Not Half the Man I Meant to Be

Anonymous's picture

In discussing the bifurcated structure of his book (thefirst section is entitled “More Than Halfway,” the second, “To the Clearing”)and the book’s concern with middle age as a subject, Ed Hirsch says “I’m morethan halfway to the grave, but I’m not half the man I meant to become.”

Mark Sarvas says he could have used that line as theepigraph to his book because his character, Harry, is not the man he wanted tobecome, either.

We already have a discussion of Jane Eyre going on the site(a book also made reference to by Meg Wolitzer in this episode) so it isperhaps not surprising that this idea resonates with the aggressive confessionthat Rochester makes to Jane during their first evenings talking together inthe dinning room at Thornfield.

When, in Chapter XIV, Jane tells him that his “claim tosuperiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience,”Rochester replies “I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of bothadvantages.”

A little later, Rochesterexpands on the idea that he is, in Ed Hirsch’s phrase, not half the man hemeant to be:

“ . . . ‘Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man,Miss Eyre: one of the better kind; and you see I am not so. . . . I am not a villain:you are not to suppose that—not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; butowning, I verily believe, rather to circumstance than to my natural bent, I ama trite commonplace sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations withwhich the rich and worthless try to put on life.’”

How does this theme of mid-life disappointment in theproject of personal construction – expressed both in a classic 19th century work as well as in two 21stcentury works, one of fiction and one of poetry – resonate with you, either inyour life, or in literature?

caspar goodwood's picture

Interesting remark, although

Interesting remark, although there is a crucial difference, yes? For Hirsch, the expectations are his own but for Rochester it seems that the expectations of what he should be are society's. In some senses, Rochester is the freer man. In the age of individualism, we think of ourselves as independent choice makers. But, of course, those choices are all too easily controlled and given to by a privatized public sphere. Rochester's faded aristocratic world view separates him from any mass opinion, a position possible for the wealthy in the 19th century but quickly fading as the concept of citizen or even individual (elitist or otherwise) collapsed before teh conspicuous consumption that would be a moral mode turning us all into privatized (and therefore controllable) beings. In that realm, it is indeed the job of the market to convince us that we are only half of what we could be...