ithonus, the mythological character in Tennyson's dramatic monologue, bears a striking resemblance to Rochester in Jane Eyre. Both indulge their own pride. Tithonus demands immortality from the gods in the same way that Rochester expects to receive a passionate, faithful wife in spite of his previous marriage. Both delude themselves and pay hefty penalties for their delusions. Tithonus tries to reconcile his unrequited love for Eos. Now too small and insignificant to attract her attention or enjoy her company, Tithonus delves into nostalgia: "I used to watch — if it be I that watch'd --/the lucid outline forming round thee." He accepts that his way of life has changed, that he has lost Eos's love, and that his blood will never again "glow with the glow" of her rays. Eos has moved beyond his reach. The nostalgic tone of these lines reveals the insurmountable barrier between Tithonus's past and present and makes the conflict between longevity and loneliness all the more painful.
Rochester, on the other hand, always knows that Jane stands outside his grasp, yet still he pursues her. His language reveals the true nature of his relationship with Jane. After the initial marriage proposal, Rochester refers to Jane as his "mustardseed" and describes her as "aerial," indicating that in some way she is intangible (226, 227). A little later, he turns her into a figure of pure fantasy when he says to Adèle, "Mademoiselle is a fairy" (237). Rochester's language intimates an almost unconscious knowledge of Jane's aloofness; his actions, however, do not convey this kind of deeper understanding.
When Tithonus and Rochester react very differently to similar situations, the themes of Brontë's and Tennyson's works widely diverge. Since Tithonus must live in perpetual despair, he wishes for death. Rochester, on the other hand, eventually realizes his own wrong-doings when he loses his property and eyesight. A changed man, he reclaims Jane Eyre. "Tithonus," then, sounds remarkably more depressing. Jane Eyre offers uplifting notions of personal redemption, Tennyson's poem utter loss. Strangely enough, though, both works state one similar theme: death can put an end to some of life's greatest problems. Certainly for Tithonus, who has only memories and can do little more than recall a glorious past, death would come as a relief. But in Jane Eyre, too, death lends a helping hand: by removing a rich uncle, it provides Jane with a substantial inheritance , and by taking away Bertha Rochester, it allows Jane to marry the man she loves.
Last modified: May 1994