Another week gone by! How has everyone’s reading been? This was an eventful installment, so I’ll get straight to it. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
When we left Jane, she was just settling into life at Thornfield, teaching young Adele by day and making small talk with the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, in the evenings. Already, however, Jane is getting restless. She had hoped that Thornfield’s proximity to a larger town would bring her some change or interest, but she’s just as much a recluse there as she was at Lowood – that is, until one day when she decides to walk to the post office and encounters a large dog and a man on horseback. The man rather awkwardly falls off his horse and then questions whether Jane is a woodland fairy who spread the ice beneath his horse’s hooves. (Answer: NO.) This rather clumsy, awkward gentleman turns out to be none other than Mr. Rochester, master of Thornfield.
Jane and Mr. Rochester quickly establish a bond. Mr. Rochester, for his part, seems to enjoy Jane’s company. He likes to talk, and she likes to listen, and he enjoys her bluntness – when asked whether she finds him handsome, for example, she quickly (and unthinkingly) responds, “No, sir.” Jane’s feelings for Mr. Rochester rapidly change from polite interest to warmth and then to love – or at least, infatuation – one night. Jane awakens in the night to hear the weird, demonic laughter that she has periodically observed, and which Mrs. Fairfax has told her is the household seamstress, Grace Poole. The laughter, this time, is not coming from the attics, but from the hallway right outside Jane’s room. Fearing some danger, Jane rushes to Mr. Rochester and finds his bed ablaze. She wakes him up and he escapes the flames unharmed, gives Jane one compliment on her eyes, and she’s in love.
The morning after the fire, Jane is astonished to discover two things: Mr. Rochester is gone, and Grace Poole still works there. Mr. Rochester has made her promise not to mention anything about Grace in connection with the fire, and she’s as good as her word. Meanwhile, Jane’s infatuation for her employer grows in his absence, until he returns with a large party of local ladies and gentlemen, including the tall, striking, and snobbish Blanche Ingram, believed by everyone to be his intended bride. Mr. Rochester asks Jane to join the group in the evenings and she does so – even while being snubbed by the women and feeling heartbroken at the prospect of seeing Mr. Rochester married to Miss Ingram.
On one of the last nights of the party, a stranger named Richard Mason arrives at Thornfield and asks to see Mr. Rochester. He’s not there, having gone off “on business” to a nearby town and returned in disguise as a gypsy woman to have some sport of the ladies. Jane, suspecting a trick, is guarded in what she says to the “gypsy.” She’s shocked to find that the “gypsy” is Mr. Rochester, however – she’d been expecting Grace Poole to reveal herself – and further heartbroken by hearing the “gypsy” Mr. Rochester give credence to the rumors that he plans to wed Miss Ingram. Jane will, however, have another opportunity to prove her devotion and discretion that night, when Mr. Mason is viciously attacked. Believing his assailant to be the murderous Grace Poole, Jane keeps a silent vigil at Mr. Mason’s bedside while Mr. Rochester rides for a surgeon. Mr. Mason is smuggled out of Thornfield the next morning, and Grace Poole remains at her post.
Jane leaves the estate shortly thereafter, having been summoned back to Gateshead at the request of Mrs. Reed, who is dying. (And John Reed, he of the book-throwing, is already dead, and mourned by no one except his mother.) Jane arrives at Gateshead to a frosty welcome from her cousins Eliza and Georgianna and waits some time before Mrs. Reed is coherent enough to speak with her. When she finally gains her audience, Jane learns that three years prior, Mrs. Reed had received a letter from one of Jane’s Eyre relations, who had made his fortune and wished to adopt Jane. Rather than seeing Jane comfortable and cherished, the spiteful Mrs. Reed informed Mr. Eyre that Jane had died in the typhus outbreak at Lowood. Jane, proving herself (again) to be made of better stuff than her aunt, forgives Mrs. Reed and comforts her on her deathbed.
Thoughts Thus Far
What a week of reading! This set of chapters brought one event after another. The entry of Mr. Rochester on the scene – Jane falling in love – two attempted murders – a large party – a deathbed confession. My head is spinning, as it always is when I get to this part of the book. It makes quite the change from the early chapters, in which nothing seems to happen and in which Bronte ruminates on one day or one event for chapters at a time.
A couple of things that I’d like to mention: first of all, Mr. Rochester’s appearance is one of my favorite entrances by a leading man in all of literature. No striding confidently into a room for he. No, and no smoldering glances by the fireside, either, while the heroine catches her breath in her throat in the doorway. No, this literary hero makes his grand and dramatic entrance by… falling off a horse. I love that. Let no one accuse Charlotte Bronte of being humorless.
Of course, the hero’s clumsy entrance also serves to humble him a little bit, so that the reader isn’t completely incredulous at how quickly Jane becomes his companion – his “little friend,” as he calls her. A governess normally wouldn’t find herself sitting beside the master of the house for hours on end, listening to him ruminate about his various failings (a favorite topic of Mr. Rochester’s). But then, Thornfield is a small establishment – it’s a big house, but run by a small group of servants since the master is so rarely present – and as a result, Mr. Rochester fits right into the tight-knit little group. At least, he does until Miss Ingram and company arrive, and then Jane is quickly and sharply reminded of her real status.
Another thing I noticed on this reading was how quickly Jane becomes infatuated with Mr. Rochester. For his part, he seems entertained by her and he certainly trusts her. But after one dramatic evening (okay, she did save his life) and one compliment about he eyes, Jane believes herself to be in love. Is she really? I doubt it. At this point, I think she’s just infatuated. To put it bluntly, she’s got quite the crush. But I think it’s the effect of her emotionally starved childhood that causes her to mistake a crush for love, and one compliment for the possibility of reciprocation. Of course, we still have plenty to read…
Have you been reading along with Septemb-Eyre? Did you enjoy this whirlwind set of chapters?