Last Updated on September 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1601
Jane’s journey to Thornfield takes longer than she expected, and by the time she arrives, night has fallen. Though Jane cannot see much of the outside of the house, the interior is nicely furnished and cozy. She is surprised by the solicitous treatment Mrs. Fairfax, a neat old woman, offers her; she addresses Jane more like a guest than an employee. Mrs. Fairfax informs Jane that she will be governess to a young girl named Adèle Varens. The next morning, Jane is surprised to learn that the owner of Thornfield is a man named Mr. Rochester and not, as she had presumed, Mrs. Fairfax. Mrs. Fairfax (who is actually the housekeeper) explains that Mr. Rochester is rarely home and that Adèle is his ward. Adèle speaks mostly French and it is revealed that her late mother was a French performer. Jane finds her to be a pleasant pupil, though somewhat unfocused. From Mrs. Fairfax, Jane endeavors to learn more about the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Mrs. Fairfax says that his personality is “rather peculiar,” though he is a good master. While Mrs. Fairfax is showing Jane around the house, they hear a spooky, echoing laugh upstairs. Mrs. Fairfax assures Jane that it is just Grace Poole, a rather eccentric servant, and reprimands Grace for making too much noise.
Jane finds her life at Thornfield pleasant and enjoys the company of Mrs. Fairfax and Adèle. In part due to her comfortable situation, Jane begins to feel a bit bored and often finds herself walking along the roof of Thornfield, imagining the vast, unknown world beyond the visible horizon. One day, feeling restless, Jane offers to deliver one of Mrs. Fairfax’s letters to town. As she walks, she hears a horse approaching and recalls Bessie telling her about the mythical “Gytrash,” a horse-like creature that is said to approach solitary travelers. The spell is broken, however, when she spies the horse’s human rider. Just as Jane begins to walk away, the horse slips on ice, causing both it and its rider to fall to the ground. Jane rushes over to help the man, who appears to be in his mid-thirties. She notices that he has a stern face and a rough demeanor. She introduces herself, and after she helps the stranger remount his horse, he is able to ride off, accompanied by his dog. When Jane returns to Thornfield, she notices the same dog that had been following the rider. A servant informs her that Mr. Rochester has just arrived with a sprained ankle.
The next day, Jane and Adèle are invited to have tea with Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester behaves distantly toward both of them before beginning to question Jane rather aggressively. Though Mr. Rochester’s manner is harsh, he appears to be impressed by Jane’s drawing ability. After the encounter, Jane tells Mrs. Fairfax that she found Mr. Rochester “very changeful and abrupt.” Mrs. Fairfax hints that part of Mr. Rochester’s peculiar personality may be tied to past family troubles. She reveals that he was not on very good terms with his father or elder brother and that he only gained ownership of Thornfield nine years ago when his elder brother died.
Jane sees little of Mr. Rochester over the next several days until one night, after dinner, Mr. Rochester sends for her and Adèle. Giving Adèle a gift with which to distract herself, Mr. Rochester strikes up a conversation with Jane. After noticing her looking at him, Mr. Rochester boldly asks whether she finds him handsome, to which Jane unthinkingly and bluntly replies “No, sir.” Mr. Rochester is intrigued by her honesty, and Jane begins to suspect he has had too much wine. He demands that Jane speak about herself, but Jane, rankled by his overt sense of superiority, challenges his claim that he may command her merely because he is older and more worldly than her. Though Mr. Rochester disagrees, he is impressed with her bold answer. The conversation turns to the concept of regeneration, and Mr. Rochester suggests that he is burdened by the sins of his past. Before Jane leaves, Mr. Rochester mentions Adèle’s mother, Céline Varens, and promises to tell Jane more about her later.
On a different day, Mr. Rochester meets Jane in the garden and fulfills his promise to explain his connection to Adèle’s mother. He reveals that Céline Varens was a French opera dancer with whom he had an affair. Despite his unconventional appearance, Céline claimed to find his “taille d'athléte” (athletic build) attractive. Flattered and infatuated, Mr. Rochester lavished gifts upon Céline and even paid for her to live in a hotel. One day, he spied Céline getting out of a carriage with another man. Eavesdropping on them, Mr. Rochester overheard Céline making fun of his appearance to the other man. Mr. Rochester then confronted the pair and ended his relationship with Céline. Céline claims that Adèle is Mr. Rochester’s daughter, and though he admits it is possible, he doubts it given how little Adèle resembles him. Even though he did not believe that Adèle was his daughter, he still took her in to raise her properly and save her from a life of poverty.
Later that night, Jane sits alone in her room, reflecting on what Mr. Rochester has told her. Jane is pleased that her frank style seems to genuinely amuse Mr. Rochester, and she's flattered that he trusts her discretion enough to have related the story of Céline Varens. Though Jane remains aware of Mr. Rochester’s faults, she admits that she has come to greatly enjoy his company. Some time later, Jane is awakened in the middle of the night by strange sounds coming from the hallway. She hears a demonic laugh and a gurgling moan. Thinking it must be Grace Poole, Jane opens her door to go fetch Mrs. Fairfax. Upon entering the hallway, Jane finds it full of smoke and quickly identifies the source as Mr. Rochester’s room. Inside, she finds Mr. Rochester’s bed ablaze and sees that he is still asleep in the middle of it. Thinking quickly, Jane throws water on the fire, putting it out and waking Mr. Rochester. He tells Jane to wait in the room while he goes up to the third floor. Upon his return, he seems to confirm Jane’s suspicion that the person in the hallway was Grace Poole. Mr. Rochester tells Jane to keep this incident to herself and sincerely thanks her for saving his life.
Though Jane’s situation at Thornfield is an improvement, she remains restless and dissatisfied until the arrival of the intriguing Mr. Rochester. From the very start it is clear that Jane and Mr. Rochester are intellectual equals, as Mr. Rochester’s direct approach and disregard for conventionality find their match in Jane’s integrity and brutal honesty. Through each verbal exchange, Mr. Rochester lures Jane further out of the reserved shell she cultivated at Lowood, just as Jane’s intelligence and strong convictions challenge Mr. Rochester’s cynicism. While neither of them finds the other conventionally attractive, they are drawn to one another’s minds, finding in each other an escape from the stultifying conventions of their time. The depth of their shared understanding is demonstrated when Mr. Rochester confides in Jane about his love affair with Céline Varens, a topic of conversation that he openly admits is unorthodox:
Strange that I should choose you for the confidante of all this, young lady; passing strange that you should listen to me quietly, as if it were the most usual thing in the world for a man like me to tell stories of his opera-mistresses to a quaint, inexperienced girl like you! But the last singularity explains the first, as I intimated once before: you, with your gravity, considerateness, and caution were made to be the recipient of secrets.
For her part, Jane responds to Mr. Rochester’s boldness in kind. Rather than becoming flustered or attempting flattery when Mr. Rochester's asks for her opinion on his looks, Jane responds honestly and without calculation. Mr. Rochester appreciates her forthrightness, later contrasting Jane’s honesty with Céline’s deceitful flattery. Throughout these chapters, Jane and Mr. Rochester grow increasingly close, and after Jane saves him from the fire, it is clear that she is beginning to develop romantic feelings for him. Jane is well aware, however, that they would never be considered a suitable match. As their relationship deepens, Jane will feel increasingly torn between her personal belief in their intellectual equality and the knowledge that, as a penniless working woman, she will always be considered his social inferior.
Even as Mr. Rochester’s arrival brightens Jane’s life, a series of unpleasant and strange events begin to unfold at Thornfield. The mysterious sounds, the fire, and Mr. Rochester’s inexplicable desire to keep these things secret suggest that something is deeply amiss. Even as they become friends, Mr. Rochester remains a mysterious figure to Jane, often vaguely referencing mistakes and sins from his past that seem to haunt and torment him still. At one point Mr. Rochester admits that he actually likes Thornfield, but he abruptly stops speaking, failing to reveal why he has avoided it for so long. When he stares up at the house, Jane is startled by the conflicting emotions—pain, shame, ire, impatience, and disgust—she observes in his glare.
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