One evening when Jane’s out for a walk, she meets a mysterious man when his horse slips and he falls – and, of course, this is Mr. Rochester. Jane and Rochester are immediately interested in each other. She likes the fact that he’s craggy, dark, and rough-looking instead of smooth and classically handsome. She also likes his abrupt, almost rude manners, which she thinks are easier to handle than polite flattery. He likes her unusual strength and spirit and seems to find her almost unworldly; he’s always comparing her to a fairy or an elf or a sprite.
After explaining all this, Rochester claims that he’s not really married because his relationship with Bertha isn’t a real marriage. The main problem is that he can’t divorce her (because it was pretty tough to get a divorce at all in the Victorian period, and Bertha’s behavior isn’t grounds for a divorce, since she’s mentally ill and therefore not responsible for her actions). He wants Jane to go and live with him in France, where they can pretend to be a married couple and act like husband and wife. Jane refuses to be his next mistress and runs away before she’s tempted to agree.
Jane travels in a random direction away from Thornfield. Having no money, she almost starves to death before being taken in by the Rivers family, who live at Moor House near a town called Morton. The Rivers siblings – Diana, Mary, and St. John – are about Jane’s age and well-educated, but somewhat poor. They take whole-heartedly to Jane, who has taken the pseudonym "Jane Elliott" so that Mr. Rochester can’t find her. Jane wants to earn her keep, so St. John arranges for her to become the teacher in a village girls’ school. When Jane’s uncle Mr. Eyre dies and leaves his fortune to his niece, it turns out that the Rivers siblings are actually Jane’s cousins, and she shares her inheritance with the other three. (Now she’s Jane Heir, ha ha.)
St. John, who is a super-intense clergyman, wants to be more than Jane’s cousin (back when that wasn't considered gross). He admires Jane’s work ethic and asks her to marry him (how un-romantic), learn Hindustani, and go with him to India on a long-term missionary trip. Jane is tempted because she thinks she’d be good at it and that it would be an interesting life. Still, she refuses because she knows she doesn’t love St. John. To top it off, St. John actually loves a different a girl named Rosamond Oliver, but he won’t let himself admit it because he thinks she would make a bad wife for a missionary.
The next morning, Jane leaves Moor House and goes back to Thornfield to find out what’s going on with Mr. Rochester. She finds out that Mr. Rochester searched for her everywhere, and, when he couldn’t find her, sent everyone else away from the house and shut himself up alone. After this, Bertha set the house on fire one night and burned it to the ground. Rochester rescued all the servants and tried to save Bertha, too, but she committed suicide and he was injured. Now Rochester has lost an eye and a hand and is blind in the remaining eye.
Jane goes to Mr. Rochester and offers to take care of him as his nurse or housekeeper. What she really hopes is that he'll ask her to marry him – and he does. They have a quiet wedding, and after two years of marriage Rochester gradually gets his sight back. St. John Rivers, meanwhile, goes to India alone and works himself to death there over the course of several years.