“Jane Eyre” is a Gothic novel written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847 and originally published under the male pseudonym “Currer Bell”. It was published by the London company Smith, Elder, and Co.
The novel is set in the early decades of the nineteenth century and revolves around the story of a young girl named Jane Eyre who is orphaned at an early age and sent to live with her aunt. Jane faces very cruel treatment in her aunt’s home until she is sent off to school. Once she comes of age, Jane soon decides to accept a position as a governess in a manor house. But soon after taking the position, Jane discovers that something secret and nefarious is going on at the house and it will take all of her wits to uncover the mystery.
Place: north England
Time: early 19th century
In the beginning of the novel we’re introduced to a young girl named Jane Eyre who is an orphan with no memory of her parents. Jane is sitting quietly and reading in the home of her wealthy aunt. Because of her aunt’s cruelty, Jane is not allowed to play with her cousins, Eliza, Georgiana and John. In the first scene of the book, John is bullying Jane for being an orphan and when Jane fights back she is held solely responsible for the actions of John and sent to the “red room” by her aunt. The “red room” is what Jane calls the frightening room where her Uncle died. Once in the red room, Jane sees what she thinks is her Uncle’s ghost coming to take revenge on Jane’s aunt for not taking care of Jane as she promised him she would. Jane faints out of fear.
When Jane awakes she is being treated by Mr. Lloyd, a kind man who acts as the family’s doctor. Mr. Lloyd suggest to Jane’s aunt that Jane be sent away to an all girl’s school. Jane is excited at the possibility. It’s during this period that Jane overhears a conversation between some of the servants that tells her a little more about her own past. She discovers that her parents died from typhus and that her mother was a member of the upper class Reed family but when she married her poor father for love, Jane’s grandfather wrote her out of his will. Soon afterward, Jane is sent to attend the Lowood school. Immediately she is introduced to Mr. Brocklehurst, a heavily religious man who takes a keen dislike to Jane right away. After Jane’s aunt tells him that Jane is a chronic liar, Mr. Brocklehurst warns Jane that he intends to tell all of her teachers this.
Jane is introduced to her other classmates and teachers and befriends a girl named Helen Burns, a student that their teacher Miss Scatcherd seems particularly cruel toward. Through Helen, Jane learns that the Lowood school is a charity provided for orphan girls and that Mr. Brocklehust is the headmaster. Jane soon finds out that conditions in the school are less than desirable. The girls there are underfed, meant to live in freezing temperatures and overworked. Jane takes some comfort in her friendship with Helen but after a month of endurance she is told that Mr. Brocklehurst will be returning to the school soon. Jane worried that he will tell her teachers that she is a liar as he said he would. Because of her nervousness she becomes clumsy and accidentally drops a slate in front of Mr. Brocklehurst. He loses his temper and orders Jane to stand on a stool for the rest of the day while telling the other students that she is a liar. He forbids any other students from talking to her.
After her punishment is over, Helen assures Jane that the other students did not believe Mr. Brocklehurt’s accusation about Jane being a liar and that they felt pity and solidarity toward her.
One teacher, Miss Temple, hears Jane’s account of the story of her interactions with Mr. Brocklehurst and her cruel treatment at the hands of her aunt and takes pity on her. Miss Temple announces to the school that Jane is innocent and not a liar. After this Jane starts to warm up to Lowood school and become a better student.
For a while, Jane starts to somewhat enjoy Lowood until Helen is struck down by consumption. Jane sneaks into Miss Temple’s room to see Helen and Helen cheers her by tells her that she isn’t in pain. Jane falls asleep in Helen’s bed and when she wakes the next morning Helen has died.
After Helen’s death, Lowood is investigated for negligent treatment and a new group of overseers is brought in to run the school, firing Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane’s life at Lowood improves drastically and for the next six years she excels at her studies. After she comes of age, Jane decides to stay on at Lowood as a teacher. But after two years of teaching at Lowood, Jane decides that she wants a change and starts advertising for a position as a governess. A manor house called Thornfield accepts her. But before leaving town, Jane receives a visit from one of her aunts servants and finds out what has gone on at her childhood home since she left. She discovers that Georgiana has attempted to elope in secret only to have her plan foiled by Eliza telling their mother and that John has fallen into a hard life of debauchery. She is also told that her father’s brother, John Eyre showed up looking for her seven years earlier but when told that she wasn’t there went away to an island off the coast of Morocco in search of a fortune.
In the second section of the book, Jane arrives at Thornfield and is greeted by a Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper of the manor. Mrs. Fairfax is an agreeable woman and she gives Jane a tour of the house and the grounds, telling her that the house’s owner, Mr. Rochester is usually away on business and leaves most of the house’s everyday management to her. During the tour, Jane hears an eerie laughter emanating throughout the house and Mrs. Fairfax explains that it is the laughter of a woman named Grace Poole, an eccentric seamstress living in the house. Mr. Rochester has a ward, a young girl French girl named Adele whose mother was a singer and dancer. Jane enjoys teaching Adele a great deal and finds the young girl to be very bright and funny if a bit spoiled.
One day while Jane is out walking the grounds she is passed by a man on a horse. The horse slips on a patch of ice and the man is unseated and falls to the ground. Jane helps the man to his feet and leaves to return to Thornfield. Once she gets back she is told that Mr. Rochester has returned from his travels and finds out that he is the man that she helped after falling off his horse. Mr. Rochester and Jane do not immediately get along. He is very cold and rude toward her and she, being a servant and shy by nature is too withdrawn for his liking. Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that Mr. Rochester has something of a sad personal history. He only inherited Thornfield after his older brother, the heir died and before that he was not treated well by their father. Soon Mr. Rochester starts talking with Jane more, and requesting her presences although she doesn’t understand why. Jane finds their conversations awkward. Later, Mr. Rochester reveals to Jane that he had a long affair with Adele’s mother before the girl was born. He declares that he is not the girl’s father, since he feels that she looks nothing like him and her mother was also having an affair with another man. But he pitied Adele and when her mother abandoned her he brought her to his house in England to care for her.
That night, Jane lies awake thinking about her conversation with Mr. Rochester. She hears a strange, chilling laugh coming from the hallway and rushes out of her room only to see smoke coming from underneath Mr. Rochester’s door. She enters his room and finds that his bed curtains have been lit on fire. Thinking quickly, Jane douses the fire with water from his basin and extinguishes it. Instead of being surprised by the fire, Mr. Rochester leaves the room immediately to visit the top floor of the house. When he returns he mysteriously tells Jane, “I have found it all out, it is just as I thought”. He reiterates the same lie that Mrs. Fairfax had told her earlier about the laughter she’d heard, that it was the eccentric seamstress living in the house and then thanks Jane and wishes her goodnight.
The next morning Jane finds out that the fire from the night before was spread around the house as being caused by an errant candle and is surprised to see that Grace Poole doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of remorse. On top of all of this mystery, Jane soon develops feelings for Rochester and is disappointed to learn that he will be away from the house for several days in the company of a woman named Blanche Ingram. Jane internally berates herself for having romantic thoughts about Rochester and vows to stop thinking about him in that way, knowing that nothing could ever happen between them. Rochester comes back home shortly and is accompanied by a group of guests all of whom are rich, upper class people, one of whom is Blanche Ingram. Rochester invites Jane to spend time with the group but, feeling awkward in the presence of her betters, she does nothing but sit in a window seat and observe the group.
After a short while, Jane gets up to leave but Rochester stops her. After she insists that she wishes to go he orders her to spend some time with his party every evening until they leave. As he bids her goodnight he nearly lets a term of endearment slip before biting his lip. The guests stay for a few days and during that time a man named Mr. Mason shows up at the house to speak to Rochester. Jane finds him disagreeable but senses that he has a history with Rochester. That night, Jane is woken by a cry for help. She rushes out into the hall only to see Rochester calming his guests by telling them that a servant had just had a nightmare. Rochester asks Jane for her help with something secret. He leads her to the third story of the house and into a room where Mr. Mason is lying in pain after having been stabbed in the arm. Rochester tells Jane to care for the wound and then leaves ordering the two not to speak to each other. Jane does as she is told and soon Rochester returns to offer Mr. Mason a medicine that will help ease his pain.
Before Jane can learn any more about what happened to Mr. Mason, she receives a letter telling her that her cousin, John has committed suicide and her aunt has had a stroke and is on her deathbed. Jane travels back to her aunt’s house and tries to patch things up with her aunt. However, the woman still hates her and refuses. Before she dies, Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter from her father’s brother, John Eyre saying that he wished to adopt Jane and give her his fortune in the event of his death. Mrs. Reed refused to forward the letter to Jane at Lowood out of resentment.
Jane returns to Thornfield after her aunt’s death to find that Rochester and his guests have gone. Rochester has gone to London to buy a carriage, an action that Jane takes as a sure sign that he will soon marry Blanche.
Sure enough, when Jane again sees Rochester he asks her if he thinks the carriage will be enough for “Mrs. Rochester”. Later, Jane and Rochester take a walk in the gardens and he confesses that he has decided to marry Blanche. Jane confesses her love for Rochester and he catches her off guard by instead asking for her hand in marriage. He tells her that he only said he was going to marry Blanche in order to get Jane to confess to loving him and it was she that he wanted to marry all along. Jane accepts the proposal happily and they kiss. Mrs. Fairfax looks on in shock.
While planning the wedding, Jane feels that everything seems too good to be true like a fairytale. The idea makes her nervous. She takes the precaution of writing to her uncle in Maderia to let him know of her whereabouts so that he might go through with making her his heir. She reasons that if she were to get her uncle’s estate she might feel on more equal footing with Rochester and feel less nervous about the wedding. The night before her wedding, Jane awakes to see a strange, dirty-looking woman in her room. The woman tears up Jane’s wedding veil. When she tells Rochester about it the next day he assures her that it was Grace Poole.
On the day of the wedding, a strange man shows up and objects to the marriage before it can be completed. He says that he is a solicitor from London named Mr. Briggs and that Rochester cannot be married as he is already married to Mr. Mason’s sister, Bertha. Mr. Mason himself is there to confirm the story. Furious, Rochester nonetheless admits that the story is true. He drags the group back to Thornfield and up the the third story of the house. Jane sees for herself that Bertha Mason is there, living in the attic under the care of Grace Poole. Bertha is a madwoman and attempts to strangle Rochester when she sees him. Jane dashes out of the room and locks herself in her room to grieve.
The next morning Rochester tells Jane that he doesn’t consider himself married because her feels he was tricked into marrying her by relatives that knew about her family’s predilection for madness. He decided to shelter Bertha in the attic for her own protection so that she could be cared for.
Jane is moved by his story, but still feels that she must leave Thornfield to bare her grief and embarrassment alone. After leaving, Jane quickly exhausts her money supply and ends up living outdoors. While wondering on the moors she comes across a light shining in the distance and follows it to find a house.
Two sisters named Diana and Mary and their brother, John live in the house together. John finds Jane a job running a charity school in town. John is a preacher who wishes to do missionary work overseas. He takes a bit of a liking to Jane and finds out her life story through some work on his own. Jane is shocked, since she had given the sisters a fake name when she arrived at their house. John tells her that he has received a letter from Mr. Briggs saying that it is imperative that they find Jane Eyre. Jane’s uncle, John Eyre has died and left her his vast fortune. Jane asks why Mr. Briggs would be contacting the sisters and John and he tells her that although he didn’t realize it before, her uncle was also his uncle. Jane is happy to finally have found a loving family and decides to divide her fortune among herself and the three siblings evenly.
John soon asks Jane if she would like to go to India with him as a missionary and as his wife. She agrees to go for mission work but not to marry him because she does not love him. John is angered by this and spends the next few days trying to pressure Jane into marrying him.
One night at dinner, Jane hears what she thinks is Mr. Rochester’s voice calling to her from across the moors. She feels that something may have happened to him and decides to return to Thornfield immediately.
It’s been a year since she left, and Jane returns not only with fortune but with family. But when Jane gets back to Thornfield she finds that it has been destroyed by a fire. Bertha finally managed to set the house ablaze a few months before. Rochester managed to save his servants but was unable to save his wife as she flung herself off the roof before he could reach her. Rochester lost both his vision and a hand in the fire as well as being terribly scarred. Jane finds out that he now lives with two elderly servants in a cottage in the woods.
Jane travels to Rochester’s new house but because of his blindness he doesn’t believe she is who she says at first. He assumes she must be a spirit talking to him. Jane takes Rochester in her arms and promises never to leave him again. He asks her to marry him again and she agrees. They marry quietly and Jane moves Adele to a good school. Jane cares for Rochester and after a year he starts to regain some of his vision. They have children together and live out their life happily as equals.
Jane Eyre – orphaned as a young girl, Jane is a shy, god-fearing woman who longs for love but doesn’t believe she will ever actually see it happen to her. Throughout most of the novel, Jane feels that she has nothing but her integrity and thus treats it as being her most important trait. Jane is very humble and completely denies at first that Rochester could be in love with her. She considers her growing love for him as a waste of time and a mark of her own stupidity. But when he confirms that he loves her too her characters starts to open up a bit and change from the stoic character that she presents for the first half of the novel. This makes it all the more visceral to the reader when she inevitably gets her heart broken by Rochester and the revel of his insane first wife. Jane appears to see herself as a bit of a martyr and takes all punishment throughout the book with no complaint. In the end of the book she gets as happy ending as she probably ever could have known to ask for, living with the man she loves and taking care of him.
Mr. Rochester – he is first thought to be a stern, cold man but soon warms up to Jane and, because of her schooling, begins to see her as somewhat of an equal to his wit. Rochester spends a lot of time grieving his past mistakes and trying to sweep his bad traits under the rug. However, he seems to genuinely care for his servants, little Adele and of course, Jane. Rochester is described as being not terribly handsome, but well mannered and this (and his wealth) are what seem to attract the different women in the book to him. Rochester doesn’t seem to have as much trouble falling in love with Jane as she does with him. He considers her his intellectual equal and his moral superior. He loves very deeply and cannot bring himself to consign his wife to a mental institution even after years of accepting her abuse and attempts on his life.
After living for years as a womanizer and a pleasure seeker, Rochester regrets his former ways and thinks that any minor mishaps in his life are punishment for them. At the end of the book, Rochester is in miserable health and living far away from society with few servants in an effort to hide himself and take his injures as comeuppance for his wicked ways. But once Jane comes back he changes his mind and is able to live a happy life with her, even regaining some of his sight.
Mrs. Fairfax – sheis the housekeeper at Thornfield manor. She is runs all of the everyday operations at the house, organizing the maids, butlers, cooks, etc. Mrs. Fairfax is the first person to tell Jane that the eerie laughter she hears throughout the house is that of the eccentric seamstress, Grace Poole, thus perpetuating the lie that Mr. Rochester is often heard repeating. We are never told in the novel whether or not Mrs. Fairfax knows about Rochester’s wife, Bertha living in the attic. She certainly seems surprised to see Jane and Rochester kissing in the garden, and hearing about their impending marriage. But it’s possible that this surprise is based on her thinking the match improper.
Adele Varens – Adele is a sweet but somewhat spoiled child that Jane tutors at Thornfield. Adele accepts Jane as somewhat of a surrogate mother and enjoys her company very much. At the end of the book, Adele is said to be attending a nice school which Jane installed her in after finding that she didn’t like her first one. We’re told that she grows up to be a very pleasant and amiable woman.
John Rivers – John is Jane’s cousin, a preacher and a missionary. He is a very pious man who is easily angered and not often disagreed with. When Jane tells him she doesn’t want to marry him he becomes angry and seeks to control and pressure her. John is written as a foil to Rochester’s character. Rochester is often said to be ‘fiery’ and passionate while John is described as ‘cold’ and ‘icy’. Jane considers marriage to John as a form of martyrdom, thinking that it would be something a good woman would do and a way to sacrifice herself for the missionary work he intends to carry out. Ultimately, she chooses love over duty and goes back to find Rochester.
The last we see of John is him instructing her to stay with him in Morton and telling her to resist the temptation of returning to Thornfield.
Mrs. Reed – Jane’s cruel aunt who treated her poorly for the first years of her life. Mrs. Reed is resentful of her late husband, Mr. Reed’s love for Jane and takes it out on the girl for the rest of her life. She refuses to reconcile with Jane even on her deathbed.
Charlotte Brontë Biography
Born in Yorkshire, England in 1815, Charlotte Bronte was the eldest of the three famous Bronte sisters. She was a novelist and poet, most famous for ‘Jane Eyre’ which was a commercial success and one of the pioneers of the Gothic novel genre.
Charlotte originally published under the male pseudonym, ‘Currer Bell’ in order to preserve her reputation as a society woman. However, after news of her gender became public knowledge, Charlotte’s books actually did better in sales because of their perceived impropriety.
Charlotte saw success in her lifetime and became one of England’s biggest names of the time, spending time with other authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray.
Charlotte got married in June 1854 to a man named Arthur Bell Nicholls and it was he on whom she based part of her pseudonym. She became pregnant in 1855 but suffered a difficult pregnancy and died with her unborn child on March 31st of that year.
She is remembered to this day as being a great author and poet and a trailblazer for women.