Volume III, Chapter 7 Summary:
One night in winter, St. John visits Jane at her cottage. He tells her a story of a poor curate who, twenty years ago, fell in love with a rich man's daughter and married her; her friends disowned her after the wedding. They both died within two years, leaving behind a daughter, who was raised by her aunt-in-law, Mrs. Reed of Gateshead. St. John recounts the rest of Jane's life up until her departure from Thornfield, after which everyone searched for her to no avail. Although Jane realizes that St. John is talking about her, she still does not identify herself as “Jane Eyre.” St. John informs her that he has just received a letter from Mr. Briggs, in which the solicitor asserts the importance of finding the missing Jane Eyre.
The reason Briggs sought Jane, St. John says, is because Jane's uncle, Mr. John Eyre of Madeira, has died and left her his great fortune of 20,000 pounds. Jane is stunned and reveals her true identity to St. John. Still, she does not understand why Briggs attempted to reach her through St. John. St. John reveals that his full name is St. John Eyre Rivers, and his mother’s brother is Jane’s uncle. St. John also admits that he tore the scrap of paper from Miss Rosamond’s portrait because it was her legal signature and allowed her to corroborate the story. Jane is as overjoyed to discover that she has cousins as she is by the fortune. Jane decides to split the fortune four ways among the cousins and live to at Moor House with Diana and Mary, but St. John urges her to reconsider; the fortune was left solely to her, and she should not feel obliged to share it. Jane refuses to change her decision, asserting that having close relations is more important to her than the money; she also discards the notion of ever marrying. St. John pledges to treat her as his sister, and Jane promises to remain headmistress until he finds a replacement at the Morton school. Eventually, Jane persuades her cousins to share her fortune, and they each inherit 5,000 pounds.
In this chapter, Brontë incorporates various hints scattered throughout the novel – including the existence of Jane's wealthy uncle John Eyre and the scrap of paper St. John tore from Jane's portrait – to finally establish Jane’s financial independence. Moreover, Jane finally discovers her real family: coming across her long-lost cousins, purely by accident. Although the fortune is a deus ex machina plot twist that, as Jane says, gives her a victory she "never earned and do[es] not merit," she has, in many ways, earned it. By being selfless, humble, and eschewing the fortune Rochester would have given her in return for her virtual servitude, Jane is most deserving of a gift that will finally give her true independence. This particular plot conclusion is perhaps the most improbably of the plot, but it allows Brontë to overcome several of the difficulties that were obstructing the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester.
Volume III, Chapter 8 Summary:
Jane finishes her duties at the school before Christmas and returns to Moor House to prepare for a holiday with her newfound family. Diana and Mary are overjoyed with the changes in their situation, particularly having Jane as their cousin, but St. John seems to be increasingly aloof. They all soon hear that Miss Oliver is to marry the wealthy Mr. Granby. St. John is stoic and claims that he is glad, as it has cleared the way for his mission to India. While Jane loves living with her female cousins, St. John continues to treat Jane coldly, treating her more as a servant than as a relative. He also asks her to postpone her study of German and instead study “Hindustani,” the language needed for missionary work in India. Although Jane still feels connected to Mr. Rochester, she notices that St. John is able to influence her more and more with each passing day.
One spring day, St. John asks Jane to go to India with him as a missionary and as his wife. Jane resists, telling him that she will go to India as a missionary but she cannot marry him. St. John insists that Jane has the right qualities for a missionary wife, but Jane continues to refuse. She scorns St. John’s conception of marriage since it is one devoid of love, and St. John, in turn, accuses Jane of denying Christianity by refusing to marry him. St. John promises to give Jane two weeks to reconsider his proposal and then leaves the room.
In this chapter, autonomy again appears as Jane's main desire. Though the idea of being a Christian missionary is appealing to her as a way to add structure to her life (and continue her notion of serving others), she is unwilling to be imprisoned in another marriage. While she rejected Mr. Rochester's proposal because she feared a status of inferiority, she refuses St. John's proposal because love would not be a part of it.
Jane thus rejects St. John's model of Christianity, as she formerly rejected Helen Burns's and Brocklehurst's. While St. John's Christianity is neither overly meek nor hypocritical and corrupt, his is emotionless. As Jane said earlier, he has not found his peace with God, and his religious zeal seems more mechanical than human. Although Jane is prepared to deal with questions of morality and duty, she refuses to believe that true Christianity requires individuals to strip themselves of all love.
Volume III, Chapter 9 Summary:
Over the several days, St. John continues to insist that Jane marry him and travel to India as his wife. Although she is upset by his coldness to her, Jane still will not accept his proposal, and St. John rejects the possibility of taking her along as his unmarried assistant. Diana supports Jane’s decision, arguing that St. John will only ever treat her as a tool that he can use to achieve his calling to God. Later, St. John is his usual polite and aloof self to Jane while reading from “Revelations,” though he insinuates that Jane will end up in Hell for her refusal to marry him. The next morning, he leaves for Cambridge, and in a sincere moment, again tells Jane she should reconsider her decision while he is gone. She is so moved by his warmth and power of speaking that she is tempted to yield to his desires. Just when she is about to accept him, she has a mystical vision and hears Mr. Rochester's voice from a great distance, calling: "Jane! Jane! Jane!" St. John’s influence over her is broken, and Jane announces that she is going to seek out Mr. Rochester. In her room alone, she prays and feels rejuvenated.
The debate between Jane's need for autonomy and her desire to succumb to St. John's powers continue, but the outcome is rarely in doubt. Instead, Jane's love for Mr. Rochester deepens, and she now has the tools needed for a liberated marriage: self-esteem, the love of others (including relatives), financial independence, and an identity that she has carved out on her own. While St. John would oppress these traits as he led Jane through his missionary work in India, a marriage to Rochester would no longer squelch these qualities.
With such assurance, Jane can now also turn to religion in a positive, healthy manner, one different from all other models she has observed: "I...prayed in my way - a different way to St. John's, but effective in its own fashion. I seemed to penetrate near a Might Spirit; and my soul rushed out in gratitude at His feet." Jane's spirituality has neither the hypocritical postures of Brocklehurst's evangelism, the meekness of Helen Burns's forgiveness, nor the detachment of St. John's proselytizing, but attains a transcendence of love and connection lacking in the philosophies of those three.
Volume III, Chapter 10 Summary:
The next morning, Jane wonders if she really heard Mr. Rochester’s voice calling to her or if she was merely imagining it. She finds a note from St. John requesting her final decision when he returns from Cambridge, but Jane’s mind is on Rochester, and she leaves that afternoon for Thornfield. Although only a year has passed, Jane feels as if she has a new identity and anxiously awaits the sight of Mr. Rochester at the Manor. After two days on the couch, Jane arrives, only to find Thornfield in ruins, destroyed by a fire. At a nearby inn, Jane learns what happened: one night Bertha Mason escaped from Grace's watch and set fire to the governess's old bed. Mr. Rochester was able to get all of the servants out of the burning house, and tried to save his wife, but he was too late: Bertha jumped to her death from the roof. Mr. Rochester lost his eyesight and a hand during the fire and has since been relegated to Ferndean, a nearby manor house, staffed by the elderly John and Mary.
While the fire at Thornfield destroyed both Mr. Rochester's estate and his eyesight, fire continues to be a positive force even in its destruction. Bertha Mason was the one remaining obstacle to a marriage between Mr. Rochester and Jane. With her death, Mr. Rochester is finally a free man and has the ability to marry Jane without forcing her to sacrifice her morality. The fire also equalizes the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester. While she has recently gained her own fortune, he has lost much of his. Moreover, Mr. Rochester’s blindness and lost hand place him in a position of vulnerability in which the social expectations of male domination in marriage no longer exist.
Volume III, Chapter 11 Summary:
Jane travels to the desolate Ferndean and observes Mr. Rochester from a distance. Although his body is unchanged, his face seems so much more tortured and despairing than it was before. Jane knocks on the door, and Mary invites her in. Jane brings a tray to Mr. Rochester, and he eventually realizes who she is. He is overjoyed by her return, and she tells him that she is now independently wealthy and offers to stay with him as his nurse; she contends she does not care about marrying anyone. Mr. Rochester anxiously asks if she is revolted by his blindness and by the loss of one of his hands, but she assures him that she is not and promises never to leave him.
The next day, Jane tells Mr. Rochester of everything that had happened to her in the past year, including St. John’s marriage proposal. Mr. Rochester is obviously jealous of St. John, and insists that he would never have treated her as his subjugated mistress, but as his equal. Jane assures him that she does not love her cousin, and that her heart belongs only to Mr. Rochester. He asks her to marry him, and she agrees. As they walk together, finally able to achieve happiness together, Mr. Rochester reveals that four nights before, he had prayed to God for a reunion with Jane and involuntarily recited Jane's name three times. Jane admits that she heard his voice in her own mystical vision that night and answered him in turn.
Jane's search for religion culminates with the mystical union between her and Mr. Rochester. Their bond is based on a profound, spiritual connection that passes through God and is formed by love. Mr. Rochester’s spiritual development over the course of the novel also helps to make him a more suitable match for Jane; now he possesses much of the same reverence toward God that Jane had always exhibited. Together in their love, Jane and Mr. Rochester are able to fulfill God’s calling while simultaneously attaining their own happiness.
Brontë also takes this opportunity to assert Jane's independence once again. Jane proudly admits to her autonomy, asserting: “I am an independent woman now,” but also demonstrates it by a symbolic action at the end of the chapter: "I took that dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder: being so much lower of stature than he, I served both for his prop and guide." Though Jane is of "much lower stature" than Rochester - she comes from humbler origins - she now has sufficient strength and independence to lead Rochester and, indeed, he is dependent on her for it. Her quest for autonomy is complete, and it does not exclude a happy marriage to someone she loves.
Volume III, Chapter 12 Summary:
Jane and Rochester have a quiet marriage. She writes to Moor House and Cambridge to tells her cousins the news; Diana and Mary send their joyful congratulations, but St. John never acknowledges her marriage. Finding Adèle unhappy at her strict boarding school, Jane enrolls her in a better school closer to home, and she is able to blossom into a lovely young woman. Jane writes that she is writing this narrative after ten years of marriage to Mr. Rochester, and she is still enthralled with her union to her husband. Their marriage is one of joy and equality, and Jane never faces the inferiority that she feared married life would bring. Two years into their marriage, Mr. Rochester regained vision in one of his eyes and he is able to see their newborn son. Jane also reports that Diana and Mary both married happily, while St. John remained a “faithful servant” to God and became a missionary in India. In his last letter to Jane, St. John reiterates that he has done his duty to God and hopes that the Lord Jesus will come for him soon.
Two major themes - Jane's desire for love and her search for religion - mingle with her greatest preoccupation, her need for independence, in different ways. As we have already seen, she has blended love with independence in her marriage with Rochester: "To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company."
However, Jane is also able to maintain a spiritual relationship with God without sacrificing her independence. St. John, on the other hand, is not, as his letter to Jane reveals: "My Master…has forewarned me. Daily he announces more distinctly, ‘Surely I come quickly!' and hour I more eagerly respond, ‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!'" Brontë ends the novel on this note to underscore the connections between St. John's religious devotion and her concern with female subjugation. Unlike St. John, Jane fears yielding her will to her "Master" (or husband), and Brontë has used Bertha's imprisonment in the attic and Jane's imprisonment in the red-room as symbols for the ways in which Victorian society can confine women in marriage or in any other regard. Thus, Brontë concludes the novel on a critique of religion while demonstrating that marriage need not incorporate its restrictions of individual will. This ending also serves as a reminder of the importance of love in a relationship with God: St. John believed that love had no play in a life meant for God, and he ultimately dies alone. Jane, on the other hand, is able to combine her love with her religion and achieve all of her heart’s desires.