How are the women presented in the following extract from Jane Eyre?
Extract from Chapter 17: "A soft sound of rising now became audible; the curtain was swept back from the arch;" to "I knew their names afterwards, and may as well mention them now."
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This passage from Chapter 17 describes the entrance of the female characters from the party that Rochester is hosting at Thornfield Hall. Jane and Adele have been instructed to wait for them in the drawing room, and the passage begins as the women enter in all of their finery. It is clear that Jane finds these women very impressive in terms of their dress and deportment. Even though there are only eight, Jane records that "they gave the impression of a much larger number," suggesting that they seem to be more than they actually are.
All of them are depicted as having "a sweeping amplitude of array that seemed to magnify their persons as a mist magnifies the moon." Because of their class and breeding, these women are trained to present themselves as being more than they actually are, and perhaps in this quotation an implied criticism of these women can be detected. They, after all, pretend to be more than they actually are, and achieve this with great art and skill. However, Jane, by contrast, never appears to be anything other than what she is, and this is the key difference that is developed between her and the other female characters that flock around Rochester.
Lastly, Jane uses the following comparison to describe them, saying they remind her of "a flock of white plumy birds" in the way that they spread themselves around the drawing room. They chat easily amongst themselves and recline on coaches. They are at ease in this environment, whereas Jane is not at ease in such society. The description of the women therefore is important in this passage in the way that it creates a contrast between Jane and these women of high society, and also the implied criticism that it contains of these women, which comes of course from Jane's view point.
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