At first Jane sees little of Rochester, except in passing, but learns not to be offended at his cool acknowledgements, as she is clever enough to realize these funks are independent of her. One day, he summons her and Adèle, and while the child opens her cadeaux with Mrs. Fairfax, Rochester and Jane begin a deep conversation. Rochester claims that he was once as good as Jane, but circumstance and fate worked together to corrupt his nature. Since fate has denied him goodness, he will do what he can to seize any happiness available to him. Concerned, Jane counsels repentance but her employer is only willing to concede that he might reform. Surprisingly, he shows tremendous insight into Jane’s character, and when Jane feels the hour late, Rochester wishes to continue the conversation. It is an important and illuminating first extended meeting between the two, where they connect on more than just a superficial basis.
|The Conversation Piece
Jane and Rochester’s conversation is absolutely fascinating. They both speak of entirely unconventional subjects —- in fact, very intimate subjects —- and while both sense the oddity of their conversation, each is comfortable with it. In fact, Rochester admits that he has given up acting conventional with her. Jane, for her part, does not let Rochester get away with avoiding facing his demons, and many times challenges him or puts him in his place with a quiet grace that is very effective.
“I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
One afternoon, Rochester meets Jane and Adèle on the grounds and confides in her his boyish infatuation with a French opera-singer, Celine Varens, Adèle’s mother, when he was a young man. Finding her with her lover, he turned her out, put a bullet in the arm of her lover, and assumed responsibility for Adèle, when Celine abandoned her. She had told Rochester that the child was his but he could see no resemblance. This story of passionate love, jealousy and betrayal should have shocked Jane, but she listens with quiet composure, and afterwards feels an increased affection for her charge. Rochester begins to meet her more cordially and Jane is gratified at his trust in her. As her knowledge of him broadens, so does her opinion of his character:
“And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader. Gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best like to see ….. Yet I had not forgotten his faults — indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me ….. But I believe that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled ….”
One night, Jane wakes to a familiar demonic laugh and finds Mr. Rochester’s bed in flames. In desperation, she flings a pitcher and bowl of water over him, and when she relates her story to him, he makes her wait until he returns. As he shows a deep gratitude for the service she performed for him, Jane is slightly uncomfortable with their closeness. When she returns to her room, sleep evades her for the rest of the night.
So, here is where I think the sketching of Mr. Rochester’s character becomes important for an understanding of him. Many readers dislike his dark, fitful and coarse personality, but it’s necessary to understand its source. In these last two chapters, we are told that Rochester would have been as pure as Jane, if circumstances had not worked against him. How he chose to meet those circumstances have perhaps moulded a rougher character, but the goodness of his character is merely buried under these traits. Jane is one person who cares enough to search for the pearls in amongst the swine.
|A Walk (1901)
Jane discovers that Rochester’s explanation of the fire to the staff is curious: he fell asleep with a lighted candle which caught his curtains on fire. Jane wonders at his reticence and questions Grace Poole about the laugh, whereupon the servant answers as if she is cautioning her curiosity. Jane expects to see Rochester that evening, but learns that he is gone and perhaps not soon to return. He is visiting some ladies on the other side of Millcote, in particular, a Miss Blanche Ingram. Jane gathers all the lady’s particulars from Mrs. Fairfax and then reproaches herself with a vehemence for dreaming of preference and flattery from her employer, things that can never be. She is merely “… a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain,” and can have no hope where he is concerned. She finally forces her feelings to submit to sense, and is calm.
|Avenue of Trees in a Small Town (1866)
Why, can anyone tell me, did Rochester leave so quickly and then decide to visit a possible female admirer? Is he, too, disconcerted by the connection that he feels to Jane and wishes to sever it, or at the very least, test it? Strangely, he doesn’t seem like a man to be so disturbed by his feelings. Or does he have plans to return with Miss Ingram to test Jane’s feelings for him? I suppose the latter is more likely.
I thought it unusual for Jane to choose to sketch her own portrait, then that of Blanche Ingram and compare the two to control her feelings of partiality for Mr. Rochester. She is comparing outward appearance only, whereas Jane is intelligent enough to know that should not be of importance where love and respect are concerned. As composed as she claims she is at the end of the chapter, she does not appear to be thinking clearly.
We also learn in this chapter that Mr. Rochester is nearing 40 years old.