Chapters 16–19 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1325
Jane is both fearful and excited to see Mr. Rochester the morning after the fire. To her surprise, the morning passes as usual. None of the servants seem suspicious of Mr. Rochester’s story that the fire was started when he fell asleep while reading by candlelight. Jane is especially surprised to see Grace Poole acting as if nothing happened. Irritated by Grace’s lack of guilt, Jane questions her about the fire, but Grace acts completely nonchalant. Soon, Jane finds out that Mr. Rochester is not home, having journeyed to attend a party at the Leas. She is disappointed to hear that he will probably not return for a week and even more disheartened to hear that at the party he will be in the company of the beautiful Miss Blanche Ingram. Feeling foolish for having ever thought Mr. Rochester could be interested in her, Jane sketches two portraits: one is a faithful portrayal of her own plain face, and the other is a drawing of what she imagines the beautiful Miss Ingram to look like. She tells herself that in the future, whenever she starts to believe that Mr. Rochester holds her in special regard, she will look at the two portraits and remember her insignificance to him.
After Mr. Rochester has been gone ten days with no word, Jane is upset to hear Mrs. Fairfax speculate that he might go straight from the Leas’ house to London and perhaps not return to Thornfield for over a year. A few days later, however, Mrs. Fairfax receives word that Mr. Rochester will be returning in three days and expects to be accompanied by several of the people staying with the Leas. Several temporary staff members are hired from the village to aid in the preparations of the house. During the flurry of activity, Jane overhears Leah and the charwoman mention that Grace Poole makes much more money than the other servants and that there are not many who would be able to do her job. Confused, Jane tries to hear more, but the conversation is cut off when Leah spots her. Jane reflects that “there was a mystery at Thornfield; and that from participation in that mystery I was purposely excluded.”
When the glamorous guests arrive, Jane and Adèle stay out of the way. Soon, however, Mr. Rochester summons them downstairs to make an appearance. Jane sits quietly in the window seat, remaining at a distance as the group entertains themselves. When Mr. Rochester appears, she cannot help but steal a glance at him and struggles to suppress the surge of emotion she feels in his presence. Jane observes that Blanche Ingram is indeed very beautiful, although she and her mother, Mrs. Ingram, treat Jane with great disdain. Uncomfortable, Jane takes the first opportunity to slip away but is stopped in the hallway by Mr. Rochester. Seeing that she is upset, he allows her to retire for the night—but not before demanding that she make a similar appearance every evening.
The guests remain at Thornfield for several days. One evening, Jane watches Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram play charades together and suspects that they will soon marry. This match is all the more painful for Jane when she realizes that Mr. Rochester does not truly care for Miss Ingram, nor she for him. Jane admits that had Miss Ingram been kind and able to successfully charm Mr. Rochester, she would feel extremely jealous—as it is, Jane only feels sorrow that Mr. Rochester is marrying for connections rather than love.
One day, a stranger called Mr. Mason arrives while Mr. Rochester is away. Claiming that he is an old acquaintance of Mr. Rochester’s, he is put up for the night. Later that evening, an old “gipsy” woman appears and offers to read the ladies’ fortunes. When Blanche returns from having her fortune told, she is in a noticeably bad mood. A servant approaches Jane and says that the gipsy woman refuses to leave until she has read Jane’s fortune as well.
Jane enters the library, where the gipsy woman is sitting. The woman’s face is covered by bandages and a large bonnet. Unlike the other ladies, Jane is very skeptical of the woman and suspects her to be a trickster. However, the woman does seem to understand Jane’s character uncannily well. The woman tells Jane that she is close to happiness—if she will only reach out and take it. When the woman bids Jane to leave, Jane hesitates, sensing that the woman’s voice and gestures are somehow very familiar. Drawing closer, she realizes that the gipsy woman is actually Mr. Rochester in disguise. Announcing that she has discovered his deception, Jane is secretly relieved that she did not say anything too revealing during their conversation. She mentions the arrival of Mr. Mason and is shocked by Mr. Rochester’s fearful reaction to this news. He mysteriously tells Jane that the presence of Mr. Mason is a “blow.”
The appearance of a rival for Mr. Rochester's affections leads Jane to finally acknowledge her feelings for him. A beautiful and well-connected lady, Miss Blanche Ingram is considered a socially suitable (and likely) match for Mr. Rochester. In many ways, Blanche is Jane’s perfect foil: Jane is plain, intelligent, and kind, while Blanche is beautiful, shallow, and cruel—demonstrating yet again that outer beauty often masks an inner ugliness. Though Jane is generally a self-assured person, Blanche’s beauty intensifies her insecurities, particularly her longstanding anxiety over her plain appearance, and helps to convince her that Mr. Rochester could never return her love.
Jane’s self-doubts throughout these chapters complicate her idealistic assertion that she and Mr. Rochester are equals. Dwelling on Mr. Rochester and Miss Ingram’s apparently mercenary match, Jane thinks, “All their class held these principles; I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom.” Her thoughts suggests that she herself does not subscribe to the idea that social connections and wealth are more important than love, yet Jane is not wholly unaffected by such superficial concerns. She feels inferior to Miss Ingram, even after realizing that Blanche possesses no real intelligence nor strength of character.
Indeed, Jane’s internalized feelings of inferiority blind her to Mr. Rochester’s increasingly obvious feelings for her. Mr. Rochester continually seeks out her company, even while entertaining his guests. At one point, he has to stop himself from accidentally referring to Jane with a term of endearment: “ ‘Good-night, my—.’ He stopped, bit his lip and abruptly left me.” His desire to gauge Jane’s affection for him is evident when he poses as a gipsy and spends much of their conversation trying to get her to reveal her feelings for him. When he is upset by Mr. Mason’s arrival, he even tellingly admits to Jane, “I wish I were in a quiet island with only you.” Despite these clues as to his feelings, Jane never dares to suspect that it is not Miss Ingram that Mr. Rochester plans to marry, suggesting that she is more bound by convention than she realizes.
Even as a romance plot develops, a Gothic mystery is also taking shape. The conversation Jane overhears about Grace Poole confirms that there is something taking place at Thornfield that is being deliberately kept secret from her. Though Grace shows no outward signs of guilt, Jane continues to be suspicious of her and cannot fathom why Mr. Rochester would refuse to dismiss someone who seemingly attempted to murder him. Mr. Rochester’s panicked reaction to the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Mason, who claims to be an old acquaintance, suggests that the past mistakes and sins he has long alluded to have finally caught up to him; indeed, Mr. Rochester's fearful conversation with Jane suggests that Mr. Mason is in possession of a terrible secret.