The relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is explored for the first time in Chapter 12. Mr Rochester’s entrance into the novel in Chapter 12, unbeknownst to Jane until the final paragraphs of the chapter, acts as an interesting way for the reader to explore both Jane’s and Mr Rochester’s characters and Bronte uses this as an initial indication of the relationship that develops through the rest of the novel.
It is clear from the beginning of the chapter that Jane is frustrated by her situation within Thornfield.
Whilst Bronte presents her situation within the household as one of comfort and that for many would breed contentedness, it becomes obvious that Jane’s passionate desire for more fulfillment in life, “more practical experience than I possessed” has caused restlessness. Jane’s philosophy that “human beings… ust have action” acts as a precursor to the dramatic introduction of Mr Rochester to Jane. Before the dramatic encounter,Bronte confronts the divide between the sexes in 19th century through Jane’s maturing attitudes towards her role as a young woman within society; she challenges the idea that “Woman are supposed to be very calm generally;” Instead, Jane believes that women should be taken seriously “if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex”.
These thoughts of Jane’s, combined with her obvious restlessness, indicate an immanent change in her position within Thornfield, thus building tension before her encounter with Mr Rochester. Her escape from the mundanity of life within the walls of Thornfield comes in the form of a walk to the local town of Hay.
It is winter at this point in the novel, and refreshing images of “the low-gliding and pale-beaming sun” represents a form of solitude not like the kind experienced by Jane in the novel’s opening, where she is isolated from the love and care of the residents of the Reed family, but one to be enjoyed. Bronte’s vivid descriptions and use of imagery within Jane’s surroundings on the walk – the warmth of “wild roses” within the winter’s “utter solitude and leafless repose” – typifies the passion of Jane’s character within her uneventful surroundings and position at Thornfield.
At the point in the chapter when the encounter actually takes place, Jane’s feelings and thoughts about her situation within Thornfield have been explored, so the sudden interjection of dramatic incident of the encounter becomes very real to the reader: Bronte’s use of sound within the descriptions of Mr Rochester’s approach creates tension, as the reader, just like Jane, is given no visual clues as to the source of the approaching sound.
Instead, as is often the case within the novel, Jane allows her imagination to take hold as “the din on the causeway”, although clearly an approaching horse, is imagined to be a mythical beast, a “gytrash”, from “one of Bessie’s tales”. This fantastical imagy, in conjunction with the vivid descriptions of the approach – “positive tramp, tramp; a metallic clatter” – heightens the tension immensely.
Jane’s, and therefore the reader’s, first experience of Mr Rochester, although it is not discovered that it is Mr Rochester until the end of the chapter, is therefore one of mystery and, to a degree, fear. Before Jane’s initial interaction with him, he is portrayed as mysterious, and his anonymity allows Jane’s imagination to irrationally fear his advancing frame on his horse. This ominous approach acts as an early indication that Mr Rochester may evolve into a Byronic character within the novel.
Bronte’s description of Mr Rochester’s appearance in this initial encounter, angular and seemingly lacking in affection – “considerable breadth of chest”, “dark face”, “heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted”, does not instill fear or shyness within Jane, but instead she feels drawn to this unknown man, as despite her “theoretical reverence and homage for beauty”, she feels comforted by his imperfections and faults. This becomes a key theme in the following chapters.
With the start of substantial conversation between Jane and Mr Rochester, Bronte create interest as Mr Rochester does not disclose at any point in the conversation that he is Jane’s employer. Despite Jane’s act of kindness to a stranger by assisting Mr Rochester when he had fallen off his horse, his conversation lacks any kindness, and his blunt questioning – “Whose house is it? ”, “Do you know Mr Rochester? ” – shows his attempts to anonymously explore Jane’s character. These attempts prove futile, as, just as in future onversations between Jane and Mr Rochester, they speak with equal intelligence, and it is clear from the one or two word, factual answers that Jane is not foolish enough to be tricked into disclosing any information to a stranger, who, however comfortable she feels in his presence, is unknown to her none-the-less. This conversation, although lacking disclosure of information from either party, both forms the reader’s views on this stranger, who we can now guess is indeed Mr Rochester, and furthers the reader’s understanding of Jane’s character.
Following the encounter, Jane is able to appreciate how on the surface this was “an incident of no moment, no romance, no interest in a sense”, but it did offer a reprieve from her “monotonous life” at Thornfield. Bronte is able to further demonstrate Jane’s ever maturing mind following the meeting with this stranger; this new experience, of interaction with a man with whom she is on equal terms, whilst short, and to her mind at this point inconsequential, paints a new, masculine picture in her mind.
However, this simply augments her reluctance to return to Thornfield: her desire for a more adventurous life has simply increased following this introduction to a masculine and mysterious figure into her life. Despite this reluctance, when she does finally re-enter the “gloomy house”, she is greeted by a more welcoming atmosphere: “two leaved door stood open” , “a genial fire in the grate”, “polished furniture in the most pleasant radiance” and “a cheerful mingling of voices”. This change in Thornfield’s atmosphere symbolises a definite change in Jane’s life, coinciding with Mr Rochester’s entrance into the novel.
Bronte’s introduction of Mr Rochester in chapter 12 is presented in a manner befitting his character: the mysterious entrance into Jane’s life is gothic; how Jane experiences this initial encounter is intensified by her vivid imagination, and the involvement of a mythical “gytrash” immediately establishes Mr Rochester as a Byronic character. That Jane is drawn to Mr Rochester specifically because of this and his lack of beauty gives these initial interactions significant importance in the establishment of the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester. BB