Jane stays in her room for most of the day with a debate raging in her head: does she really have to leave Thornfield?
When Jane finally emerges from her room, Rochester is waiting for her outside. She is faint and dizzy, and Rochester carries her downstairs to a sofa in the library and gives her a glass of wine.
Jane won’t let Rochester embrace her, although she doesn’t say much.
Rochester guesses that Jane is planning to remain at Thornfield as Adèle’s governess, but cut off their intimate relationship. He proposes an alternate plan: he’ll send Adèle to school, and he and Jane will go off somewhere else together.
At this point, Rochester explains a little more about his behavior toward Bertha. He ordered the servants to keep Bertha a secret from the governess because the thought no governess would stay at Thornfield if she knew there was a madwoman there.
Rochester says that he could have sent Bertha to another house he owns, Ferndean Manor, but he was afraid that it was too damp and unhealthy there and that it would kill her. Hmm, remember how the problem with Lowood was that it was built in a damp, unhealthy spot that caused an epidemic of typhus? (See Volume 1, Chapter 9.)
Rochester thinks aloud, making plans to leave Thornfield and Bertha in the care of Mrs. Poole and her son. Jane rebukes him for being so cruel in his attitude toward Bertha; after all, she can’t help being crazy.
Rochester tells Jane that he doesn’t hate Bertha because she’s mad, and claims that, if Jane were mad, he would still take tender care of her and never abandon her to other people.
Anyway, Rochester says he’ll leave tomorrow. Jane refuses to go with him, but also realizes that he’s half-wild and about to get violent, so she coaxes him into sitting down with her to talk it through.
Jane hasn’t cried yet, but now she lets herself weep and weep. She hopes that it will irritate Rochester and keep him from being so absorbed in his own sadness. It works.
After they’re both calm, Rochester asks Jane if she’s upset because she just wanted his fortune and rank, instead of his love. Jane’s insulted—of course she loves him, but they can’t indulge in that anymore.
Jane breaks it to Rochester that she has to leave him—permanently.
Rochester wants Jane to go with him to France and live with him in a villa there as his "virtual" wife. He claims that he’s not really married and that Jane would basically be his wife, not his mistress.
Jane refuses this arrangement, and tells him that, with his wife alive, she would be his mistress if they ran off to France together, and saying anything else is just a lie.
Rochester decides that Jane might change her mind if she knew the circumstances under which he married Bertha, so he tells the story:
Edward Rochester’s father didn’t want to divide his fortune, so he left it all to his eldest son, Rowland, but he wanted Edward to be wealthy, too. He found the rich Mason family in Jamaica and arranged for Edward to marry Bertha Mason.
Edward only saw Bertha at parties and for brief moments, and she was beautiful and could play the piano, sing, and so on. Everyone encouraged him, and she seemed to be great, so he married her, the way the two families wanted.
After his marriage, Rochester found out that Bertha’s mother was in an insane asylum and that her two brothers had mental problems, too.
Rochester lived with Bertha in Jamaica for four years, even though she was hot-tempered, violent, and coarse. She was also "intemperate and unchaste"—aka drunk and promiscuous.
Rochester’s father and brother died, and Rochester inherited the family fortune and lands.
Rochester wanted to divorce Bertha for her behavior, but he couldn’t because she had been diagnosed as insane.
One evening, in stormy, hot weather, Rochester was woken by Bertha’s curses and profanity and decided that he couldn’t live this way anymore.
Rochester considered suicide, but decided to go back to Europe, lock Bertha up at Thornfield, and travel on the continent. Nobody in England knew about his marriage in Jamaica.
Rochester also decided that he wouldn’t recognize Bertha as his wife anymore and that his only responsibility toward her was to make sure that she was cared for properly.
Rochester did all this, and only Grace Poole, who has taken care of Bertha at Thornfield, and the doctor, Mr. Carter, knew about Bertha—not even Mrs. Fairfax knew, although she might have suspected.
Bertha has been secretive and cunning, and whenever Grace Poole turns her back, she gets into mischief—most recently, of course, by trying to burn Rochester alive in his bed, stabbing her brother, and tearing Jane’s wedding veil.
After Rochester found Grace to take care of Bertha, he went to the European continent and traveled, lookin’ for love in all the wrong places. He was planning to get married again, without telling the new wife or anyone else that, legally, he was committing bigamy.
Rochester bummed around Europe for ten years. Okay, he’s rich, so it wasn’t exactly bumming, but you get the idea. He looked for the right girl everywhere, but couldn’t find anyone. He got depressed and drank a lot.
Eventually Rochester tried having mistresses, since he couldn’t find anyone he wanted to marry. He had three—Céline Varens, Giacinta, and Clara (French, Italian, and German), but none of them suited him for long.
Rochester interrupts his own story to notice that Jane disapproves of his having mistresses. He says that he regrets it and wouldn’t do it again, because it made him feel like he was buying slaves. Then he finishes the story:
Last January, after getting rid of the last mistress, Rochester came back to England, grumpy and depressed. The first person he met, before he even got back to Thornfield, was Jane (see Volume 1, Chapter 12).
Rochester was immediately attracted to Jane and glad to find out that she was the new governess and therefore living at his house.
The next day Rochester secretly spied on Jane while she was teaching Adèle and when she was alone, and he liked what he saw.
Rochester was first interested in what kind of person Jane was, because she was different from everyone else he had known, and then gradually became fond of her.
Jane interrupts Rochester and asks him not to talk about the past and how they fell in love anymore. Rochester asks her if she understands, now, that he doesn’t really have a wife, despite being married to Bertha. He asks Jane to promise to be his—but she won’t.
Rochester tries his best persuasions—being sweet, being seductive, and pleading—but Jane won’t do something that she thinks is wrong.
Next Rochester reminds Jane that the only thing she’ll be doing wrong if she agrees to stay with him is to break a social rule—she doesn’t have any family who would be upset or harmed by her choice.
Jane realizes that what matters most is her own respect for herself, and that it’s even more important for her to cling to her principles at this difficult moment.
Rochester is furious, and he grasps Jane tightly in his arms. He’s frustrated by the fact that he could overpower her physically, but he could never capture the part of her that he’s most interested in.
Despite Rochester’s pleadings, Jane leaves, giving him a kiss on the cheek and a blessing as she goes.
That night, Jane dreams about being in the red room at Gateshead and seeing the spirit of the moon come to her and warn her to "flee temptation."
Jane wakes up early and packs a few small things, leaving all the presents Rochester bought her. She sneaks out of the house, pausing outside Rochester’s door, tempted to relent and go to him—but she forces herself to leave. She takes a little bread and water from the kitchen as she goes.
Jane walks along the road in the opposite direction to the local town, Millcote. She goes until she faints down on the ground, crawls for awhile, then gets back up and walks some more. Eventually a coach comes along that’s on its way to a place Jane’s never heard of, and she pays the last of her money to get on it.