Summary and Analysis Chapter 36



At dawn the next morning, Jane rises. St. John slides a note under Jane's door, reminding her to resist temptation. It is the first of June, yet the day is chilly and overcast. Jane wanders the house, thinking about the previous night's visitation: Was it a delusion? It seemed to come from her, not from the external world. At breakfast, she tells Diana and Mary she'll be away at least four days. She catches a coach at Whitcross, the same one she road from Thornfield a year earlier.

Alighting from the coach, Jane finds herself again on Rochester's lands. She is anxious to see him again and hurries the two miles from the coach stop to the house, worrying that he may be in Europe. Like a lover who wishes to catch a glimpse of his lover's face without waking her, then finds she is "stone dead," Jane is appalled by the sight that awaits her: Thornfield is a blackened ruin. What is the story behind this disaster, Jane wonders? Jane returns to the inn near the coach station, the Rochester Arms, to find an answer. She discovers that Bertha Mason set the house on fire last autumn. Before this happened, Rochester had shut himself up like a hermit in the house, as if he had gone mad. When the fire broke out, Rochester saved the servants, then tried to save Bertha, but she jumped from Thornfield's roof. Rochester has lost his sight and one of his hands in the fire. He now lives in Ferndean with two old servants, John and Mary.


Suspense builds in this chapter, as Jane delays the revelation of Thornfield's tragic end and of Rochester's history. Upon entering the coach at Whitcross, Jane reflects on the major changes in her situation since her arrival there a year earlier. Then she was "desolate, and hopeless, and objectless"; now she has friends, hope, and money. Then she paid all the money she had to ride the coach, now she has a secure fortune. Arriving in Thornfield, Jane notices the difference between the scenery here and in Morton (the place she has just left); Thornfield is mild, green, and pastoral, while Morton is stern. Thornfield's landscape is as comfortable as a "once familiar face," whose character she knows intimately. Notice the stark contrast between Jane's comforting, flowering, breathtaking dream of Thornfield and the reality of its trodden and wasted grounds; the world's vision of the upper classes doesn't always capture the hidden passions that boil under the veneer of genteel tranquility. The passions kindling at Thornfield have finally sparked and burned the house down; Rochester's burning bed was merely a prelude. Jane's psychic powers have been reaffirmed as another of her dreams has become reality.

The passions that have burned down Rochester's family mansion, leaving it "a lonesome wild," are, in Jane's version of the story, centered in a woman: Bertha Mason. Jane refuses to recognize her own part in this tale of excessive passion: the innkeeper tries to tell her of Rochester's irresistible love for Jane, which he labels a midlife crisis: "when gentlemen of his age fall in love with girls, they are often like as if they are bewitched." But Jane cuts him off, asking him to tell this part of the story at another time. As simply a specimen of a common phenomenon — midlife crisis — Jane and Rochester's love loses some of its romantic force. In addition, Jane doesn't want to be associated with Thornfield's tragic end, so Bertha Mason becomes the scapegoat. Critics have viewed Bertha as the odious symbol of Rochester's sexual drive; as Jane's double, the angry, repressed side of the orphan child; or as a scapegoat destroyed to redeem Jane. In setting fire to Thornfield, Bertha begins by torching the hangings in the room next to her own, but then kindles Jane's old bed. Her anger seems to focus on sexual jealousy of her rival. During her final rebellion, Bertha stands on the roof Thornfield, "waving her arms above the battlements, and shouting out till they could hear her a mile off," with her long, dark hair "streaming against the flames." The fire becomes a representation of Bertha's power. She is a strong, large, extravagant, and sensual woman, who contrasts with Jane, described by the innkeeper as "a little, small thing . . . almost like a child."

Rochester must pay for the transgression of almost making Jane his mistress. Following her departure from Thornfield, he becomes "savage" and "dangerous," but redeems himself by saving his servants and even trying to rescue his hated wife; as the innkeeper says, Rochester's courage and kindness resulted in his injuries. Unlike her depiction of St. John, which uniformly emphasizes his coldness and domination, Jane peppers her description of Rochester with examples of his compassion and caring.