Jane Eyre Chapters 21-25
Jane soon finds out that Bessie's little sister is on her deathbed. An old wives' tale says that when one dreams of children, it is a bad omen. At about the same time, Jane receives word that there is a man downstairs to see her. She find that it is Robert Laven, Bessie's husband and the coachman at Gateshead. Old Mrs. Reed is ill in bed; word is that she will die very soon, and she has requested that Jane Eyre come to visit her on important business. Robert relays that he is prepared to stay over and drive Jane back to Gateshead tomorrow morning.
Jane gets leave from Rochester, of course with the rather overwrought promise that she will return in a few weeks. Jane then accompanies Robert back to Gateshead. Georgiana and Eliza have grown--Georgiana is self-absorbed yet strangely social with Jane upon knowledge of Jane's painting and music accomplishments; Eliza is frugal, non-emotional, quiet and anti-social. On Jane's first day back, she has Bessie bring her to see Mrs. Reed, in her bedroom. Mrs. Reed is very ill and delusional and she does not immediately recognize Jane at all.
Jane admits that she feels no vengeance upon seeing Mrs. Reed; in fact she feels only reconciliation toward the woman's past actions and misuse of her. Mrs. Reed finally comes to believe that Jane is truly Jane; she tell Jane that she wishes to have her stay at Gateshead until she is physically and mentally capable of discussing some important subject, which weighs heavily on her mind.
But for the next week, Mrs. Reed is too delirious to speak to Jane. Finally, Jane is called to speak to Mrs. Reed. Once again, Mrs. Reed does not immediately recognize Jane--Jane addresses her as "aunt," and Mrs. Reed says that it cannot be Jane, that her mind deceives herself. Jane assures her aunt of her presence, and Mrs. Reed launches into clearing her conscience when she is sure they are alone. She admits that she has done wrong to Jane twice; once when she did not treat and raise Jane kindly, as she promised her late husband she would, and the second time, when she received an important letter from Jane's uncle Eyre, who lives in Madeira. The letter requests the address of his niece Jane Eyre, whom he wishes to adopt, as he is childless and unmarried, so that he can leave her his fortune when he dies. The letter is dated almost three years back, and Jane questions Mrs. Reed as to why she never received news of it. Mrs. Reed confides:
"'Because I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly ever to lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity. I could not forget your conduct to me, Jane--the fury with which you once turned on me; the tone in which you declared you abhorred me the worst of anybody in the world; the unchildlike look and voice with which you affirmed that the very thought of me made you sick, and asserted that I had treated you with miserable cruelty. I could not forget my own sensations when you thus started up and poured out the venom of your mind: I felt fear, as if an animal that I had struck or pushed has looked up at me with human eyes and cursed me in a man's voice.'" Chapter 21, pg. 210
Mrs. Reed suddenly begins coughing violently, and Jane assures her that all is forgiven and to please think no more of it. In fact, Mrs. Reed actually wrote to Jane's uncle, relaying the information that Jane had died of typhus fever at Lowood Institution. She urges Jane to write back to contradict her statement, and she admits her past need for revenge. Jane again gives free forgiveness, but Mrs. Reed says very directly, that she has a bad disposition still, that she never understood how Jane could be patient and quiet for nine years, and suddenly break out like an animal in the tenth. Jane explains that her disposition is not bad, but rather passionate, not vindictive, that she yearned for love where no one was willing to give it. She asks Mrs. Reed to kiss her, but she will not. Jane leaves and soon, Mrs. Reed dies. Jane does not cry.
Jane wishes to leave Gateshead immediately after Mrs. Reed's death, but first Georgiana and then Eliza, request that she stay to aid them in preparations with the house, the funeral and their own particular future plans. Jane admits to staying and enduring Georgiana's laziness and selfish comments, only because her contact with her was so fleeting and transitory. Eliza requests that Jane stay a second week, finally informing her that she plans to enter a convent and take the veil for the rest of her life. Jane is not surprised and does inform us later that Eliza has become the superior of the convent where she was noviate, endowing it with her money, and Georgiana has married a worn-out man of money.
Jane leaves for Thornfield Hall, sure that her time there will be short, due to the pending marriage of Rochester and Lady Blanche Ingram. She has heard from Mrs. Fairfax that the grand party ended and, Mr. Rochester left for a England three weeks ago and is to be expected back in a fortnight. She arrives in Millcote, leaving her box and takes the long walk to Thornfield on foot, by herself. Jane is sure she will be separated from Rochester, and a new inner agony creeps inside on her walk home. Jane sees Rochester, sitting on the style, writing as she approaches Thornfield.
Jane is greeted happily by everyone at Thornfield, and feels a great calm in returning, especially in Mr. Rochester's warm welcome. He calls her often to his presence, as she says, she never felt that she had loved so well as now. No meetings between Blanche Ingram and Rochester occur either.
On the warm, late afternoon of Midsummer-eve, Jane puts Adèle to bed early, so weary is she from picking wild strawberries. It is this night that Mr. Rochester takes a walk with Jane in the orchard, the moon all silvery in its gloaming. Mr. Rochester is smoking a cigar, and Jane speaks of her nervousness of walking alone with him at night, yet his manor was so peaceful and reproachless, that she could do nothing but be at a thrilled ease. Mr. Rochester begins a dialogue with Jane about how she must soon leave Thornfield, because he is to be married. He tells her how he has found a suitable position for her at a cottage in Ireland, all the while Jane, feeling ill and utterly sickened by the idea of going to Ireland and leaving Thornfield. Jane says it directly when she speaks how the sea will be a barrier between herself and Mr. Rochester, how "wealth, caste, custom intervened between me and what I naturally and inevitably loved" (221).
Rochester asks Jane to spend this short time with him, before she must leave. He then admits:
"'I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you--you'd forget me.'
'That I never should, sir: you know'--impossible to proceed." Chapter 23, pg. 221
Jane, upon the topic of Rochester's bride coming up again, say she must go, but Rochester exclaims that she must stay! Jane passionately extorts that she cannot go on watching while her own feelings are torn to shreds, while she is nothing to Rochester, in communion and spirit; she insists that despite the fact that she is "small, plain, obscure" she has just as much soul as he does, she is just as much his equal, as before God. Rochester exclaims "as we are" as well, meaning equal, gathering Jane to his breast, and kissing her. Jane still does not understand until Rochester asks and summons her to be his wife, asking her to be his best earthly companion, saying that it was always her he intended to marry. Jane does not believe Rochester, but he explains that he led her on with the story of Blanche Ingram to make her jealous, to be sure she loved him as he did her. He adds,
"'Gratitude!' he ejaculated; and added wildly--'Jane, accept me quickly. Say, Edward--give me my name--Edward--I will marry you.'
'Are you in earnest?--Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?'
'I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.'
'Then, sir, I will marry you.'
'Edward--my little wife!'
'Come to me--come to me entirely now,' said he: and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, 'Make my happiness--I will make yours.'" Chapter 23, pg. 224
Jane accepts Edward Rochester's hand in marriage, they linger in the garden for a few more moments, kissing. Then, as it begins to rain, they enter the house, Rochester shaking out Jane's hair and kissing her before she runs upstairs. A storm comes that night, cracking wildly with thunder, rain and lighting. Adèle comes to tell Jane in the morning, that the chestnut tree under which she and Rochester sat, has been split in half.
As soon as the next day dawns, Rochester begins treating Jane differently than she is used to, and prefers. Usually he is affectionate and warm in the manner which is common to their relationship--he often teases her and her him, he treats her as if she were an imp, a fairy, with some trick up her sleeve, he is cynical and sarcastic, their conversation is as such would occur between real people, no affectations. But Jane notices that Rochester desires to adorn her in jewels, buy her fancy dresses, raise her up to some impossible image or symbol of the bride or woman, which does not suit her at all. She tells us that she is much better suited to gray and black plain dresses, and would prefer keep her own due. This new treatment feels unequal, as Rochester would pay for her completely, she feels too dependent on him, and not her own woman. Rochester calls her feminine affectionate names that don't suit his tone normally, although they are meant with the same love and affection.
Jane feels the difference easily though, finally making Rochester promise not to buy her anything, but that she will continue to take care of Adèle when they marry, and he will continue to pay her for this work, she will earn her keep and buy her own clothes, so that she is his equal, and nothing of these power dynamics and gender treatment will change. Rochester is soon back to his grumpy and often caustic self, due to her inability to comply in his desire to parade her publicly. This suits Jane entirely and she is greatly happy to have him calling her rude and playful epithets once again, affectionately.
Jane has packed her bridal trunks for the honeymoon. The day has now come to marry Rochester, and she is completely prepared. The night before the marriage ceremony, Jane is tortured by a strange foreboding--she is restless waiting for Rochester to arrive home to the study, and filled with a strange possession from painful things passing her mind, she runs out into the orchard in the wind and rain. There, she stares at the lightning-struck chestnut tree, rent in two, blackened and sad. It seems to be speaking to her, its pain not singular but also her own--she runs down the road, unable to see things clearly in her mind, searching for Rochester.
Rochester finds her while returning home. They go to the study, where Jane admits that which is troubling her mind--it is not the prospect of marriage, but an experience she had the night before, perhaps a dream. Jane feels a great foreboding still, that something will happen great to change this present bliss; she wishes this late hour with Rochester could remain frozen as the present.
Jane recounts the event of the night before. It was last night, when Sophie brought up the box containing Jane's wedding dress, and an expensive London veil Rochester had bought as a surprise. Jane falls asleep, and soon begins to dream odd, rainy and dark dreams. Her first dream was about finding a small unknown child in the orchard which almost strangled her in terror, while watching Rochester leave in the distance. It was from this odd dream that Jane woke to a spectre moving about in her room, the form of a hideous and monstrous woman emerging from her very own closet. Jane cannot think that it was anyone but Grace Poole. The woman was tall, large, with dark and thick unwieldy hair, tousled and fierce down her back. The woman took Jane's veil and tried it on in front of the mirror, revealing her red eyes and purple, swollen face. Then in a rage, she tore the veil in two, thrusting her candle in Jane's face until Jane passed out, and left the room.
Rochester claims that nothing is actually real as Jane has seen--Thornfield is not a ruin, he is not lost from her, that her memories must have been mental terrors or dreams. Jane cannot be so convinced, because upon waking she found the veil ripped in two, that very morning, on her floor. Rochester gives Jane the explanation that it must have been Grace Poole, and comforts her, telling her to sleep in the nursery with Adèle that night. The night ends, Jane prepares for sleep, but passes the night troubled, poorly, without dreams.