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Emily smiled dreamily. “You know what I’d like? An explicit version of Jane Eyre, where she becomes Rochester’s mistress. Then she finds about about the madwoman in the attic, and leaves Rochester, but she refuses St. John’s proposal because she knows he would never be as good a lover.”

“Yes, it would be great to have a detailed description of Rochester’s behavior in bed,” laughed Ellen. “I would definitely enjoy that.”

“He would be very masterful and bossy,” said Emily. “And if she didn’t pay heed to his commands, he might have to take stern measures.”

“No, he would be passionate but gentle and loving,” argued Ellen. “He acts arrogant on the outside, but inside he’s just a big teddy bear.”

“You two can start a website with a variorum edition,” said Kim dryly.

The bedroom demeanor of Charlotte Brontë’s Byronic hero, half beast and half angel, has long been a subject of heated speculation (by me, at any rate). Tantalizingly, the author of Jane Eyre short-circuits her heroine’s wedding night along with the besotted reader’s hopes for a description of Edward’s undercover moves. Utterly vain hopes, of course, given that respectable Victorian ladies did not write sex scenes. Following the nuptus interruptus, Jane’s eventual union with Rochester (his potency now symbolically diminished by blindness) is summed up in the famous line, “Reader, I married him.”

Even had Brontë enjoyed the freedom to write more explicitly, I question whether she had the sexual experience to describe Rochester at his best. She was married only at the end of her short life, though she did fall madly in love… with a Frenchman who already had a wife. Hmmm. No doubt she spent a good deal of time picturing Rochester out of his breeches. Haven’t we all?

This little gem from the novel comes to mind: “I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.” 

Since she wrote Jane Eyre, a singular work of soaring and transcendent titillation, a thousand romance authors have launched an army of tortured Devlins, Roarkes and Wyldes. Many of these Rochester wannabes are packing heat and quick on the draw. But none of the authoresses in question is Charlotte Brontë.

What if someone discovered a long-lost first draft of the novel with Charlotte’s description of that wedding night, written for her own delectation? What if she included a rather intense description of how Edward likes to deal with saucy and impertinent governesses? Half of us would be charmed, and the other half disgusted.

No, let each of us have her own private Rochester.
JANE EYRE

The best screen Rochester: Ciarán Hinds with Samantha Morton in the A&E version (1997). Photo: A&E

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The Libertine Belles on Kindle at Amazon.com