Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
Jane has begun to settle down at Lowood and is working hard at her studies. But in late spring, the school routine is interrupted by tragedy. Forty-five of Lowood's 80 pupils fall ill with typhus. Ironically enough, the epidemic makes life easier for the girls who are still healthy. The teachers are so busy tending the sick that there's plenty of free time, and since so many girls aren't eating their regular meals, there's enough food to go around. Jane isn't even particularly worried about the absence of her friend Helen. She's been told that Helen has consumption; Jane thinks this is a mild disease and assumes that Helen is in no immediate danger.
Consumption is what's now called tuberculosis, and it was very common in Charlotte Bronte's day. It could be a long and slow disease, but many of its victims were very young people-remember, that's what all the Bronte children died of. Today tuberculosis is fairly rare and can be treated, but there was no cure for it then.
One day Jane sees the doctor leaving, and the nurse tells her that Helen "will not be here long." Suddenly Jane understands. The nurse doesn't mean that Helen is being sent home. Helen is dying!
Jane is told she can't see Helen, but she sneaks into her room while the nurse is asleep. Helen comforts her friend by telling her that she doesn't mind the prospect of death. "I have faith: I am going to God," she says.
Jane is skeptical. How can Helen be so sure of God's love when he sends so much suffering her way? "Where is God?" she cries. "What is God?"
But Helen's faith can't be shaken. The girls fall asleep in each other's arms, and when Jane wakes up Helen is-dead.
It's now eight years later. As she looks back on this period of her life, Jane recalls that the typhus epidemic led to many changes for the better at Lowood. The wealthy citizens of the district decided to investigate conditions at the school and, as a result, Mr. Brocklehurst's power was reduced and many of his harsh rules were eliminated or reformed.
Jane became one of the school's best pupils, and she's remained on the staff as a teacher for the two years since her graduation. The unexpected marriage of Miss Temple, who has been Jane's good friend and mentor, starts Jane thinking that perhaps the time has come for her to leave Lowood and see something more of the world. She advertises in the newspaper for a job as a governess and receives one offer of work-from a Mrs. Fairfax at Thornfield. She decides to accept.
Just before Jane leaves to take up her new job, she receives a surprise visit from Bessie. The Reeds' servant, now happily married, is very impressed by the way Jane has turned out. "You are quite a lady!" she exclaims when she learns that Jane can read French and paint watercolors. Bessie tells Jane that seven years earlier a Mr. Eyre, the brother of Jane's father, came looking for her at Gateshead. He didn't come to see Jane at Lowood because he was sailing for the island of Madeira in two days and didn't have time to make the trip to the school. But don't forget him; we'll hear more from this mysterious relative later in the story.