Jane Eyre Summary and Analysis

Volume II, Chapters 6-11

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Volume II, Chapter 6 Summary:

Robert Leaven, the coachman at Gateshead who is now married to Bessie, visits Jane. He brings news that Jane’s cousin, John, has committed suicide. Mrs. Reed has suffered a stroke from shock and is close to death and asking for Jane. Mr. Rochester grants his permission for Jane to leave Thornfield for a week and gives her some money. Jane arrives at Gateshead in the early evening and reunites with Bessie, who tells her that Mrs. Reed is expected to last only another week or two. Jane also talks with Eliza and Georgiana, who are as cold as ever, though their rudeness no longer hurt Jane's feelings. The girls are reluctant to let Jane see their ailing mother, but Jane insists and Bessie arranges a meeting.

Mrs. Reed, her mind clearly elsewhere, does not recognize Jane and speaks harshly of Jane's character. Jane prompts her to discuss her feelings, and Mrs. Reed reveals that she always disliked Jane's mother, her husband's sister, because Mr. Reed always favored her and, subsequently, the orphaned Jane. Mrs. Reed is also under the impression that John is still alive. Jane leaves her bedside.

For ten days Jane does not see Mrs. Reed again, and busies herself with sketching. One day she sketches a portrait of Mr. Rochester that attracts the attention of the Reed girls, whom she also sketches. The episode fosters new intimacy between Jane and Georgiana, who is hung up on her former life in high society London. Eliza maintains her distance from both of them; one night she lashes out at Georgiana for her immaturity and slothfulness, and vows that they will have nothing to do with each other after their mother's death.

Jane visits Mrs. Reed one afternoon while no one is around and reveals her identity. Mrs. Reed apologizes for not bringing her up as one of her own but is still extremely resentful to her because of the late Mr. Reed’s preference. Mrs. Reed also gives Jane a letter from her uncle, John Eyre. Mr. Eyre had wanted to adopt Jane and bring him to Madeira with him, but Mrs. Reed had withheld the letter from Jane out of spite. Though Jane offers her forgiveness, Mrs. Reed is unable to let go of her hatred for Jane, and she dies later that night.

Analysis:

The extent of Jane’s development over the course of the novel is demonstrated when she returns to Gateshead. Whereas John Reed fell into a dissolute lifestyle of gambling and debauchery, Georgiana became a spoiled debutante, and Eliza became aloof and emotionless, Jane has transformed into a patient and compassionate woman, dedicated to helping others with humility. The initial cold reception from the Reed girls, then, does not disturb Jane as it once might have, nor does Mrs. Reed's unforgiving hatred on her deathbed.

In fact, Jane openly forgives her aunt, telling her that "you have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God's; and be at peace." Jane seems to have found a third kind of religion, far from the evangelical posturing of Mr. Brocklehurst but still removed from the all-encompassing and self-destructive tolerance of Helen Burns. Jane is forgiving for the past ills done to her by Mrs. Reed; they did not destroy her, but made her stronger. In Jane’s version of Christianity, the meek shall not inherit the earth, but neither will the powerful.

In the midst of this emotional chapter, Brontë throws in a twist with the letter from John Eyre. He hints at having accumulated a fortune in Madeira, so Jane's economic status is again complicated. Although she has existed as a poor governess dependent on others for her keeping, perhaps now she has the possibility of achieving personal independence.

Volume II, Chapter 7 Summary:

Jane stays at Gateshead for a month in order to help Georgiana and Eliza. Jane tells us that after her departure, Georgiana moves back to the London and marries a wealthy man, while Eliza enters a convent in France and eventually becomes Mother Superior. Jane returns to Thornfield and is surprised to see Mr. Rochester, who has just returned from London, where he bought a new carriage - most likely to prepare for his wedding. Mr. Rochester is in an infectiously good mood, but Jane worries that he will no longer need her services after his marriage to Miss Ingram. However, the wedding is never mentioned and no preparations are made, and Jane hopes it has been called off.

Analysis:

Jane’s time at Gateshead reminds her how important Thornfield and Mr. Rochester have become to her. While Gateshead was her original home, she realizes that now only Thornfield will feel as a home to her, primarily because of her feelings for Mr. Rochester. Jane’s interactions with Eliza and Georgiana also remind her how much she has grown over the past nine years. No longer an angry child, resentful of her cruel relatives, Jane is the clear superior in the Reed household and ultimately serves as the peace-keeping mediator between her unhappy cousins.

Upon Jane’s return to Thornfield, there are many questions about Mr. Rochester’s true intentions with Miss Ingram. Although he purchases a carriage, Mr. Rochester makes no other mention of his impending marriage. Moreover, he refuses to answer any questions about it, and only says that his carriage "will suit Mrs. Rochester exactly." The name could apply to any woman who marries him and, as such, leaves open the possibility that he intends to marry Jane.

Volume II, Chapter 8 Summary:

The summer is glorious at Thornfield, and Jane is happy to be back at her home. One evening Jane runs into Mr. Rochester in the gardens. He reveals that he will marry Miss Ingram in a month and Jane must leave Thornfield; he already has another governess position lined up for her in Ireland. Jane is devastated at the prospect of being so far away from Mr. Rochester, but admits that Miss Ingram's presence will make such a separation necessary.

Mr. Rochester and Jane sit on a bench under a chestnut tree, and Mr. Rochester suddenly changes emotional positions. He tells her that he feels as if they are connected by a cord attached at the heart and asks her to stay at Thornfield. Jane refuses, bringing up the topic of his bride. She also argues that she must mean little to him if he is willing to marry someone so inferior to him as Miss Ingram. Admonishing him for his thoughtless cruelty to her, Jane confesses that she loves him. To her surprise, Mr. Rochester asks her to marry him. At first she believes that he is only mocking her, but he convinces her that he does not love Miss Ingram and could never marry someone who was only interested in his money. After Jane is convinced of his earnestness, she accepts his proposal. Rain forces the overjoyed lovers inside, where they kiss briefly before retiring to their separate quarters. Mrs. Fairfax observes their kiss, but Jane ignores her shocked expression and decides to provide her with an explanation later. That night, a bolt of lightning strikes the tree under which Jane and Mr. Rochester were sitting and splits it in half.

Analysis:

The long build-up to Jane and Rochester's romance culminates in Rochester's marriage proposal, but a greater change comes about within Jane. Oppressed much of her life because of her poverty, she asserts her validity as a person to Rochester, regardless of her material wealth: "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? - You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart!" The extent of Jane’s insecurity is revealed by her inability to believe that Mr. Rochester actually wants to marry her. Although the proposal makes her extremely happy, even Jane wonders about Mr. Rochester’s decision to marry someone so beneath his social station.

Jane is also anxious about the prospect of subverting her desires for those of someone else. While her search for love is a driving force in her life, Jane understands that attachment to others comes at a price, and she is not willing to sacrifice her autonomy. A marriage to Mr. Rochester would be one of love and passion, but it might also automatically force her into yet another position of inferiority. Moreover, Bronte will not allow the readers to think that Mr. Rochester’s marriage to Jane will proceed without obstacles; when the lightning strikes the chestnut tree, it is hint that the love that Mr. Rochester and Jane share will soon be torn apart.

Volume II, Chapter 9 Summary:

The next morning, Jane is radiant in her love for Mr. Rochester. She feels that she looks prettier, and Mr. Rochester gladly compliments her. He has the wedding for four weeks and tells Jane that he is sending for jewels from London for her to wear. Jane is immediately anxious about the prospect of wearing such ostentation and makes him rescind the order. Mr. Rochester acquiesces but then vows to take her traveling with him around Europe. Once again pledging his love to her, Mr. Rochester finally confesses that he feigned interest in Miss Ingram in order to make Jane jealous.

Jane gets ready to drive to Millcote with Mr. Rochester, and he tells Mrs. Fairfax about their upcoming marriage. Mrs. Fairfax expresses her shock to Jane and warns her to be on her guard, as wealthy men rarely marry their governesses. Jane is hurt by Mrs. Fairfax’s insinuations and feels even more unsettled when Mr. Rochester refers to her as Jane Rochester. Adèle wants to go to Millcote with them, and Jane convinces Rochester to bring her along. They ride off, and Rochester jokes to Adèle that he is bringing Jane with him to the moon, and makes a veiled reference to their marriage that Adèle does not understand.

In Millcote, the clothing and jewelry that Mr. Rochester lavishes on Jane embarrasses her. She tells Mr. Rochester that she will not be his "English Céline Varens," but will continue to work as Adèle's governess and maintain her financial independence. She also declines his dinner invitation, though she spends time with him in the evening as he sings and plays piano. He sings a love song and advances toward her, but she refuses to submit to his charms. Jane maintains this distance between them as she falls deeper in love with Mr. Rochester, believing it will serve them better in the weeks before their wedding. Jane also decides to write to her uncle in Madeira, hoping that being John Eyre’s heir might make her feel more equal to Mr. Rochester.

Analysis:

Jane already feels somewhat uneasy about her upcoming marriage to Mr. Rochester. Although she loves Mr. Rochester desperately, she is puzzled and hurt by Mrs. Fairfax’s disapproval and somehow fears that the wedding will not take place. She also dislikes being dressed in jewels and elegant clothes by Mr. Rochester, feeling as if his presents to her are steadily stripping away her independence. Moreover, Jane wants to ensure that she is not just another mistress in Mr. Rochester’s long line of lovers. She also wants to maintain her power over Mr. Rochester as a demonstration of her independence. By rebuffing his passionate advances, Jane is able to hold on to some semblance of control, while simultaneously guaranteeing that she does not become a submissive mistress.

Bronte chooses to highlight Jane’s shock at hearing Mr. Rochester call her “Mrs. Rochester.” She reminds us that the title of the book is Jane Eyre, and that this name will always define Jane’s identity as an independent woman. Interestingly, "Eyre" is a 14th-century word that means "a circuit traveled by an itinerant justice in medieval England or the court he presided over," and derives from the Old French word "errer," "to travel." If this etymology was Brontë's intention, then the name is ironic. While Jane travels far mentally as she develops into a woman - she is an avid reader, an artist, a musician - her physical journeys are quite circumscribed compared to those of the globe-trotting Mr. Rochester. However, Jane clings to her name, and worries that her independence and perhaps even her identity will be lost when she assumes Mr. Rochester’s name.

Volume II, Chapter 10 Summary:

A month passes, and the household has finished preparing for Jane and Mr. Rochester's marriage, which is to take place the following day. Jane is preoccupied for most of the day because of a disturbing incident that occurred during the night. She waits for Mr. Rochester to return from business and tells him about it. While she lay in bed, she seemed to hear a strange howling. She then had a series of dreams revolving around a small child who cries in her arms. Jane woke from her nightmare to see a strange woman in her room. After looking through her closet, the woman found Jane’s wedding veil and ripped it in half. The woman then looked at Jane, who fainted.

Mr. Rochester tries to convince Jane that the episode was nothing more than a dream, but she insists that it happened and shows him her wedding veil, ripped in two. Mr. Rochester is horrified and expresses his gratitude that nothing more harmful happened to Jane. He tells her that the woman must have been Grace Poole and promises that he will explain why he keeps her in the house after they have been married for a year and a day. Jane accepts Mr. Rochester’s promise, though she is not satisfied with his explanation. Jane sleeps in Adèle's room that night, though she does not fall asleep.

Analysis:

After the previous mysterious incidents at Thornfield, it is clear that the woman who entered Jane's room is related to the laughter from the third story and the fire in Rochester's room (especially because the woman uses a candle as she investigates Jane's closet). It is also clear from the ripped wedding veil that the woman harbors hostility toward the marriage between Mr. Rochester and Jane. However, Mr. Rochester is still unwilling to explain the strange incidents to Jane and continues to use Grace Poole as the scapegoat. Although Jane does not accept his explanations, she realizes that she is unable to force him to divulge secrets about his past.

Jane’s nightmares about the crying child speak to her anxiety about leaving her childhood identity of Jane Eyre and ascending to married adulthood as Jane Rochester. The dream could also be read as a bad omen: Jane remembers Bessie telling her that a nightmare about children was a sign of trouble for the dreamer. At this point in the novel, however, Jane is still optimistic about her marriage to Mr. Rochester and hopes that her anxieties will soon dissipate.

Volume II, Chapter 11 Summary:

The next morning, Jane prepares for the marriage ceremony. Instead of wearing the elegant veil that was destroyed by the strange woman, Jane wears a plain veil that she made herself; still, Jane is unable to recognize herself in her wedding dress. She and Mr. Rochester head to the nearby church, but Jane notices that Mr. Rochester looks grim rather that happy about the upcoming ceremony. Jane notices that two strangers enter the church before they do. The priest begins the ceremony, but when he asks Rochester if he will take Jane as his wife, one of the strangers declares an “impediment” to the marriage. The man, Mr. Briggs, introduces himself as a solicitor from London and claims that Mr. Rochester already has a living wife from a previous marriage 15 years ago. Moreover, Briggs asserts that he has a witness to attest to the wife's being alive: Richard Mason. Mason steps forward and reveals that Mr. Rochester's wife was living at Thornfield when he visited three months before, and that he is her brother. Mr. Rochester confesses that the accusation is true, and that his insane wife, Bertha Antoinette Mason, lives in his attic under the careful watch of Grace Poole. He commands that everyone return to the estate to see Bertha and judge for themselves whether or not he was justified in seeking remarriage.

The group goes to Thornfield and up to the third-story attic. In the room where Mason was stabbed and bitten, Grace cooks food while the crazed Bertha runs around like an animal. Bertha lunges at Mr. Rochester and almost strangles him until he ties her to a chair. They all leave the room. Briggs informs Jane that her uncle, John Eyre, is on his sickbed in Madeira but wanted to prevent the marriage, having heard about it from Jane’s letter and then from Mason. He suggests that Jane stay in England until she hears more from her uncle. Briggs and Mason leave, and Jane goes into her room alone, reflecting on her sudden change of fortune. All of her hopes have been destroyed, and she no longer knows how she can love Mr. Rochester. She prays to God for help, but is too devastated to even speak the words aloud.

Analysis:

With the revelation of Mr. Rochester’s marriage to Bertha, Bronte is able to uncover all of the mysteries of Thornfield and Mr. Rochester’s past: the laughter from the third story, Rochester's early error in life and desire for a new wife, Mrs. Fairfax's warning to Jane, the fire in Mr. Rochester's room, and the interloper in Jane's room. Just as Jane has trouble deciding how to judge Rochester, the reader, too, is in a difficult position. Because Mr. Rochester was unaware of Bertha Mason’s hereditary madness, he was essentially victimized by the Mason family. Moreover, considering Bertha’s propensity for violence, he had little choice but to confine her to the room in the attic, especially when an insane asylum during the time period would have been much more barbaric.

Still, Mr. Rochester would gladly have married Jane despite his preexisting marriage, and Jane would have been diminished to the inferior position of mistress without even realizing it. The biggest difficulty for Jane is that she still loves Mr. Rochester, but her innate sense of right and wrong demand that she cast him aside forever. As evidence of Jane’s personal despair, Bronte narrates the bad turn of events with the relentless imagery of ice: "A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples…" As in other places in the novel, ice symbolizes destruction, cruelty, hopelessness, and death. In this moment of despair, Jane reaches out to God. While she does not have blind faith in Him (as evidenced by her inability to speak the prayer), God is her last salvation and her last chance (so she believes) to be loved by another.