Jane Eyre | Study Guide

Charlotte Brontë

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Chapter 17

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 17 of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre | Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

In Rochester's absence Jane continues to observe Grace Poole's habits and feels she acts suspiciously, noticing that Poole comes through the third-floor staircase door, for instance. She overhears a conversation between two servants that suggests she is being "purposely excluded" from knowing the secret related to Poole. Steeling herself in further demonstration of her self-control, she starts to consider her future without Rochester. After more than two weeks, he sends word that he will be returning to Thornfield with guests "in three days."

Blanche Ingram is one of the guests who arrive at Thornfield with Rochester. A day later Miss Ingram and Rochester pair up when they go horseback riding, and Mrs. Fairfax comments to Jane that he seems to admire Miss Ingram. At Rochester's request, Adèle and Jane go to the drawing room where the guests gather after dinner (Adèle and Jane have eaten separately). From a perch on the window seat, Jane observes that Miss Ingram is indeed beautiful, but she is also "haughty" and "self-conscious." When Jane first sees Rochester, all of her passionate feelings for him rush back, though she tries to hide them. Knowing that Jane can hear them, Miss Ingram talks with the other guests, including her mother, in an insulting way about governesses.

At the first opportunity, after listening to Rochester sing, Jane "slip[s] away" from the drawing room, but Rochester follows and tries to persuade her to come back. He notices that she seems depressed and, when tears fill her eyes, he allows her to go. He tells her that she and Adèle must come to the drawing room every night while the guests are there. He then says, "Good-night, my—" and bites his lip before turning away abruptly.

Analysis

Jane's discovery that the servants are hiding a secret about Grace Poole deepens the mystery surrounding the woman and continues to emphasize this important plot element. It also adds to the mystery surrounding Rochester—what is he not telling Jane? Why is he withholding the truth from her? That he is not being completely forthcoming with her heightens her sense of separation from him—and also keeps her interested in him.

Jane manages to maintain her composure when she sees Rochester, even though she feels that there is little hope for a relationship with him. She closely watches his interactions with Miss Ingram and tries to determine how he feels about her. Her leaving the room soon after hearing Ingram's insulting words shows both the depth of her upset and her self-control. Rather than confronting the woman—a behavior that is precluded by their differences in class and station—Jane simply distances herself from her.

In one section of this chapter—as Jane relates where she took position in the room, observes the guests, and both waits for Rochester to enter and then comments on his appearance—the narrator switches to the present tense. The change in tense gives the scene an immediacy and emotional impact.

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