Switching tenses is something writers usually avoid (or get dinged for). The exception, I think, is when they can pull it off the way Bronte does, as a way of (quite literally) setting the scene:
A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inn rooms have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of George the Third, and another of the Prince of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe. All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and bonnet; my muff and umbrella lie on the table, and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours’ exposure to the rawness of an October day: I left Lowton at four o’clock a.m., and the Millcote town clock is now just striking eight.Jane's got an hour and a half (or perhaps two hours) along a typically bumpy road to ponder just what she's getting herself into - but, as she notes, if it doesn't work, she's free to leave. (Not that she has any idea what she'd do with herself then, but it's always nice to keep that in mind, isn't it?)
"A more reassuring introduction for a new governess could scarcely be conceived" when Jane first crosses the threshold of Thornfield. (I suspect her feelings might have been a tad different if the master had been in residence at the time.) There's some quick sorting-out - Mrs. Fairfax is the housekeeper, not Jane's employer; the charge's name is Adele; Mrs. Fairfax is looking forward to being able to converse with someone of her own class, because
"Leah is a nice girl to be sure, and John and his wife are very decent people; but then you see they are only servants, and one can’t converse with them on terms of equality: one must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one’s authority."Which puts one in mind of a J.M. Barrie line: "His lordship may compel us to be equal upstairs, but there will never be equality in the servants' hall."
And then Jane's whisked off to bed - but not before Bronte takes the opportunity to toss in some foreshadowing:
A very chill and vault-like air pervaded the stairs and gallery, suggesting cheerless ideas of space and solitude; and I was glad, when finally ushered into my chamber, to find it of small dimensions, and furnished in ordinary, modern style... the eerie impression made by that wide hall, that dark and spacious staircase, and that long, cold gallery...Yeah, that's gonna make another appearance. Let's think back to high school English, shall we? Major feature of Gothic fiction: the house that's almost a character itself.
Welcome to Thornfield.
Traversing the long and matted gallery, I descended the slippery steps of oak; then I gained the hall: I halted there a minute; I looked at some pictures on the walls (one, I remember, represented a grim man in a cuirass, and one a lady with powdered hair and a pearl necklace), at a bronze lamp pendent from the ceiling, at a great clock whose case was of oak curiously carved, and ebon black with time and rubbing. Everything appeared very stately and imposing to me; but then I was so little accustomed to grandeur. The hall-door, which was half of glass, stood open; I stepped over the threshold. It was a fine autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation. Farther off were hills: not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion I had not expected to find existent so near the stirring locality of Millcote. A little hamlet, whose roofs were blent with trees, straggled up the side of one of these hills; the church of the district stood nearer Thornfield: its old tower-top looked over a knoll between the house and gates.Oh, and did I mention foreshadowing?
some of the third-storey rooms, though dark and low, were interesting from their air of antiquity. The furniture once appropriated to the lower apartments had from time to time been removed here, as fashions changed... All these relics gave to the third storey of Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory.Curious phrase, that.
After Jane finishes her early-morning tour, she learns one other essential detail: the house belongs to Mr. Rochester, who's going to wait a few more pages before making his appearance.
Jane (as the narrator) complains that Mrs. Fairfax doesn't do much to enlighten her about their employer's character, but let's take a look at what Mrs. F. has to say, shall we?
- He has "a gentleman's tastes and habits" (which is why she keeps the house in readiness whether or not he's around)
- His family is respected, and they own a lot of land and have for a long time (maybe this is a good time to discuss entailment and primogeniture?)
- She doesn't have any reason to dislike him (which is just a rousing endorsement)
- He's done some traveling (like, say, to the West Indies?)
- He's "peculiar" (because Mrs. Fairfax can never quite figure out whether or not he's messing with her, but then we're given to understand that Mrs. F. has no more than common abilities, so that's not saying much)
In the meantime, Jane meets some new characters: Adele (and her nurse Sophie, but she doesn't play much of a role in the story) and Grace Poole.