Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter XVII Part Two
The evening I was upset and belittled by Mr Rochester and his distinguished guests
It was with some trepidation that I perceived the hour approach when I was to join the party in the drawing-room enter repair with Adele, who had been in a state of ecstasy all day. Sophie dressed her in a pink satin frock with a sash and arranged her curls in drooping clusters.
I wore my best dress (the silver-grey one, purchased for Miss Temple’s wedding, and never worn since), smoothed my hair and attached the pearl brooch, my sole ornament.
When we descended to the drawing-room, it was vacant; they were still seated at dinner. Adele sat on the footstool while I retired to a window-seat, and taking a book from a table near endeavoured to read.
The curtain was swept back from the arch and eight tall ladies, many dressed in white, flocked in. I rose and curtseyed; one or two bent their heads in return, the others only stared at me.
They dispersed about the room, moving like a flock of white plumy birds. Mrs. Eshton, a handsome woman and two of her daughters, Amy and Louisa. Lady Lynn was a large, haughty-looking, stout woman of about forty, richly dressed in a satin robe and a band of gems. Mrs. Dent was less showy; but, I thought, more lady-like. She had a slight figure, a pale, gentle face, and fair hair. But the three most distinguished and the loftiest of stature were the Dowager Lady Ingram, a splendid woman for her age, and her daughters, Blanche and Mary, both attired in spotless white.
Lady Ingram had a fierce and a hard eye: it reminded me of Mrs. Reed’s. Her voice was deep, its inflections very pompous, very dogmatical,—very intolerable, in short. I regarded Blanche with special interest to see whether her appearance was such as I should fancy, likely to suit Mr. Rochester’s taste.
Her face was like her mother’s; the same low brow, high features, and same pride. She laughed continually; her laugh was satirical, and so was the habitual expression of her arched and haughty lip. She played on Mrs Dent’s ignorance of botany in a manner that was decidedly not good-natured. She played the piano and sang with a fine voice and she talked French apart to her mamma, with fluency and a good accent. Most gentlemen would admire her.
Adele rose, advanced to meet them, made a stately reverence, and said, ‘Bon jour, mesdames.’
Miss Ingram had looked down at her with a mocking air, and exclaimed, ‘Oh, what a little puppet!’
Lady Lynn had remarked, ‘It is Mr. Rochester’s ward, I suppose—the little French girl he was speaking of.’
Mrs. Dent had kindly taken her hand and given her a kiss.
Amy and Louisa Eshton had cried out simultaneously— ‘What a love of a child!’
And then they had called her to a sofa, where she now sat, ensconced between them, chattering alternately in French and broken English; absorbing the ladies’ attention and getting spoilt to her heart’s content.
The collective appearance of the gentlemen, all costumed in black, was impressive. Henry and Frederick Lynn were very dashing sparks indeed; and Colonel Dent was a fine soldierly man. Mr. Eshton, the magistrate of the district, was gentleman-like with white hair and dark eyebrows and whiskers. Lord Ingram, like his sisters, was very tall and handsome; but he shared Mary’s apathetic and listless look.
Mr Rochester came in last. I tried to concentrate my attention on my netting-needles, but distinctly beheld his figure, and inevitably recalled the moment when I last saw him, holding my hand, and surveying me with eyes that revealed a heart full and eager to overflow. Yet now, we were so far estranged, that I did not expect him to come and speak to me. He took a seat at the other side of the room and began conversing with some of the ladies.
I had an acute pleasure at gazing at him without being observed, like what the thirst-perishing man might feel who knows the well to which he has crept is poisoned, yet stoops and drinks divine draughts nevertheless.
Most true is it that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gazer.’ My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,—all energy, decision, will,—were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me. I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
I saw Mr. Rochester smile:- his stern features softened; his eye grew both brilliant and gentle, its ray both searching and sweet. He was talking to Louisa and Amy Eshton. ‘He is not to them what he is to me,’ I thought: ‘he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is—I feel akin to him; I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him.
I knew I should conceal my sentiments. I must remember that he cannot care much for me:- and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him.
Blanche Ingram is standing alone at the table, waiting to be sought; but she will not wait too long. Mr. Rochester stands on the hearth as solitary as she stands by the table: she confronts him, taking her station on the opposite side of the mantel- piece.
‘Mr. Rochester, I thought you were not fond of children?’
‘Nor am I.’
‘Then, what induced you to take charge of such a little doll as that?’ (pointing to Adele). ‘Where did you pick her up?’
‘I did not pick her up; she was left in my hands.’
‘You should have sent her to school.’
‘I could not afford it: schools are so dear.’
‘Why, I suppose you have a governess for her: I saw a person with her just now—is she gone? Oh, no! there she is still, behind the window-curtain. You pay her, of course, and you have them both to keep in addition.’
‘I have not considered the subject,’ said he indifferently, looking straight before him.
‘No, you men never do consider economy and common sense. Mary and I have had, I should think, a dozen at least in our day; half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, were they not, mama?’
‘My dearest, don’t mention governesses. I have suffered a martyrdom from their incompetency and caprice. I thank Heaven I have now done with them!’
Mrs. Dent whispered something in her ear; I supposed, from the answer elicited, it was a reminder that one of the anathematised race was present.
‘I noticed her; I am a judge of physiognomy, and in hers I see all the faults of her class.’
‘What are they, madam?’ inquired Mr. Rochester aloud.
‘Ask Blanche; she is nearer you than I.’
‘Oh, don’t refer him to me, mama! I have just one word to say of the whole tribe; they are a nuisance. Not that I ever suffered much from them; I took care to turn the tables. We played tricks on ours. Theodore, do you remember those merry days?’
‘Yes, to be sure I do,’ drawled Lord Ingram.
‘No more need be said: I move the introduction of a new topic. Mr. Rochester, do you second my motion?’
‘Madam, I support you on this point, as on every other.’
‘Eduardo, are you in voice to-night?’
‘Donna Bianca, if you command it, I will be.’
She tossed her head with all its curls, as she moved to the piano, where she had now seated herself with proud grace.
‘Mr. Rochester, now sing, and I will play for you.’
‘I am all obedience,’ was the response.
‘Take care, then: if you don’t please me, I will shame you by showing how such things SHOULD be done.’
‘Now is my time to slip away,’ thought I: but the tones that then severed the air arrested me. Mr. Rochester possessed a fine voice: a mellow, powerful bass, into which he threw his own feeling, his own force; finding a way through the ear to the heart, and there waking sensation strangely. I waited till the last deep and full vibration had expired and then I quitted my sheltered corner and made my exit by the side-door.
Thence a narrow passage led into the hall: in crossing it, I stopped to tie my sandal on the mat at the foot of the staircase. I heard the dining-room door unclose; a gentleman came out; rising hastily, I stood face to face with him: it was Mr. Rochester.
‘How do you do?’ he asked.
‘I am very well, sir.’
‘Why did you not come and speak to me in the room?’
‘I did not wish to disturb you, as you seemed engaged, sir.’
‘What have you been doing during my absence?’
‘Nothing particular; teaching Adele as usual.’
‘And getting a good deal paler than you were—as I saw at first sight. What is the matter?’
‘Nothing at all, sir.’
‘Did you take any cold that night you half drowned me?’
‘Not she least.’
‘Return to the drawing-room: you are deserting too early.’
‘I am tired, sir.’
He looked at me for a minute.
‘And a little depressed,’ he said. ‘What about? Tell me.’
‘I am not depressed.’
‘But I affirm that you are so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes—indeed, they are there now, shining and swimming. Well, to-night I excuse you; but understand that so long as my visitors stay, I expect you to appear in the drawing-room every evening; it is my wish; don’t neglect it. Now go. Send Sophie for Adele. Goodnight, my—‘ He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly left me.
Jane feels anxious about spending time with Mr Rochester’s distinguished guests in the drawing room. She knows her position in the household is barely above a servant’s. She feels inadequate next to the elegantly dressed and gemmed guests.
She admits to the reader that she is hopelessly in love with her employer, although she’s convinced that he has no feelings for her.
She has a dreadful evening, hiding by the window, being ignored and ridiculed and watching Blanche Ingram flirt with Mr Rochester, who appears to follow her lead.
There is a great deal of angst in this part of the chapter. The reader feels sympathy for Jane and understands her unease and emotional distress. We are also wondering how she could ever fit into Rochester’s world, even if he ever asked her to be part of it. The rigidness, hypocrisy and cruelty of Victorian society seems to point to a dead end for our protagonist. She will always be a poor governess in their eyes.
Mr Rochester’s behaviour is cruel. He ignores her while she’s in the room, teases her when he follows her out into the corridor, and finally insists that she should return to the drawing room every evening while his friends are at Thornfield.
Jane is upset and we can imagine that she’s going to cry her heart out in her room.
All the happiness and independence she had gained at Thornfield has dissolved and turned into misery. Poor Jane feels as excluded and destitute as she did when she was an unloved and bullied child at Gateshead.
Where will Jane go from here? Will she leave Thornfield at once, or will she stand up for herself? Is Mr Rochester interested in Blanche? Why is he adamant to make Jane suffer the criticism of his tactless and haughty guests?
Find out next week in chapter XVIII.
The summary is based on the free ebook by planet books which you can find here.
I’ll be posting a chapter of Jane Eyre in flash fiction every Friday. If you’re wondering why, read all about it here.
If you’d you’d like to Reread Jane Eyre with me, visit my blog every Friday for #JaneEyreFF posts.
See you next week for part two of chapter 18.
Images from Pixabay