Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë Summary and Analysis Chapter 17

Summary

Jane is sickeningly disappointed when Rochester hasn't returned in a week, and Mrs. Fairfax suggests that he might go directly to Europe, not returning to Thornfield for a year or more. After two weeks, Rochester sends a letter telling Mrs. Fairfax that he will arrive in three days, along with a party of people. Jane is still amazed by Grace Poole's erratic behavior, yet no one else in the house seems to notice her odd habits, her isolation, or her drinking. One day, Jane overhears some of the servants discussing Grace, emphasizing how much Grace is being paid. From this conversation, Jane concludes that there is a mystery at Thornfield from which she is being purposely excluded.

On Thursday evening, Rochester and his guests arrive. Together, they give Jane an impression of upper-class elegance, unlike anything she has ever experienced. When Rochester summons Jane and Adèle to meet the party, Adèle is ecstatic, but Jane is nervous and remains inconspicuously in a window-seat. Jane gives her impressions of the guests, including the dark, majestic Blanche Ingram, whom she thinks Rochester must admire. Jane tries to sneak away from the party, but Rochester stops her. He notices she looks depressed and wonders why. At first he insists that she return to the drawing room, but when he sees tears in her eyes, he allows her to leave. In future, though, she must appear in the drawing room every evening. He says goodnight, stopping himself from adding a term of endearment.

Analysis

In this chapter, the negative attributes of Blanche's character become apparent, at least in Jane's eyes. While Blanche's beauty lives up to Mrs. Fairfax's description of her, it also contains a "haughtiness," a "fierce and hard eye" that resembles her mother's. According to Jane, Blanche is "the very type of majesty." But majesty is hard to live with, and Jane wonders if Rochester truly admires her. Blanche appears to dislike both children — she notices Adèle with a "mocking eye" — and governesses. Her dislike of governesses goes beyond economizing: She rudely (because she knowingly speaks so Jane can hear her) calls them "detestable," "ridiculous" incubi, sucking the lifeblood from the family. Blanche's mother supports her, arguing "there are a thousand reasons why liaisons between governesses and tutors should never be tolerated a moment in any well-regulated house." Not only are these employees subject to constant persecution, but they are desexualized, not allowed to fall in love. Other members of the party join in with their stories of governess abuse; obviously, it was not pleasant to be responsible for teaching the children of the upper classes. The Ingrams' cruelty is similar to the Reeds', and Jane says Lady Ingram's "fierce and hard eye" reminds her of Mrs. Reed's.

Jane's gaze is active, almost masculine in this chapter: "I looked, and had an acute pleasure in looking — a precious yet poignant pleasure; pure gold, with a steely point of agony: a pleasure like what the thirst-perishing man might feel . . . ." Generally gazing is a power men have over women, appropriating women by looking at them, cataloguing their beauty. But here Jane appropriates that power for herself. While Blanche is looking for Rochester's gold coins, Jane finds her gold in gazing at her beloved. The mixture of pleasure and pain in her description — "poignant pleasure" and "steely point of agony" — suggest the erotic appeal of Rochester to her; this isn't an innocent glance, but a gaze tinged with sexual tension.

Glossary

passées out-of-style.

Elles changent de toilettes The women are changing their clothes.

Chez maman . . . comme cela on apprend. At my mother's house . . . when we had company, I followed them everywhere, to the drawing-room and their bedrooms; often I watched the maids fixing their ladies' hair or helping them dress, and it was very entertaining; I learned to imitate them.

Mais oui, mademoiselle: voilà cinq ou six heures que nous n'avons pas mangé. But of course, Miss: We haven't eaten for five or six hours.

et alors quel dommage! that's too bad.

Est-ce que je ne puis . . . ma toilette. Can't I take one of these magnificent flowers, miss? It would complete my outfit.

minois chiffonné darling; pretty face.

Bon jour, mesdames good day, ladies.

père noble de théâtre a grand patriarch of the theatre.

Tant pis too bad.

charivari clatter; noise.

belle passion beautiful passion.

Au reste besides.

Donna Bianca Miss Blanche.

Signior mister.

con spirito with spirit.

Gardez-vous-en bien take care.

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