Jane Eyre Chapters 26-32
Jane awakens the morning of her wedding day, rises quickly to dress for the ceremony. Rochester surveys Jane quickly; she is "fair as a lily". Jane and Rochester leave speedily for the church, which is silent, alone, gray with only the parson present. The ceremony proceeds unimpeded until two dark figures emerge from the back of the church, as the question of any known impediment to the lawful joining of this man and woman, is spoken. Rochester becomes extremely tense and questions the solicitor from London, one of the dark figures, a Mr. Briggs. He is accompanied by the Mr. Mason who previously graced Thornfield many months ago.
Jane tells us she never heard more fearful words spoken, as the two men objected to their marriage, yet she feels decidedly cold, collected and numb. Mr. Rochester questions the men, and it is revealed that he has been indeed married before, and is married presently to a Bertha Mason. The marriage took place in Mr. Rochester's youth, in Jamaica. Mr. Mason steps forward to attest as a witness that his sister, Bertha, is still alive and living in Mr. Rochester's attic: the madwoman. It is in fact Rochester's first wife who inhabits the third floor of Thornfield, taken care of by Grace Poole, for many years.
Mr. Rochester becomes increasingly agitated until this truth is spoken, whence he admits the existence of Bertha and Jane's innocence in the matter. Rochester takes Jane, Briggs, Mason and the pastor to Thornfield, to see the real Bertha. Rochester asks them to judge whether he was wrong to desire even a bigamous marriage, as he considers Bertha no longer human enough to be his wife. Bertha is a monstrous image, the men are even wary of her. Jane describes her:
"In the deep shade, at the further end of the room, a figure ran backwards and forwards. What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not tell: it groveled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing; and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face...the hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind feet." Chapter 26, pg. 257
Bertha lunges for Rochester, biting his throat. It takes all three men to wrestle her down and tie her hands behind the chair. Jane finds out that it is because of the letter she wrote to her uncle, who lives in Madeira, that Mr. Mason and her uncle learnt of the upcoming bigamous marriage. Jane is too numb and shocked to truly react at all. She leaves all the men and retires to her room, silent and unemotional. A transformation has occurred inside herself regarding her future and her own identity. She soon falls asleep.
Jane awakens again later in the afternoon, faint with hunger and still numb from emotion. She has no single understanding of the past day's event, save that she knows she must leave Thornfield, painfully extricate herself from Rochester forevermore. She must aid herself, not fall into another's will, without her own independence.
She leaves her chamber to find Rochester, at vigil outside her door. They go downstairs, and after Jane has eaten and drunk, they discuss their future, albeit stiltingly and emotionally. Jane finds herself holding back, so as to not becomes involved. Rochester asks Jane's forgiveness--which she gives immediately, completely, such is his sincerity and her love for him. But the forgiveness is not shown, only at her heart's core. Jane has decided that she will and must not live with Mr. Rochester out of wedlock, even though he urges her to this discussion, that his marriage status makes no difference for their relationship. Despite his violent passion, his tears, his fierceness, she is sure--for she knows how Rochester would eventually not respect her, would only see her as not different than his past flings/mistresses, i.e. Cèline. She understands that in this situation she would be dependent on him financially--as the transaction of money for sex--she could not respect herself within. In one final attempt, Rochester cries that she will be his only salvation, his redemptor; how he will suffer with her gone.
Jane leaves Mr. Rochester that night, and for all time she believes. Barely sleeping through the night, she wakes early the next morning and escapes Thornfield, wrapping a satchel of her only money, a few belongings, and some bread and water. She leaves on the road which runs in the opposite direction than Millcote. After walking the road for the good part of a day, she finally meets a coach running in the same direction. The coach deposits her at a desolate town named Whitcross; it is as far she it will take her based on the only money she has to pay. It is two days later.
Jane realizes she has left her satchel in the side pocket of the coach, and in fact she is utterly destitute. Alone in the desolate town, Jane wanders the vales and windy moors for many hours, on the lookout to faintly explore this town. This continues for several days; she walks through Whitcross, initially feeling a great relief to be free of Thornfield, and a safety in nature. She sleeps outside the first night, in a small stone cave, and although cold, she is not unsatisfied. But even a day later, she is not so well--she is famished, utterly exhausted physically and emotionally. The walking is too much, and she inquires at several places in the town for work, with no luck. She passes a small bakeshop, and hungers over only a small roll to eat, but cannot bear to bring herself to the level of begging for food from the woman inside; she is too humiliated. Mr. Rochester seems very far away from her now, sadly so. Finally she eats by begging the dried remainder of old porridge from a peasant woman.
Jane's trust slowly shifts from only herself, to one placed in God, and a humbling occurs. On the last day, she comes to a warm and cozy cottage and watches two educated ladies talk inside, studying a foreign language. They are fine and intelligent, the house warm and an older woman sitting by the fire, stroking a pointer dog. After many minutes, Jane finally gains the strength to knock. The older woman answers the door, but is not kind to Jane at all. She is very suspicious that Jane 'is up to no good'; she regards Jane's presence in the rainy and forsaken night as questionable, and her nerve to knock upon their door, as shameful. She gives Jane a penny, tells her to leave, and shuts the door. Jane is utterly exhausted by this point, and cannot endure any longer. Dramatically, she falls to the ground at their door, in the pouring rain, uttering,
"'I can but die...and I believe in God. Let me try and wait His will in silence.'" Chapter 28, pg. 295
But a man comes behind Jane, saying that yes all men must die, but not prematurely as Jane's death would now be at this very place. The man is St. John, and he is brother to the two ladies sitting so warmly inside. He admonished the maid for closing the door on Jane. He brings Jane inside and he and his sisters place her on a chair; she is barely conscious. He is a sharp and exacting sort of man, Jane tells us immediately. Not unkind, but not initially friendly, he commands great respect and is intimidating, yet deceptively passionate. He and his sisters begin to question Jane that night, but she tells them that she cannot explain her situation tonight, she is sorry. All she can say is that she is friendless, destitute, and has not the strength to go any further; they are her only hope. He conferences with his sisters, and they decide kindly and affectionately to take Jane into their house to recuperate. They feed her something small, and the maid takes her upstairs, undresses her, and places her in bed.
Many days pass, and Jane is recuperating. She gives us a portrait of the two sisters, who care for her, of the older woman, and of Mr. St. John. The sisters are named Diana and Mary. Diana has long curls, a warm, kind and empathic manner. She opens up to those she speaks to; she has a remarkable and pure countenance, is beautiful and imbued with both power and goodness. Mary is also intelligent and kind, but has not the same sagacity of expression, and is more reserved around those she encounters. St. John has a particularly roman face and expression, a sharp nose and a keen ability to perceive the interior state of his subject, at all costs.
Finally after several days of sleeping, eating and ministering by the members of the house, Jane is able to dress and go downstairs. Once there, she talks with the old woman, whose name is Hannah, and finds that the name of the house at which she is staying, is Moor House. She has also assumed a pseudonym, Jane Elliot. The sisters and St. John are out for a few hours. Upon their arrival home, they are happy to see Jane is feeling better, and all four go into the sitting-room, where St. John proceeds to interview Jane concerning her circumstances, name, and history. She tells them a very abbreviated history of herself, referring to Lowood, her education, orphan status, cruel relatives, and past position, without releasing the circumstances of her quitting that position. St. John asks Jane what she expects from them, and at finding that St. John is the local pastor in Whitcross, she says that she is willing to accept any mode of employment, as long as it be honest and paying, to alleviate them of the burden of caring for her. Jane asks St. John if her will procure this position for her, and he says he will look for that which will aid her; in the meantime she can stay at Moor House, Marsh End, and be company for his two sisters.
We find out that the two sisters are actually governesses in expensive houses in London, but are here at Marsh End, in Morton for only a few weeks, upon the death of their father, who has recently passed on. Jane stays with Mary and Diana and studies, reads and discusses a plethora of subjects for about a month. Diana is the superior in study, but Jane tells us that she doesn't mind excelling for Diana's praise. She is also superior in drawing, which she begins to teach the two sisters. After a month, St. John Rivers comes to Jane with the prospect of employment--it is the position of schoolmistress of the local girl's schoolhouse for the common town's folks daughters. Jane would have a small cottage, furnished, next-door, and be paid and median sum. Jane accepts the position gratefully, even though it is monotonous, poor and obscure.
Mary and Diana grow sad as the days approach for them to return to their positions in London. St. John has decided to leave Morton, and become a missionary in some far-off country. Diana and Mary are sad, for they have lost their father, and who knows when they may see their brother again--this separation may be for life. Toward the end of their time, they find that their uncle John has died; but there is little sadness for he was unknown to them in their life and had a longstanding quarrel with their father regarding business ventures.
Jane moves into the cottage near the schoolhouse. The first day of school begins, and she finds the work proceeding easily, albeit her charge of students are not terribly advanced, nor educated. The work is monotonous, and Jane admits to feeling a desperate pang. She reminds herself that the coarse pupils she has have just as much potential for refinement, excellence, kindness and feeling, as any higher-born. But there is a conflict in her spirit; she admits,
"I felt desolate to a degree. I felt--yes, idiot that I am--I felt degraded. I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of social existence. I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me. But let me not hate and despise myself too much for these feelings: I know them to be wrong--that is a great step gained; I shall strive to overcome them...In a few months, it is possible, the happiness of seeing process, and a change for the better in my scholars, may substitute gratification for disgust." Chapter 31, pg. 316
St. John comes to visit her at the end of that first day, upon which occasion Jane meets the benefactress of the schoolhouse and some charitable acts of the Parish--Miss Oliver. Miss Rosamond Oliver is the perfect picture of immaculate skin, countenance, spirit, beauty, and animal vigor, and a heiress. As she comes to greet Jane, she speaks to St. John, whose back is turned from her. Miss Rosamond entreats St. John to come down to Vale Hall to visit with her father this night, but upon the pretext of not wanting to bother him, he declines. Jane can tell that it is taking quite a lot of willpower for him to refuse such an offer; obviously there is more to his feelings for Miss Rosamond than he would care to divulge. Both leave Jane standing outside the cottage.