One snowy night, Jane sits reading Marmion when St. John appears at the door. Appearing troubled, he tells Jane the story of an orphan girl who became the governess at Thornfield Hall, then disappeared after nearly marrying Edward Rochester: this runaway governess’s name is Jane Eyre. Until this point, Jane has been cautious not to reveal her past and has given the Rivers a false name. Thus although it is clear that St. John suspects her of being the woman about whom he speaks, she does not immediately identify herself to him. He says that he has received a letter from a solicitor named Mr. Briggs intimating that it is extremely important that this Jane Eyre be found. Jane is only interested in whether Mr. Briggs has sent news of Rochester, but St. John says that Rochester’s well-being is not at issue: Jane Eyre must be found because her uncle, John Eyre, has died, leaving her the vast fortune of 20,000 pounds.
Jane reveals herself to be Jane Eyre, knowing that St. John has guessed already. She asks him how he knew. He shows her the scrap of paper he tore from her drawing the previous day: it is her signature. She then asks why Mr. Briggs would have sent him a letter about her at all. St. John explains that though he did not realize it before, he is her cousin: her Uncle John was his Uncle John, and his name is St. John Eyre Rivers. Jane is overjoyed to have found a family at long last, and she decides to divide her inheritance between her cousins and herself evenly, so that they each will inherit 5,000 pounds.
Jane closes her school for Christmas and spends a happy time with her newfound cousins at Moor House. Diana and Mary are delighted with the improvements Jane has made at the school, but St. John seems colder and more distant than ever. He tells Jane that Rosamond is engaged to a rich man named Mr. Granby. One day, he asks Jane to give up her study of German and instead to learn “Hindustani” with him—the language he is learning to prepare for missionary work in India. As time goes by, St. John exerts a greater and greater influence on Jane; his power over her is almost uncanny. This leaves Jane feeling empty, cold, and sad, but she follows his wishes. At last, he asks her to go to India with him to be a missionary—and to be his wife. She agrees to go to India as a missionary but says that she will not be his wife because they are not in love. St. John harshly insists that she marry him, declaring that to refuse his proposal is the same as to deny the Christian faith. He abruptly leaves the room.
[B]ut as his wife—at his side always, and always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital—this would be unendurable.
During the following week, St. John continues to pressure Jane to marry him. She resists as kindly as she can, but her kindness only makes him insist more bitterly and unyieldingly that she accompany him to India as his wife. Diana tells Jane that she would be a fool to go to India with St. John, who considers her merely a tool to aid his great cause. After dinner, St. John prays for Jane, and she is overcome with awe at his powers of speech and his influence. She almost feels compelled to marry him, but at that moment she hears what she thinks is Rochester’s voice, calling her name as if from a great distance. Jane believes that something fateful has occurred, and St. John’s spell over her is broken.
In these chapters, the foreshadowing of John Eyre’s importance in the plot is at last fulfilled, and the household that has initially been for Jane merely a community of social equality is now revealed to be a true family. More importantly, St. John emerges as a crucial figure, providing Jane with a powerful and dangerous alternative to Rochester. All of these experiences prepare the ground for Jane to return to Rochester: having come to know her own strength, having learned that she is no longer alone in the world, having come into her own inheritance, and having received a competing marriage proposal, Jane can now enter into marriage without feeling herself beholden to her husband.
St. John’s character emerges forcefully in these chapters. As a potential husband to Jane, he offers a foil to the character of Rochester. Whereas Rochester is passionate and impetuous, St. John is cold, harsh, and clinical. While Jane often finds herself reminding Rochester of the importance of Christian morality, she finds the same morality in St. John overwhelming and threatening.
This leads to St. John’s other important function: he provides an interesting comparison to the models of religion embodied in Helen Burns and Mr. Brocklehurst. Unlike the meek and forbearing Helen, St. John is active and even ambitious. He is not hypocritical like Brocklehurst, but he is so rigidly principled and lacking in empathy that his behavior is potentially just as destructive.
Despite Jane’s protracted attempt to integrate Christian morality comfortably into her own life and behavior, St. John is a dangerous influence on her, because his forceful personality compels her obedience against her own internal feelings. Jane refuses to marry St. John because she does not love him, but St. John pressures Jane to ignore her feelings and submit to his powerful conception of necessary moral duty. Jane remains true to herself only with great difficulty, and with the help of the preternatural experience of hearing Rochester call out her name over the moors. In declining St. John’s proposal Jane escapes yet another threat to her freedom and her sense of self.
Yet the very seriousness with which Jane considers his proposal leads her to an important realization about herself. Part of the reason she fled Thornfield was that she feared becoming a slave to her own passion and sacrificing her principles. By coming so close to marrying St. John, she demonstrates her ability to do the opposite: to sacrifice passion altogether and devote herself wholly to principle. Now Jane knows that returning to Rochester would not signify a weakness on her part. Moreover, she now appreciates more than ever what Rochester offered her. Having found herself on the threshold of a loveless marriage, she understands fully the importance of following not only her mind but also her heart.