Summary: Chapter 22
Jane remains at Gateshead for a month because Georgiana dreads being left alone with Eliza, with whom she does not get along. Eventually, Georgiana goes to London to live with her uncle, and Eliza joins a convent in France. Jane tells us that Eliza eventually becomes the Mother Superior of her convent, while Georgiana marries a wealthy man. At Gateshead, Jane receives a letter from Mrs. Fairfax, which says that Rochester’s guests have departed and that Rochester has gone to London to buy a new carriage—a sure sign of his intention to marry Blanche. As Jane travels toward Thornfield, she anxiously anticipates seeing Rochester again, and yet she worries about what will become of her after his marriage. To her surprise, as she walks from the station at Millcote, Jane encounters Rochester. When he asks her why she has stayed away from Thornfield so long, she replies, still a bit bewildered, “I have been with my aunt, sir, who is dead.” Rochester asks Jane whether she has heard about his new carriage, and he tells her: “You must see the carriage, Jane, and tell me if you don’t think it will suit Mrs. Rochester exactly.” After a few more words together, Jane surprises herself by expressing the happiness she feels in Rochester’s presence: “I am strangely glad to get back again to you; and wherever you are is my home—my only home.” Back at the manor, Mrs. Fairfax, Adèle, and the servants greet Jane warmly.
Summary: Chapter 23
After a blissful two weeks, Jane encounters Rochester in the gardens. He invites her to walk with him, and Jane, caught off guard, accepts. Rochester confides that he has finally decided to marry Blanche Ingram and tells Jane that he knows of an available governess position in Ireland that she could take. Jane expresses her distress at the great distance that separates Ireland from Thornfield. The two seat themselves on a bench at the foot of the chestnut tree, and Rochester says: “we will sit there in peace to-night, though we should never more be destined to sit there together.” He tells Jane that he feels as though they are connected by a “cord of communion.” Jane sobs—“for I could repress what I endured no longer,” she tells us, “I was obliged to yield.” Jane confesses her love for Rochester, and to her surprise, he asks her to be his wife. She suspects that he is teasing her, but he convinces her otherwise by admitting that he only brought up marrying Blanche in order to arouse Jane’s jealousy. Convinced and elated, Jane accepts his proposal. A storm breaks, and the newly engaged couple hurries indoors through the rain. Rochester helps Jane out of her wet coat, and he seizes the opportunity to kiss her. Jane looks up to see Mrs. Fairfax watching, astonished. That night, a bolt of lightning splits the same chestnut tree under which Rochester and Jane had been sitting that evening.
Summary: Chapter 24
Preparations for Jane and Rochester’s wedding do not run smoothly. Mrs. Fairfax treats Jane coldly because she doesn’t realize that Jane was already engaged to Rochester when she allowed him to kiss her. But even after she learns the truth, Mrs. Fairfax maintains her disapproval of the marriage. Jane feels unsettled, almost fearful, when Rochester calls her by what will soon be her name, Jane Rochester. Jane explains that everything feels impossibly ideal, like a fairy-tale or a daydream. Rochester certainly tries to turn Jane into a Cinderella-like figure: he tells her he will dress her in jewels and in finery befitting her new social station, at which point Jane becomes terrified and self-protective. She has a premonitory feeling that the wedding will not happen, and she decides to write her uncle, John Eyre, who is in Madeira. Jane reasons that if John Eyre were to make her his heir, her inheritance might put her on more equal footing with Rochester, which would make her feel less uncomfortable about the marriage.
Summary: Chapter 25
The night before her wedding, Jane waits for Rochester, who has left Thornfield for the evening. She grows restless and takes a walk in the orchard, where she sees the now-split chestnut tree. When Rochester arrives, Jane tells him about strange events that have occurred in his absence. The preceding evening, Jane’s wedding dress arrived, and underneath it was an expensive veil—Rochester’s wedding gift to Jane. In the night, Jane had a strange dream, in which a little child cried in her arms as Jane tried to make her way toward Rochester on a long, winding road. Rochester dismisses the dream as insignificant, but then she tells him about a second dream. This time, Jane loses her balance and the child falls from her knee. The dream was so disturbing that it roused Jane from her sleep, and she perceived “a form” rustling in her closet. It turned out to be a strange, savage-looking woman, who took Jane’s veil and tore it in two. Rochester tells her that the woman must have been Grace Poole and that what she experienced was really “half-dream, half-reality.” He tells her that he will give her a full explanation of events after they have been married for one year and one day. Jane sleeps with Adèle for the evening and cries because she will soon have to leave the sleeping girl.
Analysis: Chapters 22–25
After her stay at Gateshead, Jane comes to understand fully what Rochester and Thornfield mean to her. Having been acutely reminded of the abjection and cruelty she suffered during her childhood, Jane now realizes how different her life has become, how much she has gained and how much she has grown. In Rochester she has found someone she truly cares for—someone who, despite periodic shows of brusqueness, nevertheless continues to admire Jane and care for her tenderly. Moreover, Rochester gives her a true sense of belonging, something she has always lacked. As she tells him, “wherever you are is my home—my only home.”
Although Rochester’s declaration of love and marriage proposal make Jane exceedingly happy, she is also very apprehensive about the marriage. Her feelings of dread may stem in part from a subconscious intimation of Rochester’s dark and horrible secret, which will be divulged in the next few chapters: the eerie laughter she has heard, the mysterious fire from which she rescued Rochester, the strange figure who tears Jane’s wedding veil, and other smaller clues may have led Jane to make some subconscious conclusions about what she will consciously find out only later.
Another possibility is that Jane’s misgivings stem from other concerns. She has always longed for freedom and escape, and marrying Rochester would be a form of tying herself down. Jane may worry that the marriage will encroach upon her autonomy, and even enforce her submission to Rochester. Not only would the marriage bring her into a relationship of responsibility and commitment to another person, it could cement her into a position of inferiority.
Jane’s anxiety surfaces when Rochester tries to dress her in feminine finery. She reacts with revulsion, noting that she feels like a toy doll. Jane fears that Rochester may be trying to objectify her, that he sees her not as a human being with her own thoughts and feelings but as a plaything designed to cater to his fantasies and whims. Jane also worries about her financial inferiority: she hates the thought of marrying “above her station,” as she does not want to feel that she somehow “owes” Rochester something for the fact that he has “deigned” to love her, as it were. She hates the thought that his love might be a “favor” to her.
Thus, Jane’s feelings and desires for Rochester are tightly bound up with her feelings about her social position (her status as an employee and her experiences of economic dependence) and her position as a woman. She is very sensitive to the hierarchy and power dynamic implicit in marriage, and despite her statement that she is forced to “yield” to her feelings for Rochester, she does not desire the complete surrender that heroines in romance novels experience. The storybook wedding toward which these chapters appear to lead cannot succeed, because Jane will only be able to occupy the role of wife on her own, quite different, terms.