Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chapter 17: Outsiders in Thornfield

"You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him; so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your caste, and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised."
Sure, honey. That always works.

So Rochester is still away, and Jane's working on her don't-fall-in-love plan, when news arrives: a) Rochester has not hied off to the Continent like Mrs. Fairfax thought he might have done; in fact, b) he's going to be home in three days, c) bringing the house party with him.

So there's work to be done:
The three days were, as she had foretold, busy enough. I had thought all the rooms at Thornfield beautifully clean and well arranged; but it appears I was mistaken.... Mrs. Fairfax had pressed me into her service, and I was all day in the storeroom, helping (or hindering) her and the cook; learning to make custards and cheese-cakes and French pastry, to truss game and garnish desert-dishes.
(This sentiment makes an appearance in Daddy Long-Legs, separate from the overt references to Jane Eyre in that book:
Such a flutter as we are in! The whole house is being cleaned and all the curtains washed. I am driving to the Corners this morning to get some new oilcloth for the entry, and two cans of brown floor paint for the hall and back stairs. Mrs. Dowd is engaged to come tomorrow to wash the windows (in the exigency of the moment, we waive our suspicions in regard to the piglet). You might think, from this account of our activities, that the house was not already immaculate; but I assure you it was! Whatever Mrs. Semple's limitations, she is a HOUSEKEEPER.
What was that line about good writers copy, but great writers steal outright?)

The house party arrives, and Jane gets her first look at Blanche Ingram, who is every bit the beauty she's reputed to be. But she's also standard-issue mean girl, deliberately starting in on governesses - all of them - when Jane joins the group at Rochester's request.

Well, "request" is too mild a word. According to Mrs. Fairfax, what he actually said was
"If she objects, tell her it is my particular wish; and if she resists, say I shall come and fetch her in case of contumacy."
Pleasant man, that.

Let's take a break from speculation about Rochester's designs for a minute, and step in Jane's head, where we can admire Charlotte Bronte's prose. She switches from past to present tense here, something she does at a couple points in the book, as a kind of scene-setting:
At last coffee is brought in, and the gentlemen are summoned. I sit in the shade—if any shade there be in this brilliantly-lit apartment; the window-curtain half hides me. Again the arch yawns; they come. The collective appearance of the gentlemen, like that of the ladies, is very imposing: they are all costumed in black; most of them are tall, some young... I try to concentrate my attention on those netting-needles, on the meshes of the purse I am forming—I wish to think only of the work I have in my hands, to see only the silver beads and silk threads that lie in my lap...
(Full credit, by the way, goes to the introduction in the Penguin Classics edition of the book - I'm not sure I would have noticed the tense shifts if the editor hadn't pointed them out.)

And then we see just how futile Jane's efforts in the beginning of the chapter were:
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.
Blanche, however? Not so much.

After the discourse on how to win friends and irritate governesses, we're treated to a Regency-esque (which is not to say that it seems ahistorical here; the 1830s just haven't developed their own literary ambience, y'know?) public flirtation between Blanche and Rochester, at which point Jane decides she's had enough.

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