Jane Eyre Chapter 17 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

In chapter 17 of ''Jane Eyre,'' Mr. Rochester returns to Thornfield with an accompaniment of guests, and poor Jane struggles to adhere to her resolve to disentangle herself from her affection for him.

Trying to Get On With Life

We left Jane at the end of chapter 16 trying to squelch her feelings for Mr. Rochester. Chapter 17 picks up with her still struggling with this goal. Mrs. Fairfax casually mentions that she would not be surprised if Mr. Rochester didn't return to Thornfield for a year or more, as he often does such things. Hearing this, Jane suffers 'a sickening sense of disappointment.' Frustrated, Jane again tells herself: 'You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protegee.'

Mr. Rochester's Return

After nearly two weeks, Mrs. Fairfax receives a letter from Mr. Rochester announcing his return and the arrival of several guests with him. Poor Jane's struggle is still apparent as this letter makes her hand shake and causes her to spill her coffee. She joins in helping with the household preparations for company, though, and the activity helps to keep her mind off things. Three whole days are spent busily cleaning, polishing, dusting, and arranging. In the midst of it, Jane says, 'I believe I was as active and gay as anybody.' Despite this cheerfulness, her mind is still occasionally 'thrown back on the region of doubts and portents, and dark conjectures.' In addition to thoughts of Mr. Rochester, there is another source of trouble for Jane's peace of mind.

Grace Poole, Still Lurking

Jane believes Grace Poole to be the one responsible for setting fire to Mr. Rochester's bedclothes some nights ago, but the woman still sits in her third story chamber unmolested, blithely appearing now and then to dine with her fellow servants and wander briefly through the house. Her mere presence is unnerving to Jane, but in this chapter the plot thickens further as Jane overhears some servants' gossip and is given even more to wonder about.

A Mystery at Thornfield

In the midst of preparing for visitors, Jane happens upon Leah, one of the housemaids, talking with a charwoman (a hired cleaning lady) about Grace Poole. They talk of her wages--which are enviable, it seems. Jane also hears them say things like, 'she understands what she has to do,' and 'it's not everyone could fill her shoes, not for all the money she gets.' Jane believes Grace's primary job is sewing, but if that were true, these ominous statements wouldn't make any sense. It becomes clear that there is more to the story when Leah sees Jane approaching and cuts the conversation short. Confused, the charwoman asks, 'Doesn't she know?' at which Leah shakes her head. Clearly, Grace is not just a seamstress. What else could she be doing up there on the third floor?

Servants talk.

Company Arrives at Thornfield

Eventually, the guests arrive with Mr. Rochester, including Blanche Ingram, whom Mr. Rochester is suspected to like especially. The ladies and gentlemen spend their time riding horses and traveling in carriages, eating sumptuous food, and enjoying music and conversation. As is always the case with 19th century upper classes, they also spend a considerable amount of time changing into different outfits.

Evening in the Drawing Room

One evening, Mr. Rochester sends a message asking Jane to bring Adele to the drawing room to join his guests after dinner. She doesn't want to go, but he insists. Adele is thrilled to be there, but Jane tries to hide herself in a corner and devote her attention to a sewing project. Mr. Rochester does nothing to show the kind of friendship he and Jane have been enjoying. He doesn't speak to or even look at her. Instead, he talks, laughs, flirts, and sings with his guests as though he scarcely notices Jane. He doesn't even defend her against his guests' insults.

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