Jane Eyre Chapter 9 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 the ninth chapter of ''Jane Eyre,'' in which there are major changes for Jane and the girls at Lowood. The loveliness of spring provides a contrast to the bleak realities at Lowood.

A Pleasant Spring at Lowood?

Chapter nine opens with Jane's almost rapturous descriptions of springtime at Lowood. At first glance, it seems things might really be better for her, but if we look a little closer we can see the dark reality underneath. For instance, Jane is excitedly telling us about the beautiful flowers blooming in the countryside, which she describes as 'a great pleasure, an enjoyment which the horizon only bounded.' How lovely. But then she goes on to say that these things 'lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls of our garden.' Wait...what?! The school is surrounded by tall walls with spikes on top?! Sounds more like a prison.

Jane tells us initially that the 'privations' at Lowood have lessened with the coming of spring, but then she corrects herself, saying instead that it's the 'hardships' that have lessened. The word privation expresses a lack or deprivation of something. Hardship means trial or struggle. To say that the latter has lessened but not the former suggests that there still existed lack and deprivation, but that it was just easier to bear. Warmer temperatures would make it easier to get along without proper clothes. And the food...well, that privation is mitigated by a very dark source, indeed...

Typhus

It's easier to have enough to eat when more than half the students are sick and/or dying with typhus. Sick people don't eat much and dead ones don't eat at all, so by default there would be more food for the others. Furthermore, because the outbreak at Lowood is so severe and so widespread, the healthy girls are left largely to their own devices and are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outside. It is a sad state, indeed, if an outbreak of typhus can actually improve one's living conditions.

Despite Jane's childish appreciation of the freedom and extra portions of food this rash of illness brings to her, the outbreak further illuminates the actual conditions at Lowood. Typhus is a bacterial infection that is carried by parasites such as lice or fleas. It is not communicated in any other way. Therefore, we can conclude that Lowood, among its other charms, also has lice and fleas to offer these girls. Additionally, as Jane points out, 'semi-starvation and neglected colds had predisposed most of the pupils to receive infection.'

So despite its lovely spring flowers, Lowood is still a terrible place. In fact, as Jane observes, the flowers are 'all useless for most of the inmates of Lowood, except to furnish now and then a handful of herbs and blossoms to put in a coffin.'

Helen

In the midst of all the change and disorder brought by the typhus outbreak, Jane notices only in stages that her dear friend Helen is also dangerously unwell. We are reminded of the cough that haunted her earlier in the novel when Jane is told Helen does not suffer from typhus like the other girls, but instead has 'consumption,' which is what people used to call tuberculosis -- an infectious disease characterized by fever, cough, and weight loss. It usually targets the lungs.

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