Volume III, Chapter 1 Summary:
After the revelation of Mr. Rochester’s previous marriage, Jane returns to her bedroom and wrestles over whether or not she should leave Thornfield. When she leaves her room, Mr. Rochester is waiting for her and earnestly asks for her forgiveness. Jane privately grants it to him, but remains silent. Moreover, she does not allow him to kiss her, as he already has a wife. She begins to feel faint, and Mr. Rochester takes her into the library to recover and apologizes for bringing Jane to Thornfield and for concealing his wife from her. He then proposes that they move to the south of France and live together as man and wife. Adèle will be sent off to school and Grace will remain at Thornfield to watch over Bertha. Jane refuses and begins to cry, saying that though she loves him, she will never be more than a mistress as long as Bertha is alive.
Mr. Rochester explains the conditions surrounding his union to Bertha in order to explain why he does not consider their marriage to be valid. His father left his entire estate to Mr. Rochester's older brother, Rowland, but did not want to leave his second son completely penniless. He sent Mr. Rochester to Jamaica to marry Bertha Mason, the daughter of an old acquaintance, and thus gain her inheritance of 30,000 pounds. Bertha was beautiful and desirable, and although he spent little time alone with her, Mr. Rochester was overwhelmed by her beauty and promptly agreed to the marriage. Soon after the wedding, Mr. Rochester discovered Bertha's mother was in an insane asylum, while her younger brother was a mute idiot. He also realized that his father and brother had been aware of the hereditary madness in the Mason family but had ignored it for the sake of Bertha Mason’s vast fortune. Over the four years, Mr. Rochester lived with Bertha in Jamaica and watched her grow increasingly insane, perverse, and violent. In the meantime, Mr. Rochester's father and brother died, leaving him with their fortune. Despairing of his life, Mr. Rochester’s contemplated suicide but decided to return to England instead and situated Bertha in the attic cell of Thornfield Manor. Mr. Rochester then traveled the world, searching for a woman to love and being met with disappointment time after time. Finally, he met Jane and instantly knew that she was the one for him.
Jane is torn by Mr. Rochester’s confession. She does not want to increase Mr. Rochester’s unhappiness, and she doubts that she will ever find anyone who loves her as much as he does. Yet, she realizes that she will always be unhappy with herself if she decides to stay at Thornfield under these circumstances. She kisses Mr. Rochester on the cheek and leaves him, incensed and desperate, in the room alone. That night, Jane dreams that her mother urges her to resist temptation. When she wakes up, she quickly packs her things and leaves Thornfield, all the while resisting the temptation to express her love to Mr. Rochester and stay.
Although Jane's departure from Thornfield is her third major exit from a place after Gateshead and Lowood, it is by far her hardest decision. If she stays, she enjoys the love of a man whom she admits that she worships, as well as the luxury that his wealth affords. However, if she stays and becomes his mistress, she feels that she will lose self-respect. As we have seen throughout the novel, Jane’s quest is for self-love and independence as much as it is to attain the love of others. As she puts it to herself, "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself."
Why will marriage destroy Jane's independence? Jane continually uses the excuse of Mr. Rochester's marriage to Bertha, but this is most likely not the true reason; after all, she was at times hesitant about marriage before she learned about Bertha. Rather, we can view Mr. Rochester's marriage to Bertha as a symbol of the inequalities of Victorian marriage, especially in the way it imprisons (literally, in Bertha's case) the female. Jane is worried about similar imprisonment, particularly because of Rochester's higher social standing and the proprietary feelings he has for her (note his frequent pet names for her).
Volume III, Chapter 2 Summary:
Jane remains on the coach for as long as her small supply of money will allow her; she is ultimately forced to get off at the desolate crossroads of Whitcross, ten miles from the nearest town. Finding nature to be her only ally, she heads deep into the heath and seeks protection under a crag. Filled with longing for Mr. Rochester, Jane is unable to sleep. Eventually, she finds comfort in prayer and sees God’s presence in the majesty of nature. The next day, Jane sets out on the road in order to find a village. She looks for work, but there is none available, and she is reduced to begging for food.
As night falls, Jane walks toward a lit house in the distance among the marshes. She looks through the windows and sees two young ladies, Diana and Mary, and their elderly servant, Hannah. She listens in on their conversation, and discovers that they are awaiting someone named St. John, and that the ladies' father has recently died. Jane knocks on the door and begs Hannah to let her stay for the night, but Hannah fears that Jane will bring others with her. St. John arrives at the same time and rescues her, bringing her into the house. After being revived with some bread and milk, Jane gives them a false name (“Jane Elliott) but is too exhausted to give any additional details, and says she puts herself in their hands. The members of the household privately discuss the matter, and then put Jane to bed.
After seeking autonomy throughout the novel, Jane finally receives it when she leaves Thornfield. However, she soon learns that truly independent living means sleeping outdoors, scavenging for food, and giving up all dignity. She relies more heavily on God in this chapter than in any others, and, indeed, it is a religious man, St. John, who proves to be her salvation. At the chapter's end, Jane relinquishes whatever independence she had previously claimed: "'I will trust you. If I were a masterless and stray dog, I know that you would not turn me from your hearth tonight: as it is, I really have no fear. Do with me and for me as you like." She willfully succumbs to the identity of a stray dog, putting her faith in others rather than in herself.
Volume III, Chapter 3 Summary:
Jane spends the next three days in bed at the house, attended by Hannah and occasionally seeing Diana and Mary. On the fourth day, Jane gets out of bed and goes downstairs to the kitchen. She assures Hannah that she is not a beggar and discovers that the house is called Marsh End or Moor House, and that the ladies' brother, the parson St. John Rivers, lives in his parish in nearby Morton. Jane reprimands Hannah for passing judgment on her for her poverty, and Hannah apologizes. She then tells Jane the history of Marsh End, which has been in the Rivers family for generations. Although the family used to be wealthy, the late Mr. Rivers lost the family fortune in a business deal, and Diana and Mary were forced to work as governesses to make ends meet. Because of Mr. Rivers’ recent death, the ladies have returned to the house for a few weeks.
Diana, Mary, and St. John soon return, and the sisters direct Jane to keep out of the kitchen and sit into the parlor. St. John is there, and Jane examines his classically handsome face. Jane tells them that she has no home or friends and refuses to reveal her last residence. Instead, she provides a bare-bones history of her life, admitting that the name "Jane Elliott" is not her real name. She asks to stay with them until she is able to find work, and St. John promises to find her a job.
Brontë draws an obvious contrast between the altruistic and kindly Rivers children - Diana, Mary, and St. John - and the spoiled and cruel Reed children - Eliza, Georgiana, and the far from holy John. Although she does not reveal Jane’s true relationship with the Rivers’ siblings, Brontë does provide another model of family and familial connection for Jane to aspire toward.
The fact that St. John is a parson also suggests that Jane's view of religion will undergo further revision in the following chapters. At this point in the text, she is still searching for a model of Christianity that is applicable to her own life; the Christianity of both Mr. Brocklehurst and Helen Burns was incompatible with Jane’s passionate nature.
Interestingly, Jane is once again in a financially difficult position, compared to those around her. Whereas before she was consistently a poor figure in a rich environment (in the Reed house and at Thornfield), she is here identified as a beggar. The Rivers siblings are in the midst of financial difficulties themselves, but Jane is still inferior to them in terms of her economic stability. Moreover, although she has indeed been begging, Jane resists this definition, seeking an identity that is divorced from money.
Volume III, Chapter 4 Summary:
Over the next few days, Jane grows closer to Diana and Mary; she is especially drawn to Diana’s charisma. St. John, however, remains a detached figure and is generally reserved and brooding on the few occasions that she sees him. However, one day, Jane hears him preach in his church, and his stern Calvinist oration about predestination has a profound, thrilling effect on her, although it leaves her saddened. Despite his eloquence, she feels he has not "found that peace of God which passeth all understanding" anymore than Jane has.
After a month, Diana and Mary prepare to return to their positions as governesses elsewhere in England. St. John plans to shut up the house after his sisters leave, but he is able to offer Jane the position of headmistress for a girls' school he is establishing in Morton. Jane gladly accepts, but St. John suspects that Jane will grow bored of the job and soon leave. Before Mary and Diana leave, St. John tells them that their uncle John is dead. They are relieved by this news, and Diana explains that their father and uncle quarreled, and Mr. Rivers lost most of his fortune while their uncle profited greatly. The uncle has left almost all his 20,000 pounds to an unknown relation, while giving a pittance to the Rivers children. Over the next few days, all of the inhabitants of the house leave.
Jane finds greater intimacy with the residents at Marsh End, especially the two sisters. Significantly, Jane had very few female friends during her life; only Helen Burns and Miss Temple even fall in the category. Although she has left her home at Thornfield, Jane has gained enough self-assurance to become friends with other self-reliant women. The growing friendship between Jane and Diana and Mary also serves as yet another of Brontë’s hints about their relationship to Jane. The astute reader will notice some connections between the fortune left by the Rivers's uncle and that of Jane's own uncle John Eyre.
St. John's calculated, somewhat cold Calvinism is not an ideal Christian model for Jane, as she finds in it "a strange bitterness; an absence of consolatory gentleness." While Helen Burns's doctrine of tolerance and forgiveness was too meek for Jane, St. John's is far too intolerant and unforgiving. Still, Jane cannot help but be intrigued by St. John’s strikingly handsome face and passionate sermon.
Volume III, Chapter 5 Summary:
Jane is installed in a cottage at Morton and immediately starts teaching as the headmistress of the school. Her students are largely uneducated, but many are eager learners, and Jane resolves to discard her self-pity over her situation and work hard to help her students achieve academic heights. She maintains that her decision was right: she is better off being free and in somewhat difficult conditions than staying with Mr. Rochester as a beloved slave in luxury.
During a brief visit, St. John finally opens up to Jane and tells her that a year ago he was unhappy as a priest and was looking for a more exciting lifestyle. He was close to picking a new career until he heard a call from God to become a missionary. A beautiful, angelic young lady, Rosamond Oliver, interrupts them; her father has told her that St. John's new school has opened, and she wants to know how the first day was. Jane realizes that Miss Oliver is the wealthy benefactress of the school. Miss Oliver invites St. John to visit her father, but he stolidly declines and the two part ways. As she observes St. John’s interactions with Miss Oliver, Jane comes to the conclusion that the two are in love.
Jane has come full circle; she was once a neglected, poor orphan at Lowood and is now headmistress of her own school. Following in the mold of the kindly Miss Temple, she resolves to help her students who, while not orphans, are poor and largely uneducated. In fact, Jane nearly turns to snobbishness when describing the students and must remind herself that "these coarsely clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy." She admits that she is unhappy in her situation, but Jane continues to rationalize her decision to leave Mr. Rochester as fulfillment of her quest for independence.
Miss Oliver serves as the first example in the novel of someone who is rich, beauty, and good-natured (everyone else has only one or two of the qualities). Jane is quick to realize that St. John and Miss Oliver are in love, but she is unable to see how love fits into St. John’s plans to become a missionary.
Volume III, Chapter 6 Summary:
Jane adjusts to the rigors of teaching and eventually finds her students to be able and amiable. She becomes a well-liked fixture in the community and finally feels that she has found a place to prosper. Still, some nights, Jane still dreams being with Mr. Rochester. Miss Oliver frequently visits her, and Jane can see the effect that she has on St. John, who does his best to conceal his feelings; though he clearly desires her, he has devoted himself to his religion. Jane visits her and Mr. Oliver at Vale Hall and learns that Mr. Oliver wants his daughter to marry St. John.
One day, St. John visits while Jane is working on a portrait of Miss Oliver she has been asked to do. He is transfixed by the portrait, and Jane tells him of Miss Oliver's affection for him before boldly suggesting that he marry her. St. John confesses that he loves Miss Oliver but cannot relinquish his calling from God. Miss Oliver may be beautiful, but she would be a terrible missionary, and thus, St. John cannot even consider her to be his wife. Suddenly, St. John notices something on the edge of the portrait’s canvas – Jane is not sure what it is - and furtively rips it off and leaves.
St. John is similar to Jane in that he is unwilling to give up his independence for love. Although Miss Oliver loves him, her beauty and higher social status would hamper his quest to be a missionary; he would rather seek his own calling in life than be beholden to someone else, even someone he might love passionately. However, when she discovers St. John’s love for Miss Oliver, Jane’s first impulse is not to support St. John’s decision to reject love, but rather to urge St. John to marry her. She believes that a couple with such passionate love for one another should ultimately be together, a belief that clearly speaks to Jane’s subconscious feelings for Mr. Rochester.