Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1306
After Jane gets ready on the morning of her wedding, Mr. Rochester hurriedly takes her to the nearby church. Jane sees two strangers lingering in the cemetery, though Mr. Rochester, in his haste, fails to notice them. The two men enter the church—ostensibly to watch the wedding—and the...
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After Jane gets ready on the morning of her wedding, Mr. Rochester hurriedly takes her to the nearby church. Jane sees two strangers lingering in the cemetery, though Mr. Rochester, in his haste, fails to notice them. The two men enter the church—ostensibly to watch the wedding—and the ceremony begins. However, before Mr. Rochester can say his vows, one of the men speaks up and declares that there is a lawful impediment to the marriage: Mr. Rochester is already married.
Ignoring Mr. Rochester's orders that the priest continue, the man introduces himself as Mr. Briggs, a solicitor representing a Mr. Richard Mason. Mr. Briggs tells the group that fifteen years ago, Mr. Rochester married Mr. Mason’s sister, Bertha, in Jamaica. To Jane’s surprise, the second stranger turns out to be Mr. Mason himself. Mr. Mason confirms the account and tells the group that he knows Bertha Rochester is still alive, for her saw her only a few months ago during his stay at Thornfield. Enraged, Mr. Rochester finally admits that Bertha is still alive and explains that no one knows about her existence because she is mad. He leads the group back to Thornfield and then up to the third-floor room where Bertha is kept confined under the care of Grace Poole. When they enter the chamber, Jane realizes that Bertha is the terrifying woman who entered her room, as well as the one who started the fire and stabbed Mr. Mason. As the onlookers watch, Bertha attacks Mr. Rochester, and they leave the room while he grapples with her. Mr. Mason tells Jane that he is an acquaintance of her uncle John Eyre, which is how he learned of Jane’s forthcoming marriage to Mr. Rochester. Mr. Mason reveals that though her uncle is ill and near death, he urged Mason to rush back to Thornfield and save Jane from the disastrous marriage. After everyone leaves, Jane returns to her room and mechanically removes her wedding dress as despair washes over her.
Jane realizes that she must leave Thornfield, but when she steps out of her room, Mr. Rochester is waiting for her. He tells her that he never meant to harm her and begs for her forgiveness. Though Jane remains silent, she knows in her heart that she has already forgiven him. When Jane tells him that she must leave Thornfield, Mr. Rochester suggests that they both move to the south of France, where they will live as man and wife. Jane explains that no matter where they are, the existence of Mr. Rochester’s wife will mean that Jane is only his mistress. In response, Mr. Rochester begins to tell the story of how he met Bertha to help Jane understand why he does not truly consider himself married.
Mr. Rochester reveals that his father left the entire estate to his elder brother, but, not liking the idea that his second-born son should be poor, he strove to find Mr. Rochester a wealthy wife. Mr. Rochester’s father and brother sent him to Jamaica to meet Bertha Mason, who they knew would inherit thirty thousand pounds. Thinking only of her money, they did not reveal to Mr. Rochester that severe mental illness ran in the Mason family. Indeed, unbeknownst to Mr. Rochester, Bertha’s mother was in an asylum and her younger brother was a mute idiot. Bertha very beautiful, and being young and foolish, Mr. Rochester quickly agreed to the marriage without spending much time with her. Shortly after their marriage, it became clear that Bertha was bad-tempered and prone to fits of violence. Her behavior only worsened, and a doctor finally confirmed her descent into total madness. After Mr. Rochester’s brother and father died, he decided to ensconce Bertha in Thornfield Hall under the care of Grace Poole. He then left and traveled aimlessly, seeking a woman he could truly love. He reveals that, upon returning to Thornfield, he knew he loved Jane almost as soon as he met her.
Though Jane pities Mr. Rochester, she maintains that she cannot stay with him. He asks Jane whether it is worth driving a fellow human to despair just to satisfy some human law. Sorely tempted by his pleas, Jane wonders whether she can bear to return to a loveless existence and, in a moment of self-doubt, thinks, “Who in the world cares for you?” Though her heart urges her to stay, Jane ultimately concludes “I care for myself,” realizing that she cannot disrespect herself by betraying her principles. Kissing Mr. Rochester’s cheek, she says goodbye and then secretly flees Thornfield before the sun rises.
Just before the couple makes their vows, Mr. Rochester’s terrible secret is finally revealed. Though Mr. Rochester’s story is sympathetic, his intention to trick Jane into a bigamous relationship is deeply selfish. His self-serving behavior is further highlighted by his plea for Jane to come away with him to the south of France without acknowledging (or perhaps caring) that as a working-class woman, Jane would bear the brunt of the stigma for their illicit relationship. Rochester easily dismisses the significance of “a mere human law,” giving no thought to the fact that society will forgive the transgressions of a wealthy man much more easily than it will those of a poor governess.
Practical considerations aside, Jane struggles greatly with her decision to leave Mr. Rochester. Though he has undoubtedly wronged her, Jane is still very much in love with him, and she can hardly bear to contemplate leaving the only true home she has ever known. In the end, Mr. Rochester unwittingly helps Jane decide to leave when he mentions his past mistresses. Even before the wedding, Jane worried that Mr. Rochester's wealth rendered them unequal, and his admission that he grew to dislike the mistresses he paid for (“to live with inferiors is degrading”) only confirms her fears. In this moment, Jane realizes that to abandon her morals and satisfy Mr. Rochester’s wishes would be to place herself in a position of permanent inferiority—a dynamic that neither she nor he could tolerate for long.
Just as Jane dreads being trapped by her circumstances, she will not allow herself to be trapped by her passion. Her heart and even her mind tell her to stay with Mr. Rochester, and so she listens to her principles instead. Jane is ultimately unwilling to compromise her moral code, even to prevent her own suffering, and her resolve reveals an incredible strength of character. Though she is tempted to yield when she reflects that Mr. Rochester may be the only person to ever love her, she concludes that her relationship with herself is more important than any she could have with a man.
Jane’s determination to wholly own her actions (and their consequences) stands in sharp contrast to Mr. Rochester’s abdication of personal responsibility. Rochester’s selfish accusations—“Then you condemn me to live wretched, and to die accursed?”—and cavalier claims that his previous marriage is not legitimate reveal a man who still cannot accept responsibility for his decisions. Despite his own flaws, however, Mr. Rochester recognizes the value of Jane’s individualistic spirit and deep integrity. In the end, he lets her go, aware that forcing her to stay would stifle the very qualities he admires most:
Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it—the savage, beautiful creature! If I tear, if I rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose. Conqueror I might be of the house, but the inmate would escape to heaven before I could call myself possessor of its clay dwelling place. And it is your spirit—with will and energy, and virtue and purity—that I want: not alone your brittle frame.