by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre Volume 1, Chapter 11 Summary
READ THE BOOK: Volume 1, Chapter 11
- Jane stages the beginning of the next chapter almost like a play, describing the scene as she sits by the fire at an inn, waiting nervously to get to Thornfield and meet this mysterious Mrs. Fairfax and her daughter. (She’s assuming the little girl is Mrs. Fairfax’s daughter.)
- Notice that Jane (or perhaps Charlotte Brontë) addresses the reader directly here, something that happens only a few times in the novel, but always at key points (see, for example, the beginning of Book I, Chapter Ten and the beginning of Book III, Chapter Twelve).
- A servant meets Jane and drives her in a coach to Thornfield. Jane guesses that his plain clothes mean that Mrs. Fairfax isn’t too wealthy. It’s amazing, in fact, how little Jane knows about the job that she’s heading into. We hope you would never take some random job based on one letter from someone you didn’t know and then travel across the country alone to live who-knows-where.
- Jane arrives at Thornfield and is brought in to see Mrs. Fairfax, who looks almost exactly as she had expected; she’s an old woman dressed in black clothes and a widow’s cap, which probably means she’s mourning her husband.
- Jane is surprised that Mrs. Fairfax welcomes her kindly, chatting with her and offering her tea; she’s never been treated so politely by anyone, especially an employer. She’s really relieved that this situation is better than her previous ones.
- Suddenly, a surprise: Jane finds out that her new student isn’t Mrs. Fairfax’s daughter; her name is Miss Varens, and Mrs. Fairfax doesn’t have any kids. Unfortunately, Jane is too shy to ask more about Miss Varens at this point.
- Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane more about the household; it’s been somewhat lonely for her, because she can’t socialize with the maid, Leah, or the other servants, who are a married couple. Jane, however, will be closer to Mrs. Fairfax’s "level," whatever that is.
- Jane goes to bed; her room is small but nice, and she feels very secure in it…although the long, dark corridors of the house are, she admits, a little bit creepy.
- Jane wakes up on her first day at Thornfield, soothed by the luxurious surroundings, and dresses in her plain Lowood-style clothes and heads downstairs. She meets Mrs. Fairfax again and learns that the owner of Thornfield is a Mr. Rochester – Mrs. Fairfax is just the housekeeper, although she is a distant cousin of Rochester’s. Adèle, Mrs. Fairfax explains, is Mr. Rochester’s ward.
- Jane meets Adèle, a French girl about seven or eight years old who only speaks a little English. It’s lucky that Jane learned French from a native speaker; she’s able to understand Adèle easily, even when Adèle talks really fast.
- Adèle tells Jane (and Jane relays to Mrs. Fairfax) how she came to England about six months ago. Long before that, the first thing Adèle remembers is living with her mother, who taught her to sing and dance and had a lot of, erm, let’s call them gentlemen admirers. There were ladies who liked to hear Madame Varens sing, too, but there seem to have been quite a few gentlemen, as well, if you take our meaning.
- Adèle offers to sing for Jane, and sings a song from an opera that’s really far too mature for her. The contrast between Adèle’s childishness and the extremes of jealousy and passion in the song seems crass to Jane. Then Adèle recites a poem with similar strange adult motifs and techniques. Jane’s pretty weirded out by her and stops her before she can dance.
- Jane questions Adèle further about her history; Adèle explains that, after her mother died, Mr. Rochester offered to take her with him to live in England, and (as she explained earlier) she and her nurse Sophie came with him on a steamship across the (English) Channel. Unfortunately, Mr. Rochester took her to Thornfield, left her there, and went traveling, so Adèle doesn’t actually get to live with him.
- Jane teaches Adèle her first lesson that morning; Adèle is obedient, but not very studious. She’s never really been asked to apply herself. Jane decides to take it slow and lets her have the afternoon free.
- In the afternoon, Jane talks to Mrs. Fairfax about Thornfield and Mr. Rochester while Mrs. Fairfax does some light housework. Jane is amazed at how beautiful and fancy the house is.
- Jane practically cross-examines Mrs. Fairfax about the absent Mr. Rochester. She really wants to know what kind of a person he is, but it’s hard for the housekeeper to describe him. Most people like him, she tells Jane, but he is "rather peculiar," whatever that means (1.11.99).
- Jane follows Mrs. Fairfax through the house, admiring everything she sees, but feeling a little creeped out by all the empty rooms full of strange furnishings and decorations. She asks Mrs. Fairfax if there are any ghost stories about Thornfield, but there aren’t. However, Mrs. Fairfax does admit that the members of the Rochester family have been "rather a violent than a quiet race in their time" (1.11.109). So there may not be any ghosts…but there are some metaphorical skeletons in the closet.
- Jane and Mrs. Fairfax make their way to the attic and then to the roof, and Jane is able to look out across all of the land surrounding Thornfield, which is an incredible view.
- After a good long look, they head back; Mrs. Fairfax is fastening the trap door and Jane is a bit further away in the attic when she hears an eerie, unearthly laugh. Mrs. Fairfax says that it must be one of the servants, perhaps a woman named Grace Poole who does the sewing.
- Jane’s convinced there is no Grace and that the laugh is a ghost, but at Mrs. Fairfax’s call Grace comes out of a room nearby. She’s a squat, heavyset, middle-aged redhead – SO not a ghost. Mrs. Fairfax tells her there should be less noise, sends her off, and changes the subject. Sure, THAT’S not suspicious at all.
READ THE BOOK: Volume 1, Chapter 11