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Free Barron's Booknotes-Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-Free Online Book Notes
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CHAPTER 16

The next morning, Jane is on her way downstairs when she notices the servant girl, Leah, is busy cleaning up the mess in Mr. Rochester's room. Grace Poole is with her. Jane tries to question Grace about the fire, but soon has the uncomfortable feeling that Grace is also trying to find out how much Jane knows. Among other things, Grace asks Jane whether she keeps her bedroom door bolted at night. Jane has never done this, but she decides that from now on she will.

Why is Grace Poole at Thornfield? Grace is hardly ever seen downstairs in the house and spends almost all her time alone in the locked room on the third floor. Jane guesses that Grace is about the same age as Mr. Rochester (in her late thirties) and wonders whether there was some past connection between her and the master, perhaps a love affair. It seems to Jane that Grace has some sort of power over Mr. Rochester. On the other hand, she finds it hard to imagine a romance between this stolid, unsmiling woman and Rochester, even one that might have happened many years ago.

Downstairs, Jane learns from Mrs. Fairfax that Mr. Rochester has gone away to attend a house party at one of the other great houses in the district. Mrs. Fairfax mentions that among the guests will be Miss Blanche Ingram, a raven-haired beauty of twenty-five, who was the "belle of the evening" at a party given at Thornfield six years ago. She and Mr. Rochester sang a duet together. This casual conversation throws Jane into a turmoil of jealousy. Mrs. Fairfax denies that Mr. Rochester has any plans to marry Blanche, but Jane decides she had better prepare herself for the worst. Back in her room, Jane sketches a picture of herself as Mr. Rochester must see her: a plain, poor governess. Then she forces herself to paint a delicate portrait of the lovely Miss Ingram, based on Mrs. Fairfax's description.


CHAPTER 17

Ten days later, Mr. Rochester sends word that he'll soon be returning home and bringing the house party guests with him. Suddenly, gloomy Thornfield comes alive with activity.

On the second night after the guests arrive, Mr. Rochester orders Adele and Jane to join his company in the drawing room after dinner. Little Adele is delighted at the prospect of being part of a grown-up party. However, the invitation only makes Jane more miserable. She has nothing to wear except a pearl gray silk dress which she purchased for Miss Temple's wedding. Jane isn't much interested in clothes, but she is human enough to hate the thought of how frumpy she will look in comparison to the other elegantly gowned ladies.

The evening turns out to be just as bad as Jane had feared. The other women are dressed in the height of fashion, reminding Jane of "a flock of white plumy birds." Blanche Ingram flirts outrageously with Mr. Rochester. And worst of all, Blanche and her mother-ignoring Jane's presence-get involved in a lengthy conversation about how "ridiculous" governesses are, making fun of the faults of various ones who have worked for their family. As if this weren't enough, Blanche launches into a speech on the relative importance of beauty in men and women, concluding confidently that "an ugly woman is a blot on the face of creation."

NOTE:

Some readers feel that the house party episode is the weakest part of the novel. They complain that Charlotte Bronte didn't know how upper class people really behaved and that her dialogue for their conversations-which are loaded with the affected use of foreign phrases and cloying endearments such as "lily-flower"- is crude and inaccurate. Other readers find that the author has done a good job of showing the contrast between Jane and the rich people, reminding us exactly what it feels like to be the butt of rude and condescending remarks.

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