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Jane Eyre Chapter 26 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of Chapter 26 of ''Jane Eyre,'' in which there is a shocking revelation. Many mysteries are made plain, and at least one heart is broken.

A Brisk Wedding Morning

After a sleepless night haunted by the memory of the frightening woman tearing her wedding veil, Jane rises early in the morning to dress for her marriage. Mr. Rochester is impatient and in a hurry, giving her ten minutes to eat her breakfast. His impatience is such that Jane does not even dare say goodbye to Mrs. Fairfax before leaving. Mr. Rochester crushes Jane's hand in his and nearly drags her to the church. When they arrive, he finally realizes she is 'quite out of breath' and offers to pause a moment. Is this any way to begin a wedding? Why the fierce haste?

church

The Accusation

After Jane catches her breath, she and Mr. Rochester enter the church. Aside from two strangers at the back of the building, the wedding will take place with only the priest and the clerk in attendance. The priest utters the obligatory injunction that if any impediment exists to prevent this marriage it should be voiced immediately. The priest prepares to move on with the ceremony in his very next breath. However, one of the two strangers says, 'The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment...Mr. Rochester has a wife now living.'

The man who speaks is a lawyer accompanied by none other than Mr. Mason, who, the reader will recall, paid Mr. Rochester a visit at Thornfield earlier in the novel. He was the victim of a vicious attack by some mysterious resident of the third floor. The reader will also recall Mr. Rochester's alarm at seeing this man and his haste to send him away again after the attack.

Mr Rochester Married?!

The source of all this worry and secrecy now comes to light.

Mr. Rochester first attempts to resist these accusations. He demands evidence of his previous marriage, which the lawyer easily produces. Still, Mr. Rochester insists, 'it does not prove that the woman mentioned therein as my wife is still living.' At this the lawyer declares he has a witness who will testify that she was living just three months ago, whereupon Mr. Mason is presented. Under Mr. Rochester's glare, Mr. Mason falters but eventually succeeds in saying, 'She is now living at Thornfield Hall.' Mr. Rochester's wife is said to be Mr. Mason's sister, Bertha Mason.

The Proof

Even the priest is incredulous at this assertion. 'Impossible!' he declares, 'I am an old resident in this neighbourhood, sir and I never heard of a Mrs. Rochester at Thornfield Hall.' Jane and the reader could, perhaps, hold out some hope here, but Mr. Rochester at last admits all: 'I have been married: and the woman to whom I was married lives!' He goes on to explain why no one has heard of her, citing the wild tales that have been told in town about 'the mysterious lunatic' who is said to live at Thornfield Hall. 'Some have whispered to you that she is my bastard half-sister; some, my cast-off mistress; I now inform you that she is my wife, whom I married fifteen years ago.'

The Third Floor

Mr. Rochester insists all present at the church join him in returning to Thornfield in order to meet his wife--who is looked after by none other than the mysterious Grace Poole, who was previously blamed for all of the wild things issuing forth from the third floor. It is clear now, however, that she was but a scapegoat. It was not Grace who perpetrated these crimes, but rather it was her patient, Mrs. Rochester, who suffers from severe mental illness.

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