As the novel opens, Mrs. Reed, a well-to-do widow, is sitting by the
fireplace in her comfortable living room. Around her are her three children-
Eliza, Georgiana, and fourteen-year-old John. A fat, spoiled bully, John is
still his mother's favorite. She stuffs him with rich food and keeps him out of
school because she's convinced that he is too "delicate" to keep up
with his schoolwork.
Off to one side of the room is Jane Eyre, a ten-year-old orphan who lives
with the Reed family. We can see right away what Jane's life must be like- we
learn that she's being punished for the crime of not being cheerful enough. Jane
is an unloved, unwanted child, an outsider in the only home she has ever known.
Jane wanders off to the next room and settles herself on a small window seat.
Hidden from view behind the scarlet curtains that decorate the window, Jane can
read in peace. Her book, Bewick's History of British Birds, is filled with
romantic illustrations of the Far North- Norway, Siberia, the Arctic- and Jane's
lively imagination soon carries her away into her own fantasy world.
But she doesn't get to enjoy her book for long. John Reed finds Jane in her
hiding place and demands that she give him the book. At fourteen, he is already
a tyrant. He reminds Jane that he is the young master of the house and that
everything in it, including the books, all belong to him- or will in a few
years. Jane, he says, is nothing but a penniless dependent who ought to be out
on the streets begging instead of living in comfort "with gentleman's
children like us." With that, he picks up the heavy book and throws it. She
falls against the door and cuts her head.
Jane has always been too afraid of John to stand up to him. This time,
however, she is furious. "You are like the Roman emperors!" she
shouts, thinking of tyrants, such as Nero and Caligula, whom she has read about.
Jane's willingness to defend herself makes John lose all self-control. He flies
at her and starts pulling her hair. She feels a drop of blood trickling down her
neck, and it gives her the courage to fight back. Just as Jane starts hitting
John, Mrs. Reed rushes in, and of course she jumps to the conclusion that Jane
started the fight. She orders her to be locked up in an empty bedroom as
punishment. As Jane is being dragged out of the room by the nursemaid, Bessie,
and Mrs. Reed's maid, Miss Abbot, she hears one of them say disapprovingly,
"Did you ever see such a picture of passion!"
NOTE: By this time- if you're like most readers- you're already very much
on Jane's side. Weren't there times in your own childhood when other children
picked on you- and you ended up taking the blame? Is there anything more
infuriating? On the other hand, you're a few years older- maybe you can see
things differently now. If you have younger brothers or sisters, you can see
that children's fights are hardly ever completely one-sided.
But as you read the first few chapters of Jane Eyre, notice how quickly they
pull us into a child's view of the world. The narrator- Jane- is supposed to be
looking back on something that happened to her years ago, but she's just as
angry as ever. And she makes us angry too. She doesn't bother to wonder how the
incident must have looked from Mrs. Reed's point of view, or to ask whether John
was really as bad as he seemed. Some readers feel that this is the best thing
about Jane Eyre- it brings us back to the strong emotions we felt as children.
But others say that the job of the author is to give us a new perspective on
things, not just to reinforce a one-sided- and in this case, childish- view of
why people behave the way they do.
As you read on, remember that phrase "picture of passion" (it's an
old-fashioned way of describing a temper tantrum). In future chapters we're
going to hear more, both good and bad, about Jane's "passionate"
Kicking and screaming, Jane is hauled upstairs by Bessie and Miss Abbot.
They're both shocked by her behavior, but their reactions aren't quite the same.
Miss Abbot reminds Jane coldly that she's "less than a servant," since
she does nothing to earn her keep in the house. And she even threatens that if
Jane doesn't behave "something bad might come down the chimney and fetch
you away." Bessie is more sympathetic. She urges Jane to behave better in
the future, but for her own good, so that Mrs. Reed won't send Jane away to the
As punishment, Jane is locked up in the red-room- an unused bedroom furnished
with dark red drapes, a red carpet, and heavy mahogany furniture. The history of
the room is even gloomier than its furniture. It was here, nine years earlier,
that Mr. Reed died and his body was laid out until the day of the funeral.
NOTE: Funeral homes weren't used in Victorian times. The dead were kept at
home, sometimes for several days.
At first, thinking about Mr. Reed makes Jane feel better. Mr. Reed was her
uncle, her dead mother's brother, and Jane feels sure that if he were still
alive he'd treat her better than his widow does. She's heard that Mr. Reed, on
his deathbed, made his wife promise to treat Jane as one of the family, and she
imagines how angry his spirit would be if it came back to earth and saw that
Mrs. Reed is disobeying his dying wish.
By now it is twilight, the rain is beating on the window, the wind is
howling. The room is dark and cold. Little by little, the thought of Mr. Reed's
ghost no longer seems so comforting. What if it really did come back?
Suddenly, a beam of light shines through the room. Jane's heart beats faster.
She hears a strange sound, like the "rushing of wings." She screams in
Jane gets no sympathy from Mrs. Reed. She and Miss Abbot agree that Jane is
only pretending to be frightened so they'll let her out of the room. Her story
about seeing a ghost is just another lie- even worse than the lie she told about
John Reed hitting her first. Mrs. Reed locks Jane up inside the room again and
Jane immediately faints dead away.
NOTE: Was Mr. Reed's ghost really in the room? In narrating this episode,
the adult Jane Eyre looks back on this frightening moment in her own childhood
and decides that there must have been a rational explanation for everything. For
example, the beam of light was probably caused by someone carrying a lantern
across the lawn outside the window. But, like so many readers, you may still
feel that young Jane's fear was real- and a lot more convincing than any attempt
to explain it.
As you read on, you'll find that Jane Eyre often reads like a horror story.
Weird and uncanny things are always happening to Jane. Charlotte Bronte doesn't
ask us to believe literally in ghosts. But she does manage to keep us guessing.
How much of what happens to Jane is real, and how much is the product of her
Haunted house stories, called Gothics, were very popular at the time Jane
Eyre was written. The most famous of these, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, is
still read today. Like the authors of these books, Charlotte Bronte uses the
supernatural to generate suspense and keep us turning the pages to find out what
will happen next. But Jane Eyre goes a step beyond the horror story. By mixing
real life and the supernatural, it keeps asking questions: Where do you find the
line between the "real" and the "unreal"? Is there such a
thing as a ghost? What about omens? What about telepathy? Or dreams that
foretell the future? During the course of her story, Jane herself makes up her
mind about some of these things. You don't necessarily have to agree with her
answers, but see if you think they make sense for her.
When Jane comes to, she is in the nursery with Bessie and Mr. Lloyd, an
NOTE: In Victorian times, apothecaries, or pharmacists, sometimes made
house calls. We're told that Mrs. Reed calls a medical doctor when she or her
own children are sick, but lets the apothecary treat Jane and the servants. What
does this say about Mrs. Reed?
Jane's fright in the red-room has left her so nervous that she can't sleep or
eat. Bessie does her best to comfort Jane, but you may wonder whether she might
be doing more harm than good. For example, Bessie has heard other stories about
Mr. Reed's ghost and half believes that Jane really did see a spirit. Even
though the story never says so, we can't help wondering whether Bessie's ghost
stories are partly responsible for putting these ideas into Jane's head. Bessie
also tries to amuse Jane by giving her a copy of Gulliver's Travels. If you know
anything about this book- about a man who travels to lands populated by giants
and tiny people and other strange beings- you have to wonder whether it is quite
the thing to calm Jane down after her frightening experience.
Mr. Lloyd returns the next day. He sees how unhappy Jane is with the Reeds
and wants to help her. But when he suggests that Jane might be better off going
to live with some poor relatives, she is horrified. All Jane knows about poverty
is what she's learned from the Reeds- a stereotype of the poor as cruel and
degraded, hardly better than animals. As bad as things are where she is, she is
not heroic enough to want to exchange her situation for a life of poverty.
Mr. Lloyd has another suggestion- that Jane might like to go away to school.
Jane's notions of what boarding school would be like are vague, but she imagines
it's a place where young ladies are taught to paint lovely landscapes and read
books in French. She tells Mr. Lloyd that she would indeed like to be sent to
Jane has never been told anything about her parents. Now, late one night, she
overhears Bessie and Miss Abbot talking and learns for the first time that her
mother, the rich Miss Reed, defied her family by marrying a poor minister, Mr.
Eyre. Now more than ever Jane feels a horror of poverty! Her own mother was
never forgiven for the crime of marrying a poor man. And Jane is still paying
the price of the Reeds' disapproval.
NOTE: Many children fantasize sometimes that they're orphans. If you're
angry with your parents, it can be comforting to think that they are not your
real mother and father. Maybe one of the reasons for Jane Eyre's popularity over
the years is that the story brings such common fantasies vividly to life. Think
back over the first three chapters and see if there other things that not only
remind you of experiences in your own childhood but actually make you feel the
emotions you felt at the time. Remember, from Chapter 1, the blind rage Jane
feels at being blamed for her fight with John Reed, when it was he who threw a
book at her? That's one example. Can you find some others?
One day, about three months after Mr. Lloyd's visit, Mrs. Reed calls Jane
into the breakfast room for an interview with a stranger. This turns out to be
Mr. Brocklehurst- a tall, thin man dressed in black from head to toe. Mr.
Brocklehurst addresses Jane by bending over so that his face is just a few
inches away from hers and asking "Do you know where the wicked go when they
"What a face...!" thinks Jane, "what a great nose! and what a
mouth! and what large prominent teeth!"
NOTE: Does this description remind you of someone? What about the wolf in
"Little Red Riding Hood?" It is worth rereading this scene just to see
how the author suggests this comparison without ever so much as mentioning the
word wolf. When Jane first sets eyes on Mr. Brocklehurst, he is so tall he looks
to her like a "black pillar." He is described as
"sable-clad," which means dressed in black, although of course sable
is also a kind of fur, which is dark brown or black. Later, Jane notices other
telling details, including Brocklehurst's bushy eyebrows and his unusually large
Even though she's taken aback by Mr. Brocklehurst's morbid questions, Jane
doesn't let him get the best of her. When he asks her how she can avoid going to
hell, Jane refuses to give him the answer that she knows he wants. Instead, she
replies, "I must keep in good health and not die."
NOTE: We can't help silently cheering Jane on for having the courage to
talk back to the awful Mr. Brocklehurst. Even so (and especially if you happen
to be religious), you may not feel quite satisfied with Jane's answer. No matter
how healthy we may be, we still have to face death someday. What then? Jane is
soon going to learn that rebellions and a quick wit won't help her to avoid some
of life's grimmer tragedies. Later on she'll have to think beyond her hasty
answer to Mr. Brocklehurst's question.
Mrs. Reed tells Brocklehurst that Jane is a deceitful child, and he promises
that his school, Lowood, will be just the place to make Jane repent her bad
habits. Stung at hearing herself called a liar, Jane waits until Mr.
Brocklehurst has gone and then lashes out at Mrs. Reed. "I will never call
you aunt again as long as I live," she cries. "I will never come to
see you when I am grown up.... People think you are a good woman, but you are
bad; hard-hearted. You are deceitful!"
This outburst leaves Jane feeling a sense of triumph. But not for long. Jane
wants to be loved, but then she has to admit that she is not very lovable. She
can't change the fact that she's plain and awkward, but she does think often
about changing her behavior. She's sure that her worst fault is that she is
"too passionate"- that is, she has strong emotions and isn't good at
disguising them to make herself more acceptable. Only Bessie disagrees with this
view; the kind servantwoman loves Jane enough to see the loneliness that
underlies Jane's rebellion. She warns Jane not to be afraid to reach out and
show affection. Jane responds by giving Bessie a warm good-bye kiss.
Jane's first day at Lowood School confirms her worst expectations. All of the
girl students, who range in age from nine to twenty years old, have to wear ugly
brown dresses covered by pinafores. In the morning they wash in basins of ice
cold water. All day long they're marched from place to place, moving from meals
to prayers to classes to the sound of clanging bells and the voices of teachers
commanding, "Silence!" The food is terrible. For supper on Jane's
first night, the girls have only a thin oat cake with water to drink. At
breakfast the next morning, the porridge is so badly burned that Jane, although
terribly hungry, cannot bring herself to eat.
Miss Temple, who runs the school for Mr. Brocklehurst, isn't a bad person- in
fact, she does what she can. When noon comes, for example, Miss Temple tries to
make up for the awful breakfast by ordering a special treat of bread and cheese
for the girls. However, she doesn't have either the authority or the courage to
force Mr. Brocklehurst to hire a better cook. How you judge Miss Temple will
depend on whether or not you think it is right for a person to work within a bad
system in the hope of mitigating its evils. Is Miss Temple helping the girls at
Lowood by making their lives a little easier than they might otherwise be? Or
does Miss Temple only make matters worse by staying at her job and keeping Mr.
Brocklehurst's system running smoothly?
NOTE: There's room for more than one verdict on Miss Temple's character.
But what about the kind of "charity" practiced at Lowood school? Mr.
Brocklehurst doesn't believe in coddling the poor. In his opinion, the sooner
the girls learn to put up with hardship, the more self-reliant they will be in
later life. Today we still hear this point of view (maybe not quite as extreme)
every time the subject of poverty comes up: Giving the poor too much only makes
them dependent on handouts. There's no doubt what Charlotte Bronte thought about
this attitude. She stacks the deck against Mr. Brocklehurst by making him as
nasty and hypocritical as possible.
We know what kind of charity the author is against. But what kind is she for?
Is she arguing in favor of social equality? Or is she only condemning Mr.
Brocklehurst's self-righteous attitude?
There are always a few readers who suspect the author herself of being a bit
hypocritical about poverty. We're supposed to feel very sorry for the "nice
girls" at Lowood. But what about poor people who don't happen to come from
"nice" middle-class families? Later in the book (Chapter 31) we'll see
that Jane herself is a little snobbish about her lower-class pupils. You'll have
to decide for yourself whether the attitude toward charity in Jane Eyre is
Jane's first friend at Lowood is an older girl named Helen Burns. Helen loves
reading, but the school's nastiest teacher, Miss Scatcherd, constantly picks on
her because she's dreamy and a little clumsy. Jane can't understand why Helen
submits to Miss Scatcherd's persecutions without complaining. Helen quotes the
New Testament: "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to
them that hate you and despitefully use you."
Jane argues that this attitude only encourages people like Miss Scatcherd who
enjoy picking on the weak. "When we are struck at without a reason,"
Jane argues, "we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should-
so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."
NOTE: Submission or resistance? Pacifism or self-defense? Which is the
best way to respond to evil?
Even Jane, the rebel, doesn't mean to say that she'd actually hit a teacher.
She just means that she'd find some way to fight back against unfair treatment.
Many readers feel that Jane is right and that Helen is simply too good to be
believable. A few even get angry at Helen; they argue that people who submit to
evil are cooperating with it. Another view, probably closer to Charlotte
Bronte's own, is that Jane and Helen represent opposite extremes, with neither
being completely correct. Jane wants to fight every battle and is in danger of
becoming a bitter person. Helen is moral, almost saintly, but perhaps not very
well prepared to survive in an imperfect world.
After an absence of several months, Mr. Brocklehurst pays a visit to the
school. He begins by lecturing Miss Temple for giving the girls extra meals of
bread and cheese. Then he notices a girl who has naturally curly red hair, and
he orders that the barber come to cut it off the very next day. Even natural
curls are forbidden at Lowood School!
Mr. Brocklehurst's speech is interrupted by the arrival of his wife and two
daughters. They're wearing silk and velvet, and the girls have fancy beaver fur
hats with ostrich plumes. Their hairdos are elaborately curled, and Mrs.
Brocklehurst is even wearing a fashionably curly hairpiece!
Not at all bothered by this evidence of his hypocrisy, Brocklehurst goes on
to single out Jane Eyre, announcing to the whole school Mrs. Reed's charge that
she is a liar. Brocklehurst warns the other girls that Jane is such a bad
influence that they should not talk to her all day, and he sentences her to
stand for half an hour on the punishment stool in the center of the room. Jane
is on the point of bursting into tears, but Helen Burns finds an excuse to pass
by where Jane is standing and flashes her a smile of encouragement. Helen may
believe in obedience, but she is a loyal friend above all.
In spite of having Helen on her side, Jane can't get over her humiliation at
being singled out as a liar in front of the whole school. Helen tells her that
no one will believe Mr. Brocklehurst, and that Jane shouldn't worry too much
about what others think about her: The important thing is that Jane's conscience
is clear. Jane disagrees. "If others don't love me, I would rather die than
live," she tells Helen.
Once again the two girls have a disagreement about values: Which matters
more- what other people think of you, or how you feel about yourself?
Miss Temple comes looking for Jane and invites both girls to come to her
room. As Helen predicted, Miss Temple finds it hard to believe Mr.
Brocklehurst's charges. More calmly than usual, Jane tells her the true story of
her life with the Reeds and begs Miss Temple to write to Mr. Lloyd, the
apothecary, who can confirm that Jane was never a bad girl, just miserable and
unwanted. Miss Temple agrees.
Then she invites Jane and Helen to share her tea and buttered toast. The
portions are tiny- even Miss Temple doesn't rate high enough with the cook to
get second helpings- but she brings out a cake of her own. Two hungry girls are
NOTE: In writing this scene, Charlotte Bronte must have been thinking
about her own days at Cowan Bridge school where the pupils were served dry bread
six days a week, with "a scraping of butter" on Sundays. In a place
where neither the students nor the teachers ever get quite enough to eat, Miss
Temple's invitation to tea is more than a casual gesture. At last someone in
authority is giving Jane the approval she craves.
A week later Jane's triumph is complete when Miss Temple announces to the
entire school that Mr. Lloyd has answered her letter. He takes Jane's side, and
she's cleared of the charge of lying.
Jane has begun to settle down at Lowood and is working hard at her studies.
But in late spring, the school routine is interrupted by tragedy. Forty-five of
Lowood's 80 pupils fall ill with typhus. Ironically enough, the epidemic makes
life easier for the girls who are still healthy. The teachers are so busy
tending the sick that there's plenty of free time, and since so many girls
aren't eating their regular meals, there's enough food to go around. Jane isn't
even particularly worried about the absence of her friend Helen. She's been told
that Helen has consumption; Jane thinks this is a mild disease and assumes that
Helen is in no immediate danger.
NOTE: Consumption is what's now called tuberculosis, and it was very
common in Charlotte Bronte's day. It could be a long and slow disease, but many
of its victims were very young people- remember, that's what all the Bronte
children died of. Today tuberculosis is fairly rare and can be treated, but
there was no cure for it then.
One day Jane sees the doctor leaving, and the nurse tells her that Helen
"will not be here long." Suddenly Jane understands. The nurse doesn't
mean that Helen is being sent home. Helen is dying!
Jane is told she can't see Helen, but she sneaks into her room while the
nurse is asleep. Helen comforts her friend by telling her that she doesn't mind
the prospect of death. "I have faith: I am going to God," she says.
Jane is skeptical. How can Helen be so sure of God's love when he sends so
much suffering her way? "Where is God?" she cries. "What is
But Helen's faith can't be shaken. The girls fall asleep in each other's
arms, and when Jane wakes up Helen is- dead.
It's now eight years later. As she looks back on this period of her life,
Jane recalls that the typhus epidemic led to many changes for the better at
Lowood. The wealthy citizens of the district decided to investigate conditions
at the school and, as a result, Mr. Brocklehurst's power was reduced and many of
his harsh rules were eliminated or reformed.
Jane became one of the school's best pupils, and she's remained on the staff
as a teacher for the two years since her graduation. The unexpected marriage of
Miss Temple, who has been Jane's good friend and mentor, starts Jane thinking
that perhaps the time has come for her to leave Lowood and see something more of
the world. She advertises in the newspaper for a job as a governess and receives
one offer of work- from a Mrs. Fairfax at Thornfield. She decides to accept.
Just before Jane leaves to take up her new job, she receives a surprise visit
from Bessie. The Reeds' servant, now happily married, is very impressed by the
way Jane has turned out. "You are quite a lady!" she exclaims when she
learns that Jane can read French and paint watercolors. Bessie tells Jane that
seven years earlier a Mr. Eyre, the brother of Jane's father, came looking for
her at Gateshead. He didn't come to see Jane at Lowood because he was sailing
for the island of Madeira in two days and didn't have time to make the trip to
the school. But don't forget him; we'll hear more from this mysterious relative
later in the story.
By the time Jane arrives at Thornfield, the house where she is to work as
governess, she is trembling with nervousness. What if Mrs. Fairfax turns out to
be another Mrs. Reed?
Much to her relief, however, she finds that Mrs. Fairfax is an elderly lady,
plainly but neatly dressed. She welcomes Jane kindly by ordering a plate of
sandwiches from the kitchen. Jane is very surprised, and she's so naive about
the ways of the wealthy that she doesn't realize until the next day that Mrs.
Fairfax is not the lady of the house at all; she's the housekeeper.
Jane's first impression of Thornfield is reassuring. But there are a few
hints of mystery: Mr. Rochester, Thornfield's owner and Jane's employer, isn't
there, and Mrs. Fairfax explains vaguely that he's a "rather peculiar"
man who spends much of his time traveling.
Jane's only pupil is a little French girl, Adele Varens. She's outgoing and
friendly and entertains her new governess by singing an operatic song about a
woman who has been abandoned by her lover- a subject the prim Jane thinks is
"in bad taste" for a performance by a child of ten. Adele is Mr.
Rochester's ward, but Mrs. Fairfax has no idea who the girl's parents are or how
she came into Mr. Rochester's care- another mystery!
Finally, Mrs. Fairfax takes Jane on a tour of Thornfield Hall. She even takes
her up to the roof to show off the view from the battlements (ornamental
balconies). On their way down, Jane notices that certain rooms on the third
floor are shut off from the rest of the house. From behind one of the closed
doors she hears a loud, low-pitched laugh- one that sounds more tragic than
humorous. Mrs. Fairfax tells her it's most likely one of the servants, a woman
named Grace Poole, who often uses those rooms for sewing.
NOTE: Jane goes out of her way to tell us she didn't think the laughter
was ghostly or supernatural. Does she convince you? Maybe Bronte assures us that
Jane is a sensible person, not easily frightened, in order to make us wonder
whether there is something supernatural about the laughter? This episode may
remind you of a scene in a horror movie where the hero or heroine is unknowingly
walking into a dangerous situation, but we know that there's a monster lurking
around the corner, waiting to pounce. In this novel, however, the author has
more than one extra twist up her sleeve. For instance, Jane thought she saw a
ghost back in Chapter 2, so maybe she's not quite as reasonable as she claims to
be. And of course the laughter hasn't come from a ghost. Everything in this
story turns out to be more complicated than we at first expect.
Several months go by. Jane is satisfied with her work, but she finds the
quiet life at Thornfield rather boring. In her spare time, she often goes up to
the roof to walk along the battlements and daydream. Her everyday life may be
dull, but her imagination is constantly churning with dreams of adventure in
faraway places. "It is vain to say that human beings ought to be satisfied
with tranquility," Jane tells us, "they must have action; and they
will make it if they cannot find it."
Sometimes she paces the corridor on the third floor, where she often hears
the eerie laughter that frightened her the first time she came to this part of
the house. She finds it hard to believe these sounds come from Grace Poole,
who's an untalkative but quite respectable-looking woman whenever Jane sees her
in the halls.
One wintry afternoon, Jane is on her way to the post office when she stops on
the hill above Thornfield to watch the sunset. This peaceful scene is soon
interrupted by the sound of hoofbeats. However, the first creature to appear out
of the woods is not a horse but a huge black-and-white dog with a head like a
lion's. It crosses Jane's mind that perhaps she is seeing a Gytrash- a
supernatural being that attacks travelers after dark.
This scare lasts only a few seconds. Then a man on horseback comes into view.
The horse slips on the icy road, the rider is thrown to the ground, and Jane
rushes to help him. The stranger isn't badly hurt, and he refuses Jane's offer
to go for help. He asks who Thornfield belongs to and seems quite puzzled when
Jane admits that although she is the governess there she has never seen the
owner, Mr. Rochester. The stranger then asks Jane to fetch his horse, which is
grazing nearby; but Jane, unused to horses, is afraid to get near the
spirited-looking animal. Instead, she helps the rider to limp to the horse's
side and get mounted again, and she goes on to mail her letter.
It's not until later that evening, when Jane sees the same black-and-white
dog sitting happily in front of the fire at Thornfield, that she finds out the
stranger was none other than Mr. Rochester himself!
This first encounter with Mr. Rochester seems to justify Mrs. Fairfax's
description of him as peculiar. Why doesn't he introduce himself to Jane right
away? Is he just being playful? Is he feeling embarrassed at meeting one of his
own employees under such awkward circumstances? Or is it a little bit cruel of
him to tease a shy, unsophisticated governess in this way? Most readers, like
Jane herself, find the brooding, unconventional Mr. Rochester very attractive.
For a few, however, he remains unconvincing, a two- dimensional character, and
NOTE: In this very personal story, even the weather echoes Jane's moods.
The icy cold, moonlit night creates an aura of suspense surrounding Jane's first
impression of Mr. Rochester. Also, just before dark, Jane was watching a
brilliant crimson sunset- many readers have noticed that the color crimson, or
red, seems to be associated with strong, passionate feelings throughout the
novel. Can you remember other examples in the chapters you've already read? For
instance, look back at the very beginning of the book. And as you read on, keep
looking-you'll find lots of places where Bronte uses the weather or nature to
Jane does not see Mr. Rochester again until the next evening, after dinner.
At this time, Rochester tells her then when he first saw her sitting near the
road the previous evening he thought of "fairy tales" and wondered if
she had bewitched his horse. Jane doesn't mention that she was having similar
thoughts about him, but Rochester's confession makes her feel that there's some
special bond between the two of them. Normally, Jane is shy with strangers, but
soon she and her employer are engaged in a light-hearted conversation about the
"men in green" (fairies), much to the confusion of Mrs. Fairfax.
Rochester asks to see Jane's watercolors. He agrees with her judgment that
she isn't yet a very skillful painter, but he says there is thought in them and
insists the thoughts are "elfish." "And who taught you to paint
wind?" he asks, amazed. Then, for no reason that Jane can see, his mood
abruptly turns gloomy and Jane and Mrs. Fairfax are dismissed from the room.
After a cheerful beginning the chapter ends on a note of mystery. Mrs.
Fairfax explains to Jane that Edward Rochester, their employer, didn't get along
with his father and elder brother, which is why he has spent so much of his life
traveling in Europe. Furthermore, Mr. Rochester never expected to be the owner
of Thornfield; he inherited the house just nine years ago after his brother died
without a will. Mrs. Fairfax hints that unpleasant memories of his brother keep
Mr. Rochester from spending more time at home.
For the next few days Mr. Rochester is occupied with business and his
gentlemen friends from the neighborhood, and Jane and Adele hardly see him.
Finally, one evening after dinner he sends for them in the drawing room and
gives Adele a beautifully wrapped box containing a rose-colored silk dress- the
present from France she has been eagerly hoping for.
Noticing Jane looking at him, Mr. Rochester suddenly asks her whether she
thinks he's handsome. Jane, all too honestly, blurts out, "No, sir."
She doesn't believe in flattery.
He keeps questioning her, and she begins to suspect that he's amusing himself
at her expense. She refuses to be drawn into the game. But he's not offended; he
admires her proud, outspoken manner. When Jane says that no one
"free-born" would stand for being insulted, even by an employer, Mr.
Rochester answers cynically, "Most things free-born will submit to anything
for a salary." But Jane is the exception. "I find it impossible to be
conventional with you," Rochester confesses.
Adele comes into the room to show off her new dress, and falls to one knee in
front of Mr. Rochester, saying in French that she is thanking him "as her
mother would have done." Rochester winces at this and tells Jane that, even
though he doesn't love Adele, he's bringing her up in order to pay for numerous
sins. Once again, just when Jane is beginning to feel comfortable in Mr.
Rochester's company, she gets a hint that there's some dark, and perhaps guilty,
secret connected with his past.
Rochester keeps his promise not to "be conventional" with Jane. One
day, as they walk together on the grounds of the mansion, he confesses that
Celine Varens, Adele's mother, was his mistress. The love affair ended on a sour
note when Rochester went to visit Celine unexpectedly one night and overheard
her making fun of him in a conversation with a French officer. Celine, who had
been a dancer with the French opera, later ran off to Italy with still another
lover, abandoning Adele. He tells Jane he doesn't believe that Adele is his
child but has decided to take responsibility for seeing that she grows up away
from the "slime and mud" of Paris in a wholesome English atmosphere.
NOTE: For many young Englishmen, a trip to Paris meant their first chance
to live away from the watchful eyes of their families- hence, the English view
of Paris as a very immoral place.
Even while Mr. Rochester is making this frank confession, there are hints
that he's not telling Jane everything. At one point he interrupts his story to
glare darkly in the direction of Thornfield's battlements. He tells Jane that he
has seen a vision of his destiny taunting him: "You like Thornfield? Like
it if you can! Like it if you dare!"
Not long after, Jane is wakened in the middle of the night by a
"demoniac laugh"- this time coming from right outside her bedroom.
When she opens her door, she smells something burning. Someone has set fire to
the heavy curtains around Mr. Rochester's bed. Jane tries to wake him, but the
smoke has made him groggy. She douses the flames with a pitcher of water, which
rouses him. When she tells him about hearing Grace Poole's laugh in the hall, he
agrees- not very convincingly- that it must have been Grace who set the fire.
Rochester makes Jane promise not to mention the incident to anyone.
When Jane starts to go back to her room, Rochester hints in a roundabout way
that she might like to stay and comfort him. She ignores the suggestion, but
secretly she is thrilled by this evidence of Rochester's interest in her. She is
already well on her way to falling in love.
NOTE: Manners and morals have changed so much since the 19th century that
it's possible you won't realize how daring this last scene actually is. For a
governess to be in her employer's bedroom in the middle of the night was rather
risque, no matter how good a reason there might be for it. Even more than most
women, governesses had to be very careful of their reputations. A hint of
scandal, even if there was no basis for it, could make it impossible to find
work. What wife would hire a governess who might be tempted to carry on with her
husband or a grown son? This is one reason why Jane is very careful not to let
anyone, even Rochester himself, know how she really feels about him.
The next morning, Jane is on her way downstairs when she notices the servant
girl, Leah, is busy cleaning up the mess in Mr. Rochester's room. Grace Poole is
with her. Jane tries to question Grace about the fire, but soon has the
uncomfortable feeling that Grace is also trying to find out how much Jane knows.
Among other things, Grace asks Jane whether she keeps her bedroom door bolted at
night. Jane has never done this, but she decides that from now on she will.
Why is Grace Poole at Thornfield? Grace is hardly ever seen downstairs in the
house and spends almost all her time alone in the locked room on the third
floor. Jane guesses that Grace is about the same age as Mr. Rochester (in her
late thirties) and wonders whether there was some past connection between her
and the master, perhaps a love affair. It seems to Jane that Grace has some sort
of power over Mr. Rochester. On the other hand, she finds it hard to imagine a
romance between this stolid, unsmiling woman and Rochester, even one that might
have happened many years ago.
Downstairs, Jane learns from Mrs. Fairfax that Mr. Rochester has gone away to
attend a house party at one of the other great houses in the district. Mrs.
Fairfax mentions that among the guests will be Miss Blanche Ingram, a
raven-haired beauty of twenty-five, who was the "belle of the evening"
at a party given at Thornfield six years ago. She and Mr. Rochester sang a duet
together. This casual conversation throws Jane into a turmoil of jealousy. Mrs.
Fairfax denies that Mr. Rochester has any plans to marry Blanche, but Jane
decides she had better prepare herself for the worst. Back in her room, Jane
sketches a picture of herself as Mr. Rochester must see her: a plain, poor
governess. Then she forces herself to paint a delicate portrait of the lovely
Miss Ingram, based on Mrs. Fairfax's description.
Ten days later, Mr. Rochester sends word that he'll soon be returning home
and bringing the house party guests with him. Suddenly, gloomy Thornfield comes
alive with activity.
On the second night after the guests arrive, Mr. Rochester orders Adele and
Jane to join his company in the drawing room after dinner. Little Adele is
delighted at the prospect of being part of a grown-up party. However, the
invitation only makes Jane more miserable. She has nothing to wear except a
pearl gray silk dress which she purchased for Miss Temple's wedding. Jane isn't
much interested in clothes, but she is human enough to hate the thought of how
frumpy she will look in comparison to the other elegantly gowned ladies.
The evening turns out to be just as bad as Jane had feared. The other women
are dressed in the height of fashion, reminding Jane of "a flock of white
plumy birds." Blanche Ingram flirts outrageously with Mr. Rochester. And
worst of all, Blanche and her mother- ignoring Jane's presence- get involved in
a lengthy conversation about how "ridiculous" governesses are, making
fun of the faults of various ones who have worked for their family. As if this
weren't enough, Blanche launches into a speech on the relative importance of
beauty in men and women, concluding confidently that "an ugly woman is a
blot on the face of creation."
NOTE: Some readers feel that the house party episode is the weakest part
of the novel. They complain that Charlotte Bronte didn't know how upper class
people really behaved and that her dialogue for their conversations- which are
loaded with the affected use of foreign phrases and cloying endearments such as
"lily-flower"- is crude and inaccurate. Other readers find that the
author has done a good job of showing the contrast between Jane and the rich
people, reminding us exactly what it feels like to be the butt of rude and
Jane's spirits reach their low point when one evening, during a game of
charades, Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram appear dressed up as a bride and
groom. Jane reflects that she doesn't believe Mr. Rochester truly loves Blanche.
She can see that Blanche, despite her fine figure and outgoing personality, is
cold-hearted and not very bright. Surely Mr. Rochester sees this, too. If he
marries Blanche, it will only be for her money and position in society!
NOTE: Does Jane's reasoning sound convincing to you? It's nice to think
that we fall in love because we are attracted by our beloved's inner goodness.
But truthfully, aren't most of us influenced by appearances? The story goes on
to suggest that Jane is right in thinking that Rochester could never love a
woman like Blanche. Still, some readers suspect that Jane is rather naive-
uncharacteristically so- on the subject of Blanche.
As you read on, you might find it interesting to look for evidence for and
against Jane's opinion on this topic. What does Mr. Rochester himself have to
say about Blanche? What do other people, such as Mrs. Fairfax, think of her? How
is Blanche's flirting with Rochester different from Jane's own
"unconventional" conversations with him. Jane obviously thinks there
is a big difference.
One afternoon a few days later, the guests are waiting for Mr. Rochester to
return from an errand when a tall, well-dressed stranger appears at the door.
He's Mr. Richard Mason, who says he's an old friend of Rochester's from Jamaica,
in the West Indies.
While Mr. Mason is waiting in the drawing room, a servant announces another
unexpected visitor. An old gypsy woman has come to the house, demanding to tell
the ladies' fortunes. Blanche thinks this sounds like fun. One by one, the
ladies take turns going into the library where the gypsy woman is waiting. All
of them emerge giggling- except for Blanche Ingram, who has obviously heard
something that upset her very much.
Now it's Jane's turn to have her fortune told. Jane finds the gypsy wearing a
red cloak, a wide- brimmed hat that hides her face, and smoking a pipe. Not very
impressed, she compares the woman unfavorably to a Sybil- a prophetess from
classical mythology. The gypsy tells Jane that she is going to read her fortune
by studying the shape of her head.
NOTE: The belief that a person's character was revealed by the shape of
his or her skull- called phrenology- was prevalent in the mid-19th century. In
an earlier scene (Chapter 14) Jane has already analyzed Mr. Rochester from the
shape of his forehead.
The gypsy questions Jane at length about her feelings for Mr. Rochester and
the rumors of his engagement to Miss Ingram. Since the gypsy mentions in passing
that she's a friend of Grace Poole, Jane becomes wary and avoids saying how she
really feels about Rochester. In a long and rather flowery speech, the gypsy
then tells Jane that her eyes are "full of feeling" and her mouth
meant to know laughter, but the shape of her forehead shows self-respect- it
seems to say, "I can live alone... I need not sell my soul to buy
By the end of this speech, Jane realizes that the gypsy is speaking in the
voice of- Mr. Rochester!
Very pleased with himself, Mr. Rochester removes his disguise and asks Jane
whether he didn't do a wonderful job of imitating a gypsy. Jane is not charmed,
however. She tells him that it was very unfair of him to try to trick her.
Silently, however, she is congratulating herself for having managed to get
through the interview without saying anything embarrassing.
Suddenly Jane remembers to tell Rochester about the arrival of Mr. Mason.
Rochester is staggered by the news. He tells Jane that he wishes he could be far
away with her on some island, away from danger. And he asks her, mysteriously,
whether she would still be his friend even if it meant defying society.
She answers cautiously that she would remain true to any friend who deserved
Once again Jane is awakened during the night- this time not by laughter, but
by an agonized scream.
The scream wakes everyone in the house, but only Jane has heard the cries for
help coming from the room directly above her own. Mr. Rochester says a servant
had a nightmare, and he sends the rest of the household back to their rooms.
Jane, however, gets dressed, guessing that he is going to need her help. Sure
enough, he returns in a few minutes and leads her to one of the locked rooms on
the third floor. There Jane finds Mr. Mason, his face white as a corpse's and
one arm soaked in blood.
Rochester asks Jane to nurse Mr. Mason while he goes for a doctor. Before
leaving, however, he warns Mason and Jane that they are not to speak to each
other, no matter what happens.
Jane hears the unearthly laughter of Grace Poole in the next room, and she
hardly knows what she's more afraid of- that Grace will manage to break through
the door and attack again or that Mr. Mason will die before Mr. Rochester
returns. When the doctor comes, he discovers that, besides the stab wounds,
there are teeth marks on Mr. Mason's shoulder. "She bit me," Mr. Mason
mutters. "She sucked the blood; she said she'd drain my heart."
This frightening revelation convinces Jane that Grace Poole is a monster. But
she's still puzzled. Why does Mr. Rochester keep a woman like Grace in the
house? And why does he seem to be afraid of Mr. Mason?
As soon as Mason can be moved, he is hustled out a side door of the house.
He'll be cared for by Carter, the doctor, until he is well enough to leave
Rochester calls Jane to come out into the garden, and they wander down a
quiet walk to an ivy- covered alcove. Jane tries to question him about the
night's events. His answers aren't very satisfactory. He repeats that he won't
feel safe until Mr. Mason is out of England and then talks vaguely about how a
man can be haunted all his life by an error of his youth. What if such a man
found a "gentle, gracious stranger" who could bring him peace of mind?
Rochester asks. Would he be justified in joining his life to hers, even if it
meant going against custom?
Just what is Mr. Rochester talking about? Is he suggesting that he might
marry Blanche- a woman some might consider too young for him. Or is he hinting
at something even more daring- such as marriage to a mere governess? Notice that
Jane never tells us in so many words exactly what she thinks Mr. Rochester has
in mind. In any case, her answer avoids the issue. She tells Rochester that no
man should depend on another human being for his entire happiness. He should
look to God instead.
At this, Mr. Rochester turns sarcastic. He suggests that he may be marrying
Miss Ingram after all and even asks Jane whether she would be willing to sit up
with him on the night before his wedding.
Jane tells us as this chapter begins, that she believes in
"presentiments," "sympathies," and "signs"- that
is, premonitions, mental telepathy, and omens. It isn't too surprising when,
after Jane dreams of a baby- an omen of family trouble- Bessie Leaven's husband
shows up at Thornfield with the news that John Reed has committed suicide. Mrs.
Reed has suffered a stroke and is demanding to see Jane. In spite of her vow
never to visit Mrs. Reed again, Jane asks for a week's leave in order to answer
the dying woman's request.
Jane receives a chilly welcome from Mrs. Reed's two daughters. Eliza is pale
and thin, and wears a "nun-like" crucifix around her neck. Georgiana
is plump and overdressed, and she inspects Jane's dull brown traveling dress
with a disapproving sneer. Jane has heard earlier from Bessie that Georgiana was
about to elope with an army officer when Eliza spoiled the plan by warning Mrs.
Reed. It soon becomes clear to her that the girls not only hate each other, they
hate their mother too, and are waiting impatiently for the old woman to die.
It would be natural to suppose that Mrs. Reed has sent for Jane because she
is sorry for the way she treated her in the past and wants to ask for
forgiveness. Nothing of the kind! Even when she's delirious, the very name
"Jane Eyre" sets Mrs. Reed raving about how much she hates the girl.
The only reason she has asked for Jane, Mrs. Reed finally reveals is that she's
afraid to die without confessing another wrong she did Jane just three years
ago; Mr. John Eyre, Jane's uncle, sent Mrs. Reed a letter saying he wanted to
adopt Jane, bring her to Madeira, and make her his heir. The thought of the
niece she hated having such good luck was too much for Mrs. Reed, so she told
him that Jane died during the typhus epidemic at Lowood School. In the end, of
course Jane does forgive the dying Mrs. Reed.
NOTE: Reading this scene you may find yourself thinking back to Jane's
days at Lowood, when Helen Burns kept advising her to learn to forgive her
enemies. Helen's philosophy seemed impossibly idealistic to Jane, at the time.
Now that she is older, however, she finds it easier to understand Mrs. Reed's
faults. She no longer has power over Jane's life; she is a troubled old woman,
and Jane cannot bring herself to hold a grudge.
Jane stays on at Gateshead for a whole month, helping Georgiana and Eliza to
plan for their futures after their mother's death. Georgiana and Eliza are
almost caricatures; their useless lives illustrate the fates of so many single
women in Victorian society. Georgiana thinks of nothing but parties; lazy and
bored by day, she spends most of her time lolling on the sofa. Eliza, who is
about to convert to the Roman Catholic church, is busy every minute with her
religious observances, yet we can't help feeling that Eliza's religion is just
something she throws herself into because it fills up an otherwise empty
NOTE: You will have to decide for yourself whether the portrait of the
Reed sisters is a fair one. Notice that Jane Eyre, through her interest in
painting and drawing, is able to fill usefully the empty hours that weigh so
heavily on the two sisters. So perhaps Charlotte Bronte is trying to make a
point here about the need for women to have useful and creative work. On the
other hand, you'll find that this author rarely has a good word to say about
young women from the upper classes of society. Do you think this is of
prejudice, or is it her realistic outlook on such women's way of life?
The 100-mile coach trip from Gateshead back to Thornfield takes Jane two
Jane didn't write ahead to tell Mrs. Fairfax when she was coming back, and
she decides to leave her trunk at the station in Millcote village and walk the
last few miles to Thornfield. On her way to the house, she surprises Mr.
Rochester, who is seated in the meadow, writing. Rochester exclaims that Jane's
unexpected arrival is another proof that she's an elf. Hearing that Mrs. Reed
has died, he says of Jane: "She comes from the other world- from the abode
of people who are dead...." Jane, for her part, can't help feeling
delighted that Rochester has obviously missed her.
But Jane's happiness at being back at Thornfield is clouded by the prospect
of Mr. Rochester's forthcoming marriage. He tells Jane that he has just ordered
a fine new carriage for the use of the future Mrs. Rochester, presumably Blanche
NOTE: Rochester comments that his bride will look like Queen Boadicea in
the new carriage- a double-edged compliment. Boadicea was the warrior queen who
fought against the Romans during the first century B.C., and Mr. Rochester seems
to be hinting that married life with Blanche Ingram promises to be less than
Jane knows that if Rochester does marry Blanche, Adele will be sent away to
school and she'll have to find a new job. She tries to prepare herself to leave
Thornfield, but over the next two weeks she can't see any evidence that the
wedding is actually being planned. Mr. Rochester isn't even bothering to visit
the Ingrams, who live less than 20 miles away. Little by little, Jane allows
herself to hope that the marriage is not going to take place after all.
By now, she can't deny to herself that she is very much in love with Mr.
It is Midsummer Eve.
NOTE: This holiday, celebrated on June 23, is associated with the
supernatural. Unlike Halloween, whose theme is ghosts and the world of the dead,
Midsummer Eve is a time when otherwise sensible people fall foolishly in love.
There is also a superstition that on this night young women can find out whether
or not their lovers have been true to them.
Shortly after sunset, Jane is walking in the orchard when she smells the
aroma of Mr. Rochester's cigar. Not trusting herself to be alone with him, she
tries to make her way back to the house. But Rochester catches up with her. He
tells Jane that the time has come to give her notice; he has found a new
position for her with a family in Ireland, the O'Galls. Jane breaks down in sobs
at the news, admitting that she loves Thornfield and is filled with "terror
and anguish" at the prospect of parting from Mr. Rochester forever.
At this, Rochester's mood changes completely. He tells Jane that he no longer
thinks about marrying Blanche and only told Jane he did in order to shock her
into revealing her true feelings for him. "I have no bride!" he
exclaims, and drawing Jane close, kisses her passionately on the lips.
At first Jane thinks Rochester is proposing an affair. And then, when he
begins to talk about marriage, she thinks that he is making fun of her.
"Am I a liar in your eyes?" Rochester asks, offended.
You may recall that this is the same charge that was leveled at Jane earlier
in the story by Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane, faced with Rochester's
insistent declarations of love, begins to think that Rochester must be sincere.
Rochester goes on to tell Jane that he never really cared for Blanche Ingram
and that, in order to test her love for him, he spread the rumor that he was not
nearly as rich as he seemed to be. After that Blanche's interest in marriage had
Now completely reassured, Jane admits that she has been in love with
Rochester all along. The two of them embrace again. For the first time she calls
him by his first name- "Dear Edward!" He calls her "my little
wife." "Come to me- come to me entirely now," he says.
But suddenly, just when everything seems to be resolved between the lovers,
Rochester becomes very troubled. "God pardon me!" he exclaims as he
holds Jane close to him, "and man meddle not with me...."
Jane is confused. Who would want to interfere with their love?
Suddenly a shadow blocks out the light of the moon and a roaring wind races
through the meadow. A loud crack of thunder startles Jane, and she burrows her
face against Rochester's shoulder. Then the rain starts to pour down, forcing
the lovers to run back to the house for shelter. The storm rages fiercely for
The next morning Jane learns that a bolt of lightning struck the venerable
old horse-chestnut tree in the orchard, splitting its trunk in two. Remember
that Jane has told us she believes in omens and premonitions. The chestnut tree
struck by lightning must be an omen- but of what? Is it a sign of the unleashing
of the lovers' passion? Or does it warn that God is displeased with their union?
The next morning, the sky is clear and all seems calm and beautiful again.
"Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy," Jane tells herself.
Mr. Rochester, meanwhile, is filled with plans for their approaching
marriage. He tells Jane he wants to take her traveling in Europe after the
wedding, and he urges her to come into town with him and let him buy her some
expensive new dresses, which she will need when she is elevated to the position
of a rich man's wife.
In this chapter, Rochester tries to tell Jane that, despite their unequal
social status, she has the upper hand emotionally. "You please me, and you
master me- you seem to submit.... [yet] I am conquered," he tells Jane.
Jane is not quite so confident. She is troubled by her total financial
dependence on the man she loves. She won't take the fancy dresses he wants to
buy her and accepts only two modest ones in their place. She tells him that she
doesn't want to be in the position of a kept woman or mistress, and she insists
on continuing to behave as a governess until after the wedding.
NOTE: How do you feel about Jane's decision? Is she being foolish to
refuse to accept presents from her own fiance? Or do you think she has sound
reasons for holding on to at least a facade of independence? Perhaps she thinks
too little of herself to be able to accept presents lavished on her?
A month has gone by and it's now the day before the wedding.
Mr. Rochester has been away overnight on business, visiting some farms he
owns in a nearby district. On his return, he tells Jane that they will be
leaving on their wedding trip one hour after the ceremony.
Jane has something more troubling on her mind. She tells Rochester that on
the previous night she suffered a terrible nightmare. Thornfield Hall was in
ruins, and she was running away from it carrying a baby in her arms.
NOTE: Remember, from Chapter 21, that Jane believes this dream foretells
trouble in the family.
But the worst was yet to come that night. Jane awakened to find a strange
woman in her room. The woman was large and tall, with dishevelled black hair and
a horrible, discolored face- blotchy skin, swollen lips, and bloodshot eyes. As
Jane watched in fear, this strange woman placed Jane's wedding veil over her own
head, studied herself in the mirror, and then angrily ripped the veil in two
parts and trampled them underfoot. Then she came to Jane's bed and leaned over
to stare at her.
Jane swears that she never saw this horrible-looking woman before. It wasn't
Grace Poole. The woman reminded her of something unreal- of "that foul
German spectre- the Vampyre."
Rochester tells Jane that she must be imagining things. Of course it was
Grace Poole! Who else could it be? He promises that after he and Jane have been
married for a year and a day he will explain why he continues to keep "such
a woman" in his house. In the meantime, he urges Jane to spend her last
night at Thornfield on the couch in Adele's room.
NOTE: Would you be satisfied with this explanation? Probably not.
Rochester sounds a little bit like one of those ladies' men who is always urging
naive young girls to "trust me." On the other hand, his promise that
he will answer Jane's questions after "a year and a day" of marriage
sounds like a fairy tale, not real life. If you're willing to see Jane Eyre as a
real-life fairy tale- at least in part,- then you may understand why Jane
doesn't insist on getting the answers about Grace Poole before the wedding. And
yet, in real life, most people take an awful lot on faith when they fall in love
and decide to get married. This is especially true for a girl like Jane who has
no experience with sex and romantic love.
Jane and Rochester have planned a private wedding, with no guests or
attendants. But as they arrive at the small country church, Jane is slightly
curious about two strangers lingering in the churchyard; she feels sure they'll
come into the church. Sure enough, they do.
The ceremony begins and when the minister asks, "Will you take this
woman..." one of the strangers speaks up. "The marriage cannot go on:
I declare the existence of an impediment."
This is a favorite dramatic scene in romantic novels, movies, and TV soap
operas. But you'll seldom, if ever, see this moment followed by a more dramatic
The stranger who spoke identifies himself as Mr. Briggs, a London solicitor
(lawyer). And now the other man emerges from the shadows to reveal that he is-
Mr. Richard Mason. Mr. Briggs reads a document confirming that Mr. Rochester was
married fifteen years earlier to a Miss Bertha Mason of Spanish Town, Jamaica-
Mr. Mason's sister! Not only is the first Mrs. Rochester still alive, but she
can be found at this very moment at Thornfield Hall!
At first, the minister refuses to believe this story. He's never heard of a
Mrs. Rochester at Thornfield. But Mr. Rochester breaks down and admits that
every word of Briggs's accusation is true. His wife Bertha, now totally insane,
is the hideous woman who sneaked into Jane's room two nights earlier. She is
also the woman who attacked Mr. Mason. Grace Poole is a servant hired as a
guardian for Bertha.
Rochester insists that the minister, the church clerk, Mr. Briggs, and Mr.
Mason return to Thornfield with him and Jane to see Bertha for themselves. He
takes them into the locked room on the third floor. At once, the madwoman leaps
for Mr. Rochester and tries to strangle him. She is a big woman and maniacally
powerful, but Rochester manages to subdue her with some gentleness. "That
is my wife," he tells his visitors bitterly.
NOTE: There's very little humor in Jane Eyre, but it makes a rather
unexpected appearance in this scene. Asked how her patient is doing, Grace Poole
replies mildly that she is well but feeling "rather snappish"- a
Before leaving Thornfield, Mr. Briggs informs Jane that he's been acting as
the agent of her long-lost uncle in Madeira, Mr. John Eyre, who is now too ill
to travel. After Jane had written to tell him about her marriage, Mr. Eyre, who
knew Richard Mason, decided the wedding had to be stopped in order to save his
niece from the disgrace of a bigamous marriage.
After the visitors leave, Jane rushes to her own bedroom and bolts herself
in. She is devastated- a "cold, solitary girl again" who sees all her
hopes for the future in ruins. However, even in despair, Jane can't bring
herself to put the blame on Rochester. "I would not say that he betrayed
me," she comments. Her greatest fear, in fact, is that Rochester didn't
really love her after all, and that he only chose her because he dared not try
to make an illegal marriage with a woman who was his social equal.
That afternoon, Jane decides that she must leave Thornfield at once.
Rochester pleads with her to stay. He begs for forgiveness, and he asks Jane
to come with him to his villa in the south of France. No one there will know
that they aren't legally married. He'll shut up Thornfield Hall and leave Grace
Poole there with "that fearful hag."
NOTE: Divorce is never mentioned. Under the law at that time, a man
couldn't divorce an insane wife.
Jane tells him he mustn't hate his wife just because she's mad. That's not
why he hates her, he says; does Jane think he would hate her if she were mad?
"I do, indeed, sir," she replies.
He tells her she's wrong, and he explains why he feels the way he does about
his wife. Whether or not you find his story convincing, it's certainly a
dramatic one. He tells Jane that he never loved Bertha Mason and hardly knew her
at the time of their marriage fifteen years ago. He was rushed into the wedding
by his own father and by the Mason family, who managed to conceal from him the
early symptoms of Bertha's condition. After the wedding Bertha turned out to be
immoral, unintelligent, and a heavy drinker. Within four years she was
completely mad. At this point, Rochester decided to commit suicide. He was
standing with a pistol to his head when "true Wisdom" suggested
another plan- he would take his wife back to Thornfield to be cared for while he
traveled in Europe.
Jane seems satisfied with Rochester's answer, but you may not be. We feel
sympathy for Rochester being tricked into marriage, but he doesn't really say
anything that could make Jane believe he wouldn't also hate her if she went mad.
Jane's worry is one that occurs to all of us at one time or another, What would
happen if illness, or some other calamity beyond our control, made us unlovable?
Would the people who love us now still feel the same way about us? Would our
families still feel a duty to take care of us? The story has a lot to say about
this subject, but it never does answer Jane's question in so many words. You
will have to decide for yourself how you feel about Rochester's attitude toward
Next, Rochester apologizes for being too cowardly to tell Jane the truth
about Bertha. He had been afraid that "instilled prejudice" would
prevent her from overlooking his legal marriage. "I should have appealed to
your nobleness," he says. Grabbing her around the waist and devouring her
with "a flaming glance," he once more begs her not to leave him.
Jane is tempted. Why not run away with Rochester? What could be more
important than making the man she loves happy? "Who in the world cares for
you?" she asks herself- no one will be injured by what she does. And then
she has her answer: "I care for myself," she declares. "The more
solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will
respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man."
Jane cannot be swayed. She will leave Thornfield and Mr. Rochester forever.
NOTE: No doubt some of you will be very disappointed by Jane's choice. Is
it really the law of God that keeps her from running away with Mr. Rochester, or
just the divorce laws of England? And is the fear of sin Jane's only concern?
Perhaps she's also afraid that Rochester will grow tired of her or lose his
respect for her. Some readers find in Jane's answer a hint that if she had money
of her own, or a social position equal to Rochester's, her decision might have
been quite different. Others believe she is truly following her own idea of
what's right. What do you think?
That night, Jane dreams that she is a child again and her mother is urging
her, "My daughter, flee temptation!" She wakes before dawn and steals
out of the house.
When she left Thornfield, Jane had only 20 shillings. She hails a passing
coach on the road and asks the driver to take her as far as her money will carry
After two days, Jane's money runs out. The driver leaves her at a crossroads
in the moor district. Jane spends the night sleeping outdoors under the stars,
and in the morning she hikes into the village where she asks without success for
work as a house servant or a seamstress. By the end of the day she's so hungry
she begs for a piece of bread from a farmer, the next day it's a meal of
porridge from a child who is about to feed the cold mess to a pig.
Jane returns to the moors, planning to spend a second night out of doors, but
the threat of rain sends her looking for a sheltered spot. At that moment she
notices a light in the distance. She follows this beacon until she finds herself
standing outside a neat little house. Peeking through a window, she sees an
elderly woman servant and two young ladies. The latter are translating a story
in a strange language (it turns out to be German).
NOTE: At first, Jane thinks the distant light is an ignis fatuus. Also
known as "elf- fire" or "Will o' the wisp," this is a
phosphorescent glow that sometimes occurs around marshes and is caused by
decaying plant matter.
Jane knocks at the door of the house. The servant woman, suspicious that Jane
might be fronting for a band of house robbers, refuses to let her in. But she's
saved by the arrival of the young ladies' brother, St. John (pronounced
sin'jun). He welcomes Jane into the house, where he and his sisters give Jane
supper and a room for the night. Afraid that news of the scandal at Thornfield
might reach even this remote place, Jane decides to give them a false name- Jane
Worn out by her wanderings on the moor, Jane is ill for three days. When she
recovers, she learns from the old servant, Hannah, that the lovely house where
she is staying is known as Marsh End or Moor House. It is owned by the two young
ladies, Mary and Diana Rivers, whose father has recently died. St. John Rivers,
their brother, is a minister with a parish in the village, which Jane now learns
is called Morton.
Left alone with St. John in the parlor, Jane notices that he is in his late
20s, with blue eyes, blond hair, and the handsome features of a classical Greek
statue. In spite of his gentle looks, Jane can't help sensing that there is
something "restless, or hard, or eager" in St. John's nature. Jane
admits that she is a governess who once attended Lowood School, but she refuses
to tell St. John her real name or where she's been living. His sisters take her
side, and he agrees to help her find work.
In the meantime, Jane stays on with Diana and Mary. She quickly becomes fond
of the sisters, who are not only kind and cheerful but have a lively interest in
books and learning. St. John is another story. He strikes Jane as cold and
withdrawn, always lost in his own thoughts. Only when she hears St. John preach
a sermon in church does Jane catch a glimpse of a more fiery side to his nature.
A month goes by. Diana and Mary are getting ready to go back to their jobs as
governesses with two fashionable and wealthy families. Jane gathers her courage
to ask St. John whether he has found any work for her. In reply, St. John tells
Jane about a charity school for poor children in Morton village. The school is
supported by a Miss Oliver, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner. St. John
has been teaching a class of boys. Would Jane be interested in teaching the
The job St. John offers Jane is a step down from being a governess. She'll
have to live very simply, and she won't have any chance to use her education in
French and drawing. Her students will be just beginning to learn to read and
write. After only a moment's thought, Jane decides to accept. At least she will
have her independence.
St. John, however, predicts that Jane will not stay in Morton very long. You
are "impassioned," he tells Jane. "Human affections and
sympathies have a most powerful hold on you." He confesses that even he, a
Christian minister, has felt restless and longed to escape the sleepy village of
Jane hardly knows what to think of this confession. She is even more confused
when Diana and Mary hint that when they leave for their jobs again they may be
saying good-bye to St. John for the last time. Sobbing, Mary tells Jane that she
has tried and failed to talk her brother out of his "severe decision."
Before Jane can find out what that decision is, St. John comes back into the
room carrying a letter. He reads out the news that their "Uncle John"
is dead. Both he and the girls are disappointed to learn that their uncle, who
quarreled with their father long ago, has left most of his money to another
relative, who is unknown to them.
On her first day as a charity school teacher, Jane is forced to keep
reminding herself that her coarsely clad pupils are human beings, as good as the
children of any aristocrat.
NOTE: As much as Jane hates the social snobbery of people like Blanche
Ingram, she has strong prejudices of her own. To her credit, she recognizes this
fault and tries to overcome it. Decide for yourself how well she succeeds.
St. John visits Jane's modest cottage and encourages her to stay with the
job. He tells her that it is possible to conquer one's natural desires through
will-power, and to "turn the bent of [one's own] nature." By way of
illustration, St. John confides that he has recently passed through a crisis of
his own. Only a year earlier, he had come to the conclusion that he had made a
mistake by entering the ministry. He was longing for a career in literature,
politics, the army- anything that would offer more excitement than his religious
duties. But after much soul searching, he has decided that his restlessness was
a message from God, calling him to the life of an overseas missionary. Now, adds
St. John, he has only "one last conflict with human weakness" to
overcome before he is ready to leave for the orient.
At that moment, their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Miss
Oliver, the young heiress whose money supports St. John's school. Jane is taken
aback to discover that Rosamond Oliver is not only breathtakingly lovely, but
also very obviously in love with St. John. It's not hard to guess the nature of
St. John's conflict.
Jane's nights are still filled with dreams of Mr. Rochester. But her days are
satisfying. She finds that some of the "heavy-looking, gaping rustics"
in her classroom are actually turning out to be good students, and she feels
that she's well liked in the neighborhood.
In the meantime, she has been learning more about Rosamond Oliver. Jane
decides that Rosamond, though somewhat shallow, is a basically cheerful and good
hearted person. Perhaps more important, Jane visits Rosamond's home, Vale Hall,
and learns that Mr. Oliver would be very happy to see his daughter marry St.
John. A self-made man, whose fortune is from his needle factory, Mr. Oliver is
attracted to the idea of his daughter marrying into an old, upper-class family
like the Rivers's. He doesn't care a bit that they are no longer wealthy. It
occurs to Jane that by marrying Rosamond, St. John could make himself happy, and
by putting Rosamond's money to good use, still accomplish as much as he would in
a lifetime of missionary work.
To sound out St. John's feelings, Jane shows him a portrait she's drawn of
Rosamond. St. John admits that he loves Rosamond "wildly," but he is
also convinced that he would soon be sorry if he married her. Rosamond would not
make a good missionary's wife.
Why not give up the idea of becoming a missionary, Jane suggests.
St. John won't listen. He assures Jane that although he seems distraught over
giving up Rosamond, he will soon forget her. He is more cold-hearted than Jane
thinks, he insists.
NOTE: From the way St. John talks about Rosamond, you might well suspect
that he's giving her up because he loves her. Do you think he's the kind of
person who feels he must sacrifice his happiness in order to serve God? Or does
St. John enjoy punishing himself? Is he afraid of love and sex? Or too self-
centered to commit himself to a relationship with another human being? All we
know for sure is that St. John is too confused to fully understand his own
While St. John is looking at Rosamond's portrait, he notices something on the
blank sheet of paper Jane uses to protect the painting. He's visibly startled.
Jane doesn't know why, but she sees him tear off a corner of it and slip it into
his glove- then he quickly leaves.
The next evening, in the middle of a driving snowstorm, St. John pays Jane a
surprise call. She sees at once that he's got something serious on his mind.
After a long silence, St. John begins to tell Jane a story about a poor orphan
girl who lived with a family named Reed, was sent away to Lowood School, and
eventually fell in love with a man named Rochester...
Jane's first reaction is that St. John has brought her some bad news about
Mr. Rochester. Nothing of the kind!- he hasn't heard anything about Rochester.
He's had a letter from Mr. Briggs, John Eyre's solicitor, who's been looking for
Jane all over England. Mr. Eyre has died and left her a fortune of 20,000
pounds- enough to make her a rich woman for life. St. John goes on to explain
that it was only when he noticed Jane's signature on the cover of her portrait
that he realized that Jane Elliott- as she had called herself- was the same
person as the missing heiress Jane Eyre.
Naturally, Jane is overjoyed by her unexpected inheritance. Only after the
news has taken a few minutes to sink in does she begin to wonder how St. John
managed to get a letter from Mr. Briggs, confirming the amount of the legacy, in
such a short time. Reluctantly, he confesses that Briggs had written to St. John
even before he guessed Jane's identity. John Eyre is the same "Uncle
John" whose death we heard about in Chapter 30! And St. John, Mary, and
Diana are Jane's cousins- the children of her father's only sister. Jane
immediately decides that she will split her fortune four ways, giving equal
shares to St. John and his sisters.
NOTE: In a story filled with improbable coincidences, this is surely the
most improbable of all. Not only does Jane's uncle know Richard Mason and learn
about Jane's wedding in time to stop it... not only does he leave his money to a
niece he has never seen... we're now supposed to believe that he's also related
to the Rivers family, people Jane met purely by chance!
If you're the kind of reader who wants stories to be true to life, this
string of coincidences might spoil the story for you, On the other hand, if you
believe in omens, as Jane does, you may believe that something more than chance
sent Jane to the door of the Rivers cottage.
The money from Mr. Eyre makes it possible for Jane, Diana, and Mary to give
up teaching and set up housekeeping together at Moor House.
NOTE: At one time or another, all of us daydream about what we'd do if we
were rich. Some readers think that Diana and Mary are idealized portraits of
Charlotte Bronte's sisters, and that the way of life they lead in this chapter
is a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy- Bronte's own dream of having enough money
so they could all live at home together. Happiness for Diana, Mary, and Jane
means freedom from having to work for a living and the pleasure of just being
together. St. John, it's true, tells Jane, "You have only worked for a few
months!", and he hopes that she'll soon put her talents to use again. But
Jane replies that she's perfectly happy just to live at Moor House.
Modern girls reading this will think, "That's not a very exciting
dream!" Most of you are probably planning to have careers. But in Victorian
times, women didn't have careers. They were supported- by their husbands if they
were lucky enough to get one, or by their families if not. If they worked, it
was out of absolute necessity. They didn't have a whole lot of choice in jobs,
and they couldn't make very much money.
Meanwhile, Rosamond Oliver has finally given up on St. John and announced her
engagement to another man. St. John pretends to be happy about this news. He
tells Jane that giving up Rosamond was a "victory" over his sensual
desires. Jane finds this hard to believe.
Nevertheless, Jane agrees to help St. John study Hindostanee (Hindi), the
language he'll be using in his missionary work. Studying side by side with him,
she gradually comes to appreciate his better qualities- patience, dedication,
and a burning desire to do some good in the world. By the time summer comes, and
St. John proposes that they marry and go to India together, Jane may be ready to
consider the offer. You may well find this surprising. Why would Jane be willing
to go off to spend her life in a strange country with a man she does not even
like? The reasons Jane gives are she has no idea what has become of Mr.
Rochester and needs to make some kind of decision about her future. She will
probably never have another chance to marry. But are these reasons good enough?
Reading between the lines, you may notice that Jane's feelings about St. John
are more complicated than she cares to admit. Perhaps she feels guilty about not
doing anything useful with her life. Or, perhaps, for all her seeming
independence, Jane may be secretly attracted by the idea of marrying a man who
wants to dominate her.
St. John doesn't make it easy for Jane to say yes. He tells her plainly that
he's offering a loveless marriage. "I claim you- not for my pleasure,"
he says, but for God's service. This is too much for Jane. She answers that she
will go to India with St. John as his coworker, but not as his wife.
St. John turns her down. His practical excuse is that it wouldn't be proper
for him to take a 19-year- old single girl to live in India. The situation would
be sure to cause gossip and misunderstandings. Jane, however, suspects that this
isn't the real reason. It occurs to her that St. John won't be happy until he
has complete control over her life.
NOTE: Sadism and masochism weren't subjects that could be discussed openly
in 19th-century novels. But if you read carefully, you may find hints that the
author is trying to say that St. John has sadistic tendencies. For example, he
tells Jane that if she won't marry him, God would regard her going to India as a
"mutilated sacrifice." What kind of man would use language like this
in trying to get a woman to marry him?
The way St. John talks in this scene may also remind you of Mr. Brocklehurst-
another clergyman who seemed to enjoy seeing the poor suffer. When Jane Eyre was
first published, some readers were shocked by the way it portrayed ministers of
God. Charlotte Bronte was accused of writing an "anti- Christian"
book. Today, some readers would say that the novel is very religious in spirit-
and that it only criticizes those who pretend to do good, but without love in
their hearts. You will have to decide for yourself whether the view of organized
religion in Jane Eyre is a fair one.
Before leaving Jane, St. John quotes a line from a poem by Sir Walter Scott:
"Looked to river, looked to hill." We're not sure what he means by
this, but it reminds us that Jane is torn between St. John (whose last name is
Rivers) and Mr. Rochester, whose mansion Thornfield is set on hilly ground.
Rochester offered Jane love, but without marriage. St. John offers marriage, and
with it the useful and socially respectable position of a missionary's wife, but
it is an offer made without love.
St. John delays his departure for a week. He hopes to get Jane to change her
mind, but his coldness and air of repressed hostility only make Jane more
determined to refuse him. St. John's attitude is that by refusing to marry him,
Jane has not only rejected him personally but refused to do God's will. When St.
John repeats his proposal of marriage, Jane recognizes, in a flash of insight,
that not only does St. John not love her- he subconsciously wants to make her
suffer, as he has suffered in giving up everything to follow what he believes is
God's will. "You almost hate me," Jane tells him accusingly. "If
I were to marry you, you would kill me. You are killing me now."
St. John still does not give up, and Jane repeats her offer to go to India as
Although St. John doesn't even pretend to be in love with Jane, he is
insulted by her answer. Turning "lividly pale," he remarks that he
isn't interested in having a "female curate" (assistant minister). He
wants a wife. However, he offers to arrange for Jane to go out to India with a
Jane says no. She only considered going to India in the first place out of a
"sisterly" desire to help St. John, and she reminds him that she feels
no duty to go with strangers, especially since she feels sure she wouldn't live
long in that tropical climate. St. John can't believe that this is the real
reason. He accuses her of still harboring a "lawless and
unconsecrated" love for Mr. Rochester. Jane admits that this is so.
Nowadays, St. John's goal of converting India to the Church of England would
be somewhat controversial. (Many people still think of missionary work as a
noble calling; others feel there's something condescending about it- that it
means you don't think other cultures are as good as your own.) You won't find
this debate in Jane Eyre, but the novel does pose a more general question: Which
is more important, changing the world or concentrating on personal
relationships? In this section of the story, Jane seems to be torn between the
two goals. But notice that as soon as St. John is out of the picture she has no
interest in missionary work at all. Some readers point out that her decisions at
critical points like this show that Jane Eyre, for all the talk about her
passionate nature, is a very conventional heroine who can't imagine happiness
except in the role of a traditional wife. Others defend Jane for insisting on
finding a way of life that is right for her. There's no right solution to this
debate, but your opinion one way or the other will influence your judgment of
Diana Rivers approves of Jane's decision, reminding Jane that St. John would
be sure to work her as hard as he works himself and saying that Jane is much too
good a person to be "grilled alive in Calcutta."
However, that same evening, as St. John leads Jane, Diana and Mary in family
prayers, Jane almost changes her mind. Although he's cold and almost repellent
in his personal dealing with her, St. John is an inspiring speaker on the
subject of religion. Listening to him pray, Jane is impressed by his sincerity
and his zealous desire to do God's work. "I was tempted to cease struggling
with him," Jane tells us, "to rush down the torrent of his will into
the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own."
By this time Diana and Mary have gone to bed, leaving Jane and St. John
alone. Jane tells St. John that she could decide now to marry him, but only if
she can be sure that it's truly God's will. "Show me, show me the
path!" she cries out to heaven.
In her over-excited state, Jane thinks she hears a voice in the distance. It
is not God's voice, however, but that of Rochester calling her name in anguish.
"Where are you?" Jane calls out. But the only answer is the sound of
her own voice echoing off the hills.
Suddenly, Jane feels strong again. Very much in control, she sends St. John
home and retires to her room to pray alone- not under St. John's influence this
time, but on her own.
The next morning, Jane finds a note from St. John telling her that he'll
return two weeks later, just before leaving for India to see if she is ready to
make a decision in his favor. But the voice Jane heard the night before, real or
imaginary, has shown Jane what she must do. She leaves Moor House that same day
to return to Rochester.
Jane can hardly wait to see Thornfield again. But she is in for a terrible
shock. The mansion is in ruins. Nothing remains but a charred wreck, overgrown
Back at the inn, the innkeeper tells Jane the story of Thornfield's
After Jane left, Mr. Rochester fell into a deep depression. Adele was sent
away to boarding school, and Mrs. Fairfax (who has not known the secret of
Bertha Mason) retired on a generous pension. Grace Poole remained to take care
of Bertha. But it seems that Grace was given to drinking too much gin- which was
why Bertha had been able to escape when she set fire to Rochester's bed and
frightened Jane in her room.
One night, about two months after Jane's departure, Grace Poole fell into an
especially deep, drunken stupor, and Bertha got out again. This time, she went
into the room that had belonged to Jane and set the bed on fire. Fortunately,
Mr. Rochester awakened in time to warn the servants and get them out. But when
he ran back into the burning house to rescue Bertha, she ran out onto the roof.
Witnesses saw Rochester trying to pull her to safety, but she leaped to her
death from the burning battlements. Minutes later, the roof collapsed in flames.
Rochester survived, but with horrible wounds. He lost one eye, became blind in
the other, and had his left hand amputated.
Since that time, the innkeeper tells Jane, Rochester has been living as a
hermit at Ferndean, a manor house about 30 miles away. Jane immediately hires a
carriage to take her there.
Ferndean is a roomy but sparsely furnished house buried deep in the woods,
which Mr. Rochester's father had bought to use as a hunting lodge. Jane arrives
just before dark, and after paying off her driver, walks the last mile through
the dense forest on foot. As she comes near the house, she sees Rochester
standing on the front steps, obviously blind and helpless. She longs to rush
forward and greet him with a kiss.
NOTE: Does this scene remind you of another fairy tale? What about
Sleeping Beauty? In this version, however, it is the woman who has arrived to
rescue her "sleeping prince."
Jane convinces Rochester's servant to let her carry in the glass of water
he's asked for. Rochester, though blind, recognizes Jane's voice and is
overjoyed. He tells her that he has often imagined her "dead in some
ditch" or an "outcast among strangers" and blamed himself. On the
contrary, Jane tells him, she is now independently wealthy, thanks to her Uncle
John Eyre. She offers to be Rochester's neighbor, nurse, and housekeeper- to
take care of him from now on. "It is time someone undertook to rehumanise
you," she says.
Of course, what Jane really wants is to be Rochester's wife, but she's not
sure whether he wants her, given his present condition. And he, in turn, is
afraid to ask her for fear of being turned down.
The next morning, listening to the story of her life at Moor House, Rochester
cannot help showing his jealousy of St. John. Jane teases him into admitting
that he still loves her. At this, Rochester tells Jane that he is a "ruin
of a man," like "the old lightning-struck chestnut tree in Thornfield
orchard." Would Jane think him foolish if he still wanted a wife in spite
Jane replies sensibly that her feelings would depend on whom he wanted as a
bride. Choose "her who loves you best," she urges. He tells her he
will choose "her I love best."
Rochester then asks Jane to marry him, and she gladly accepts. She dismisses
his suggestion that marriage to a blind, one-handed man will be a sacrifice. If
"to press my lips to what I love best" is a sacrifice, she says, then
she delights in it.
Finally, Rochester tells Jane that he now knows he was wrong to try to trick
her into a bigamous marriage. He is no longer bitter about losing his sight, and
his sufferings have reconciled him with God. Only a few days ago, on Monday
evening, he says, he prayed to God for Jane's return and called her name aloud.
A voice answered, and he knew it was Jane's.
Hearing this story, Jane realizes that it was on Monday night, at the very
hour Rochester called out to her, that she heard his voice crying her name at
Moor House. Jane decides to keep her knowledge of this "inexplicable
coincidence" to herself. Her reunion with Rochester is already a profound
and moving experience in its own right- and the role of the supernatural in
bringing them back together is something that she would prefer to ponder in
"Reader, I married him." So, with this much-quoted line, begins the
conclusion of the novel. In this final chapter, we are reminded that the voice
we have been hearing narrate the story all along belongs to the mature Jane
Eyre, who is recalling events that happened years earlier.
We are now brought up to date on what took place in the ten years following
Jane and Rochester's marriage: Adele, Rochester's little French ward, was taken
out of her strict school and placed in a more lenient one where she was able to
grow up free and cheerful. Diana and Mary Rivers both found good husbands.
As for Jane and Rochester, their marriage is a complete success. "...I
am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to his
mate than I am," Jane says.
After two years of marriage, Rochester even regained the sight of his one
remaining eye- and in time to see the face of his first-born son.
The story ends on a note of forgiveness for St. John. Hard labor and tropical
diseases have already taken their toll on St. John's health, but St. John feels
no fear at the prospect of an early death which will reconcile him with God at
last and end his struggles with earthly temptations.