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Jane and Rochester have planned a private wedding, with no guests or attendants. But as they arrive at the small country church, Jane is slightly curious about two strangers lingering in the churchyard; she feels sure they'll come into the church. Sure enough, they do.
The ceremony begins and when the minister asks, "Will you take this woman..." one of the strangers speaks up. "The marriage cannot go on: I declare the existence of an impediment."
This is a favorite dramatic scene in romantic novels, movies, and TV soap operas. But you'll seldom, if ever, see this moment followed by a more dramatic revelation.
The stranger who spoke identifies himself as Mr. Briggs, a London solicitor (lawyer). And now the other man emerges from the shadows to reveal that he is-Mr. Richard Mason. Mr. Briggs reads a document confirming that Mr. Rochester was married fifteen years earlier to a Miss Bertha Mason of Spanish Town, Jamaica-Mr. Mason's sister! Not only is the first Mrs. Rochester still alive, but she can be found at this very moment at Thornfield Hall!
At first, the minister refuses to believe this story. He's never heard of a Mrs. Rochester at Thornfield. But Mr. Rochester breaks down and admits that every word of Briggs's accusation is true. His wife Bertha, now totally insane, is the hideous woman who sneaked into Jane's room two nights earlier. She is also the woman who attacked Mr. Mason. Grace Poole is a servant hired as a guardian for Bertha.
Rochester insists that the minister, the church clerk, Mr. Briggs, and Mr. Mason return to Thornfield with him and Jane to see Bertha for themselves. He takes them into the locked room on the third floor. At once, the madwoman leaps for Mr. Rochester and tries to strangle him. She is a big woman and maniacally powerful, but Rochester manages to subdue her with some gentleness. "That is my wife," he tells his visitors bitterly.
There's very little humor in Jane Eyre, but it makes a rather unexpected appearance in this scene. Asked how her patient is doing, Grace Poole replies mildly that she is well but feeling "rather snappish"- a laughable understatement.
Before leaving Thornfield, Mr. Briggs informs Jane that he's been acting as the agent of her long-lost uncle in Madeira, Mr. John Eyre, who is now too ill to travel. After Jane had written to tell him about her marriage, Mr. Eyre, who knew Richard Mason, decided the wedding had to be stopped in order to save his niece from the disgrace of a bigamous marriage.
After the visitors leave, Jane rushes to her own bedroom and bolts herself in. She is devastated-a "cold, solitary girl again" who sees all her hopes for the future in ruins. However, even in despair, Jane can't bring herself to put the blame on Rochester. "I would not say that he betrayed me," she comments. Her greatest fear, in fact, is that Rochester didn't really love her after all, and that he only chose her because he dared not try to make an illegal marriage with a woman who was his social equal.