Jane Eyre Chapter 21 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

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

This lesson provides an overview of Chapter 21 of ''Jane Eyre,'' in which Jane receives some news from Gateshead which causes her to ask Mr. Rochester for a leave of absence.

Jane's Past Returns

At the start of this chapter Robert Leaven, the coachman from Gateshead, arrives at Thornfield with a message for Jane. Her cousin, John Reed, has died and her aunt, Mrs. Reed now lies on her deathbed. The reader will remember that Jane's time with the Reeds at Gateshead was not pleasant, and there has never been fondness between Jane and her aunt or her cousins. However, when Robert tells Jane that Mrs. Reed would like to see her, she agrees and goes immediately to ask Mr. Rochester for a leave of absence.

Jane Asks for Leave

To find Mr. Rochester, Jane must interrupt a game of billiards between him, Miss Ingram, and the rest of the guests of the house. Miss Ingram does not appreciate the interruption. She sneers at Jane and asks Mr. Rochester, 'Does that person want you?' as if Jane is something despicable. Mr. Rochester leaves Miss Ingram and the game and goes into the schoolroom with Jane.

Mr. Rochester does not seem eager to let Jane go. He asks her many questions about where she will be going, why, and for how long. Through Jane's answers, Mr. Rochester is startled to discover Jane's family ties with the Reeds, who are wealthy and respected. 'You always said you had no relations,' Mr. Rochester says. 'None that would own me, sir,' Jane clarifies.

Mr. Rochester tries at first to talk Jane out of leaving. When that doesn't work, he tries instead to make her promise to stay no longer than a week. 'I had better not pass my word,' Jane says to that request, 'I may be obliged to break it.' Resigned to the fact that he cannot change Jane's course of action, Mr. Rochester settles on making sure she has money, provisions, and company for her journey.

A More Permanent Farewell?

In the course of their discussion about Jane's time away, Jane speaks to Mr. Rochester of eventually leaving in a more permanent way. Mr. Rochester has implied several times that he is planning to marry Miss Ingram. Jane, despite her own love for Mr. Rochester, has accepted this as an inevitable future event. With this in mind, Jane tells Mr. Rochester she thinks it would be wise for Adele to be sent to school. Miss Ingram has never liked the child and is often overtly mean to her. When Adele goes to school, Jane plans to advertise for a new position. Mr. Rochester despises this idea and asks her to promise not to advertise, but to allow him to find her a new position. She agrees only if he will promise to make sure she and Adele 'shall be both safe out of the house before your bride enters it.'

Eliza and Georgiana

Once Jane arrives at Gateshead, she is confronted with past memories and also the present versions of her cousins. The two ladies, Eliza and Georgiana, are much changed physically. Eliza is tall, skinny, and severe. Georgiana is very fat, soft, and pink. Eliza has adopted a severe, religious life full of structure and discipline. Georgiana languishes and wallows and has very few assets besides her pretty face. The two sisters are equally unpleasant people, and they despise each other. Jane patiently bears their company for the month she spends at Gateshead.

Mrs. Reed's Confessions

In her sick stupor, Mrs. Reed tells Jane she has committed two wrongs for which she would like to apologize. The first is breaking her vow to her husband that she would raise Jane as her own child. The second involves new information for Jane: It turns out she has a living uncle who, after having made himself financially secure, wrote to Mrs. Reed expressing a desire to adopt Jane and make her his heir. Mrs. Reed, filled with spite, wrote back to him that Jane died in the typhus outbreak at Lowood. 'Why did I never hear of this?' Jane asks her aunt. 'Because I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly to ever lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity,' Mrs. Reed replies. What a nasty woman!

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