Septemb-Eyre: Chapters XII-XXI


Another week gone by!  How has everyone’s reading been?  This was an eventful installment, so I’ll get straight to it.  (Warning: spoilers ahead.)


When we left Jane, she was just settling into life at Thornfield, teaching young Adele by day and making small talk with the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, in the evenings.  Already, however, Jane is getting restless.  She had hoped that Thornfield’s proximity to a larger town would bring her some change or interest, but she’s just as much a recluse there as she was at Lowood – that is, until one day when she decides to walk to the post office and encounters a large dog and a man on horseback.  The man rather awkwardly falls off his horse and then questions whether Jane is a woodland fairy who spread the ice beneath his horse’s hooves.  (Answer: NO.)  This rather clumsy, awkward gentleman turns out to be none other than Mr. Rochester, master of Thornfield.

Jane and Mr. Rochester quickly establish a bond.  Mr. Rochester, for his part, seems to enjoy Jane’s company.  He likes to talk, and she likes to listen, and he enjoys her bluntness – when asked whether she finds him handsome, for example, she quickly (and unthinkingly) responds, “No, sir.”  Jane’s feelings for Mr. Rochester rapidly change from polite interest to warmth and then to love – or at least, infatuation – one night.  Jane awakens in the night to hear the weird, demonic laughter that she has periodically observed, and which Mrs. Fairfax has told her is the household seamstress, Grace Poole.  The laughter, this time, is not coming from the attics, but from the hallway right outside Jane’s room.  Fearing some danger, Jane rushes to Mr. Rochester and finds his bed ablaze.  She wakes him up and he escapes the flames unharmed, gives Jane one compliment on her eyes, and she’s in love.

The morning after the fire, Jane is astonished to discover two things: Mr. Rochester is gone, and Grace Poole still works there.  Mr. Rochester has made her promise not to mention anything about Grace in connection with the fire, and she’s as good as her word.  Meanwhile, Jane’s infatuation for her employer grows in his absence, until he returns with a large party of local ladies and gentlemen, including the tall, striking, and snobbish Blanche Ingram, believed by everyone to be his intended bride.  Mr. Rochester asks Jane to join the group in the evenings and she does so – even while being snubbed by the women and feeling heartbroken at the prospect of seeing Mr. Rochester married to Miss Ingram.

On one of the last nights of the party, a stranger named Richard Mason arrives at Thornfield and asks to see Mr. Rochester.  He’s not there, having gone off “on business” to a nearby town and returned in disguise as a gypsy woman to have some sport of the ladies.  Jane, suspecting a trick, is guarded in what she says to the “gypsy.”  She’s shocked to find that the “gypsy” is Mr. Rochester, however – she’d been expecting Grace Poole to reveal herself – and further heartbroken by hearing the “gypsy” Mr. Rochester give credence to the rumors that he plans to wed Miss Ingram.  Jane will, however, have another opportunity to prove her devotion and discretion that night, when Mr. Mason is viciously attacked.  Believing his assailant to be the murderous Grace Poole, Jane keeps a silent vigil at Mr. Mason’s bedside while Mr. Rochester rides for a surgeon.  Mr. Mason is smuggled out of Thornfield the next morning, and Grace Poole remains at her post.

Jane leaves the estate shortly thereafter, having been summoned back to Gateshead at the request of Mrs. Reed, who is dying.  (And John Reed, he of the book-throwing, is already dead, and mourned by no one except his mother.)  Jane arrives at Gateshead to a frosty welcome from her cousins Eliza and Georgianna and waits some time before Mrs. Reed is coherent enough to speak with her.  When she finally gains her audience, Jane learns that three years prior, Mrs. Reed had received a letter from one of Jane’s Eyre relations, who had made his fortune and wished to adopt Jane.  Rather than seeing Jane comfortable and cherished, the spiteful Mrs. Reed informed Mr. Eyre that Jane had died in the typhus outbreak at Lowood.  Jane, proving herself (again) to be made of better stuff than her aunt, forgives Mrs. Reed and comforts her on her deathbed.

Thoughts Thus Far

What a week of reading!  This set of chapters brought one event after another.  The entry of Mr. Rochester on the scene – Jane falling in love – two attempted murders – a large party – a deathbed confession.  My head is spinning, as it always is when I get to this part of the book.  It makes quite the change from the early chapters, in which nothing seems to happen and in which Bronte ruminates on one day or one event for chapters at a time.

A couple of things that I’d like to mention: first of all, Mr. Rochester’s appearance is one of my favorite entrances by a leading man in all of literature.  No striding confidently into a room for he.  No, and no smoldering glances by the fireside, either, while the heroine catches her breath in her throat in the doorway.  No, this literary hero makes his grand and dramatic entrance by… falling off a horse.  I love that.  Let no one accuse Charlotte Bronte of being humorless.

Of course, the hero’s clumsy entrance also serves to humble him a little bit, so that the reader isn’t completely incredulous at how quickly Jane becomes his companion – his “little friend,” as he calls her.  A governess normally wouldn’t find herself sitting beside the master of the house for hours on end, listening to him ruminate about his various failings (a favorite topic of Mr. Rochester’s).  But then, Thornfield is a small establishment – it’s a big house, but run by a small group of servants since the master is so rarely present – and as a result, Mr. Rochester fits right into the tight-knit little group.  At least, he does until Miss Ingram and company arrive, and then Jane is quickly and sharply reminded of her real status.

Another thing I noticed on this reading was how quickly Jane becomes infatuated with Mr. Rochester.  For his part, he seems entertained by her and he certainly trusts her.  But after one dramatic evening (okay, she did save his life) and one compliment about he eyes, Jane believes herself to be in love.  Is she really?  I doubt it.  At this point, I think she’s just infatuated.  To put it bluntly, she’s got quite the crush.  But I think it’s the effect of her emotionally starved childhood that causes her to mistake a crush for love, and one compliment for the possibility of reciprocation.  Of course, we still have plenty to read…

Have you been reading along with Septemb-Eyre?  Did you enjoy this whirlwind set of chapters?

23 thoughts on “Septemb-Eyre: Chapters XII-XXI

  1. Jane’s quick falling in love is one of the only things that bugs me about this book. So many parts point toward an unusually forward-thinking heroine when it comes to female norms. But then she falls in love at the drop of a hat. Makes me sigh a bit.

    • The more I think about it, the more I think it relates to her emotionally starved childhood. No one has ever loved Jane that she can remember – Helen and Miss Temple would be the closest, and a school pal or favorite teacher is not the same thing as loving parents. And Jane can’t even claim the benefit of an example to watch, since her uncle Reed was deceased (and probably couldn’t stand his shrewish wife in life, anyway). So how is she to know what love looks like in reality or in practice? On this point, she’s the classic unreliable narrator. She certainly has a hefty crush, but I don’t think it’s deepened into real love yet. Of course, Jane doesn’t realize this!

    • The falling-in-love-quickly has always irked me a bit too! And in addition to being emotionally starved growing up, she’s also really isolated and lonely when Rochester “falls” into the picture.

      • Good point! I think in her position, it would be easy to mistake infatuation for love, or to “fall in love” after one compliment.

    • Indeed! I’d forgotten just how funny Bronte can be when she wants to. (Emily could have stood to take a leaf out of her sister’s book. A sense of humor would have improved Heathcliff wildly.)

    • Heh, having just read that scene again, I’m thinking that might be Bronte’s exact point. The “ladies” are too dim to see through the disguise, but Jane figures out that it’s an act immediately. It illustrates Jane’s superior intelligence – even if her social position is “inferior.” Of course, even Jane didn’t know exactly who was behind the disguise, since she suspected Grace Poole. It must have been low lighting in that library.

  2. “No, this literary hero makes his grand and dramatic entrance by… falling off a horse. I love that. Let no one accuse Charlotte Bronte of being humorless.”

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Jane’s rapid falling in love bothered me at first, but after seeing a few defenses of the poor lonely thing in others’ posts, I’m coming around to it.

    • 🙂 Bronte’s wit is usually sly, but she proves herself adept at slapstick too, for sure!

      I don’t know why the rapid progression from “This guy is kind of homely and weird” to “I loooooooove Mr. Rochester!” stuck out more to me this time – maybe because I noticed more the emotional starvation of Jane’s childhood on this reading. But I’ve always thought that Mr. Rochester’s feelings were a little more complex and interesting than Jane’s – at least, at the beginning. I’ll say no more, because I don’t want to ruin it for you. Glad you’re enjoying!

  3. Completely agree with you about Rochester’s entrance into the novel. Love, love that he makes an ass of himself by falling off the horse. Because largely, I think of Rochester of an ass.

  4. I loved your analysis of Rochester’s entrance! I’ve never thought about it like that before.

    Her quickly falling in love is an odd plot device. Did anyone else find it odd and sad the way she drew a portrait of herself and a portrait of Blanche to remind herself how she should really feel about Rochester?

    • I think the portrait-drawing is a little strange, too. I suppose it was Jane’s way of reminding herself where she stands – because drawing is her one real talent. (Which reminds me – I forgot to mention the drawings, but I think that it was Jane’s creativity that first made Rochester realize that there’s more to her than meets the eye.)

    • I totally thought the portrait drawing project was so self-deprecating. Firstly, she’d never even met Blanche so she’s only going off Mrs. Fairfax exaggerated description. And who really draws themselves as beautiful? I can’t draw, but if I could, I wouldn’t be the most beautiful. I thought the exercise was completely ridiculous and was inwardly chiding Jane for actually going through with it. I understand how one can get down on themselves, but Jane has got it bad.

      Lovely post! Despite how quickly Jane falls for Rochester, I can’t help but want them to get together! All we need to do is find a way to get rid of Blanche and I have a sneaky suspicion that whatever he said to Blanche in the gypsy scene is going to make her think twice about marrying the man. Here’s hoping!

      • Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the book! I’m so tempted to say more, but I’m not going to make any comments about Rochester’s romantic attachments, or lack thereof, because I don’t want to spoil the fun. 🙂 It’s tough to be re-reading when so many are reading for the first time!

        I didn’t think much about the portrait-drawing, but I think I agree with you that it’s almost too self-deprecating. She’s certainly down on herself in that scene. Then again, that’s probably something I would have done back in high school. Ugh.

  5. While my mind touched briefly on the oddness of Jane falling in love with Rochester so quickly, I made no special note of it. Based on my reading experience (tons of romances where the heroine is falling in love with the hero at the drop of a hat (for no discernible reason!) and vice versa too!)), it didn’t bother me that much though the comments about her being lonely, emotionally starved etc does add some maybe necessary justification.

    • It does seem like sort of a standard thing in the literature of that time – the lightening-fast love connection (at least, on one side, anyway). But I tend to think that Bronte put more thought into her writing and that if Jane fell in love quickly, it was because Charlotte specifically wanted to make a point about that. Maybe not, though… I’ll ask Charlotte if I ever do get to throw my fantasy dinner party!

  6. “A sense of humor would have improved Heathcliff wildly.” I LOLed at this comment of yours at the same time cringing at the reminder that I intend to (try to) reread Wuthering Heights 😦

  7. Pingback: Reading Round-Up: September 2013 | Covered In Flour

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