It's Jane's wedding day. The happiest day of every girl's life.
Or, y'know, the day she finds out her husband-to-be was actually planning to become a bigamist.
(Side note: For a book that deals with bigamy from the various sides of the relationship -- basically, it's a family story, plus a damn fine read -- put Tayari Jones' Silver Sparrow on your list. It's out at the end of May, and it's awesome.)
Everything is in readiness (and we get a bit of checklist-dialogue to prove it), and Jane and Rochester make their way to the Thornfield church, with Jane taking note of her fiance's expression:
I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did—so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes.Perhaps it's not the happiest day of Rochester's life.
The minister makes his way through the service, and things are good until we get to that bit about an impediment.
As in "the marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment."
It's our old friend Mr. Mason, recovered from his attack in Chapter 20, and back to have his say. Well, actually he's letting his solicitor have his say, to the effect that, as Ellen the maid says in Mary Poppins, "the position 'as been filled."
"And you would thrust on me a wife?"There's already a Mrs. Rochester, something her husband managed to leave out in the course of romancing his governess. He tries to bluff it out, objecting to the evidence the solicitor brings up -- after all, even if he once had a wife, that doesn't mean she's still around -- but when Mason reveals himself, Rochester knows he's pretty well screwed.
"I would remind you of your lady’s existence, sir, which the law recognises, if you do not."
"Wood, close your book and take off your surplice; John Green (to the clerk), leave the church: there will be no wedding to-day."And therewith is delivered a big slap in the face to everyone who picked this up expecting it to be a romance. Just in case we haven't covered this: Jane Eyre and Jane Austen are both awesome, but you've got to be prepared for totally different genres. (And Austen's a brilliant satirist and prose stylist, not just a romance writer, but that's a whole other series.)
The whole party decamps to the house, Rochester holding onto Jane the whole time, and ascends to the mysterious third floor. (Typing that phrase, I wonder if this is where Ann M. Martin got the idea for Karen Brewer's bête noir in the Babysitters Club books.)
For those who aren't familiar with the story of Bertha Mason, here are the pull quotes:
- "Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family; idiots and maniacs through three generations! Her mother, the Creole, was both a madwoman and a drunkard... Bertha, like a dutiful child, copied her parent in both points."
- "What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face."
- "She was a big woman, in stature almost equalling her husband, and corpulent besides: she showed virile force in the contest—more than once she almost throttled him, athletic as he was."
And just in case we haven't added enough family connections in this chapter, Bronte throws us one more: Mason and Jane's uncle share an employer.
Jane goes back to her room, pretty sure that Rochester never loved her in the first place, and is now ready to call it a go. You may not be surprised to learn she's far from pleased with that, though she doesn't see any other possibilities.