It goes without saying that Mr. Rochester is an explicitly sexual figure, who has had numerous romantic/sexual relationships in the past. He has a wife, he has had multiple mistresses, and there is even the possibility that he has an illegitimate child (his reasoning for not claiming Adele as his own is simply that she doesn’t look like him – he never denies the implication that he slept with her mother). Rochester is a sexually powerful character who does not attempt to control his desires, though he does go about fulfilling them in a controlled, thought-out manner (such as his plan to use Blanche Ingram to test Jane’s devotion to him). The novel draws on gothic tropes to allow this explicit reference to Rochester’s sexuality and provide space to discuss such taboo topics, in a way which other, non-gothic texts would not. The gothic can also be seen in the power imbalance between Rochester and Jane. When Jane enters his life, it is as his ward’s governess, and the language she uses emphasizes their relative positions to each other: she consistently refers to Rochester as “sir” and “my master,” never allowing the reader to forget their employer/employee relationship. Even once Jane becomes Rochester’s love interest, she strives to maintain their professional relationship: “I will not be your English Céline Varens. I shall continue to act as Adele’s governess: by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year besides” (Brontë 267). This determination to continue ‘earning her keep’ both emphasizes Jane’s desire for independence and the inherent power imbalance between her and Rochester. It also leads to interesting questions of agency – if she quits her place as Adele’s governess and becomes financially dependent upon Rochester as his wife, Jane must sacrifice her agency to “become a part of [him]” (Brontë 298). If, however, she retains her position as his employee, she will still be financially dependent upon him, though in a more traditionally masculine, professional sense. Regardless of her choice, if Jane remains at Thornfield the power imbalance must continue.
Along with the gothic tropes of sexuality and power, a colonialist theme can be traced through Rochester and his partners. He seems to have a love and desire for ‘exotic’ women, or at least, women who are not of his native English country, and he could perhaps be read as a sexual/romantic colonizer. His love life begins in the West Indies with Bertha Mason, and can be traced back to England through his various European mistresses (Brontë 305-306) until he meets Jane. While France, Italy, and Germany are perhaps not as ‘exotic’ as the West Indies, and do not fit as neatly into the colonialist theme, it is telling that Rochester never found a mistress or a partner among English women (at least, until he meets Jane). The argument could be made for his ‘relationship’ with Blanche Ingram; however, it is clear that he is only interested in her as a way to make Jane jealous and test her loyalty and devotion to him. Jane herself is a particularly unique love interest when compared to Rochester’s past partners. While she is English, she is also ‘othered’ and separate from the other women in Rochester’s life through her desire for independence, her strong will, her intelligence, and (in a more gothic sense) her close association with the supernatural. Despite her Englishness, Rochester senses that Jane is ‘exotic’ in her own unique way.
Questions of power, vulnerability, control, and agency can be approached from both a gothic and a postcolonialist perspective. Though the approaches differ, they both lend themselves to discussing the juxtaposed roles of powerful and vulnerable, colonizer and colonized; the character of Mr. Rochester shows the conflation of these perspectives in the way he acts as a powerful, sexual, colonizer of ‘exotic’ women.