Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
Both Jane Eyre by Bronte and Enduring Love by McEwan present the theme of obsession in men. Jane is successively controlled by men, the critics, Gilbert and Gubar (The Madwoman in the Attic) said, “Rochester’s loving tyranny recalls John Reed’s unloving despotism… recalls Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy” which indicates that Jane never escapes the oppression of the men around her. The control that Rochester and St John try to impose upon her is part of the patriarchal society of the day, causing Bronte to be widely criticised when Jane Eyre was first published.
Rochester’s love for Jane which is featured in the third part of the novel is one of heated passion and love from both sides. Traits of Rochester’s obsessional love of Jane can be seen developing throughout the book, but it is most obvious when Rochester proposes to her, “I summon you as my wife”. Rochester’s desperation to marry Jane and the control he wants to impose on her is particularly evident when he “summons” her to marry him. This also reflects the patriarchal society in which men were expected to control women and for them to be subservient.
The use of the word ‘my’ indicated that Rochester is very possessive over Jane and this is continued throughout the novel. He also says, “I love you as my own flesh”, suggesting that Rochester’s love is all consuming and he may well have obsessive tendencies. Also, the use of ‘own’ enforces Rochester’s obsessional love for Jane as it sounds like he is possessive of himself, therefore reflecting how possessive he is of Jane. Furthermore, Rochester says, “I must have you for my own- entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly”.
Bronte’s use of ‘must’ and then repetition of ‘my own’ implies that Rochester is anxious to marry Jane, and then the use of ‘quickly’ reinforces this, but also appears to push Jane into giving Rochester the answer he wants. Again, ‘entirely my own’ shows his need to control and possess Jane, although it is unclear whether this is due to Rochester’s obsessive tendencies or the patriarchal society of the day. Later in the novel through her dreams it becomes apparent that Jane is anxious about losing any power she has and being voiceless in their relationship.
In general, the proposal is a vital part of the story which clearly indicated that Rochester is obsessed with Jane, as well as his love for her. In the month between Rochester proposed and Jane and he marry, Rochester shows his controlling and obsessive nature when he tries to change Jane into more of a ‘lady’, similar to women he has had failed relationships with, such as Celine Varens and Blanche Ingram, “but he would yet see me glittering like a parterre”.
Here, Jane is clearly uncomfortable with having her wardrobe changed and she is aware that Rochester is trying to change her into something she is not, as shown by Bronte’s simile of ‘glittering like a parterre’, which likens Jane to an ornamental garden, and she demonstrates how unnatural for her to change in this way. The use of the first person narrative throughout Jane Eyre always gives the reader a better understanding of the effect Rochester is having on Jane.
Due to the patriarchal society, Jane would generally find it impossible to voice her opinions and as a result of the first person narrative the reader can properly understand what Jane is enduring as shown by ‘glittering like a parterre’, which she would never voice to Rochester. In fact, she argues that if she accepted his demands, he would soon grow tired of her. As a “performing ape” Jane would be no better than a kept woman, an elegantly clothed object performing for her master.
Instead, Jane wants to maintain both her personality and her independence. Similarly, in Enduring Love, Parry attempts to change Joe’s views on religion, “It was torture, Joe, coming face to face with your sad, dry thoughts”. This is in one of Parry’s many letters to Joe, suggesting that Parry wants to change Joe so he is more to his liking, similarly to Rochester’s attempt to change what Jane wears. Therefore, both Rochester and Parry become obsessive in their attempts to change their ‘loved one’, and both times they are entirely rejected.
Rochester demonstrates another feature of his obsessive love for Jane in his actions and his desire to protect her when she is at risk from Bertha, “Mr Rochester flung me behind him, the lunatic sprang”. Bronte clearly indicates how protective Rochester feels over Jane, when he puts himself between Jane and the danger which is Bertha. The ‘flung me behind him’ could well be a symbol of Rochester’s physical might but also his power over her as a male and therefore she is not equal in physicality or rights. This related to Parry and Joe’s relationship in Enduring Love.
Parry believes Joe has all the power, “‘You’re very cruel’ he said ‘But you’ve got all the power'”. This suggests that Joe is ‘above’ Parry, as he believes that Joe has complete control over the whole situation, which is juxtaposed with Joe’s view that he is struggling to control the situation. Therefore, obsession in both Rochester and Parry comes from different positions; it is almost like Rochester is ‘over’ Jane and therefore feels it is his role to protect her and Jane is definitely made to feel powerless by him at certain points in the novel.
Moreover, Rochester’s obsession over Jane is shown when Jane attempts to leave after she has found out he tried to commit bigamy “Every atom of your flesh is dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear. Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken, it would be my treasure still”, suggesting that, unlike Bertha, Rochester’s love for Jane is so strong that if Jane went mad, he would still love her.
However, the desperate undertones in Rochester’s voice, ‘Every atom of your flesh’ included, makes the reader question as to whether Rochester’s love of Jane is real, or if he is just caught up in the moment and the possibility of loosing Jane and his control over her. In comparison, Parry in Enduring Love calls Joe and says, “I feel it too. I love you”. As this happens so early on in the book, the reader is forced to question if Parry does actually love Joe, or if he is mad. The monosyllabic sentence McEwan uses suggests that Parry says it so simply that Parry completely believes it to be true.
Rochester also believes his love of Jane to be real, but from the outside, it is easy to question it. Jane encounters another controlling and obsessive character in St John Rivers, but he is obsessed with controlling everything around him, including Jane. The first, and most obvious attempt to control everything is in chapter thirty-two, ” ‘go on for another quarter of an hour’ And he actually took out his watch and laid it upon the table to measure the time”. Bronte immediately creates a controlling character with obsessive tendencies.
St John is presented to be cruel in his overwhelming devotion to religion and during their relationship shows no mercy in trying to control Jane and to force her to do what he wants. This rigidity and coldness is reflected in the ice imagery used to describe him by Bronte as “cold as an iceberg”. The use of a simile implies that St John is completely emotionless and he is repeatedly described as cold to suggest his repression. This also shows that St John definitely does not understand Jane’s passionate nature which is described using the contrasting fire imagery.
Moreover, both characters want more control over their future and are to a certain extent obsessed by it. St John wants it in terms of his work, “Relinquish! What! my vocation? My great work? ” and “It is dearer than the blood in my veins: It is what I have to look forwards to, and to live for”. This implies that St John’s work is so important to him that he will never give it up and he therefore is desperate to control what happens to it. Bronte uses short, monosyllabic sentences, ‘Relinquish! What! ‘ to portray St John’s complete shock and the use of the exclamation mark indicates that St John is shouting at her, reinforcing his shock.
Also, St John’s obsession with his work is shown with, “dearer than the blood in my veins” This implies that St John would give his life for his work, which definitely shows his obsessive and controlling nature about the future. In Enduring Love, Joe freely admits to himself that he is desperate for some control over the future, “tries to assert control over the future’ These words referred to a dog when I wrote them, but re-reading them now I began to fret”. This suggests that even subconsciously, Joe is obsessing over his control over the situation with Parry, especially as his control is so low.
However, St John’s control over Jane becomes more serious and more personal as the novel progresses and is the first person to find out about Jane’s history, “she took the education of the ward of a certain Mr Rochester”. Here, St John knows exactly who Jane is, as, up to this point, she has been going by the name of Jane Elliot as a means of hiding the humiliation of her past. St John gains control over Jane by having this information, which no one else has, which means he can personally control her.
Similarly, in Enduring Love, Joe attempts to control his situation personally when he buys a gun, “I had never fired a handgun before, or even seen one”. This suggests that Joe is completely naive to his situation and therefore he is scared by what is happening to him. He takes it upon himself to control the situation through the purchase of a gun. In Jane Eyre, St John does begin to gain some control over Jane and this is noticed by other characters, “I wished more to please him”. The way Jane pleased St John was by doing as she was told, and was therefore under St John’s control.
Bronte makes Jane sound completely oblivious to this with ‘I wished’, suggesting that Jane wanted to do what St John said, but it causes the reader to feel uneasy about St John, causing them to subsequently distrust him. As their relationship continues, Jane is more influenced by his frozen nature as the use of the colour white symbolises St John as Jane gets progressively more powerless. Enduring Love also possesses parts in which Joe almost does control the situation, “By our bedside in the dark, the phone remained silent. I’d unplugged it many hours before”.
Although Joe does attempt to control the situation here, he has merely suppressed it because Joe can not call him, but he still leaves a number of messages. In general, the difference is that St John has gained control over Jane, whereas Joe has only managed to achieve a limited control over Parry for just that night. But later on in Jane Eyre, St John completely fails in his attempts to control Jane, as he almost bullies Jane into marrying him.
Even though St John has high minded ideals he is brutal and merciless and almost overwhelms Jane. I claim you not for my pleasure, but for my sovereign’s service” as well as “Do you think God will be satisfied with half an oblation? Will He accept a mutilated sacrifice? It is the cause of God I advocate: it is under His standard I enlist you”. Here, St John clearly states that he does not love Jane, but wants to marry her for someone to accompany him on his journeys to the West Indies. Bronte uses a series of rhetorical questions to make St John sound like he is bombarding Jane with questions about her personal faith and the repetition represents his attempts at overwhelming her.
Also, when St John refers to God, Bronte writes it with a capital letter, ‘He’ which emphasises how much St John is manipulating his use of the referral to God to give him the advantage in this situation, as well as indicating how much God means, not only to both characters, but to Bronte herself. St John uses brutal language too, shown by ‘mutilated’, reflecting violence and he goes on to ‘enlist’ Jane into being his wife. This use of military language clearly indicates the control St John is attempting to assert over Jane, similar to the way troops are controlled in the military.
The use of personal faith makes St John more hated as he uses something which is very personal to Jane and abuses it, which goes against his role as a clergyman. In fact, Jane sees through him and comments on “The corrupt man in him”. Throughout the novel, Bronte presents religious men in a negative way, both St John and the hypocrite Mr Brocklehurst in chuildhood. The critics Gibert and Gubar (The Madwoman in the Attic) said that “St John has an almost blatantly patriarchal name” and this symoblises his power as a man and his religious zeal.
Parry attempts to use religion in Enduring Love to gain Joe as his partner also, “I praise God He has sent me to you”. In contrast to Jane Eyre, Parry uses religion to persuade Joe and to rejoice at their ‘relationship’, whereas St John uses religion to bully. Overall, religion is a vital theme in both books, which characters use either to control or to show their love. Overall, both Jane Eyre by Bronte and Enduring Love by McEwan possess the theme of obsession in the male characters.
The differences of the books include when they were written, which leads to the reader being able to question if St John has a mental disorder, or even Rochester. The times also affect the ways in which the male characters could obsess, such as Parry using a telephone. But, the main question is if obsession ever even leads to happiness. The answer is an obvious no as Jane and Rochester only marry when the obsession has ended and Jed’s obsession of Joe only leads to the destruction of Joe and Clarissa’s relationship and Jed ending up in a mental hospital. Therefore, even love can not tolerate obsession, whether it be embraced or pushed away.