himself that he is more in want of a wet-nurse than a wife.

His chat-up lines must have been what inspired Neil Strauss's The Game - last year's embarrassing bestseller that told men to catch a woman by being thoroughly obnoxious to her. The first time Rochester meets Jane he runs her over on his horse, has a go at her piano playing and calls her a witch. In fact, he accuses her of the dark arts three times in the novel: once when she saves his life in a fire and finally on her wedding day. Charming.

It is hard to understand what Jane sees in Rochester (played by Toby Stephens, right, in the BBC's current adaptation). She admits he is "moody" and "morose" with a "malignant smile" and a knack of embarrassing her - a classic sign of a wrong 'un. He calls her into his room, drunk, and tells her that he is experiencing a very enticing fantasy. "Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative tonight," announces the spoilt little boy. More sarcastic and embarrassing than gregarious and communicative, in fact, but she can't get enough.

Of course, it is Jane's own fault. As much as Rochester ought to go over Grace Poole's knee, he has a point when he calls her irritating. Perhaps the problem is that she has been so bashed up by her brattish cousin John that she thinks that's what boys are like. She is the archetype of the battered daughter who goes on to marry a batterer. She thinks that she can change him. And about that marriage. To be fair, anyone who accepts the most ungallant proposal in history (he tricks her that he's engaged, makes her cry and then tells her, rather than asks her, to be his bride) deserves pretty much everything they get. Though not bigamy, maybe. Nor the classic 15-year-old boyfriend's line that "if you loved me you'd do it". But resisting Rochester's subsequent entreaties to be his mistress is the only decent move that Jane ever makes.

Taking him back is a disaster. But in a weird way, Jane has got exactly what she wants. She teases him, and he is jealous. His stubborn pride is gone. He is "a poor blind man, whom you will have to lead about by the hand ... a crippled man, twenty years older than you, whom you will have to wait on".

When the "Gallic sylph" and the "beautiful Miss Ingram" have "deserted" him and he is old, blind and finished, Jane gets her man - if you can call him that.

Sure, the beast is tamed. Her schoolgirl crush is a "caged eagle". But reader, could you live with him? I'd rather shack up with Wackford Squeers.