Chapter 35 (Pages 417-428)

A passionate woman who yearns to be loved, Jane cannot bear being alienated from St. John. Unfortunately, her effort to restore friendly relations pushes him further away; he is offended at her saying, "If I were to marry, you would kill me. You are killing me now" (p. 420). She asserts her intention to find out what has become of Rochester before deciding whether to go to India with St. John.

        St. John proposes again. This time he speaks out of his religious belief; he is motivated, in other words, by his finest qualities, uncontaminated by egotism. His sincerity gives his proposal power, "All men of talent, whether they be zealots, or aspirants, or despots--provided only they be sincere--have their sublime moments: when they subdue and rule" (p. 425). Jane is swayed by the power of his words and the strength of his religious faith; her response takes the form of submission. Is this a typical response?

I felt veneration for St. John--veneration so strong that its impetus thrust me at once to the point I had so long shunned. I was tempted to cease struggling with him--to rush down the torrent of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own (pp. 419-20).
Bronte clearly means this proposal as a second testing of Jane. The first test was Rochester's proposal, which was motivated by passion; St. John's proposal is motivated by reason. Jane explicitly says,
I was almost as hard beset by him now as I had been once before, in a different way, by another. I was a fool both times. To have yielded then would have been an error of principle; to have yielded now would have been an error of judgment (p. 420).
Why would accepting St. John, the Man of Reason, be an error of judgment?

        She wonders whether God is calling her to accept, "were I convinced that it is God's will I should marry you" (p. 426). She knows St. John does not love her; in considering his proposal she is choosing duty and rejecting love:

... he surrounded me with his arm, almost as if he loved me (I say almost--I knew the difference--for I had felt what it was to be loved; but, like him, I had now put love out of the question and thought only of duty)... (p. 426).
In her uncertainty, she turns to God (as she did in her ordeal rejecting Rochester), "Show me, show me the path!" (p. 426).

        As if in response to her prayer, she hears Rochester's voice calling her. Jane, writing ten years after the event, says that Rochester's cry was not superstition and not a miracle but "the work of nature" (p. 427). Contemporary readers and modern readers divide in their acceptance of this device. Some call her hearing Rochester's voice at this moment sentimental and sensational; as such it is a serious flaw because it is unrealistic and manipulative. Others accept it. What is your feeling/thought about her hearing Rochester's voice?

        Jane, who now has a justification for asserting herself, takes the dominant role for the first time in this scene, "It was my time to assume ascendancy. My powers were in play, and in force" (p. 427). She asks St. John to leave her alone; he "obeyed at once. Where there is energy to command well enough, obedience never fails" (p. 427). Once in her room, she falls to her knees and prays; her prayer is "effective," for she "seemed to penetrate very near a Mighty Spirit; and my soul rushed out in gratitude at His feet" (pp. 427-8). Jane's faith has helped her in yet another crisis. She postpones her response to St. John's proposal in order to return to Thornfield and learn Rochester's fate. A question to consider: is Bronte implying that Jane has God's sanction or approval for seeking out Rochester?

Chapter 36 (Pages 428-437)

Jane and Rochester have been separated for over a year, Jane has supported herself as a teacher, and she is now rich; why does Jane still refer to Rochester as "master" (e.g., p. 430)?

Approaching Thornfield, Jane is torn by the promptings of reason and passion; "the monitor" or inner voice of conscience/reason urges that even if he is at home, "you dare not speak to him or seek his presence. You have lost your labour--you had better go no farther" (p. 430). Rather than go to Thornfield, she should ask the people at the inn. Nevertheless, she goes on to Thornfield, driven by her emotions. Also Bronte likes dramatic effects; Bronte is able to devote two pages to Jane's anticipation as she approaches and her horror at what she sees.

Bertha's setting fire to Thornfield is psychologically consistent with her previous destructive behavior and symbolically significant. She has destroyed herself with her own unrestrained passions, in setting the fire and in leaping from the roof.

For Rochester, the fire that burns down Thornfield is both destructive and redemptive.

  • Fire as destructive. The destructiveness of the fire is obvious literally and symbolically. Rochester is crippled by the fire, which parallels his being emotionally, morally, and spiritually crippled by passion.

  • Fire as redemptive. Fire refines by removing impurities from metals like iron and gold. For this reason, fire is often used to symbolize the process of human purification or redemption. Just as impure gold is literally transformed into pure gold by fire, so the sinful soul is symbolically purged of sin and restored to purity by fire. The fire begins the process of Rochester's redemption. He begins to acknowledge his transgressions and to turn to God.
Depending on the context, fire can be an image of physical passions, an image of redemption, or even an image of spirituality (Christ is sometimes depicted with a burning or flaming heart). It is a mistake to think that a symbol can have only one meaning or that a particular object, like fire or a sword, can have only one meaning or necessarily consistent meanings.

The fire also reveals Rochester's admirable qualities. Since I have focused on Rochester's negative qualities, this seems an appropriate place to discuss Rochester's positive qualities.

  • Rochester takes in Adele and provides for her care and education, even though he does not believe she is his child. He does not take out on her any resentment he might feel at her mother's betraying him. After Jane flees, he still takes care of Adele by sending her to a boarding school.

  • When he ended his affairs, he gave Clara and Giacinta enough money to be financially independent. He even paid all the bills of Celeste Varens, who betrayed him and verbally abused him with her lover.

  • The servants call him a good master, and he pays good wages. After Jane flees, he settles a generous annuity on Mrs. Fairfax for life; he doesn't just dismiss her.

  • He does not put Bertha in an asylum. He hires a capable woman to look after her. He keeps her at Thornfield, even though he has Ferndean, a secluded house where no one would know of her existence. He regards Ferndean as unhealthy, and he does not want to contribute to Bertha's death. Ironically, after the fire, he lives at Ferndean. During his struggle with Bertha after the interrupted wedding ceremony, he refuses to strike her to subdue her; in other words, he doesn't want to hurt her, despite the danger to himself.

  • During the fire, he helps the servants escape. He tries to save Bertha, even though her death would free him from their marriage. He is injured because he stayed so long to insure that every one, including Bertha, gets out.

  • He appreciates Jane's nature and encourages her, even though she is a servant. He worries about Jane after she flees Thornfield, and the story of her privations while she was homeless causes him deep pain.
Is Rochester an honorable, responsible, moral man? Or is he an honorable, responsible, moral man except when his need for love and his passions are involved? Or is he an egoistical, self-indulgent, weak man? Or is he an immoral or evil man?

Chapter 37 (Pages 437-456)

Jane announces herself to Rochester in a teasing way, a variant of the game of "guess who's holding her hands over your eyes." After some minor embarrassment at having been too bold, Jane realizes Rochester has not proposed because of his physical condition. Their situations have changed; she is financially and socially independent, and he is physically dependent. Is Rochester also emotionally dependent? Seeing him wait for her the next morning, Jane comments,
His countenance reminded one of a lamp quenched, waiting to be relit--and alas! it was not himself that could now kindle the lustre of animated expression: he was dependent on another for that office! (p. 447).
His physical dependence continues the pattern of Jane's helping him that began when they met on the road to Thornfield. Now, however, he willingly accepts her help, "Hitherto I have hated to be helped--to be led; henceforth, I feel, I shall hate it no more" (p. 453).

Has there been a reversal in their relationship? During the Ingram "engagement," Jane's unhappiness made Rochester lively. Now, as Rochester "relapsed again into gloom," Jane "became more cheerful and took fresh courage" (p. 443). As Rochester encouraged Jane's jealousy over Blanche, so Jane briefly encourages Rochester's jealousy of St. John. Is the power struggle still continuing? If so, who has the upper hand?

Whether or not you think that Jane and Rochester are involved in a power struggle, there is no question that Rochester and Jane are happy with each other:

There was no harassing restraint, no repressing of glee and vivacity with him; for with him I was at perfect ease, because I knew I suited him: all I said or did seemed either to console or revive him. Delightful consciousness! It brought to life and light my whole nature: in his presence I thoroughly lived; and he lived in mine. Blind as he was, smiles played over his face, joy dawned on his forehead: his lineaments softened and warmed (p. 444).

When Rochester tells Jane about crying out and hearing her voice respond, Jane does not tell him she had the same experience at the same time. Why not? Do you accept Jane's explanation?

The coincidence struck me as too awful and inexplicable to be communicated or discussed. If I told anything, my tale would be such as must necessarily make a profound impression on the mind of my hearer: and that mind, yet from its sufferings too prone to gloom, needed not the deeper shade of the supernatural. I kept things then, and pondered them in my heart (p. 456).
Wouldn't telling her experience strengthen his belief in God? Why doesn't she tell him years later, when he is no longer subject to depression?

Rochester's trial by fire and his crippling have profoundly changed Rochester. In planning their marriage, he dismisses the need to buy jewelry and clothing; during their first engagement, he attempted to shower her with clothing, jewelry, and other luxuries. More important, he is no longer driven by passion, egotism, and wilfulness. He has turned to God and repents his transgression against Jane,

I did wrong: I would have sullied my innocent flower--breathed guilt on its purity: the Omnipotent snatched it from me. I, in my stiff-necked rebellion, almost cursed the dispensation: instead of bending to the decree, I defied it. Divine justice pursued its course; disasters came thick on me: I was forced to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. . . . Of late Jane--only--only of late--I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere (p. 454).
The legal, moral, and religious barrier to their marriage disappears with Bertha's death. But if Rochester does not change emotionally, morally, and spiritually, can they have a marriage of equals? Would Jane be able to achieve the freedom she has been seeking? could she express her essential self in the marriage? Or would Rochester dominate? Does Rochester have to be tamed to allow them to have the type of marriage Jane describes in the next chapter?
          I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest--blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. 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. To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company. . . . All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character--perfect concord is the result" (p. 459).
Jane has achieved her ideal relationship. Would this type of closeness, i.e., merging into one life, have been possible with the old Rochester? Would they have been equals, or would Jane have run the risk of being submerged into Rochester's life, desires, egotism, and passions?

Some readers see Rochester's blindness and loss of a hand as a symbolic castration; he has been emasculated and hence has become safe. This is, of course, a twentieth century reading.

In crippling Rochester, has Bronte avoided the issues raised by her material? Until the fire, Rochester expresses masculine aggression, vitality, magnetism, and will. He would not or could not resist the force of his own passions. With the crippling of Rochester, does Bronte avoid dealing with the problems and dangers Jane would have faced in marriage with him? Could Jane devote her life to the unreformed Rochester and maintain her integrity and express her essential self?

Or does the ending merely bring out the good qualities that were always present in Rochester but were distorted because of his early errors and the resulting anguish and despair? Is the possibility of his redemption present from the beginning? Even in early conversations with Jane, he refers to his hope of reforming and leading a better life.

The question you must decide is whether the happy ending/marriage grows naturally and convincingly out of the narrative or whether it is imposed onto the material to force a happy ending.

With her ideal marriage, has Jane changed fundamentally? Has she been become the conventional wife, the Angel of the House? Is Jane tamed?

Chapter 38

What do you notice about the pronouns in the opening sentence of this chapter? "Reader, I married him." Would the effect/meaning be different if Bronte had written either "Reader, we married" or "Reader, he married me"?

Why does the novel end with St. John? his devoted service as a missionary? and his impending death? Is ending with a religious note consistent with the meanings of the novel, or should it have ended with the love of Rochester and Jane?

Bronte Syllabus

M, April 16 Bronte, Online overview
Jane Eyre, pp. 6-68
**Supplemental Reading**
      The Novel
W, April 18 Jane Eyre, pp. 68-130
F, April 20, Online class
Jane Eyre, pp. 130-184
Caucus: To read and to send postings
M, April 23 Jane Eyre, pp. 184-244
W, April 25 Jane Eyre, pp. 244-302
F, April 27, Online class
Jane Eyre, pp. 302-355
Caucus: To read and to send postings
M, April 30 Jane Eyre, pp. 355-417
Paper 2 due
W, May 2
Jane Eyre, pp. 417-461
**Supplemental Reading**
      Jane Eyre as the Other
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