Summary: Chapter 16
The next morning, Jane is shocked to learn that the near tragedy of the night before has caused no scandal. The servants believe Rochester to have fallen asleep with a lit candle by his bed, and even Grace Poole shows no sign of guilt or remorse. Jane cannot imagine why an attempted murderer is allowed to continue working at Thornfield. She realizes that she is beginning to have feelings for Rochester and is disappointed that he will be away from Thornfield for several days. He has left to attend a party where he will be in the company of Blanche Ingram, a beautiful lady. Jane scolds herself for being disappointed by the news, and she resolves to restrain her flights of imaginative fancy by comparing her own portrait to one she has drawn of Blanche Ingram, noting how much plainer she is than the beautiful Blanche.
Analysis: Chapters 11–16
This section marks the third phase of Jane’s life, in which she begins her career as a governess and travels to Thornfield, where the principal incidents of her story take place. By linking Jane’s stages of development to the various institutions or geographic locations with which she is involved (Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House, and Ferndean, in order), the book positions itself among a literary genre known as the Bildungsroman.
The Bildungsroman, a novel that details the growth and development of a main character through several periods of life, began as a German genre in the seventeenth century, but by the mid-1800s had become firmly established in England as well. Such important Victorian novels as David Copperfield base themselves on this form, which continues as an important literary sub-genre even today. The Bildungsroman typically told the story of a man growing from boyhood to adulthood; Charlotte Brontë’s appropriation of the form for her heroine represents one of the many ways in which her novel challenges the accepted Victorian conceptions of gender hierarchy, making the statement that a woman’s inner development merits as much attention and analysis as that of a man. Still, although Jane herself and Jane Eyre as a novel are often identified as important early figures in the feminist movement, Jane experiences much inner questioning regarding her gender role; she is not a staunch and confident feminist at all times. That is, while Jane is possessed of an immense integrity and a determination to succeed on her own terms, her failure to conform to ideals of female beauty nonetheless troubles her and makes her question herself.
Just as Jane’s time at Lowood involved a number of elements taken from Charlotte Brontë’s own life, so too is Jane’s career as a governess based in part on Brontë’s short-lived position as a governess in the late 1830s. In many ways, Brontë’s exploration of the role of the governess represents the novel’s most important and challenging treatment of the theme of social class. Just as Emily Brontë does with Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Brontë makes Jane a figure of ambiguous class standing. Consequently, she is a source of extreme tension for the characters around her. But while Heathcliff (an orphan like Jane) achieves wealth and power without achieving education or social grace, Jane acquires the manners, sophistication, and education of an aristocrat while remaining penniless and powerless. Such was the role of the governess: brought into wealthy Victorian households as the children’s private tutors in both academics and etiquette, governesses were expected to possess the demeanor of the aristocracy; but as paid employees, they were in many ways treated merely as servants. Jane begins to experience this tension as soon as she notices her emerging feelings for Rochester. Though she is in some ways his social equal, she is also his servant, and thus she cannot believe that he could ever fall in love with her.