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Thread: Jane Eyre: The Age Gap

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    Jane Eyre: The Age Gap

    Hi guys,

    This is something I've always wondered about in Jane Eyre: the 20-year age gap. When I first read the book, the ending was sort of spoiled for me - I knew that Jane and Rochester would fall for each other and get married. So when I got to the part when you learn their ages (their early conversations) - man, I was shocked. Especially because Rochester kept on stressing how "he was old enough to be her father" and kept saying how innocent and inexperienced she was. It just seemed weird to think that they would ever have any sort of romantic relationship. And yet, once Jane starts to fall in love with him, and Rochester starts calling her Jane instead instead of Miss Eyre (it was a subtle change, but I think it made a huge difference), I really started viewing their interactions in a completely different light. I completely forgot about the age difference, and became engrossed in their relationship.

    And honestly, as the story developed, I really could not recognize any "significant" differences between them caused by age. I mean sure, Jane is pretty naive compared to Rochester, but in general, I never saw any real "problem" caused by their age gap. Why is this? Was a large disparity in ages more prevalent in those times? (I didn't think so because of Miss Fairfax's words though) Or is it just that Jane is "wise beyond their years?" (I guess her rough child made her personality more mature - and Rochester does seem a bit immature) Or is age simply not a factor in true love?

    What do you guys think?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have wondered about the age gap myself. I suppose Rochester probably would not have inherited Thornfield until he was a bit older, especially as he was a second son iirc. It would also take some time for him to pick up all that 'past': his business affairs in the West Indies, his courtship and marriage to Bertha, the marriage disintegrating and her going mad, him touring around Europe and possibly fathering illegitimate children along the way. If Charlotte Bronte wanted to reduce the age gap, she would have had to have written about ten years more back story for Jane.

    Another thing is that Jane does not seem to think she will live very long. iirc Bertha was described as having a strong constitution so would probably live a long time. Jane seems to have a weak constitution. iirc her cousin Diana doubts she could last very long in India. I was surprised by this sense of mortality, but considering Charlotte Bronte's mother died while young, her two elder sisters when children, and her brother and sisters maybe sickening by that point, maybe it was natural for her to doubt Jane would reach 40. Rochester was older but he was strong, so maybe they have similar life expectancies.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I feel the age difference actually adds to the erotic appeal - the predatory, older, dissolute, man of the world in pursuit of the young girl who, up till that point has lived almost like a nun. As the innkeeper says in chapter 36, "Mr. Rochester was about forty, and this governess not twenty; and you see, when gentlemen of his age fall in love with girls, they are often like as if they were bewitched." Rochester falls for Jane because she's a fresh, innocent young thing, completely different from Bertha, and Jane falls for him partly because of his experience and knowledge of the world, his power and so on. As Kev says, it is important to the plot that Rochester has so much back story, while Jane is a clean slate. It is all on the verge of being icky or scandalous, but Bronte pulls it off. And Laura, I think you are right that part of the reason it works is that Jane is wise beyond her years. Sometimes she seems more worldly wise than Rochester, as when she keeps him at arms' length during the engagement period, and when she refuses to become his mistress. Also, she always describes him as strong and athletic, and when Mrs. Fairfax tells her Rochester could almost be her father, she replies indignantly, "he is nothing like my father! No one, who saw us together, would suppose it for an instant. Mr. Rochester looks as young, and is as young, as some men at five-and-twenty."
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    "Fifty Shades of Gray" informs us that women are turned on by rich, abusive, older men. My opinion: they should let Bertha go and lock Rochester in some attic.

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    Haha... very funny Ecurb - I'm tempted to revert to my previous argument with you...

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    kev - Oh, that really makes sense - I never thought about their life expectancies, or about the necessity of Rochester's backstory. That certainly clarifies why Bronte added it in the first place (Just had an "Aha moment" )

    And mona, I'll admit, it does add to its appeal from a reader's standpoint...

    Still, I've always been intrigued by the sort of "lack of problems" presented from this age gap. Its just that society in general seems to frown upon it so much - And Bronte seems to emphasize all the potential issues between Jane and Rochester's relationship (wealth, stations, independence, etc.) except age - does she do this on purpose? I mean, I guess maybe age sort of classifies into the broader categories of Jane and Rochester's disparity, but I still thought it was weird how Bronte never really presented it an obstacle (other then the judgments of surrounding characters - I never thought that this counted as one though, considering how creative Bronte was in presenting the other problems...)

    I've been thinking about this a lot... Do you think it might be because age can't really be changed? Now that I think about it, all of the major "inequality issues" between Rochester and Jane that Bronte stressed were solved in the end (Jane became Rochester's equal in wealth and station from her inheritance, she gained her independence, etc.) But their age difference, being an unchangeable fact, maybe wasn't emphasized because it couldn't really be developed into anything?

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    The age gap is significant. To begin with it is almost an Austenian device. Young Jane is to be taken up and looked after by Rochester. But their roles are reversed at the end. I think the age gap is there to make that final role reversal more striking.
    ay up

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    All Jane Austen's heroines marry someone older. I seem to remember this was quite standard from reading Lawrence Stone. A man had to have built up financial security. A woman was ready for marriage as soon as she was fertile.
    Previously JonathanB

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    ive read enough austen, and jane eyre (not to mention Lolita, though the dynamic was different, and anne rampling's Belinda where the forbidden and illegal age difference is the central part of the story) to wonder about how/why social mores, and laws, change, and to use literature as a place to start those conversations.

    came back after I was reminded of the laurie king mary Russell/Sherlock holmes series. has anyone read those?
    Last edited by bounty; 11-02-2015 at 06:11 PM.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I'm no expert on the average age of marriage in either Regency or Victorian England. My knowledge of the matter comes strictly from reading novels. It seems to me that most gentile young ladies came out when they were 16-18. Lady Catherine wonders at Lydia being "out" at 15, and Elizabeth admits that it might be too young (as well as strange because the older daughters are still on the market). The beauties probably nabbed husbands in their first or second season, and so did rich girls. Elizabeth Bennet was 20, Jane was probably 21 or 22. Fanny, Catherine, and Marianne were all engaged as teenagers.

    I just read "Mr Wortle's School" (Trollope -- 1870 or so) and a 17 year old girl falls in love with a 19 year old boy. It's considered normal for the girl, but the boy has to finish Oxford before he can consider marriage. I vaguely remember that married men weren't allowed at Oxford or Cambridge, or maybe it was just at some colleges. I think that went for the "fellows" as well as the undergrads. In Austen, Henry Tilney, Edmund, Edward, Darcy, and Bingley all seem to be in their twenties, Wentworth around 30 (just a couple of years older than Anne) and Knightley and Brandon are still younger than Rochester (as well as being less steeped in wickedess).

    Also, people dies with alarming regularity in those days, so there were plenty of young, attractive widows and widowers running around, like the widow who wins Phinneas Finn's heart in "The Eustace Diamonds". Also, I wonder about the sex life of rich men who don't marry until they are close to 30. Certainly they aren't completely abstinent, are they? Or (from their experiences at Eton) did they relieve the hormonal urges with other men?

    IN Austen's time, England was still a pastoral country, with inherited land being the main source of wealth (although Sir Thomas had his plantations). That was all changing, though, and with the changing economy came new outlooks on marriage.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    More on marriage: I studied cultural anthropology in grad school, and "marriage rules" are a theme of this discipline, because, like in England in the 19th century, marriage was a key factor in the economic and political functioning of many societies. One Polynesian culture (I forget the name) demanded that all females should be married. Girl babies were married at birth, although they didn't live with (or consumate their marriages with) their husbands until they were teenagers. Their parents would marry them off to men gaining economic and political power -- 30 year olds. So by the time these husbands lived with their wives, they were pushing 50. As a result, there were many widows in this society. If a 70-year-old husband died, his widow might still by in her 30s of 40s. Like girl babies, the widows had to remarry immediately. But who wouyld marry them? Generally, they married young men who could not afford young wives, or who had married babies, and were waiting for them to grow up.


    England may have been a bit like this. Girls (like Marianne Dashwood or Jane Eyre) who married men 20 years older than themselves might become young widows, with economic power and political authority denied many women. It wasn't all that bad a deal.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 11-02-2015 at 11:13 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by prendrelemick View Post
    The age gap is significant. To begin with it is almost an Austenian device. Young Jane is to be taken up and looked after by Rochester. But their roles are reversed at the end. I think the age gap is there to make that final role reversal more striking.
    Oh, good point. I didn't think about that, but yeah, the age gap certainly helps emphasize that role reversal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I'm no expert on the average age of marriage in either Regency or Victorian England. My knowledge of the matter comes strictly from reading novels. It seems to me that most gentile young ladies came out when they were 16-18.
    Interesting. While the marriages of young girls does seem to be a recurring theme in most novels, none of them really jumped out at me as much as Jane Eyre though. I think it's because Bronte really emphasizes how inexperienced Jane was. Like take Blanche Ingrim for example. I believe she was 23 ish or so, about only 5 years older than young Jane. Yet, she doesn't seem "too young" for Rochester (although he is 15 years her senior) because she was experienced in terms of flirting, and knowledge of the benefits of marriage. Jane, though, being extremely naive, appears significantly younger.

    Even Lydia from Pride and Prejudice, though being very young, coquettish, and just... dumb, in some ways seems "older" than Jane, because she is simply more socially experienced. I mean, Jane is certainly much more mature, due to the hardships she endured throughout her childhood, but in terms of social situations, Jane in pretty clueless and innocent. Lydia, on the other hand, having grown up in a household where marriage is greatly emphasized (like most of the young ladies in these novels), is much more aware of the financial and social benefits of marriage.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Tangent - the fellows of Oxford and Cambridge colleges up until the mid C19 had to be unmarried and clergymen of the Church of England. (The head of houses could be married. A fellow marrying would have to resign his fellowship, but he could hope to be given a college living, ie become priest of a church of which the college was patron.)

    'Nother tangent - I wonder what the case was with working class men? I imagine that since they were not going to gain any further financial security, they had no reason to delay marriage.

    Final tangent - It is so easy to overlook how very young Lydia is. A few months earlier and nowadays Wickham would be accused of paedophilia.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 11-03-2015 at 03:46 AM.
    Previously JonathanB

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    Then, as now, it wasn't age so much as what today we call "life stages."

    I think because of Rochester's previous life, he was in the same "stage" as Jane in terms of being ready to settle down and start a family.

    That, along with their independence, would lop off most of the problems we associate with age gaps in marriage.

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