“After years of self-centered wandering, shielding my shattered spirit from further vain expectation, I now knew what it was to be loved.”
“A cursed, damaged, aging wretch as I had no right to one so innocent, lovely, good and gifted as she…”
Edward Fairfax Rochester. He remains one of nineteenth-century English literature’s most enduring sex symbols, and, to this day, women the world over continue to swoon for him. Rochester is an imaginative exploration of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as seen through the eyes of a fiercely sensuous and introspective leading man. His story is told with all the realism of a passionate, masculine heart in narrative enriched with keen observations of settings and fellow players. Through Edward’s words, we leave behind coincidence and politesse to wander through his evocative world and probe what otherwise might have happened from that compelling first meeting onward. We are given Edward’s life of pain and travel beside him to absolution through the unsullied form of a lonesome young governess.
Here, Rochester tells of their journey in his own uninhibited, saucy, conceited, funny, manly way and would never dream of fading to black when the bedchamber door shuts.
Wooden steps led down into darkness. I descended them into the chilly and silent cellar with a lantern held aloft, finding floor to ceiling racks, entirely filled with bottles, dividing the majority of the cellar into darkened aisles.
I entered one, traversed the length and stood dusting and reading wine labels arranged by country of origin. Many were French or German, Italian, some Spanish or Portuguese and found that Lord Ingram had even added a number of Oriental and South American varieties. I roamed between the racks, suitably impressed with his collection.
The door to the wine cellar unclosed. No footman called but instead came the light step of a woman and swish of crinoline skirts. This came as no surprise, knowing that she would not waste such an opportunity. I raised the lantern and caught sight of a vermilion silk dress descending the stairs, sighed heavily and came forward holding the lantern at my side. She sauntered casually across the plank floor and stepped close to me, blue eyes ever cold and calculating. Her orange blossom perfume obliterated the smell of cedar and dust, and was admittedly stirring. Again, her choice in attire revealed just the right amount of cleavage to ensnare the attention. It did.
I met her icy eyes and spoke first. “Why do you pursue me, Blanche?”
“For the simple reason that you are the man I want, Edward,” she said, all thoughtless self-assurance. “I am perfectly aware of how, shall we say, difficult I can be. I need a man who is as strong and indomitable as I. As you pointed out last evening, I do have many suitors, but none match you. They are weak, spineless, gutless excuses for manhood. You, Edward,” she said slipping a hand inside my jacket, “are precisely what I need in a mate. Formidable. Lusty...”
“And wealthy,” I added, hating her absolutely. I set the lantern down on the floor.
Her hand moved across my back. “We must merge our fortunes, Edward. The Rochester name will be the grandest of all gentry in these surrounding counties,” she said, her other hand stealing inside my jacket and around me. Her fingernails ran down my back and came to my buttocks, pulling me close.
If I were going to engage in the charade I envisioned, my role must begin without delay. Besides, I am not carved of stone, and as she kissed my neck I allowed myself to respond. But my feelings for Blanche were acrid, caustic and selfish. No gentle caress motivated my fingertips. I restrained myself for as long as I could. Her hand slowly moved around my hip approaching the front.
I snapped…attacked her like one possessed, grasped her blonde hair and brought my mouth roughly to hers, kissing her hard. My hands went around her waist and clutched her tightly to me as I harshly kissed her neck, breathing heavily, wanting to bite her but having no wish to leave telltale marks. Now a hand went to her breasts and forced its way down the front of her gown, squeezing a generous handful and twisting nipple. She responded like a rag doll in my arms, limp and emotionless. I found myself angered by her deficient response, lifted and took her to the dark, far end of a wine aisle and brought her roughly up against the plank wall. Her response, I do not recall. It did not matter.
Taking handfuls of silk, I frantically pulled the hem of her dress up until my hands were on her thighs. Roughly I raised her leg around my hip. Fingers touched stocking tops, soft inner thigh and undergarments. I took a handful of her blonde hair in one hand and pulled her head back, watching her clear blue eyes as I slipped fingers into warm, soft wetness.
That was enough for her. Her hands came up and she shoved at my shoulders, eyes flashing with anger and indignation. “You are an animal, Edward! Why do you treat me like a filthy whore?!” she demanded.
I released her. “This is me, Blanche. Take it or don’t. It gets no better. Not with you.”
She stomped her foot, looking genuinely for a moment as if she might cry but then composed herself. She readjusted the front of her dress, her hair and the hem of her skirts, then went to the stairs and ascended. The door shut with a bang, and I went back to the plank wall at the end of the aisle, far from the flickering lantern light. My excitement was gone as quickly as it came.
I leaned against the wall, considering what had happened. The difference between my response here tonight and that with Jane a few nights since was diametrically opposite. Blanche was right. Part of me was animal, as with all of us, but with Blanche, there was no love, no bond to temper my base drives. Marriage to her would be empty, like taking a whore for a wife. Senseless.
Standing against that wall, amongst racks of wine, my longing for Jane grew searingly painful. In losing her, I would resign myself to a life of similar, insensitive interludes with whatever woman would have me. I doubled over, hands on knees and released a sob. ‘No one will ever replace you, my Jane. I want no one else. How can I live this way once you are gone?’ Taking a deep breath, I answered myself softly. “I will wake each morning and breathe all day. Then the next day, I shall do it again.” I straightened and went to the lantern, dashed away the odd tear and proceeded to choose an eclectic array of wines including a Bordeaux, a Verdicchio, Cabernet Franc and a Marsanne. I ascended the stairs, closing and locking the cellar door behind me, found my way back to the drawing room and set the bottles on the sideboard where a footman came to uncork and pour.
J. L. Niemann is a surgical Physician Assistant and former English major with no prior publications. A twenty-year preoccupation with Bronte’s Jane Eyre, an obsession with a certain film adaptation of the story, and a sudden, relentless desire to write led to Rochester’s creation. The author lives in Toledo, Ohio.