Jane’s driver is late picking her up from the station at Millcote. When she finally arrives at Thornfield it is nighttime. Although she cannot distinguish much of the house’s facade from among the shadows, she finds the interior “cosy and agreeable.” Mrs. Fairfax, a prim, elderly woman, is waiting for Jane. It turns out that Mrs. Fairfax is not, as Jane had assumed from their correspondence, the owner of Thornfield, but rather the housekeeper. Thornfield’s owner, Mr. Rochester, travels regularly and leaves much of the manor’s management to Mrs. Fairfax. Jane learns that she will be tutoring Adèle, an eight-year-old French girl whose mother was a singer and dancer. Mrs. Fairfax also tells Jane about Rochester, saying that he is an eccentric man whose family has a history of extreme and violent behavior. Suddenly, Jane hears a peal of strange, eerie laughter echoing through the house, and Mrs. Fairfax summons someone named Grace, whom she orders to make less noise and to “remember directions.” When Grace leaves, Mrs. Fairfax explains that she is a rather unbalanced and unpredictable seamstress who works in the house.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.
Jane finds life at Thornfield pleasant and comfortable. Adèle proves to be exuberant and intelligent, though spoiled and at times a bit petulant. Nonetheless, Jane is frequently restless and collects her thoughts while pacing Thornfield’s top-story passageway. One evening a few months after her arrival at Thornfield, Jane is alone watching the moon rise when she perceives a horse approaching. It calls to her mind the story Bessie once told her of a spirit called a Gytrash, which disguises itself as a mule, dog, or horse to frighten “belated travellers.” Oddly enough, a dog then appears as well. Once she realizes that the horse has a rider, the uncanny moment ceases. Just after the horse passes her, it slips on a patch of ice, and its rider tumbles to the ground. Jane helps the man rise to his feet and introduces herself to him. She observes that he has a dark face, stern features, and a heavy brow. He is not quite middle-aged. Upon reentering Thornfield, Jane goes to Mrs. Fairfax’s room and sees the same dog—Pilot—resting on the rug. A servant answers Jane’s queries, explaining that the dog belongs to Mr. Rochester, who has just returned home with a sprained ankle, having fallen from his horse.
The day following his arrival, Mr. Rochester invites Jane and Adèle to have tea with him. He is abrupt and rather cold toward both of them, although he seems charmed by Jane’s drawings, which he asks to see. When Jane mentions to Mrs. Fairfax that she finds Rochester “changeful and abrupt,” Mrs. Fairfax suggests that his mannerisms are the result of a difficult personal history. Rochester was something of a family outcast, and when his father died, his older brother inherited Thornfield. Rochester has been Thornfield’s proprietor for nine years, since the death of his brother.
Jane sees little of Rochester during his first days at Thornfield. One night, however, in his “after-dinner mood,” Rochester sends for Jane and Adèle. He gives Adèle the present she has been anxiously awaiting, and while Adèle plays, Rochester is uncharacteristically chatty with Jane. When Rochester asks Jane whether she thinks him handsome, she answers “no” without thinking, and from Rochester’s voluble reaction Jane concludes that he is slightly drunk. Rochester’s command that she converse with him makes Jane feel awkward, especially because he goes on to argue that her relationship to him is not one of servitude. Their conversation turns to the concepts of sin, forgiveness, and redemption. When Adèle mentions her mother, Jane is intrigued, and Rochester promises to explain more about the situation on a future occasion.
A while later, Rochester fulfills his promise to Jane to tell her about his and Adèle’s pasts. He had a long affair with Adèle’s mother, the French singer and dancer named Celine Varens. When he discovered that Celine was engaged in relations with another man, Rochester ended the relationship. Rochester has always denied Celine’s claim that Adèle is his daughter, noting that the child looks utterly unlike him. Even so, when Celine abandoned her daughter, Rochester brought Adèle to England so that she would be properly cared for.
Jane lies awake brooding about the strange insights she has gained into her employer’s past. She hears what sound like fingers brushing against the walls, and an eerie laugh soon emanates from the hallway. She hears a door opening and hurries out of her room to see smoke coming from Rochester’s door. Jane dashes into his room and finds his bed curtains ablaze. She douses the bed with water, saving Rochester’s life. Strangely, Rochester’s reaction is to visit the third floor of the house. When he returns, he says mysteriously, “I have found it all out, it is just as I thought.” He inquires whether Jane has ever heard the eerie laughter before, and she answers that she has heard Grace Poole laugh in the same way. “Just so. Grace Poole—you have guessed it,” Rochester confirms. He thanks Jane for saving his life and cautions her to tell no one about the details of the night’s events. He sleeps on the library sofa for the remainder of the night.
The next morning, Jane is shocked to learn that the near tragedy of the night before has caused no scandal. The servants believe Rochester to have fallen asleep with a lit candle by his bed, and even Grace Poole shows no sign of guilt or remorse. Jane cannot imagine why an attempted murderer is allowed to continue working at Thornfield. She realizes that she is beginning to have feelings for Rochester and is disappointed that he will be away from Thornfield for several days. He has left to attend a party where he will be in the company of Blanche Ingram, a beautiful lady. Jane scolds herself for being disappointed by the news, and she resolves to restrain her flights of imaginative fancy by comparing her own portrait to one she has drawn of Blanche Ingram, noting how much plainer she is than the beautiful Blanche.
This section marks the third phase of Jane’s life, in which she begins her career as a governess and travels to Thornfield, where the principal incidents of her story take place. By linking Jane’s stages of development to the various institutions or geographic locations with which she is involved (Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House, and Ferndean, in order), the book positions itself among a literary genre known as the Bildungsroman.
The Bildungsroman, a novel that details the growth and development of a main character through several periods of life, began as a German genre in the seventeenth century, but by the mid-1800s had become firmly established in England as well. Such important Victorian novels as David Copperfield base themselves on this form, which continues as an important literary sub-genre even today. The Bildungsroman typically told the story of a man growing from boyhood to adulthood; Charlotte Brontë’s appropriation of the form for her heroine represents one of the many ways in which her novel challenges the accepted Victorian conceptions of gender hierarchy, making the statement that a woman’s inner development merits as much attention and analysis as that of a man. Still, although Jane herself and Jane Eyre as a novel are often identified as important early figures in the feminist movement, Jane experiences much inner questioning regarding her gender role; she is not a staunch and confident feminist at all times. That is, while Jane is possessed of an immense integrity and a determination to succeed on her own terms, her failure to conform to ideals of female beauty nonetheless troubles her and makes her question herself.
Just as Jane’s time at Lowood involved a number of elements taken from Charlotte Brontë’s own life, so too is Jane’s career as a governess based in part on Brontë’s short-lived position as a governess in the late 1830s. In many ways, Brontë’s exploration of the role of the governess represents the novel’s most important and challenging treatment of the theme of social class. Just as Emily Brontë does with Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Brontë makes Jane a figure of ambiguous class standing. Consequently, she is a source of extreme tension for the characters around her. But while Heathcliff (an orphan like Jane) achieves wealth and power without achieving education or social grace, Jane acquires the manners, sophistication, and education of an aristocrat while remaining penniless and powerless. Such was the role of the governess: brought into wealthy Victorian households as the children’s private tutors in both academics and etiquette, governesses were expected to possess the demeanor of the aristocracy; but as paid employees, they were in many ways treated merely as servants. Jane begins to experience this tension as soon as she notices her emerging feelings for Rochester. Though she is in some ways his social equal, she is also his servant, and thus she cannot believe that he could ever fall in love with her.