Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 16

Summary

On the morning following the fire, Jane dreads seeing Rochester, but his behavior hasn't changed. Watching the servants cleaning Rochester's room, Jane is amazed to find Grace Poole sewing new curtain rings. Grace seems calm for a woman who tried to commit murder the previous night. Like the other servants, Grace seems to believe that Rochester fell asleep with his candle lit, and the curtains caught on fire. Grace advises Jane to bolt her door every night. Throughout their conversation, Grace gives no sign of guilt at having set the fire, astonishing Jane with her self-possession and hypocrisy. Jane is curious about Grace's role in the household. Why hasn't he fired Grace following the previous night's near murderous arson? At first, Jane believes Rochester might be in love with Grace, but rejects this idea because of Grace's unattractive and matronly appearance.

Jane is dismayed to learn that Rochester has left the house to attend a party at the Leas, home of Mr. Eshton, and will be gone for several days. She's particularly upset to learn that a beautiful woman, Miss Blanche Ingram, will be at the party. Recognizing that she's falling in love with Rochester, Jane tries to discipline her feelings by drawing two pictures: a self-portrait in crayon and an imaginary picture of Blanche on ivory. Whenever her feelings for Rochester become too intense, Jane compares her own plainness with Blanche's beauty.

Analysis

Jane's love for Rochester becomes apparent in this chapter. In her jealousy, Jane imagines a past love relationship between Grace and Rochester; perhaps Grace's "originality and strength of character" compensate for her lack of beauty. Jane doesn't think Rochester is overly impressed by women's looks; for example, Jane is not beautiful, yet Rochester's words, look, and voice on the previous night indicated that he likes her. But a major difference exists between Jane and Grace; as Bessie Leaven said, Jane is a lady. In fact, she looks even better than she did when Bessie saw her, because she has gained color, flesh, and vivacity from the pleasures she enjoys in her relationship with Rochester. She is especially pleased with her ability to vex and sooth him by turns, but always maintaining "every propriety of my station." All of these meditations show Jane's anxieties about Rochester hinge on the issues of social class and beauty.

Her hopes are dashed when she learns of Blanche Ingram. Considered the beauty of the county, Blanche, whose name means "fair" or "white," has "noble features," "raven-black" hair arranged in glossy curls, and brilliant black eyes, which contrast with the "pure white" clothes she wears. As with Jane's descriptions of Mrs. Reed and her son John, "darkness" often has negative connotations — the ethnocentricity of Victorian England tended to associate dark with night and evil. Therefore, Jane's description of Blanche, which emphasizes her dark, Spanish features, implies a negative side of her personality; like Céline, Blanche will be an unacceptable model of femininity. But at this point in the novel, Jane views Blanche as an accomplished and beautiful rival. Most important, as the daughter of landed gentry, her class position more closely matches Rochester's, making Jane's earlier claims to be a "lady" seem insignificant. Jane's dream of the previous night is quickly becoming reality: Rather than allow herself to be brutally tossed around in the sea of her passion for Rochester, Jane vows to be sensible and accept that Rochester could never love her. In creating contrasting portraits of herself and Blanche, Jane emphasizes her own plainness. To Blanche, on the other hand, she gives the loveliest face she can imagine, a Grecian neck, dazzling jewelry, and glistening satin. Once again, Jane's passions have become hyperbolic, as she cannot fully discipline her jealousy of Blanche. In her portraits, Jane excessively emphasizes the material differences between the two women, showing that Jane hasn't yet learned the value of her own spiritual superiority. Jane still has a long way to go on her path to self-knowledge.

Glossary

Qu'avez-vous . . . des cerises! What's wrong, Miss? your fingers tremble like a leaf, and your cheeks are red: as red as cherries!

ignis-fatuus a deceptive hope, goal, or influence; delusion. Literally, a strange light that sometimes appears over marshy ground.

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