Summary: Chapter 36
Jane contemplates her supernatural experience of the previous night, wondering whether it was really Rochester’s voice that she heard calling to her and whether Rochester might actually be in trouble. She finds a note from St. John urging her to resist temptation, but nevertheless she boards a coach to Thornfield. She travels to the manor, anxious to see Rochester and reflecting on the ways in which her life has changed in the single year since she left. Once hopeless, alone, and impoverished, Jane now has friends, family, and a fortune. She hurries to the house after her coach arrives and is shocked to find Thornfield a charred ruin. She goes to an inn called the Rochester Arms to learn what has happened. Here, she learns that Bertha Mason set the house ablaze several months earlier. Rochester saved his servants and tried to save his wife, but she flung herself from the roof as the fire raged around her. In the fire, Rochester lost a hand and went blind. He has taken up residence in a house called Ferndean, located deep in the forest, with John and Mary, two elderly servants.
Summary: Chapter 37
Jane goes to Ferndean. From a distance, she sees Rochester reach a hand out of the door, testing for rain. His body looks the same, but his face is desperate and disconsolate. Rochester returns inside, and Jane approaches the house. She knocks, and Mary answers the door. Inside, Jane carries a tray to Rochester, who is unable to see her. When he realizes that Jane is in the room with him, he thinks she must be a ghost or spirit speaking to him. When he catches her hand, he takes her in his arms, and she promises never to leave him. The next morning they walk through the woods, and Jane tells Rochester about her experiences the previous year. She has to assure him that she is not in love with St. John. He asks her again to marry him, and she says yes—they are now free from the specter of Bertha Mason. Rochester tells Jane that a few nights earlier, in a moment of desperation, he called out her name and thought he heard her answer. She does not wish to upset him or excite him in his fragile condition, and so she does not tell him about hearing his voice at Moor House.
Summary: Chapter 38
Jane and Rochester marry with no witnesses other than the parson and the church clerk. Jane writes to her cousins with the news. St. John never acknowledges what has happened, but Mary and Diana write back with their good wishes. Jane visits Adèle at her school, and finds her unhappy. Remembering her own childhood experience, Jane moves Adèle to a more congenial school, and Adèle grows up to be a very pleasant and mild-mannered young woman.
Jane writes that she is narrating her story after ten years of marriage to Rochester, which she describes as inexpressibly blissful. They live as equals, and she helps him to cope with his blindness. After two years, Rochester begins to regain his vision in one eye, and when their first child—a boy—is born, Rochester is able to see the baby. Jane writes that Diana and Mary have both found husbands and that St. John went to India as he had planned. She notes that in his last letter, St. John claimed to have had a premonition of his own approaching death. She does not believe that she will hear from St. John again, but she does not grieve for him, saying that he has fulfilled his promise and done God’s work. She closes her book with a quote from his letter, in which he begs the Lord Jesus to come for him quickly.
Analysis: Chapters 36–38
Jane’s melodramatic discovery of the ruined Thornfield and her recounting of the story of Bertha Mason’s mad and fiery death lead to the novel’s last, brief stage at Ferndean, during which Jane and Rochester are able to marry at last.
It is possible to question Jane Eyre’s proto-feminism on the grounds that Jane only becomes Rochester’s full equal (as she claims to be in the novel’s epilogue-like last chapter) when he is physically infirm and dependent on her to guide him and read to him—in other words, when he is physically incapable of mastering her. However, it is also possible that Jane now finds herself Rochester’s equal not because of the decline Rochester has suffered but because of the autonomy that she has achieved by coming to know herself more fully.
No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together.See Important Quotations Explained
Another problem that troubles some critics is the fact that Jane finds happiness in the novel only through marriage, suggesting that marriage constitutes the only route to contentment for women (after all, the “happy ending” for Diana and Mary, also, is that they find husbands). It could be argued that, in returning to Rochester, Jane sacrifices her long-sought autonomy and independence. Another way of looking at Jane’s marriage is that she doesn’t sacrifice everything, but enters into a relationship in which giving and taking occur in equal measure. Indeed, in order to marry Rochester Jane has had to reject another marriage, a marriage that would have meant a much more stifling and suppressed life for her. Moreover, in declining to marry St. John, Jane comes to the realization that part of being true to “who she is” means being true to her emotions and passions; part of what makes her herself is manifested in her relationships with others—in the giving of herself to other human beings. By entering into marriage, Jane does indeed enter into a “bond,” but in many ways this “bond” is also the “escape” that Jane has sought all along.
In providing a happy ending for Jane, Brontë seems to suggest that individuals who manage to navigate the pressures and hypocrisies of established social and religious structures can eventually enter into lasting love. A woman who refuses to bend to class and gender prejudices, or to accept domination or oppression, might still find kindred hearts and a sense of spiritual community. Lastly, Brontë seems to suggest a way in which a woman’s quest for love and a feeling of belonging need not encroach upon her sense of self—need not restrict her intellectual, spiritual, and emotional independence. Indeed, Brontë suggests that it is only after coming to know oneself and one’s own strength that one can enter wholly into a well-rounded and loving relationship with another.