Jane Eyre Chapter 23 Summary

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Chapter 23 is pivotal in the plot of Jane Eyre. It contains both a dramatic climax, in Rochester's marriage proposal to Jane, and foreshadows what is to come. Equally important is Jane's firm declaration of her sense of self.

Chapter 23 of Jane Eyre

Language and Imagery

Jane Eyre as autobiography
frontispiece

Chapter 23 of Jane Eyre is not only one of its most important, but one of its most lyrical. Jane basks in the peace she's found at Thornfield. Much of the chapter is occupied with rich depictions of nature. Typically for gothic romances, these sections function dramatically as well as descriptively. This is particularly the case for the destruction of the tree under which Rochester proposes marriage to Jane.

Somewhat ominously, the beauties of the weather are often compared to those of foreign climates. Jane alludes to Italy and Turkey; Mr. Rochester speaks of the West Indies. This sense of things being out of place foreshadows things to come in this important chapter.

Jane's happiness at Thornfield is mirrored in the rare gorgeousness of the summer weather. Her delight in the long succession of sunny, blissfully hot days is palpable. Her love for Thornfield is made clear through her descriptions of its properties and gardens, as well as her conversation with Mr. Rochester. When a summer storm comes, Jane's own happiness is not disturbed. The reader, though, should take it as a warning.

A Walk in the Orchard

Having put her pupil Adele to bed, Jane is enjoying the evening of Midsummer outdoors. She starts on Thornfield's terrace but leaves when she smells Mr. Rochester's cigar smoke coming from an open window. She goes to the orchard, one of her favorite spots, but her description of its beauties is halted by her noticing the cigar smoke again. She describes it as 'a warning fragrance,' hinting at trouble to come.

Not only is Jane hyper-aware of Mr. Rochester, he's hyper-aware of her. When he stops her as she tries to sneak out of the orchard, Jane asks herself if he has eyes in the back of his head! He asks her to walk with him, and she is upset she is unable to think of an excuse not to. He seems oblivious to the possible implications of taking a walk alone in a shadowy, fragrant garden on a day traditionally dedicated to celebrating fertility.

A Fateful Conversation

Rochester breaks the silence by commenting on what a shame it is that Jane will have to leave Thornfield, to which she's become attached. Jane's resilience shows in her calmly telling Rochester that she'll be ready when necessary. She can't resist adding 'Then you ARE going to be married, sir?' He confirms that he is. Jane becomes increasingly distressed during their subsequent conversation. Rochester hints that he's to be married to the society beauty Blanche Ingram and says that he's found Jane a new job in Ireland.

Jane is deeply upset, not only because of the distance across the Irish Sea, but also what she describes as 'the wider ocean' of social custom and class separating her from Mr. Rochester. Rochester, too, expresses anxiety at separation. He suggests that they are spiritually connected, as if by a strong cord between their hearts, and if she were to leave him, he'd 'take to bleeding inwardly.'

Jane Shares Her Heart

It's at this point that Jane bursts into tears. She passionately explains herself. She loves Thornfield, she says, because she's lived 'a full and delightful life' there, treated kindly and allowed intellectual freedom. Most importantly, she's had her friendship with Mr. Rochester. Knowing she has to leave 'is like looking on the necessity of death.'

Rochester feigns obliviousness (again). Why should she have to leave him? Jane famously retorts that he shouldn't tease her this way. 'Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?' She declares herself to be not only in love with Mr. Rochester, but his equal before God! Whereupon he kisses her.

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