Rochester, even at his best, is not handsome: when he asks Jane if he is, she replies a categorical ‘No sir.’ We enjoy Rochester’s discomfort at Jane’s honesty and the humour of meeting his match. However, he is certainly a striking man: he is a ‘rugged stranger’ with a ‘dark face … stern features and a heavy brow,’ which is also described as a formidable ‘brow of rock’. In response to Jane’s description of St John Rivers as ‘a handsome man: tall, fair, with blue eyes, and a Grecian profile’, Rochester, self-pityingly, refers to himself as a coarse ‘Vulcan,—a real blacksmith, brown, broad-shouldered: and blind and lame into the bargain.’ He is jealous of the ‘graceful Apollo’ and sees himself symbolically as ‘that old lightning-struck chestnut-tree in the orchard’. Jane, antithetically, describes him as ‘green and vigorous’, saying that ‘plants [will] lean towards [him]’.
Some critics have observed that Rochester’s blindness and partial return of sight are symbolic of his emasculation. At the very least, it does seem from these lines that Bronte enjoys giving Rochester a dose of his own medicine: he is now the one who is jealous. Others feel that the maimed Rochester is more masculine than previously: he is referred to as a ‘caged eagle’ with eagle feathers and a bird’s claws. He has metamorphosed into a lion with a shaggy black mane and ‘blind ferocity’.
Ironically for an intending bigamist, Mrs Fairfax says Rochester’s character is ‘unimpeachable’. He comments that he is ‘a trite commonplace sinner’ and ‘not a villain’; Jane, herself, knows he is no ‘tyrant’. When thinking of his entanglement with Bertha, he likes ‘to lay half the blame on ill fortune and adverse circumstances’ and still feels he ‘has the right to get pleasure out of life.’ This means he has a ‘fixed desire … to seek … a good and intelligent woman whom [he can] love’ but he finds that, once again, ‘fate has out-manoeuvred me, or Providence has checked me.’