Volume I, Chapter 11 Summary:
As Jane arrives in Millcote, she is overcome with anxiety; there is no one at the station to meet her, and she fears that this Mrs. Fairfax will prove to be a second Mrs. Reed. By the time the servant arrives to take her to Thornfield, night has fallen, and Jane can see nothing of the exterior of the house or its grounds. Jane’s feels are allayed, however, when she is shown into a cozy room where the elderly Mrs. Fairfax is waiting for her. At first, Jane assumes that Mrs. Fairfax is the owner of the manor, but she soon learns that Mrs. Fairfax is only the housekeeper. Because Mr. Rochester, the manor’s owner, is a “peculiar” man who frequently travels on business, Mrs. Fairfax manages the household and estate and thus, responded to Jane’s advertisement in the newspaper herself. Mr. Rochester’s ward, Adèle Varens, will be Jane’s sole pupil at Thornfield. After the initial introduction, Mrs. Fairfax shows Jane to her room, and Jane sleeps peacefully, content to have embarked on a new adventure. The next day, Jane explores the grounds of Thornfield and meets the young Adèle, a garrulous but sweet French girl who chatters in a mixture of French and English. While exploring the house with Mrs. Fairfax, Jane hears a loud, odd laugh. Mrs. Fairfax brushes off the laugh and explains that it was probably one of the servants. She then chastises Grace Poole, a seamstress employed in the house, for "'Too much noise,'" and bids her to "'Remember directions!'"
The introductory chapter to Thornfield plants a few narrative seeds. First, there is an obvious correspondence between Jane and Adèle, both orphans, although Adèle’s living conditions are far better. Rochester's background is mysterious, made more so by Adèle’s belief that he "'has not kept his word'" to her by constantly abandoning her on his business trips and Mrs. Fairfax's opaque label that he is "'peculiar.'" The ghostly laugh at the end of the chapter, emanating near the attic of the manor, heightens the Gothic suspense of the novel, as do Mrs. Fairfax's curious commands to Grace Poole. Still, despite some strange aspects of Thornfield Manor, Jane feels a certain calm contentment. Not only is she no longer an inferior relative in Gateshead, she is also not a poor student at Lowood. Thornfield provides Jane with the first real opportunity to start her life anew, exploring her independence, maturity, and important position at Thornfield Manor.
Volume I, Chapter 12 Summary:
Life at Thornfield proves to be pleasant, and Jane is pleased with Adèle. Although the girl is somewhat spoiled, Jane recognizes that she is an affectionate and able student and hopes that she will be able to separate Adèle from some of her French affectation. Still, when Jane walks around the attic of Thornfield, she yearns for more experience in the world. Her existence at Thornfield is stable, but her passionate nature still longs for more adventure and passion in her life. During her time near the attic, Jane also frequently hears Grace's bizarre laugh and "eccentric murmurs" and observes other strange behavior. One day in January, Jane walks to town in order to deliver a letter for Mrs. Fairfax and inadvertently startles a gentleman riding on horseback with his dog accompanying him. The gentleman falls from his steed and sprains his ankle, and Jane must help him back on his horse. Although he is unwilling to accept her help, Jane insists, realizing that she never would have been able to be so bold if the rider had been a handsome, young man.
The man asks Jane several questions about Rochester and then departs. When Jane returns to Thornfield, she recognizes the same dog – Pilot – lying on the rug. She asks a servant for an explanation and discovers that it is, indeed, the dog from the road, and Mr. Rochester has just sprained his ankle while riding his horse.
Jane's desire for experience apart from stereotypical female experience is explained in a lengthy passage: "It is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures [men] to say that [women] ought to confine themselves to making pudding and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags." She goes on, and the conflict is clear; Jane desires a life of action and independence that is unavailable to her as a woman during the Victorian time. Jane’s thirst for adventure also reveals her passionate nature; although her time at Lowood has taught her to control her emotions beneath a calm exterior, the fiery and passionate Jane Eyre from her childhood at Gateshead still exists and yearns to escape a life of passivity.
In this chapter, Jane also meets Mr. Rochester for the first time. He is instantly cloaked in mystery by his refusal to identify himself to her when they meet along the road. In fact, it is only through the dog that Jane is able to assign an identity to the master of Thornfield Manor. Still, Jane asserts some power at the beginning of their relationship, since Rochester is placed in a weakened position because of his sprained ankle and is reliant on Jane for aid. Another physical impediment forcing Rochester's dependence on Jane will arise later in the novel.
Volume I, Chapter 13 Summary:
With Mr. Rochester home, Thornfield becomes a noisier, busier place, much to Jane's liking. He invites Jane and Adèle to have tea with him and Mrs. Fairfax. Adèle immediately asks if he has a gift for Jane; Jane asserts that the best gift that he can give her is praise of Adele’s progress. Mr. Rochester coldly interrogates her about her background but demonstrates more warmth when he looks at Jane’s watercolor sketches. After the meal, Jane and Mrs. Fairfax discuss Mr. Rochester. His older brother died nine years ago, whereupon Mr. Rochester inherited the estate, though he avoids the place as much as possible. Mrs. Fairfax's justification that Mr. Rochester finds the place "gloomy" does not satisfy Jane, and Mrs. Fairfax is evasive about Rochester's other "family troubles."
The mystery concerning Mr. Rochester deepens, and this constitutes the major dramatic thrust of the novel. Gothic novels usually have a romantic component that revolves around passionate, unrequited love; as a stereotypical Byronic hero with a dark, brooding nature and secretive past, Mr. Rochester is an ideal candidate for such a love.
Part of Jane's struggle with Mr. Rochester over the course of the novel will be the assertion of her independence and equality. As we can already see, Rochester only begrudgingly admits Jane's positive qualities, criticizing her even when praising her watercolors. Nevertheless, he demonstrates an obvious interest in her and seems to appreciate her intellectual. As Jane continues to grow in terms of self-reliance and begins to develop feelings for Mr. Rochester, she will undergo a constant struggle between her position as Mr. Rochester’s servant and her desire to be something more.
Volume I, Chapter 14 Summary:
During the next few days, Jane sees little of Mr. Rochester as he deals with business and acquaintances. His moods shift rapidly, but Jane cannot figure out their source. One night, during one of his warmer moods, Mr. Rochester gives Adèle her long-awaited gift and is more genial while talking with Jane. Jane keeps scrutinizing his face, a fact he notes; he asks if she finds him handsome, but she gives the honest answer: "No, sir." Mr. Rochester seems to be amused by Jane’s answer, and she concludes that he must be slightly drunk. Although the conversation continues, Jane begins to feel increasingly awkward because of Mr. Rochester’s position of superiority as her master. Mr. Rochester claims that their relationship should not be one of servitude. Moreover, he does not mean to condescend to her, but his air of superiority comes from his being much older and more experienced. Jane disagrees, arguing that age and experience should automatically confer authority. The conversation moves to the topic of sin and redemption, and Mr. Rochester promises to explain more about Adèle’s mother in the future.
Regardless of what Mr. Rochester says about his superiority in regards to experience with Jane, it is clear from his lengthy, involved discussion with her that he views her as his intellectual equal. Though she has a fraction of his worldly experience, Jane acquits herself well with the complicated topics Mr. Rochester brings up and even earns his approval at points for her thoughts. Their flirtation also unofficially begins, as Jane admits to herself that though "most people would have thought him an ugly man," he carries himself with a charismatic, detached confidence.
However, despite his assertion that their relationship is not one in which she is the servant, Mr. Rochester cannot change the social expectations of the time period. Even with their intellectual equality, Jane remains Mr. Rochester’s inferior, first as the governess to his ward, but primarily because she is a woman. Still, Mr. Rochester’s social domination over Jane will be far more pleasant and affectionate than the submissive position that she assumed with Mr. Brocklehurst or will take up with St. John Rivers at a later point in the novel.
Volume I, Chapter 15 Summary:
One afternoon, while Adèle plays elsewhere, Mr. Rochester takes the opportunity to fulfill his promise to Jane and explain his relationship to Adèle. He was once passionately devoted to her mother, a French opera-dancer named Céline Varens, and despite her superior beauty, she seemed to return his ardor. He spent a fortune treating her to a luxurious lifestyle in Paris until he discovered that he was being cuckolded in a rather humiliating fashion. Mr. Rochester shot the other man in his arm and ended his relationship with Céline, believing that he was entirely done with the affair. However, Céline claimed that the six-month-old Adèle was his daughter and then abandoned her a few years later so that she could run off with an Italian musician. Mr. Rochester was certain that the child was not his, but took responsibility for Adèle anyway and brought her to live as his ward at Thornfield.
Mr. Rochester expects that Jane will be appalled at the prospect of tutoring an illegitimate child, but Jane actually has more sympathy and affection for Adèle after learning of her background. As for Mr. Rochester, these revelations and his confidence in Jane make him seem handsomer and more amiable to her, and she is worried that he will soon leave Thornfield, as Mrs. Fairfax says he always does. That night, as Jane lays awake thinking about everything that Mr. Rochester has told her, she thinks the she hears movement outside her door, then hears a "demoniac" laugh. When she leaves her bedroom, she finds a candle burning in the hallway, sees that Mr. Rochester's door is open, and finds his curtains on fire. He is stupefied by the smoky air, but she wakes him by extinguishing the flames and dousing him with water. She relates what she knows, and he goes into the attic. He returns a few minutes later and says the cause of the fire was Grace Poole, as Jane suspected from the laugh. Mr. Rochester tells her not to speak about the matter to anyone, and then thanks her sincerely for saving his life; he is reluctant for her to leave him. Jane is unable to sleep that night, thinking instead pleasurably of the "hills of Beulah" which, unfortunately, she is not able to reach.
This extended discussion about Céline Varens reveals more of Mr. Rochester’s inner character and personality. Significantly, it is this description of Mr. Rochester’s flaws that make him seem more attractive to Jane; the jealous anger and desire that he describes mirror Jane’s passionate interior and are a welcome contrast from Mr. Brocklehurst’s evangelical purity. Even though the discussion of a mistress and an illegitimate child would be deemed inappropriate for a young woman during the time, Mr. Rochester’s confidence in Jane heightens the sense of their intellectual (and growing emotional) equality. The fact that Adèle is essentially an orphan is also particularly appealing to Jane; she hopes to take on the same role as surrogate mother that Bessie and Miss Temple had performed for her.
When Jane douses the fire in Mr. Rochester’s bedroom, he is again placed in a position of vulnerability that allows her to seize control and independence in the situation. This is also another example of the positive nature of fire; although the fire is potentially destructive, the incident ultimately brings Mr. Rochester and Jane much closer together. However, Jane still recognizes something mysterious about Mr. Rochester: he is quick to blame Grace Poole for causing the fire, and his desire to pin it on her comes across as disingenuous.
However, there is nothing disingenuous about Mr. Rochester’s gratitude for Jane having saved his life, and his reluctance for her to leave tells something about his wounded heart. After his bitter betrayal by Céline, he is yearning for a constant love based on more than mere physical attraction, and Jane seems to provide that. Interestingly, when Jane is unable to sleep after saving Mr. Rochester, she is preoccupied by the hills of “Beulah,” a term which means “marriage” in Hebrew. Bronte suggests that Jane is already subconsciously thinking of marriage to Mr. Rochester. However, Jane still feels that there is a “counteracting breeze” that would make such a union impossible.