Published in 1847, Jane Eyre brought almost instant fame to its obscure author,
... Yet if this all there were to Jane Eyre, the novel would soon have been
forgotten. ...... this admission, Jane responds, “You have my full and free
forgiveness: ask ...
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
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Table of Contents 1. Jane Eyre: Introduction 2. Overview 3. Charlotte Bronte Biography 4. One−Page Summary 5. Summary and Analysis 6. Quizzes 7. Characters 8. Themes 9. Style 10. Historical Context 11. Critical Overview 12. Essays and Criticism 13. Suggested Essay Topics 14. Sample Essay Outlines 15. Compare and Contrast 16. Topics for Further Study 17. Media Adaptations 18. What Do I Read Next? 19. Bibliography and Further Reading 20. Copyright
Introduction Published in 1847, Jane Eyre brought almost instant fame to its obscure author, the daughter of a clergyman in a small mill town in northern England. On the surface, the novel embodies stock situations of the Gothic novel genre such as mystery, horror, and the classic medieval castle setting; many of the incidents border on (and cross over into) melodrama. The story of the young heroine is also in many ways conventional—the rise of a poor orphan girl against overwhelming odds, whose love and determination eventually redeem a tormented hero. Yet if this all there were to Jane Eyre, the novel would soon have been forgotten. In writing Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte did not write a mere romantic potboiler. Her book has serious things to say about a number of important subjects: the relations between men and women, women's equality, the treatment of children and of women, religious faith and religious hypocrisy (and the difference between the two), the realization of selfhood, and the nature of true love. But again, if its concerns were only topical, it would not have outlived the time in which it was written. The book is not a tract any more than it is a potboiler. It is a work of fiction with memorable characters and vivid scenes, written in a compelling prose style. In appealing to both the head and the heart, Jane Eyre triumphs over its flaws and remains a classic of nineteenth−century English literature and one of the most popular of all English novels. » Back to Table of Contents
Overview Background The Victorian Age refers to the period in England when Queen Victoria reigned, (1837–1901). During this time, the Industrial Revolution created profound economical changes in society. The introduction of machinery changed England from primarily an agricultural country to an industrial one, and created a great social upheaval. Production lead to the rise of factories in the cities, and the need for factory workers. Farm workers migrated from rural to urban communities in large numbers, which created mass unemployment. The living conditions for the masses were poor; children and women were employed in factories and paid extremely low wages. New class distinctions emerged from this growth of industrial production. The “gentry” were the landowners, the unemployed were the “poor,” and a new “middle class” emerged. The representative middle class man included the shop−keeper, the merchant, and the village parson. The Victorian middle class adhered to the social conventions of family domesticity and religion. Charlotte Brontë’s time was characterized by public moralizing, a stifling religious outlook, and private hypocrisy. Victorian gentlemen publicly preached morality but patroned brothels. In Victorian society, propriety and prudence were the accepted virtues. The idealized Victorian family of the middle class was a fraction of the population, which included many people living in factory slums. There were great gaps between the rich and the poor, and many orphaned children were exposed to extreme suffering. All of this existed outside official notice of Victorian worship of family life, domesticity, and the hearth. Middle class women were expected to marry, produce large families, and tend to their children. Unmarried middle class women were limited to respectable work as a governess or teacher. Women who were poor worked in the factories.
Women’s restrictions were evident in the very garments that they wore, and they were expected to act with the utmost propriety. An excerpt from The Habits of Good Society, published anonymously in 1855, describes the proper behavior for women upon entering a room: Her face should wear a smile; she should not rush in head−foremost; a graceful bearing, a light step, an elegant bend to common acquaintance, a cordial pressure, not shaking, of the hand extended to her, are requisite of a lady. Let her sink gently into a chair. . . . Her feet should scarcely be shown and not crossed. . . . Obedience in children was expected and cherished as proper behavior. Punishments might be beatings or solitary confinement. The method of imposing self−discipline or severe punishment in this world, and a threat of terrible penalties in the world to come (the Ten Commandments were often quoted), kept many children in line. Children were either educated at home by a governess or sent away to school where the treatment was often cruel. The following letters were exchanged between a mother and daughter over an incident at school: My Dear Martha, . . . you must kneel down and pray to God to keep you from sinning, and every night and morning you must do the same, for you will never be a good girl until He takes you into His keeping. It is because you have forgotten Him that you have been disobedient. . . . My Dearest Mother, I have indeed been very wicked to distress you and my dear father as I have done. . . . I have prayed to Christ to forgive me and love me once more, and I feel comforted now. True to the times in which she lived, Charlotte’s life was one of restraint, piety, and Christian virtue. The Brontë family was dedicated to these images. Maria Branwell Brontë was an extremely pious woman, and marrying the Reverend only magnified the religious issue. Charlotte was raised in this constraining atmosphere, yet her passionate nature and literary gifts enabled her to write an accurate tale of her times. Jane Eyre was critically acclaimed in 1847 as “decidedly the best novel of the season,” by G. H. Lewes in The Westminster Review. The Victorians respected the reality of the story, however, some critics thought it to be anti−Christian, and vulgar. Today, Jane Eyre endures as one of the most popular English novels, and is considered by some scholars to be the prototype of the feminist novel. List of Characters Jane Eyre—Protagonist and narrator of the story, orphaned, living with the Reed family when the story begins. Mrs. Sarah Reed—Widow of Jane Eyre’s uncle, mistress at Gateshead Hall. Eliza Reed—Oldest daughter in the Reed family, cousin to Jane Eyre. John Reed—Only son in the Reed family, a bully, cousin to Jane Eyre. Georgiana Reed—Youngest daughter (the beauty) in the Reed family, cousin to Jane Eyre. Bessie Lee—Servant at Gateshead Hall. Miss Abbot—Servant at Gateshead Hall. Mr. Lloyd—Apothecary who treats Jane at Gateshead Hall. Introduction
Mr. Brocklehurst—Minister of Brocklebridge Church, headmaster at Lowood School. Mr. Bates—Doctor who treats Jane at Lowood School. Helen Burns—Student at Lowood school who befriends Jane, and then dies of tuberculosis. Miss Miller—An under−teacher at Lowood. She is in charge of Jane when Jane first arrives at Lowood School. Maria Temple—Teacher at Lowood School. Miss Scatcherd—Teacher at Lowood School. Mary Ann Wilson—Jane’s friend at Lowood School. John Eyre—Jane’s uncle, her father’s brother. Edward Fairfax Rochester—Master of Thornfield Hall; demanding, impatient, and passionate. Mrs. Alice Fairfax—Housekeeper at Thornfield Hall, distant relative of Rochester by marriage. Celine Varens—Former mistress of Mr. Rochester. Adele Varens—Daughter of Celine, ward of Mr. Rochester, Jane’s pupil. Leah—Kitchen maid at Thornfield. John and Mary—Servants at Thornfield. Grace Poole—Caretaker of Bertha Rochester at Thornfield. Blanche Ingram—The beautiful lady friend of Mr. Rochester. Richard (Dick) Mason—Bertha Rochester’s brother. Robert Leaven—Bessie’s husband. Mr. Briggs—Solicitor who stops Jane’s marriage to Mr. Rochester. Bertha Rochester—Mad wife of Edward Rochester. Hannah—Servant at Moor House. Diana and Mary Rivers—Sisters of St. John Rivers. St. John Rivers—Minister of the parish at Morton, master of Moor House; cold, strict, principled, and reserved. Rosamond Oliver—Admires Mr. St. John Rivers, daughter of Mr. Oliver. Mr. Oliver—Father of Rosamond. Introduction
The Host—Former butler of Edward Rochester’s father, and the innkeeper of The Rochester Arms. Summary of the Novel Jane Eyre, an orphan, lives with her abusive aunt, Sarah Reed, and her mean−spirited cousins, John, Eliza, and Georgiana, at Gateshead Hall. She is sent away to the Lowood School where the conditions are very harsh. Jane befriends a fellow student, Helen Burns, and Miss Temple, a teacher. When Helen Burns dies, and Miss Temple marries, Jane decides to leave Lowood, and secures a job as a governess at Thornfield. At Thornfield, Jane’s duties are to teach the master’s foster child Adele Varens. Although he has a brusque manner, Jane finds the master, Edward Fairfax Rochester, attractive and fascinating. One night Jane is awakened by strange noises. Seeing smoke coming from Mr. Rochester’s room, she runs in and throws water on the fire, awakening him. He leads Jane to believe that it is Grace Poole, a servant, who caused the damage. Meanwhile, Mr. Rochester apparently pursues Blanche Ingram, a local beauty, while Jane’s love for him continues to grow. Jane leaves Thornfield to visit the dying Mrs. Reed, who tells her that John Eyre, her father’s brother, is trying to contact her. When Jane returns to Thornfield, Mr. Rochester switches his affections from Blanche to Jane, and proposes marriage. The wedding ceremony is interrupted by Mr. Briggs, who claims that Mr. Rochester is already married. The mad Bertha Rochester, who is locked away on the third floor of Thornfield, is exposed to Jane. Jane flees, and arrives at Moor House where she is taken in by St. John Rivers, a minister. Jane receives an inheritance from her uncle, John Eyre. St. John Rivers proposes marriage to Jane, but she declines since she still has Mr. Rochester on her mind. Jane returns to Thornfield and discovers it has burned to the ground. It seems that Bertha Rochester set the fire and died in it, while Mr. Rochester suffered a mangled hand that had to be amputated and has been left blind. Jane reunites with Mr. Rochester at Ferndean, his current home, and they marry. Ten years pass, and Jane tells us how contented she is with married life, Mr. Rochester has regained partial vision in one eye, and they have a newborn son. As an orphan, Jane’s status is the lowest in the social class system. Because of her status (of which she is constantly reminded as a child) she strives to better herself through education and employment. During her struggles, Jane observes the other classes, including the religious zealots, with great insight and comes to recognize the many hypocrisies of the characters. Emotionally, Jane is a lonely and ostracized child who recognizes her need for love and actively searches for it throughout her life, eventually finding her home with Mr. Rochester. Her search not only teaches her the true essence of love, but also enables her to raise her social position through hard work and the financial inheritance she receives. Estimated Reading Time Jane Eyre is divided into 38 chapters of varying length. It should take approximately 15 hours to read Jane Eyre. » Back to Table of Contents Introduction
Author Biography Charlotte Brontë, born on April 21, 1816, was the third child of Maria Branwell Brontë and the Reverend Patrick Brontë. Originally of Irish descent, the Brontës moved to Haworth, a village on the Yorkshire moors, when Patrick Brontë was appointed rector of the Haworth parish church. The Haworth Parsonage, set high on a hill, overlooked the church graveyard on one side and the wild desolate moors of Yorkshire on the other. It was in this environment that the six Brontë children, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell (the only son), Emily, and Anne formed their own imaginary world, creating stories and poems inspired by a box of toy soldiers. The written word was valued in the Brontë household as the Reverend aspired to literary success, and the small library in his study was readily available to the children. Tragedy struck the family early and persistently. Soon after the move to Haworth, Maria Branwell Brontë, exhausted from bearing six children in seven years, died of cancer after a long illness. Charlotte was only five years old. The Reverend made several unsuccessful attempts to remarry, and eventually called his sister−in−law Elizabeth to Haworth to help raise the children. In 1824, Maria, eleven years old, and Elizabeth, ten, were sent to a new school for the daughters of clergymen at Cowan Bridge. Charlotte, eight, and Emily, six, joined them that same year. Due to the unsanitary and harsh conditions of the school, a typhoid epidemic occurred. Maria and Elizabeth both died of tuberculosis. Charlotte and Emily were brought home immediately. In 1831, Charlotte was again sent away to be educated–at Roe Head, an exclusive school fifteen miles from Haworth. After less than a year, she returned home to teach her sisters, then, in 1835, returned to Roe Head as a teacher, only to be called home again when Aunt Elizabeth died. For a brief time she worked as a governess, then returned home to Haworth, and for the next few years tutored her sisters, Emily and Anne, while continuing to write. At the age of twenty–six, Charlotte, hoping to open her own school in Haworth, enrolled in a small private school in Brussels to study foreign languages. There she formed a one–sided romantic attachment to the married headmaster, Constantin Heger, and continued to write him letters after returning to England. In 1846, after discovering that Emily and Anne had been writing poetry, Charlotte convinced her sisters to self–publish a book of their poems. Under the pseudonyms Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily), and Acton (Anne) Bell, they published their first book of poems. Only two copies sold, but that did not deter them from each writing a novel. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was published in 1847, followed by Anne’s Agnes Gray, and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Success came immediately to Charlotte, and she continued to write throughout her life. Shirley was published in 1849, Villette was published in 1853, and The Professor was published after her death, in 1857. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s siblings Emily, Anne, and Branwell were all dead by 1849, and Charlotte was left alone at Haworth to care for her father. In 1852, Charlotte accepted a marriage proposal from her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nichols, and continued to live at Haworth. In 1855, pregnant with her first child, Charlotte caught a chill while walking on the moors, and died on March 31, at the age of thirty−nine. » Back to Table of Contents
One−page Summary Volume I Jane Eyre opens with the narrator, the adult Jane Eyre, recalling her childhood experiences growing up as an orphan at Gateshead, the home of her unfriendly aunt, Mrs. Reed. Mrs. Reed treats Jane as an outcast. On one occasion when her cousin John attacks her, Jane tries to defend herself. As a result, she finds herself being punished by being locked in the frightening "Red Room," where her uncle Reed had died many years earlier. A terrified Jane screams and faints. Jane soon learns that Mrs. Reed plans to send her away to school. The stern Mr. Brocklehurst of the Lowood School for orphaned girls comes to visit. Having been told by Mrs. Reed that Jane is an evil child, he questions Jane about her religious beliefs and assures her that bad girls will suffer in hell. Mr. Brocklehurst agrees to enroll Jane in his school. On the day she is to depart, only the servant Bessie rises to say good−bye to her. The Lowood School offers Jane a very different life, as the conditions there are very poor. It is cold and drafty, the water is frozen, and the bland food the girls are given, which is often burnt, is insufficient to satisfy their hunger. On her second day at Lowood, Jane sees the cruel Miss Scatcherd punish a new friend, Helen Burns. Helen's reaction, however, is that she deserves such treatment and that she believes in Christian patience and endurance. After three weeks Mr. Brocklehurst visits the school, ordering the long hair of the older girls to be cut off and lecturing the girls on the sin of vanity. Though trying to avoid notice, Jane drops her slate and catches Mr. Brocklehurst's attention. Ordering Jane to stand on a stool for punishment, Brocklehurst announces to the rest of the children that she is a liar and is not to be trusted. Jane is comforted by Helen and by the kind head teacher, Miss Temple. In the spring Lowood suffers a typhus epidemic. Many of the girls die, and Jane learns that Helen has grown quite ill. One night after a doctor's visit, Jane sneaks into Helen's bed and talks with her about dying. Helen expresses no fears or regrets. Jane falls asleep, and when she awakens in the morning, she discovers that Helen had died during the night. Jane remains as a pupil at Lowood for six more years, and then becomes a teacher for two more. When her beloved Miss Temple marries and leaves Lowood, Jane has no reason to continue there, so she secretly advertises her services as a governess and soon is offered a position. Jane travels to Thornfield, the estate where she is to begin a new career as a governess. She is greeted by Mrs. Fairfax, the woman who had hired her, who is the housekeeper for the house's owner, Mr. Edward Rochester. Jane's pupil is to be Adele Varens, a young French girl who is Mr. Rochester's ward. While showing Jane around the spacious house, Jane hears a haunting cackle coming from a room on the third floor. Mrs. Fairfax assures her that it is Grace Poole, an eccentric woman hired to do sewing. Jane finds life at Thornfield pleasant, but unstimulating. While walking out to mail a letter one day, she is passed by a huge dog and then a strange−looking man on horseback. After passing Jane, the horse slips on a patch of ice and the rider is thrown, spraining his foot. Jane helps the man back onto his horse, and upon returning home, she learns that the man is her employer, Mr. Rochester. Although his manner is brusque and often offensive, Jane is drawn to him. One night after talking with Mr. Rochester, Jane is awakened by the strange laugh, and leaves her room to find Mr. Rochester's bedroom in flames. She wakes him and helps him to put out the fire, but he offers no explanation concerning these events. To Jane's surprise and disappointment, Mr. Rochester leaves early the next day without saying good−bye. Volume II One−page Summary
Two weeks later, Mr. Rochester returns home and holds a huge party at his house, during which time Jane witnesses his flirtatious behavior with the beautiful but cold Blanch Ingram. One night a gypsy visits Thornfield, and tells the fortunes of the guests. As the gypsy tries to learn of Jane's feelings for Rochester, she discovers that the gypsy is Rochester in disguise. Jane tells Mr. Rochester of a visitor, Mr. Mason, who had arrived at Thornfield that day. That night Jane hears noise coming from the ceiling, and running upstairs, finds that Mr. Mason has been attacked, apparently by Grace Poole. Shortly after the Mason incident, Jane learns that her Aunt Reed is dying. Returning to Gateshead to visit her aunt, Mrs. Reed tells her that many years ago Jane's Uncle John in Madeira had tried to contact her; he was interested in making Jane the heir to his fortune. Mrs. Reed, however, had told Uncle John that Jane was dead. Upon Mrs. Reed's death, Jane returns to Thornfield and meets Mr. Rochester one night while walking in the garden. He admits to her his plans to marry. Jane begins to cry, but she soon learns that Mr. Rochester's intention is to marry her, and not Blanche Ingram. That night lightning strikes the huge horse chestnut tree under which she and Mr. Rochester had become engaged. The night before her wedding, Jane awakens to see a strange and frightening figure in her room, shredding her wedding veil. Rochester assures her that the figure is Grace Poole. The next morning, Mr. Rochester tries to rush the wedding ceremony along, but it is stopped ultimately by Mr. Briggs, a lawyer, and Mr. Mason, who reveal that Rochester is already married to Mr. Mason's sister. An angry Rochester then takes the entire party up to the third floor at Thornfield and reveals his insane wife, Bertha, who is attended there by Grace Poole. Against Rochester's wishes, Jane decides that she must leave Thornfield: "Jane, do you mean to go one way in the world, and to let me go another?" "I do." "Jane" (bending towards and embracing me), "do you mean it now?" "I do." "And now?" softly kissing my forehead and cheek. "I do—" extricating myself from restraint rapidly and completely. "Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This—this is wicked. It would not be wicked to love me." "It would to obey you." A wild look raised his brows—crossed his features: he rose, but he forebore yet. I laid my hand on the back of a chair for support: I shook, I feared—but resolved. "One instant, Jane. Give one glance to my horrible life when you are gone. All happiness will be torn away with you. What then is left? For a wife I have but the maniac up stairs as well might you refer me to some corpse in yonder churchyard. What shall I do, Jane? Where turn for a companion, and for some hope?" "Do as I do: trust in God and yourself. Believe in heaven. Hope to meet again there." Volume III Jane steals out early in the morning and boards a coach. Soon out of food and money, she desperately One−page Summary
stumbles over the moors to a small house and begs for help. She is taken into "Moor House" by two kind young ladies, Diana and Mary, and their brother, the pious minister St. John Rivers. When she recovers her health, St. John finds Jane a position as a school mistress in a small local school. Soon news comes that the Riverses' Uncle John has died, but has left them only ten pounds each. One night St. John visits Jane, and amazingly, begins to recount for her the story of her past life. It turns out that he has discovered Jane's real name and identity, and that she and the Riverses are cousins. Moreover, their Uncle John is also Jane's Uncle John, and she has inherited her uncle's fortune of twenty thousand pounds. St. John Rivers begins to press Jane into marrying him and wishes her to join him in his life as a missionary. One night, St. John attempts to make Jane believe that not following her destiny with him will result in her going to hell. A stunned Jane suddenly hears Mr. Rochester calling her name. Sharing her new wealth with her cousins, she leaves them and returns to Thornfield. Jane is shocked to find Thornfield in ruins and learns that Mr. Rochester's wife started a terrible fire that took her life, destroyed the house, and crippled and blinded Rochester. Traveling to look for Rochester at his other house, Ferndean, Jane is reunited with him. When he describes his desperate calling out for her several days earlier, Jane realizes that they have had a psychic experience. She agrees to stay with Mr. Rochester and to marry him. » Back to Table of Contents
Summary and Analysis 1. Chapters 1−3 Summary and Analysis 2. Chapters 4−6 Summary and Analysis 3. Chapters 7−10 Summary and Analysis 4. Chapters 11−15 Summary and Analysis 5. Chapters 16−19 Summary and Analysis 6. Chapters 20−22 Summary and Analysis 7. Chapters 23−25 Summary and Analysis 8. Chapters 26−27 Summary and Analysis 9. Chapters 28−29 Summary and Analysis 10. Chapters 30−31 Summary and Analysis 11. Chapter 32−33 Summary and Analysis 12. Chapter 34−35 Summary and Analysis 13. Chapters 36−38 Summary and Analysis
Chapters 1−3 Summary and Analysis New Characters Jane Eyre: protagonist and narrator of the story, orphaned, living with the Reed family when the story begins Mrs. Sarah Reed: widow of Jane Eyre’s uncle, mistress at Gateshead Hall Eliza Reed: oldest daughter in the Reed family, cousin to Jane Eyre John Reed: only son in the Reed family, a bully, cousin to Jane Eyre Summary and Analysis
Georgiana Reed: youngest daughter (the beauty) in the Reed family, cousin to Jane Eyre Bessie: servant at Gateshead Hall Miss Abbot: servant at Gateshead Hall Mr. Lloyd: apothecary who treats Jane at Gateshead Hall Summary While Mrs. Reed and her children sit cozily by the fire, Jane is kept apart from the group and seeks refuge by reading a book in the window−seat of the breakfast room. Fourteen−year−old John comes in and taunts Jane, scolds her for taking a book, and then throws it at her. Jane falls against a door and cuts her head, causing her to scream out at John that he is a “wicked and cruel boy.” John grabs her by the hair, and Jane swings at him, at which point the family enters and blames Jane for the incident. She is sent to the “Red Room.” Bessie and Miss Abbot try to calm Jane down, reminding her that if it weren’t for Mrs. Reed, “you would have to go to the poor−house.” The Red Room is the room where Jane’s uncle, Mr. Reed, died. Jane recollects her kind uncle and becomes very upset remembering the injustices thrust upon her. Suddenly, Jane sees a strange light, and imagines a ghost is in the room. She screams and sobs to be let out of the room, but Mrs. Reed keeps her locked in the Red Room. Jane falls to the floor, unconscious. The next day Mr. Lloyd comes to examine her and suggests that Jane might be better off going away to school, and Mrs. Reed agrees. Overhearing a conversation between Miss Abbot and Bessie, Jane learns that her mother was disinherited for marrying a poor clergyman, and that both of her parents died of typhus when she was an infant. Discussion and Analysis Several major themes of the novel are presented immediately: Jane Eyre’s isolation; her struggle for her own survival under adverse conditions; her quest for and recognition of true Christian love; and the linking of a plain physical appearance with a favorable inner character, and a beautiful exterior with a defective character. Brontë cleverly echoes Jane’s feelings of isolation in the story Jane is reading, History Of British Birds. Physically separated from the family, Jane reads in her book, “the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast.” The rock symbolizes Jane’s own strength and endurance, the “desolate coast” symbolizes her bleak surroundings. Jane’s experience is again echoed in the song Bessie sings to Jane—each verse ends in the line “poor orphan child.” Brontë introduces a writing device called the “pathetic fallacy,” which she will use throughout the novel. Pathetic fallacy suggests parallel moods in nature to reflect the emotions of the characters. An example in these chapters is the weather described by Jane in the opening paragraph, “the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so somber, and a rain so penetrating.” Jane then sits in the window seat and tells the reader, “to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting but not separating me from the drear November day. . . . I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm−beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.” Nature is reflecting Jane’s feelings, and also foreshadows the upcoming scene.
Summary and Analysis
From the very beginning of the story, Jane calls on her inner strength to overcome adversity. She is constantly reminded of her orphan status—even the servants don’t let her forget, “And you ought not to think yourself on equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed,” Miss Abbot informs her, going on to say, “God will punish her.” Rather than be beaten down by her struggle, Jane fights back, establishing her passionate nature. After her physical fight with John, Bessie exclaims, “Did ever anybody see such a picture of passion.” Examples of her spunk are presented when she fights back after being hit by John, yells to be let out of the Red Room (red symbolizing passion), and tells Mr. Lloyd about her unhappiness. The theme of Jane looking for a family and love is established when Jane muses, “I was in discord in Gatehead Hall; I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage. If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them.” It is in this hostile environment at Gateshead that Jane’s quest for love begins. Mrs. Reed and the Reed children represent Christians who claim to be kind and loving yet exhibit cruel, hateful behavior. Jane is extremely conscious of her physical appearance, expressing in the very first paragraph her “physical inferiority to her cousins.” She describes her cousin Georgiana as being indulged and loved because of “her beauty, her pink cheeks, and golden curls.” Bessie and Miss Abbot also concur that Jane would be better off if she were more attractive, physically. We later see that Jane has inner beauty, while the characters who are beautiful on the outside possess a flawed personality. The story is told from the first−person point of view, beginning when Jane is a child of ten, and ending after she has been married for ten years. This device creates an intimacy between the reader and Jane. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 4−6 Summary and Analysis New Characters Mr. Brocklehurst: minister of Brocklebridge Church, headmaster at Lowood School Miss Miller: an under−teacher at Lowood School. She is in charge of Jane when Jane first arrives at Lowood Maria Temple: teacher at Lowood School Helen Burns: student at Lowood School who befriends Jane, and then dies of tuberculosis Miss Scatcherd: teacher at Lowood School Summary Jane endures a few more months at Gateshead Hall. Since her outburst, she is treated with more dislike from Mrs. Reed and is required to sleep in a small closet and take her meals alone. While the other children play, Jane is kept separate, and is hardly spoken to. Excluded from all Christmas festivities, Jane finds solace alone with her doll; “To this crib I always took my doll; human beings must love something, and, in the dearth of worthier objects of affection, I contrived to find a pleasure in loving and cherishing a faded graven image, shabby as a miniature scarecrow. It puzzles me now Chapters 4−6 Summary and Analysis
to remember with what absurd sincerity I doted on this little toy, half fancying it alive and capable of sensation. I could not sleep unless it was folded in my night–gown; and when it lay there safe and warm, I was comparatively happy, believing it to be happy likewise.” An occasional kind word, and a gentle goodnight kiss from Bessie, are her only other comforts in this hostile environment. Mr. Brocklehurst, the headmaster of Lowood School, comes to Gateshead Hall to meet with Jane. He interrogates Jane harshly, asking, “No sight so sad as that of a naughty child, especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?” When he asks Jane if she likes the Psalms, Jane, honest as always, replies, “No sir.” Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst arrange for Jane to be sent to Lowood School. Mrs. Reed requests that Jane remain at Lowood even during vacations. During her conversation with Mr. Brocklehurst, Mrs. Reed called Jane a liar, and Jane is very hurt by the remark. After Mr. Brocklehurst leaves, Jane and Mrs. Reed have a confrontation and Jane expresses her true feelings to her; “and if anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.” When Mrs. Reed defends herself, calls Jane a dear and tells her to lie down, Jane replies; “I am not your dear; I cannot lie down: send me to school soon, Mrs. Reed, for I hate to live here.” Jane is awakened at five o’clock on the morning of January 19 to travel the fifty miles to Lowood. She is greeted at Lowood by Miss Miller and Miss Temple. At Lowood, Jane realizes quickly that this is a school for orphans, and the conditions are very harsh. Dinners of unappetizing stew, and snacks of thin cake or bread and water are shared amongst the eighty girls, and they all drink from a common mug. Breakfast is not much better, consisting of burnt porridge. The rooms are cold and dark, and the schedule is very regimented. The students’ only enjoyment is a brief trip to the garden. Jane sees Helen Burns sitting alone reading a book, and starts up a conversation. Helen tells Jane all that she knows about Lowood. The next day, Jane sees Helen beaten by Miss Scatcherd, and afterward, she engages Helen in conversation again. Helen’s attitude surprises Jane. Rather than be bitter about the way she is treated, Helen expresses no resentment; instead she advocates Christ’s teachings, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.” Jane replies, “Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible.” Discussion and Analysis Jane’s passionate nature is again expressed through her confrontation with Mrs. Reed. She is totally offended by being called a liar, when she knows she is not. When Jane cries out, “deceit is not my fault,” Mrs. Reed exclaims, “but you are passionate, Jane.” Rather than feel guilty for what she has said, Jane feels happy and liberated at first, then frightened. Later she shares her tea with Bessie, and is comforted by Bessie’s songs. Bessie’s attention is the only kindness Jane can count on. At Lowood, Jane does not know what to expect. She is a keen observer of everything around her, but is too tired from her journey to worry much. Her status as an orphan is again emphasized when she discovers the sign calling Lowood an institution. She soon discovers that the abuse she has experienced is not going to end at Lowood. Chapters 4−6 Summary and Analysis
Lowood is based on Brontë’s experience at Cowan Bridge, the school where a typhus epidemic led to the death of her sisters. Jane describes in detail the morning meal, “I devoured a spoonful or two of my portion without thinking of its taste; but the first edge of hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess: burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it. The spoons were moved slowly: I saw each girl taste her food and try to swallow it; but in most cases the effort was soon relinquished. Breakfast was over, and none had breakfasted.” Besides not eating well, the girls were expected to go outside without warm clothing, “The stronger among the girls ran about and engaged in active games, but sundry pale and thin ones herded together for shelter and warmth in the veranda; and amongst these, as the dense mist penetrated to their shivering frames, I heard frequently the sound of a hollow cough.” Jane sees a kindred spirit in Helen Burns because she notices her reading a book. Helen Burns is the symbol for true Christian love, even to the point of forgiving the people who abuse her. She not only believes in Christ’s words but lives by them. Jane, on the other hand, cannot behave in a passive fashion because of her fiery nature. Mr. Brocklehurst represents a hypocritical Christian. Although he quotes from the Bible, his actions are characteristically un−Christian. While professing love, he behaves cruelly. For example, he explains to Mrs. Reed that “Humility is a Christian grace, and one peculiarly appropriate to the pupils of Lowood; I, therefore, direct that especial care shall be bestowed on its cultivation amongst them. I have studied how best to mortify in them the worldly sentiment of pride.” However, his daughter’s statements expose his hypocritical nature. She describes Lowood students. “They are almost like poor people’s children! And, they looked at my dress and mamma’s as if they had never seen a silk gown before.” Obviously, Mr. Brocklehurst does not practice what he preaches for his own family. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 7−10 Summary and Analysis New Characters Mary Ann Wilson: Jane’s friend at Lowood School John Eyre: Jane’s uncle, her father’s brother Summary Jane’s difficult existence at the Lowood School continues. She describes the insufficient meals, and how the poor clothing contributes to her sore feet at night after having to spend an hour outdoors in the cold without boots. On Sundays, they have to walk two miles in the cold to Brocklebridge Church, where cold meat and bread are served for dinner, before they have to walk the two miles back to school. Mr. Brocklehurst comes to Lowood one day, demanding that the girls’ hair be cut off and that they should not be offered cheese as snacks. He tells Miss Temple, “You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient, self−denying.” When his wife and daughter appear briefly, they are dressed and coifed elaborately and elegantly. He then goes on to embarrass Jane in front of the whole school by telling them that she is a liar and they should not associate with her. Chapters 7−10 Summary and Analysis
Jane’s embarrassment over being called a liar in front of the whole school is soothed somewhat by a smile from Helen Burns. Although she weeps from this assault on her, Jane continues to work hard in her studies, and finds comfort from Helen, who tells her she “thinks too much of the love of human beings.” Miss Temple comes to her rescue by telling her she will write to Mr. Lloyd to confirm Jane’s version of the story, and will announce to the class the truth. When the truth is told to the class, Jane is so relieved that she works extra hard on her studies. She excels at her schoolwork and is promoted, which enables her to start classes in French, with the help of Madame Pierrot, and drawing. She sustains herself with the growing love she feels from Helen and Miss Temple. The conditions at Lowood eventually lead to infections and illness for most of the girls, which alleviates the strict regime for a while. During this time Jane relies on a new friend, Mary Ann Wilson, for comfort since Helen Burns is also ill. Not really believing that Helen is near death, she sneaks into her room one night to visit with her. They hug and kiss and Jane falls asleep nestled in bed with Helen. Later on she is carried back to her room after being discovered by Miss Temple, and learns that Helen had died during the night. Jane summarizes her last eight years at Lowood. After the typhoid epidemic, the conditions of the school were exposed and Mr. Brocklehurst was dismissed. In this new atmosphere, with Miss Temple as her companion and mentor, Jane thrives and eventually becomes a teacher. When Miss Temple decides to marry and leave Lowood, Jane realizes it is time for her to move on, and she places an advertisement in the newspaper. Before she leaves, Bessie comes to visit her and brings her up−to−date on what’s happening with the Reed family. She discloses to Jane that her father’s brother, John Eyre, was looking for her several years ago. Jane accepts the job as governess and plans to move to Thornfield, in the town of Millcote. She is eighteen years old. Discussion and Analysis Mr. Brocklehurst is explicitly shown to be a hypocrite. While his own family is dressed handsomely, he instructs the girls to have their hair cut off; “My mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefaced−ness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel.” He scolds Miss Temple for giving them bread and cheese. “Oh Madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!” His declarations of scripture heighten his hypocrisy, claiming he is doing this for the good of their souls, yet he is treating them with extreme cruelty. Miss Temple represents goodness and fairness; caring for Jane and Helen with love under the dire circumstances. She invites them to her room and gives them tea and seed cake. She believes Jane’s version of her life at Gateshead, eventually clearing her reputation publicly. Helen Burns is a good Christian whose death is poignantly describ−ed. Jane expresses her love and need for Helen, while Helen expresses her lack of fear over death, and proclaims her belief in God and the hereafter. “I am sure there is a future state; I believe God is good; I can resign my immortal part to Him without any misgiving. God is my father; God is my friend: I love Him; I believe He loves me.” After Mr. Brocklehurst is discharged from Lowood, Jane’s life improves. She works hard at learning, and gains respect for her accomplishments. Through her education and artistic talent she is able to grow up to be self−assured and confident. Chapters 7−10 Summary and Analysis
When Miss Temple leaves to marry, Jane knows she must also move on. Her desire for independence and strength of character is revealed again as she secretly pursues a job by placing an advertisement in the newspaper. Jane explains, “I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer.” Bessie’s visit before Jane leaves Lowood serves two purposes: Bessie admits to Jane that although the Reed girls are beautiful, they do not have her intelligence, and she calls John Reed “a dissipated young man,” thus giving Jane some satisfaction. She also tells Jane that her father’s brother, John Eyre, was looking for her several years ago, which hints to the reader and Jane that he may appear again. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 11−15 Summary and Analysis New Characters: Edward Fairfax Rochester: master of Thornfield Hall; demanding, impatient, and passionate Mrs. Alice Fairfax: housekeeper at Thornfield Hall, distant relative of Rochester by marriage Celine Varens: former mistress of Mr. Rochester Adele Varens: daughter of Celine, ward of Mr. Rochester, Jane’s pupil Leah: kitchen maid at Thornfield Hall John and Mary: servants at Thornfield Hall Grace Poole: caretaker of Bertha Rochester at Thornfield Summary Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall hoping that Mrs. Fairfax will not turn out to be like Mrs. Reed. She is pleasantly surprised to find her to be a warm and friendly person. In contrast to Lowood School, Thornfield Hall is a grand, yet comfortable house, where Jane has her own room. Mrs. Fairfax informs Jane that the master of house, Mr. Rochester, is often away, and explains to her that Adele, her pupil, is his ward and she is just the housekeeper. Although she appreciates her new surroundings, and is genuinely fond of Adele, Jane is a little bored with her routine. “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” A strange, mysterious laugh is often heard throughout the house, and Jane is told by Mrs. Fairfax that it is “perhaps Grace Poole,” a servant who sews and assists Leah with the housework. One day while Jane is taking a two mile walk to the post office, she encounters a man whose horse has slipped on the ice. Jane describes her first reaction to Mr. Rochester. “He was past youth, but had not yet reached middle age; perhaps he might be thirty−five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic−looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked.” Jane goes on to explain his demeanor. “If even this stranger had smiled and been good−humored to me when I addressed him—if he had put off my offer of assistance gaily and with thanks, I should have gone on my way and not felt any vocation to renew inquiries; but the frown, Chapters 11−15 Summary and Analysis
the roughness of the traveler, set me at my ease.” Rochester questions Jane, and she reveals that she is the governess at Thornfield Hall, but he does not say who he is. Jane helps him to mount his horse, and continues on her way, not expecting to see this man again, but thinking about the new person she has just met. When Jane returns to Thornfield she discovers that the man who fell on the ice was her new master, Mr. Rochester. The next night she is asked to dress for dinner and join Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, and Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester engages Jane in conversation and asks to see her paintings. At bedtime Jane questions Mrs. Fairfax about Mr. Rochester, and is told his strange nature is partly due to “family troubles, for one thing.” Jane busies herself tutoring Adele, but Mr. Rochester’s presence is strongly felt. Several evenings later, he seeks Jane out again for conversation, and is a little surprised by Jane’s candor. After noticing Jane looking at him, he asks if she thinks him handsome, and she answers, “No, sir.” Nevertheless he trusts Jane, and one afternoon while walking in the garden, he explains to her that Adele is the child of his “grande passion” Celine Varens, but that the child is not his. When Adele was abandoned by Celine, Mr. Rochester took her in as his ward. One evening when everyone is sleeping Jane sees smoke coming from Mr. Rochester’s room and runs in to awaken him. She finally throws water on him, and while he is shocked to see her there, he is thankful that she saved his life. He then leaves Jane waiting in the hall while he checks in the attic to see how the fire started. It takes a while for him to come back, but when he does he asks Jane what she had seen. When he is assured that she has not seen anything, only heard that strange laugh of Grace Poole’s, he dismisses the incident as Grace Poole’s doing, and asks her not to mention it to anyone. Before going back to bed, he takes her hand and thanks her for saving his life. Discussion and Analysis Jane begins a new phase of her life with her move to Thornfield Hall. Although her status has improved, her adventurous spirit longs for variety and stimulation in her daily life, and Mr. Rochester’s appearance fulfills this need. It is apparent from the onset that Jane and Mr. Rochester are kindred spirits. Both of them seem to have lived through tough times, yet they still manage to carry on with dignity and compassion for others. Jane questions Mrs. Fairfax about Mr. Rochester and is told, “His character is unimpeachable, I suppose. He is rather peculiar.” “In what way is he peculiar?” Jane asks. “I don’t know—it is not easy to describe—nothing striking, but you feel it when he speaks to you; you cannot always be sure whether he is in jest or earnest, whether he is pleased or contrary; you don’t thoroughly understand him, in short—at least, I don’t: but it is of no consequence, he is a very good master.” The fact that Rochester has also taken in Adele as his ward establishes his goodness. Mr. Rochester is fascinated by Jane’s integrity and strength, amazed that she endured eight years at Lowood, and he tells Jane, “Eight years! You must be tenacious of life.” Their attachment begins with the verbal repartee in which they engage. Although Mr. Rochester’s manner is direct and brusque, Jane is not intimidated, and replies to his inquiries with intelligence and confidence. They each find the other mentally stimulating, but not physically attractive by classical standards. They are candid and direct with each other. After answering “No, sir,” to Rochester’s question, “Do you think me handsome”, Rochester goes on to say, “you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled look Chapters 11−15 Summary and Analysis
becomes you. . . .” This verbal banter is what excites each of them, filling the boredom they would otherwise experience. Rochester explains that he cannot talk to only children and servants. He is energized by Jane’s verbal spunk. “I mentally shake hands with you for your answer. . . . Not three in three thousand raw school−girl governesses would have answered me as you have done.” Unlike the behavior of a typical Victorian woman, Jane’s conversation is brutally honest, and Rochester appreciates this trait in her most of all. He compares her to his unfaithful mistress Celine; after telling Jane about discovering Celine with another man, he says, “Wherein she differed diametrically from you, who told me point−blank that you did not think me handsome. The contrast struck me at the time.” Rather than be shocked by Rochester’s story, Jane continues to be fascinated by him, and embraces Adele more so. Her compassion for the child deepens, she tells Rochester. “I have a regard for her, and now I know she is in a sense, parentless—forsaken by her mother and disowned by you, sir—I shall cling closer to her than before.” The mysterious laugh, and the fire, blamed on Grace Poole keeps Jane curious, and alerts the reader to recognize that all is not what it seems at Thornfield Hall. Jane comes to Rochester’s rescue twice in this section. First, she helps him back onto his horse not knowing who he is, and then she saves him from the fire in his bedroom. It is apparent to the reader, now, that Rochester is more than a little interested in Jane and that Jane is quickly falling in love with him. When he takes her hand after the fire incident, Jane spends the rest of the evening “too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.” » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 16−19 Summary and Analysis New Characters Blanche Ingram: the beautiful lady friend of Mr. Rochester Richard (Dick) Mason: Bertha Rochester’s brother Summary Mr. Rochester continues to occupy Jane’s thoughts. She wakes up thinking, “I wanted to hear his voice again, yet I feared to meet his eye.” When she encounters Grace Poole, she is completely puzzled by her, and cannot quite understand why she is not reprimanded for her behavior. Jane looks forward to seeing Mr. Rochester again, but is told that he has gone away for awhile. During this time she hears a good deal of gossip about Blanche Ingram from Mrs. Fairfax. Afterwards, she admonishes herself for thinking that Mr. Rochester might care for her, knowing that she cannot compete with a lady as beautiful as Blanche. She draws portraits of her plain face and Blanche’s beautiful one and vows to put Rochester from her thoughts. Mr. Rochester comes back from his trip early with a number of visitors, and plans evening entertainment. Included with his visitors is Blanche Ingram. Jane takes a special interest in observing Blanche, knowing of Rochester’s interest in her. “The noble bust, the sloping shoulders, the graceful neck, the dark eyes and black Chapters 16−19 Summary and Analysis
ringlets, were all there;—but her face? . . . She laughed continually: her laugh was satirical, and so was the habitual expression of her arched and haughty lip.” Jane concludes from her observations, “Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling. Pardon the seeming paradox: I mean what I say. She was very showy, but she was not genuine: she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments: but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature; nothing bloomed spontaneously on that soil; no unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness. She was not good; she was not original: she used to repeat sounding phrases from books; she never offered, nor had, an opinion of her own.” Jane is not jealous of Blanche, but angry, because she knows that Mr. Rochester does not truly love Blanche. However, she accepts that people like Mr. Rochester must marry for social reasons and to gain family connection. Blanche’s temperament is further exposed when she calls Adele a “tiresome monkey,” because Adele had mistaken Richard Mason for Mr. Rochester. Although Rochester’s attention is on Blanche Ingram, he is aware of Jane’s every move. When she tries to slip out of the parlor to go to bed, Rochester catches her and inquires why she looks so depressed. Jane denies that she is depressed. “I am tired, sir,” she explains. A few nights later, Rochester dresses up as a gypsy and gives fortune−telling sessions to his guests without revealing his identity. Blanche exits the room annoyed, and sits down with a book, but never reads it. “She never turned a page, and her face grew momently darker, more dissatisfied, and more sourly expressive of disappointment.” When it is Jane’s turn, she reacts haughtingly to Rochester’s questions. When he asks her, “I wonder with what feelings you came to me tonight. . . . I wonder what thoughts are in your heart,” Jane answers, “I feel tired often, sleepy sometimes, but seldom sad.” He continues to probe, but Jane does not divulge any information. She had already admitted to herself that she loves Mr. Rochester, after watching his interactions with Blanche, but never lets on to the gypsy. Jane then feels herself listening to the voice as if in a dream. “Where was I? Did I wake or sleep? Had I been dreaming? Did I dream still?” She then recognizes the voice as Rochester’s and notices his ring. When Rochester reveals his identity to Jane, he wants her to stay and talk to him about what is going on in the other room. She wants to leave, but before she goes, she tells him that a stranger, Mr. Mason, has arrived. At this news, Rochester gets very upset and asks to lean on Jane for support. Discussion and Analysis The mystery of Grace Poole is explored through Jane’s curiosity. The novel shows Jane’s and Rochester’s growing attraction to each other. When Jane hears about Blanche Ingram, she feels herself to be physically and socially inferior to Blanche, and instructs herself to calm her feelings about Rochester. When she first observes the guests, Jane compares herself unfavorably to them also, dwelling on their height and elegance. However, after observing Blanche, Jane finds her to be a phony and asserts that Rochester couldn’t possibly love her. She feels he must be marrying her for political reasons.
Chapters 16−19 Summary and Analysis
While watching Blanche and Rochester interact, Jane has to admit, “I have told you reader, that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester; I could not unlove him now.” Jane continues to fascinate Rochester, and there are many indications of his growing love for her. He seeks out her companionship even while entertaining house guests, and notices her feelings, commenting on her depression. He almost slips and uses endearing words, “Goodnight my ____,” before biting his lip and going to bed. When playing the gypsy, he tries to get her to reveal her feelings, and then describes her with acute insight, “that brow professes to say, I can live alone, if self−respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.” We again see Rochester leaning on Jane, for physical support, after hearing Richard Mason’s name. This physical gesture represents his growing emotional need for her. She’s always there to rescue him, and he obviously has put his trust in her. He verbalizes his fantasies—“I wish I were in a quiet island with only you,”—a dramatically romantic admission. Another mysterious character is presented; Richard Mason. Other than being described as a friend from the West Indies, it is not explained who he is, but Jane takes an immediate dislike to him. The chapter ends with Rochester almost keeling over when hearing his name. He tells Jane, “I‘ve got a blow;—I’ve got a blow, Jane!” to which she replies, “Oh—lean on me, sir.” » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 20−22 Summary and Analysis New Character Robert Leaven: Bessie’s husband Summary During the night, everyone awakens to a loud cry and a sharp sound. Rochester calms everyone down, but summons Jane to the attic to help him. There she discovers Richard Mason soaked in blood, apparently stabbed. Rochester instructs Jane to nurse him and stay with him for at least an hour or two, and demands that they not speak to each other. “Richard—it will be at the peril of your life if you speak to her: open your lips—agitate yourself—and I’ll not answer for the consequences.” When leaving the room, Rochester says again, “Remember!—No conversation.” Jane is frightened of the person ranting in the next room, assuming it to be Grace Poole. Richard Mason describes his attacker as a raging animal; he says he was bit before he was stabbed. The mystery deepens; Jane cannot understand the relationship between Richard Mason and Rochester, she wonders why Mason was submissive to Rochester’s demands, and why Rochester reacted so strongly when he heard of Richard’s arrival. After Jane helps Rochester move Richard Mason to a waiting carriage, he invites her to the garden to chat, and they sit together on a bench. He begins telling Jane a parable by asking her to imagine or “suppose”, you were a “ wild boy” in a “remote foreign land”, who commits an “error, not a crime”, and then travels the world seeking solace in “heartless, sensual pleasure”, until he returns to his home and meets a “ stranger much of the good and bright qualities which you have sought for twenty years.” Would she be willing to “overleaping an obstacle of custom—a Chapters 20−22 Summary and Analysis
mere conventional impediment,” in order to lead a life “worthy of immortal being”? Jane is dumbfounded by the question, and speechless. Rochester phrases the question in another way and Jane answers, “A wanderer’s repose or a sinner’s reformation should never depend on a fellow creature. Men and women die; philosophers falter in wisdom, and Christians in goodness: if any one you know has suffered and erred, let him look higher than his equals for strength to amend and solace to heal.” Rochester ends their conversation by describing Blanche Ingram’s assets, and urges Jane to sit up with him the night before his marriage. “Will you promise to sit up with me to bear me company? To you I can talk of my lovely one: for now you have seen her and know her.” “Yes, sir,” Jane answers. Rochester continues, ”She’s a rare one, is she not, Jane?” “Yes, sir,” Jane replies. Jane begins having dreams of an infant and remembers how Bessie used to say that dreaming of children was a sign of trouble. Soon after, Robert Leaven comes to Thornfield to summon Jane to visit the dying Mrs. Reed, who has asked to see her. He also tells Jane that John Reed is dead, the talk is he killed himself. Jane agrees to travel the one hundred miles to Gateshead and asks Rochester for permission to leave. He is surprised that she has family; he thought her to be totally alone. Jane then requests that he find proper schooling for Adele, and she will have to find a new position in light of his upcoming marriage. He asks her to promise that she will not advertise for a new position, that he will take care of it. Jane goes to Gateshead and finds the dying Mrs. Reed, unchanged after all these years. Jane, however, explains how she had left Gateshead with a “desperate and embittered heart,” but she has returned, “quite healed, and the flame of resentment extinguished.” Mrs. Reed, in a delirious state, tells Jane that she has always hated her; she had hated Jane’s mother and was jealous of the attention her husband, Mr. Reed, showed Jane as an infant. When the typhus epidemic broke out at Lowood, Mrs. Reed says, she wished Jane had died. Ten days pass, and Jane spends time with Georgiana and Eliza. Eliza is a rigid church goer, and retreats from conversation. Georgiana is plump, lazy, talks about herself constantly and complains of being bored. The sisters bicker and Eliza tells Georgiana, “After my mother’s death I wash my hands of you.” Jane goes to Mrs. Reed’s room on a wet and windy afternoon, and it seems that Mrs. Reed wants to relieve her conscience. She admits to Jane that she has done her wrong two times: “One time was breaking the promise which I gave my husband to bring you up as my own child,” she says, and then stops. She asks Jane to get a letter from her drawer and tells Jane to read it. The letter, dated three years ago, was from her uncle, John Eyre. The uncle was alone and had come into some money. He wished to adopt Jane, “during my life, and bequeath her at my death whatever I may have to leave.” Keeping the letter secret was the second wrong. Mrs. Reed explains that she never told Jane about the letter because she had always disliked her and couldn’t forget Jane’s rude conduct toward her. For revenge, she wrote to John Eyre and told him that Jane had died of typhus at the Lowood School. Mrs. Reed could not bear to see Jane fixed in a comfortable position. In spite of this admission, Jane responds, “You have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God’s, and be at peace.” Mrs. Reed dies alone, without her daughters at her side. Jane stays with Georgiana and Eliza a few weeks, to help them settle their belongings, and then goes back to Thornfield Hall. The cousins’ histories are summarized and then projected into the future. Eliza becomes a nun, and Georgiana marries a worn−out, fashionable, wealthy man.
Chapters 20−22 Summary and Analysis
Jane anticipates her reunion with Rochester with great excitement, exclaiming how she had never felt this way about returning home before, although Thornfield is not really her home. She admits it is Rochester she looks forward to seeing, in spite of the fact that he is not interested in her, “but you know very well you are thinking of another than they; and that he is not thinking of you.” When she does see Rochester again, she cannot control the impulse to admit to him, “I am strangely glad to get back again to you; and wherever you are is my home—my only home.” Jane finds herself grieving over the prospect of Rochester marrying Blanche Ingram, but she observes no preparations for the event, and begins to have hope that perhaps the engagement is off. Rochester, in turn, is behaving surprisingly “gay,” as Jane describes, “Never had he called me more frequently to his presence; never been kinder to me when there—and alas! never had I loved him so well.” Discussion and Analysis There is much information packed into these chapters, and much emotion. Jane’s love for Rochester has reached a peak, while the mystery of Grace Poole continues. A new mystery is added: how does Richard Mason figure in this? Rochester gives hints of his affection for Jane, but Jane can’t be sure of his feelings because of his upcoming wedding to Blanche Ingram. In addition, her childhood has come back to haunt her; she is called back to Gateshead Hall by Mrs. Reed on her deathbed. During this visit, she discovers that Georgiana is still vain and selfish, Eliza is retreating, and Mrs. Reed is still an embittered person; she dies alone without any comfort or love. All of the Reeds seem to get what they deserve; thus Brontë introduces the theme of retribution. The crucial information presented here to Jane is that she indeed has an uncle who wanted to adopt her and was looking for her three years ago. Jane proves her Christian attitude by forgiving Mrs. Reed for all of her abuse, while Mrs. Reed, in contrast, remains mean, embittered, and unloved. When Jane leaves Gateshead Hall, she knows she will never see Georgiana or Eliza Reed again and tells the reader their future whereabouts: Georgiana weds a wealthy man, and Eliza enters a convent. As Jane is approaching Thornfield Hall, she is practically delirious with the excitement of seeing Rochester again. When she sees him she blurts out her emotions, and then walks quickly away. Afterwards Rochester seems happy, or “gay,” as Jane describes him. No preparations are being made for the supposed wedding to Blanche. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 23−25 Summary and Analysis Summary Jane takes a walk in the garden on a mid−summer night, and the smell of Rochester’s cigar lets Jane know that he is near. She tries to avoid him, but he summons her into the orchard where they begin discussing his upcoming wedding.
Chapters 23−25 Summary and Analysis
When he suggests that she might take a governess job in Ireland, Jane tells him, “It’s a long way off, sir?” “From what, Jane,” he asks, and she replies, “From, you, sir,” and starts to cry. Rochester admits, “I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.” When Jane responds by telling him, that in spite of her grief she must leave because of his bride, Rochester says, “I have no bride.” In an impassioned speech Jane then reveals, “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? . . . Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!” Rochester responds by repeating, “As we are!” and gathers her in his arms and kisses her. Jane tries to pull away, struggling, as Rochester says, “like a frantic wild bird.” She pulls away responding, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.” Rochester makes his proposal. “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.” Jane thinks he is merely making a joke. He tells Jane to listen to the nightingale, and she again breaks down and sobs. Rochester tries to soothe her, and tells her, “But, Jane, I summon you as my wife; it is you only I intend to marry.” She still thinks he is mocking her. “Your bride stands between us,” Jane responds. Rochester says, “My bride is here, because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane will you marry me?” Seeing that Jane still doubts him, Rochester explains, “What love have I for Miss Ingram? None—and that you know. What love has she for me? None—as I have taken to prove. I cause a rumor to reach her that my fortune was not a third of what was supposed; and after that I presented myself to see the result: it was coldness both from her and her mother.” His next passionate declaration nearly convinces Jane. “I would not—I could not marry Miss Ingram. You—you strange, you almost unearthly thing!—I love as my own flesh. You—poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are—I entreat to accept me as a husband.” Jane wants to see his expression in the moonlight. “Why?” Rochester asks. “Because I want to read your countenance,” says Jane. He begs her to accept quickly, “for I suffer.” She finally believes him, and accepts his proposal, calling him, “Dear Edward,” before being pulled into his arms. A storm is approaching and they both get soaked in the rain before hurrying into Thornfield. Inside, Rochester holds Jane in his arms and kisses her repeatedly, after shaking off her wet hair, and removing her wet shawl. Mrs. Fairfax unexpectedly comes out of her room and observes this display of affection. Jane goes off to bed, and first thing in the morning she is told by Adele that the huge horse chestnut tree in the orchard has been split in half by lighting. Jane is still a little dazzled in the morning, wondering if it might all have been a dream. When she observes herself in the mirror, she thinks she is not as plain, and has never looked so good because, “none had I ever worn in so blissful a mood.”
Chapters 23−25 Summary and Analysis
When she goes to breakfast, Mrs. Fairfax is a little cool toward her. Rochester beckons her and greets her with an embrace and a kiss, reassuring Jane that it is not a dream. When he explains how he will send for heirloom jewels for her to wear, she tells him that jewels would be unnatural for her. “I am your plain, Quakerish governess.” When Rochester goes on to protest that she is beautiful to him, he will attire her in satin and lace, and “I will cover the head I love best with a priceless veil,” Jane responds by saying, “And then you won’t know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket—a jay in borrowed plumes.” Jane corners Rochester into responding to the one thing she wants to know; why did he pretend to want to marry Miss Ingram? Rochester tells Jane that it was to make her jealous, and to get her to love him as much as he loved her. Jane also asks Rochester to explain to Mrs. Fairfax about their engagement before she sees her again. She does not want Mrs. Fairfax to misjudge her. After being initially shocked by the engagement, saying to Jane, “Miss Eyre, I have surely not been dreaming, have I?” Mrs. Fairfax accepts the news, but advises Jane that “all is not gold that glitters.” Rochester takes Jane on a shopping spree, but she buys the plainer material for her dresses and is anxious to get him out of the shops. “The more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation,” Jane says. That evening he summons her to sit up with him, but she avoids intimacy by having him sing a song to her, and then saying a hasty goodnight. He calls her hard, and she admits that for all her firmness, “my task was not an easy one; often I would rather have pleased than teased him. My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven.” A month passes and the wedding is set for the next day. Jane can’t seem to control her nerves; Mr. Rochester had been away for the night, and anticipating his return she goes into the orchard and wanders around. She observes the horse chestnut tree. “It stood up, black and riven: the trunk, split down the center, gasped ghastly. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed—the sap could flow no more: their great boughs on each side were dead, and next winter’s tempests would be sure to fell one or both to earth; as yet, however they might be said to form one tree—a ruin, but an entire ruin.” With the wind roaring, Jane walks down to the gate and meets Rochester returning home; he sweeps her up onto the horse. That night Jane has a vivid dream that she is carrying a baby on the grounds of Thornfield Hall, but the mansion has been reduced to ruins. She sees Rochester in the distance retreating on his horse. She awakens with a start and finds a dark−haired, red−eyed woman in her room trying on her wedding veil. She’s not sure if it is real or part of the dream. She describes her fearful dream to Rochester and he calms her by saying it was part dream, part reality. She asks him to explain the strange mystery of Mrs. Poole; he promises to tell her in a year’s time. He tells her she should sleep with Adele that night in order to sleep serenely. Jane retires unable to sleep, clutching Adele to her.
Chapters 23−25 Summary and Analysis
Discussion and Analysis The mystery and the love affair are brought to a climax in these chapters. Jane and Rochester both make passionate declarations of their love. Jane’s initial statements of passion convince Rochester of her love, and when he finally lets down his guard, he explodes with his feelings. They refer to each other as “equals.” Although it would seem that all of Jane’s troubles end with the marriage proposal, Jane can’t seem to accept the idea without fear. She has another nightmare where she is holding a baby, and sees Thornfield Hall in ruins. The dream is heightened when she awakens to see the mad−woman in her room. The fact that the mad−woman puts on the wedding veil indicates something unknown or frightening is connected to the wedding. Jane has trouble putting tags on her luggage with the name Mrs. Rochester. “I could not persuade myself to affix them, or to have them affixed. Mrs. Rochester! She did not exist.” Jane refers to the word, “dream,” often throughout these passages. She is having trouble understanding the difference between her dreams and reality. Jane’s dreams work as a foreshadowing of future events. We know that Jane’s dreams are important; the last time she was summoned to Gateshead, by the dying Mrs. Reed. The suspense and mystery build when the mad–woman enters Jane’s room. We know that all of this anxiety must lead to a revelation of some sort, and it is connected somehow to the upcoming marriage. The device of prophetic fallacy is vividly used in this section. Many symbols are evident: the walk in the orchard garden reflecting the beauty of Rochester and Jane’s love; the violent thunderstorm reflecting their passionate natures, and that trouble lies ahead; and the horse–chestnut tree, symbolizing Rochester and Jane, united and strong, but eventually splitting in half, suggesting or foreshadowing a future catastrophe. Jane explains her sleeping with Adele and holding on to her as “the emblem of my past life.” The reader knows that Jane will now leave her childhood behind her. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 26−27 Summary and Analysis New Characters Mr. Briggs: a lawyer who stops Jane’s marriage to Mr. Rochester Bertha Rochester: mad wife of Edward Rochester Summary On the morning of the wedding, Jane is taking her time dressing, while Rochester is impatiently waiting. He hurries her into the carriage and to the church. As they walk through the graveyards, Jane spots unfamiliar faces off in the distance. Just when the priest is asking Rochester to repeat his wedding vow, a voice pops up saying there are “impediments” to the marriage. The ceremony is stopped and a lawyer steps forward to read a letter, stating that Mr. Rochester already has a wife; he had been married fifteen years ago. The letter is sighed by Richard Mason, and he subsequently presents himself.
Chapters 26−27 Summary and Analysis
Rochester defends himself, explaining that he was not really becoming a bigamist, and that Jane is innocent; she did not have any knowledge of his wife. He leads the group back to Thornfield Hall and up to the attic into the chamber. There sits Grace Poole guarding her charge. The door is opened to reveal the mad−woman. “A fierce cry seemed to give the lie to her favorable report: the clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind feet. . . . The maniac bellowed; she parted her shaggy locks from her visage, and gazed wildly at her visitors. I recognized well that purple face, those bloated features.” The mad−woman turns out to be the first wife of Rochester, and the sister of Richard Mason. Jane locks herself in her room. She doesn’t cry, but mechanically takes off the wedding dress and after reviewing the circumstances presented, comes to the conclusion that she must leave Thornfield Hall. Sometime in the afternoon, realizing she has not been summoned for hours, Jane comes out of her room feeling faint, and Rochester catches her fall. Rochester had been sitting in a chair outside her room. He apologizes profusely, and Jane forgives him, but stands firm in her decision to leave. Rochester says he’ll send Adele to school and have his wife cared for, but he still cannot convince Jane to stay. He offers to take her as his wife and move to the South of France, but Jane refuses. In trying to convince Jane to stay, Rochester explains the circumstances of his first marriage. It seems his father left all his property to Rochester’s brother, but arranged a marriage for Rochester into a wealthy West Indian family. Everyone knew that there was insanity in the family, but no one ever told Rochester. Therefore, he felt swindled, and tried to deal as best he could with the situation. After Rochester discovers Bertha’s madness, he is at a point of suicide, until a “true Wisdom consoled me in that hour, and showed me the right path to follow.” He tells Jane that Europe was beckoning him, and how he had taken Bertha back to Thornfield, where he installed her in the third floor, and “whose secret inner chamber she has now for ten years made a wild beast’s den—a goblin’s cell.” He admits to setting Bertha up at Thornfield, and then going out to find himself a real wife. He openly discusses his mistresses with Jane, explaining how he gave them all up for his Jane. Jane is moved by his passion, but she does not give in. When he sits down and cries, Jane runs to his side before rushing off to her room to rest. She’s awakened by her mother’s voice telling her, “My daughter, flee temptation.” “Mother I will,” Jane answers. It is around midnight when Jane takes a small bag and tiptoes past Rochester’s room. She can hear him pacing. She slips out and travels in the opposite direction of Millcote. She thanks God for her strength, but is deeply grief−stricken and totally alone. After spending two nights walking for miles and sleeping in damp fields, Jane arrives, delirious, on a road, and flags down a passing coach. She pays the driver to take her to the town where he is going, and rides alone to some unknown destiny. Her destitution is expressed in her final impassioned speech to the reader: “Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart−wrung tears as poured from mine.” Discussion and Analysis The mystery is exposed in this chapter and Jane is confronted with the information the reader has already guessed. Jane’s anxieties and dreams have proven prophetic. Chapters 26−27 Summary and Analysis
While Jane admits to still loving Rochester completely, her mind tells her that she must leave Thornfield Hall. When she sleeps, she dreams she is a child back at Gateshead. Her mother’s voice wakes her, telling her to flee. It takes all of Jane’s strength to leave the only adult love she’s ever known, but she cannot become a mistress. Once again, Jane proves her integrity by not succumbing to Rochester’s offers. Brontë has Jane Eyre holding onto her sense of self here; Jane is afraid that if she were to become a mistress, she would turn into someone Rochester couldn’t respect. Not wanting to be one of Rochester’s possessions, she makes a great emotional sacrifice, and goes out into the world alone, again. She knows she is losing her greatest love, “her equal.” Jane sneaks out so she doesn’t have to face Rochester again, and spends the night in emotional agony, yet “deliriously running” in the opposite direction of Millcote. She survives sleeping outdoors for two nights before her terror ends, somewhat, when a coachman picks her up. Jane relies on God to get her through tough times, claiming it was God who gave her the energy to keep traveling. Jane prays when she spends the nights unsheltered, and says, “I felt the might and strength of God.” » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 28−29 Summary and Analysis New Characters Diana and Mary Rivers: sisters of St. John Rivers St. John Rivers: minister of the parish at Morton, master of Moor House Hannah: servant at Moor House Summary Jane travels two days before she finally winds up at a crossroads and continues into a little town, called Morton. She discovers that she has left her money in the coach, so she is quite penniless. She wanders about the village, and goes into a store to ask for bread, but she becomes so embarrassed, she only asks to sit down. She then goes around asking people if anyone needs a servant, but she receives negative responses from everyone. She continues to search for help; stopping at the parish church, where she is told by an old woman that the minister is away. She does not tell the old woman her predicament. Jane is so hungry, she goes back, again, to the bread shop; thinking she will offer her handkerchief or gloves for payment, but the woman refuses, saying, “No, what could she do with them.” Jane is disgusted with the whole process of begging. Toward evening, she walks past a farmer, and asks him for a piece of bread and he gives it to her. It is getting near night and she sees a light off in the distance. She follows this light until she reaches the house, and looks through the kitchen window, observing a housekeeper and two young ladies. Jane describes the scene. “A group of more interest appeared near the hearth, sitting still amidst the rosy peace and warmth suffusing it. Two young, graceful women—ladies in every point—sat, one in a low Chapters 28−29 Summary and Analysis
rocking−chair, the other on a lower stool; both wore deep mourning of crape and bombazine, which somber garb singularly set off very fair necks and faces; a large old pointer dog rested its massive head on the knee of one girl; in the lap of the other was cushioned a black cat.” Jane stands watching them a while, then after the girls go into another room, she remembers why she’s there and knocks on the door. When the housekeeper, Hannah, opens the door, Jane asks if she can speak to the mistresses of the house, but the housekeeper will not call them and will not let her in. Jane, near death, just crumbles. St. John arrives home just in time to hear Jane say, “I can but die, and I believe in God. Let me try to wait His will in silence.” St. John responds with, “All men must die, but all are not condemned to meet a lingering and premature doom, such as yours would be if you perished here of want.” The family invites Jane in; they sit her by the fire, and Diana holds bread and milk to her mouth. “Try to eat,” Diana says, and Mary repeats gently, “Yes try,” while gently removing Jane’s bonnet. They ask Jane where she’s from, but Jane is too tired to talk. When asked what her name is, Jane gives an alias, Jane Elliot. St. John Rivers, Mary, and Diana retreat to another room to discuss her, and then return to assure Jane she can stay for the night. Hannah helps her to a small room where she sleeps in single bed. It takes Jane four days in bed to recuperate from her ordeal. All the while she observes the Rivers family closely, listening to their conversations when they come into the room. She hears the sisters say, “She is not an uneducated person, I should think, by her manner of speaking—her accent was quite pure; and the clothes she took off, though splashed and wet, were little worn and fine. She has a peculiar face; fleshless and haggard as it is, I rather like it; and when in good health and animated, I can fancy her physiognomy would be agreeable.” When St. John enters the room, he remarks to his sisters, “She looks sensible, but not at all handsome. Ill or well, she would always be plain. The grace and harmony of beauty are quite wanting in those features.” Diana responds, “Far otherwise. To speak truth, St. John, my heart rather warms to the poor little soul. I wish we may be able to benefit her permanently.” Jane is comforted by the warmth and affection she receives from Diana and Mary Rivers. On the fourth day, she comes down and has a long conversation with the housekeeper, Hannah. Jane will not be put down by Hannah calling her a beggar. “You are mistaken in supposing me a beggar. I am no beggar, any more than yourself or your young ladies.” Jane learns through her conversation with Hannah that St. John is a minister, that Diana and Mary are his sisters, and that their father died only three weeks ago. The house they live in is called “Marsh End,” or “Moor House.” Jane tells Hannah, rather severely, “You wished to turn me from the door, on a night when you should not have shut out a dog.” When Hannah tells Jane not to think too badly of her, Jane responds, “But I do think hardly of you, and I’ll tell you why—not so much because you refused to give me shelter, or regarded me as an impostor, as because you just now made it a species of reproach that I had no “brass” and no house. Some of the best people that ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you are a Christian, you ought not to Chapters 28−29 Summary and Analysis
consider poverty a crime.” Jane and Hannah eventually settle their differences, and shake hands. The sisters arrive and suggest that Jane sit in the parlor, not the kitchen, and have some tea. St. John questions Jane about her past, but she says she can’t discuss it now, and admits that her name is an alias, but still doesn’t tell them her real name. Jane asks if she might stay with them until she is able to find employment, and asks for St. John’s help in finding a position. They question her about her marital status, and she blushes and tells them she is not married. Discussion and Analysis Jane’s stamina is tested, and once again, she relies on God. Her last words before going to sleep in a bed for the first time in three days are, “I thanked God.” In these chapters, Brontë addresses the issues of homelessness and poverty. Jane, desperate, starving, without a penny and near death, is turned away by everyone she asks for help, except the Rivers family. She describes this as the “most terrible of situations, Reader it is not pleasant to dwell on these details. Some say there is enjoyment in looking back to painful experience past, but at this day I can scarcely bear to review the times to which I allude; the moral degradation, blent with the physical suffering, form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt on.” Jane’s conversation with Hannah also demonstrates her understanding of being homeless and poor, when she says, “Some of the best people who ever lived have been as destitute as I am.” The Rivers family has literally saved Jane’s life. They represent the haven Jane sought in her wanderings. The scene in the kitchen, when Jane first looks upon Diana and Mary sitting in front of the hearth, is one of domestic bliss and contentment. The light in the window that led Jane to the house symbolizes the light of God, leading her to a better place. Jane has found comfort at last. Jane’s need to care for herself and be independent is again emphasized in these chapters. She immediately tells St. John after she recuperates, “I will be a dressmaker; I will be a plain work−woman; I will be a servant, a nurse−girl, if I can be no better.” She is willing to do anything to support herself, and asks if she can stay with the family until she finds a place. “I dread another essay of the horrors of homeless destitution.” St. John responds by telling Jane, “If such is your spirit, I promise to aid you, in my own time and way.” There have been people in this story who were cruel and pious, but these people are generous of spirit and action. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 30−31 Summary and Analysis New Characters Miss Rosamond Oliver: admires St. John Rivers, daughter of Mr. Oliver Mr. Oliver: father of Rosamond Chapters 30−31 Summary and Analysis
Summary After a few days, Jane is well enough to be up and about. Jane finds she has a lot in common with Diana and Mary Rivers. They like to read, and are well educated, and enjoy sharing their knowledge with Jane. Jane is particularly fond of Diana, who she describes as “superior and a leader.” Diana offers to teach Jane German, and Jane thinks she is an excellent instructor. Jane, in turn, surprises and charms the sisters by giving them art lessons. St. John Rivers is more remote, and doesn’t spend that much time at home. When he is home, Jane thinks he is reserved and brooding. After hearing him preach, Jane describes his sermon. “Throughout; there was a strange bitterness; an absence of consolatory gentleness; stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines—election, predestination, reprobation—were frequent; and each reference to these points sounded like a sentence pronounced for doom.” Jane concludes that St. John is really not happy, and had not yet found “the peace of God.” A month passes, and it is time for Diana and Mary to leave Moor House for governess jobs with wealthy families in the south of England. Jane asks St. John whether he has found her a position, and he admits to finding nothing other than what he has to offer her; St. John’s plan is to open a school for poor and orphaned girls. He offers Jane the job of teacher (mistress of the school), and says that there is a cottage on the grounds of the school in which she can live. He explains that it is very modest, but comfortable. Miss Oliver, the daughter of the only rich man in Morton, had decorated the cottage, and also pays for the education and clothing for the orphans. Jane accepts the job immediately. “In truth it was humble—but then, it was sheltered, and I wanted a safe asylum: it was plodding—but then, compared with that of a governess in a rich house, it was independent; and the fear of servitude with strangers entered my soul like iron: it was not ignoble—not unworthy—not mentally degrading. I made my decision.” Jane is happy to become a teacher instead of a governess, and to be independent. Diana and Mary are feeling sad about leaving their brother. Mary says, “we are now without father; we shall soon be without home and brother.” Bad news comes in the form of a letter: the Rivers’ learn that their Uncle John is dead. Diana explains to Jane that he was their mother’s brother, and had quarreled with their father many years ago. He had no other relatives besides them and “one other person.” It seems he has left all of his money to this other person and has left them only thirty guineas. Mary and Diana comment that they are a little disappointed that they will not be rich and that, “to John such a sum would have been valuable, for the good it would have enabled him to do.” Jane’s cottage or “my home, then—when I at last find a home,” is small but clean and adequate. Her job as a teacher is more challenging, since she is dealing with many children who are ignorant and coarse. Jane reminds herself, “I must not forget that these coarsely−clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy.” In spite of her new home and position Jane is still feeling depressed and lonely. She debates her choice of leaving Rochester. “Which is better?—To have surrendered to temptation, listened to passion; made no painful effort—no struggle.” She concludes that she has made the right choice, “when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment.” Chapters 30−31 Summary and Analysis
Her thoughts result in her crying, and at that moment St. John comes in. He has brought some art supplies that Diana and Mary left for her. St. John, curious as to why she is upset, compares her experience to his, telling Jane how he had wanted to have a literary life before he entered the ministry, but he responded to God’s call. He suggests she “resist every temptation to look back.” While they are talking, Miss Oliver comes in. Jane describes her as a “perfect beauty.” She tells the reader how St. John, flushed, “looked nearly as beautiful for a man as she for a woman.” Although Miss Oliver practically begs St. John to come and visit her father, St. John is adamant about not going. “Not tonight, Miss Rosamond, not tonight.” Miss Oliver tells Jane she will visit her at the school. Discussion and Analysis Jane has found the Rivers sisters to be similar to her in style and education, and they bond with her as well. Brontë’s description of her relationship with the Rivers sisters reflects her own close, happy relationship with her dear sisters, Emily and Anne. St. John is another story. Although a minister, Jane finds him cold, and lacking in passion. He does not find satisfaction in his Christian duties; he just goes through the motions. Jane’s sense of self, and need for independence is brought out again. In her reasoning for accepting the job as a teacher she mentions, “it was independent.” Again, the feelings Brontë describes in Jane mirror her own experiences when she worked briefly as a teacher. Similarly, in exploring her feelings for Rochester, she comes to the conclusion that she made the right choice in leaving him instead of being his mistress. Although she admits that “He did love me—no one will ever love me so again,” to Jane it is more important to be “free and honest,” then to “be a slave in a fool’s paradise at Marseilles.” A mysterious element is introduced in this chapter. The Rivers family has been left an inheritance from their “Uncle John,” but he has given the bulk of his money to another unknown relative. When Miss Oliver appears, Jane recognizes St. John’s attraction for her. “I saw a glow rise to the master’s face.” » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 32−33 Summary and Analysis Summary Jane adjusts to her new lifestyle, eventually gaining the trust of the town people. “I felt I had become a favorite in the neighborhood. Whenever I went out, I heard on all sides cordial salutations, and was welcomed with friendly smiles.” At night, Jane’s mind is tormented by dreams about Rochester. She describes how she would “rush into strange dreams at night: dreams many–colored, agitated, full of the ideal, the stirring, the stormy–dreams where, amidst unusual scenes charged with adventure, with agitating risk and romantic chance, I still again and again met Mr. Rochester, always at some exciting crisis; and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting his eye, touching his hand, his cheek, loving him, Chapter 32−33 Summary and Analysis
being loved by him—the hope of passing a lifetime at his side, would be renewed, with all its force and fire.” Rosamond Oliver visits the school regularly and Jane observes how her presence would cause St. John’s “cheek to glow.” Jane grows fond of Miss Oliver, whom she describes as coquettish, but not heartless; exacting, but not worthlessly selfish.” Miss Oliver asks Jane to draw a portrait of her, and Jane is delighted “at the idea of copying from so perfect and radiant a model.” Mr. Oliver becomes impressed by his daughter’s portrait and invites Jane to their home. During Jane’s conversation with Mr. Oliver, she discovers that he is fond of St. John, and would not oppose a match with his daughter. Mr. Oliver thought “it a pity that so fine and talented a man should have formed the design of going out as a missionary; it was quite throwing a valuable life away.” When Jane speaks with St. John next, she tells him that Miss Oliver does indeed like him and Rivers admits to loving Rosamond Oliver, but that, “I experience at the same time a calm, unwarped consciousness that she would not make me a good wife; that she is not the partner suited to me.” Jane goes on to tell him he does not have to be a missionary, if Rosamond would not make a missionary’s wife, but he exclaims, “Relinquish! What! my vocation? My great work? My foundation laid on earth for a mansion in heaven.” When he leaves the room, St. John suddenly tears off a piece of paper that Jane is using to lean on. Jane dismisses the moment as unimportant. The next day a snowstorm covers the valley. Jane is reading, when she is surprised by St. John who comes in, “white as a glacier.” St. John is so excited that Jane thinks “his wits were touched. If he were insane, however, his was a very cool and collected insanity.” After a while St. John narrates a story to her about a “poor curate—never mind his name at this moment—fell in love with a rich man’s daughter.” He obviously is describing Jane’s life, and she listens until he gets to Mr. Rochester. She then interrupts, and wants to know what St. John knows of Mr. Rochester, but he says “nothing.” He continues his story. It seems that when he snatched Jane’s paper it had the signature Jane Eyre on it, and a Mr. Briggs, John Eyre’s solicitor, has been looking for a Jane Eyre because she has been left an inheritance by her uncle. St. John then explains how they are related. “My mother’s name was Eyre; she had two brothers: one a clergyman, who married Miss Jane Reed of Gateshead; the other, John Eyre, Esq., merchant, late of Funchal, Madeira.” Jane is extremely happy to have three new relations. Jane is saddened to know of her uncle’s death, and shocked by the large sum of money she will be receiving. But her real delight is in knowing she is related to the Rivers family. “Oh, I am glad!—I am glad,” Jane exclaims. At first, St. John thinks it is the money she is talking about, and is shocked when he realizes it is her new found family that Jane is thrilled about. “You, cannot at all imagine the craving I have for fraternal and sisterly love. I never had a home, I never had brothers or sisters; I must and will have them now,” she says. Jane describes her plan to divide the 20,000 pounds with her newfound relatives. St. John tries to convince Jane to keep all of the inheritance for herself, but Jane is adamant about sharing it. She sees a chance to repay the Rivers’ for saving her life, and decides that she will share all of her inheritance equally with St. John, Diana, and Mary. It is also decided that she will stay on at the school until St. John finds another teacher. St. John suggests that perhaps she will marry someday, but Jane says, “Nonsense again! Marry! I don’t want to marry, and I never shall marry.” Chapter 32−33 Summary and Analysis
Discussion and Analysis Jane gains respect and independence in her new lifestyle. “To live amidst general regard, though it be but the regard of working people,” is like “sitting in sunshine, calm and sweet.” She has obviously grown into a woman with confidence, but she also reveals some of the same snobbery that has blighted her life. Her passion and love for Rochester, however, are still expressed in her dreams. She awakes from her dreams, “trembling and quivering; and then the still, dark night witnessed the convulsion of despair, and heard the burst of passion.” Jane exposes St. John as a hypocrite; willing to deny his true feelings for Rosamond Oliver to pursue the ministry. Jane’s description of St. John’s reaction to Rosamond details his predicament. “In spite of his Christian stoicism, when she went up and addressed him, and smiled gaily, encouragingly, even fondly in his face, his hand would tremble and his eye burn. He seemed to say, with his sad and resolute look, if he did not say it with his lips, ‘I love you, and I know you prefer me. It is not despair of success that keeps me dumb. If I offered my heart, I believe you would accept it. But the heart is already laid on a sacred altar; the fire is arranged around it. It will soon be no more than a sacrifice consumed.’ ” Jane shocks St. John by explicitly detailing his reactions to Miss Oliver, to which St. John says, “you are original.” Jane considers St. John’s denying his love for Rosamond to be very strange. Chapter XXXII ends with a mysterious element added: St. John apparently saw something on Jane’s papers that made him tear a piece off. The mystery is explained in the next chapter when Jane learns of her inheritance and new relations. Jane sees a chance to repay the Rivers for saving her life, and it brings her joy to be able to give them the financial security of 5,000 pounds each. Jane plans to live at Moor House. “I am resolved I will have a home and connections. I like Moor House, and I will live at Moor House; I like Diana and Mary, and I will attach myself for life to Diana and Mary.” It is quite a coincidence, another device used by Brontë, that the people who saved her life also wind up being her only living relatives, and that she is suddenly an heiress whose generosity can make her relatives financially secure. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 34−35 Summary and Analysis Summary Christmas is approaching and the Morton School is closed. Jane returns to Moor House with Hannah to await the arrival of Diana and Mary. Jane redecorates and cleans the house. Diana and Mary are delighted with the changes she has made, but St. John remains as cool as always. The women spend a happy week together. One night as St. John is saying goodnight to everyone, he kisses Diana and Mary, but not Jane. Diana pushes Jane towards him, and tells St. John to treat Jane as his sister, also. Jane describes St. John’s kiss. “There are no such things as marble kisses, or ice kisses, or I should say my ecclesiastical cousin’s salute belonged to one of these classes; but there may be experiment kisses, and his was Chapter 34−35 Summary and Analysis
an experiment kiss.” Meanwhile, St. John asks Jane to help him study Hindostanee; he will be leaving for India in three weeks. Since it will only be for three months, Jane agrees. Jane reminds the reader that she has not forgotten Mr. Rochester, that every night she goes to her room, “to brood over it.” She writes a letter to Mrs. Fairfax trying to find out information, but she receives no reply. One day, St. John asks Jane to go for a walk in the Marsh Glen. He asks Jane to come with him overseas, and be a missionary’s wife. Jane responds, “I do not understand a missionary life: I have never studied missionary labors.” St. John tries to convince her by describing her attributes for this position. “Jane, you are docile, diligent, disinterested, faithful, constant, and courageous; very gentle, and very heroic: cease to mistrust yourself—I can trust you unreservedly. As a conductor of Indian schools, and a helper amongst Indian women, your assistance will be invaluable.” Jane cannot consider the idea of being his wife, but comes up with another plan: “I am ready to go to India, if I may go free,” she says. He argues that she must go as his wife, and Jane responds by telling him to “seek one elsewhere than in me, St. John; seek one fitted to you.” He continues to argue his point, stating that he could never travel alone with a girl of nineteen, until Jane finally gets through to him by saying, “I scorn your idea of love. . . . I scorn the counterfeit sentiment you offer: yes, St. John, and I scorn you when you offer it.” That night St. John kisses Diana and Mary goodnight, but doesn’t even shake hands with Jane. Jane goes after him, at Diana’s suggestion, to make amends. Jane asks for his handshake and finds it a “cold, loose touch he impressed on my fingers!” Before St. John leaves, Jane tries to make amends with him, again, and again he asks, “and you will not marry me.” Jane describes his demeanor, “reader, do you know, as I do, what terror those cold people can put into the ice of their questions? How much of the fall of the avalanche is in their anger?—of the breaking up of the frozen sea in their displeasure.” Jane still replies, “No St. John, I will not marry you. I adhere to my resolution.” St. John wants to know if she is going to look for Rochester, and when Jane admits, “I must find out what is become of him,” St. John tell her, “It remains for me then, to remember you in my prayers; and to entreat God for you, in all earnestness, that you may not indeed become a castaway. I had thought I recognized in you one of the chosen. But God sees not as man sees: His will be done.” The night before St. John leaves, Jane goes to him to seek his friendship. St. John asks her to reconsider. “He pressed his hand firmer on my head, as if he claimed me: he surrounded me with his arm, almost as if he loved me (I say almost—I knew the difference—for I had felt what it was to be loved; but, like him, I had now put love out of the question, and thought only of duty.)” Jane is softening up to St. John when she describes; “the flesh quivering on my bones,” after she hears Rochester’s unmistakable voice calling, “Jane, Jane! Jane!” She runs off to her room, “and prayed in my way—a different way to St. John’s, but effective in its own fashion.”
Chapter 34−35 Summary and Analysis
Discussion and Analysis Jane reassures the reader she is still thinking about Mr. Rochester, her one true love. In contrast, St. John, although zealous in his religious convictions, is cold and unfeeling. His proposal to Jane is one of convenience, and Jane cannot settle for living a life that is a lie. She analyzes his proposal and comes to the conclusion that, “If I join St. John, I abandon half myself: if I go to India, I go to premature death.” Here again, we can see how Rochester and Jane share the same sense of integrity. Just as Rochester could not marry Blanche Ingram, although they were socially matched, because he did not love her; Jane cannot marry St. John Rivers because she does not love him. St. John almost breaks Jane down with his sermons and pressure. “The impossible—that is, my marriage with St. John—was fast becoming the Possible. All was changing utterly with a sudden sweep. Religion called—angels beckoned—God commanded.” But before she actually consents to the marriage, Jane hears Rochester calling her name. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 36−38 Summary and Analysis New Character The Host: former butler of Edward Rochester’s father, and the innkeeper of the Rochester Arms Summary The next day, Jane stays in her room until St. John leaves. He slips a note under her door, asking for her decision, but doesn’t talk to her. At breakfast, Jane tells Diana and Mary that she is going on a journey for four days “to see or hear news of a friend about whom I had for some time been uneasy.” When Jane reaches Thornfield she is shocked to see “a blackened ruin.” Jane goes to the Rochester Arms Inn, and asks The Host if he has any information. The Host details the circumstances of the fire that left Thornfield Hall in ruins: it seems that Mrs. Poole had been drinking, so Bertha Rochester, unattended, started the fire in the governess’ bed. He explains to Jane how the servants knew of Rochester’s love for the governess, and his desolation when she ran off. Continuing with the fire story, The Host tells how Rochester helped all of the servants out of the house, and then tried to save Bertha, but she was on the roof, and jumped to her death. A beam fell on Rochester when he was leaving the house, and he was left blind, and one of his hands had to be amputated. He tells Jane that Rochester now resides at Ferndean, his manor house, approximately thirty miles away. Jane takes a carriage directly to Ferndean. At first she observes Rochester from outside the house as he comes out for a walk. Then she goes inside and tells John and Mary that she would like to see Mr. Rochester. They say he won’t see anyone, but when he rings the parlor bell, Jane takes in his water on a tray. Rochester greets Jane with great passion. “In truth?—in the flesh? My living Jane? . . . My living darling!” Jane tells him she will never leave him again, and kisses his injured eye. Jane goes on to tell him that she is rich. “I am an independent woman now.”
Chapters 36−38 Summary and Analysis
He wants to know all about her experiences, but she says she is too tired to talk about it, it is too late. He suggest she might think him ugly. “Am I hideous, Jane?” Jane replies, “Very sir; you always were, you know.” She tells him she has been with “good people.” He wants to know about them. “Whom the deuce have you been with? . . . Whom have you been with Jane?” She tells him he will have to wait for the morning. They spend the next morning outdoors. Jane describes to Rochester how “the flowers and hedges looked refreshed; how sparkling blue the sky.” Jane seats him on “a dry stump of a tree,” and sits on his knee. Rochester is anxious to hear her tale. “What could my darling do, left destitute and penniless? And what did she do? Let me hear now.” Jane begins her story, glossing over the three days she nearly starved to death. Rochester says she should have confided in him, that he would never have forced her to be his mistress. She says her sufferings were short, and they led her to obtain “the office of school mistress, etc. The accession of fortune, the discovery of my relations.” Rochester questions Jane; she endures his “cross−examination” about St. John. When he hears that St. John asked Jane to marry him, he accuses her of lying. When she indignantly convinces him otherwise, he wants to know why she sits on his knee if she loves another. Jane describes St. John’s love: “He does not love me; I do not love him. He loves (as he can love, and that is not as you love) a beautiful young lady called Rosamond.” After Jane convinces Rochester of her love, he expresses another worry. “I am no better than the old lightning−struck chestnut tree in Thornfield orchard.” Jane assures him of her love and accepts his proposal. Rochester exclaims his joy, and tells Jane, “you think me, I dare say, an irreligious dog; but my heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now.” He goes on to tell her how four days ago, between eleven and twelve o’clock, he was feeling so desolate, he prayed to God, and called out Jane’s name, “Jane! Jane! Jane!” The most amazing part was what he heard, “a voice it was, replied, ‘I am coming: Wait for me’; and a moment after, went whispering on the wind the words, ‘Where are you?’” Jane feels she cannot speak about her experience, but comments to the Reader, “The coincidence struck me as too awful and inexplicable to be communicated.” Rochester thanks God, again, for his good fortune, and Jane describes their walk toward the house. “Then he stretched his hand out to be led, I took that dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder; being so much lower of stature than he, I served both for his prop and guide. We entered the wood, and wended homeward.” In Chapter XXXVIII (conclusion), Jane begins, “Reader, I married him.” Jane tells the servants, John and Mary, who are happy for her; and writes to Diana and Mary Rivers telling them of her marriage also. They are pleased and supportive. St. John writes to Jane but never mentions Rochester’s name, so she’s not sure if he knows she’s married or not. When he writes, St. John says to Jane: “he hopes I am happy, and trusts I am not of those who live without God in the world, and only mind earthly things.”
Chapters 36−38 Summary and Analysis
Jane brings the reader up−to−date about Adele. Jane brings her home from a harsh boarding school, at first thinking she will be her governess again, but then realizes, “my time and cares were now required by another—my husband needed them all.” Adele goes to a school nearby where they can visit her often. Jane tells us that Adele grows into a good companion, and that,“a sound English education corrected in a great measure her French defects.” Jane closes the novel by saying, “I have now been married ten years.” She is very happy with her life. They have a son, and Rochester has regained partial sight. Diana and Mary have married, and visit her once year. St. John remains in India, unmarried, and Jane believes that soon he will be “called at length into the joy of his Lord.” Discussion and Analysis Brontë takes Jane on a great emotional search to prove the theme of retribution or that “good comes to good.” Both Jane and Rochester go through enormous suffering, yet each, in the end, find happiness because of their basic good souls. Although Rochester did deceive Jane by trying to take her for his wife when he already had one, he does suffer for his sins. In the end, his goodness prevailed in the face of danger. The Host tells Jane, “it was all his own courage, and a body may say, his kindness, in a way, ma’am: he wouldn’t leave the house till everyone else was out before him.” Jane teases Rochester along for a while about her relationship with St. John, but then she has to admit that he does not love in the same way as Rochester. Jane recognizes that although St. John thinks of himself as a disciple, his sacrifices and energies are not lightened by warmth. Brontë’s belief in mystical forces is again portrayed in these chapters, as Jane and Rochester’s love is saved by the mysterious voices in the night. Jane thinks it so extraordinary that she decides not to tell Rochester about it. Rochester thanks God for this miracle. Jane and Rochester belong together because they are emotional and intellectual equals. In the conclusion, Jane marries and cares for Rochester, yet still reaffirms her independence and her new sense of security. She doesn’t have to worry about being consumed or swallowed up by him, because now she has self–confidence, and her own money. Jane has proven to herself that she can stand on her own. Although the ending of the novel typifies the Victorian romantic fantasy (happiness for a woman meant marriage to a rich man), Jane returns to Rochester in total control of the situation. Jane has a strong sense of who she is, and knows that she can function independently. She is proud of her achievements: she was a teacher, she found a loving family, and most importantly she was financially independent. “I told you I am independent, sir, as well as rich; I am my own mistress.” Although it is a theme of the book that virtue can be present in the absence of money and that money doesn’t guarantee virtue, Jane’s happy ending includes wealth. As Jane and Rochester walk toward the house, she is considerably smaller then he, yet he again leans on her. They are actually “equals,” in strength of character, passion, and intellect. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 36−38 Summary and Analysis
Quizzes 1. Chapters 1−3 Questions and Answers 2. Chapters 4−6 Questions and Answers 3. Chapters 7−10 Questions and Answers 4. Chapters 11−15 Questions and Answers 5. Chapters 16−19 Questions and Answers 6. Chapters 20−22 Questions and Answers 7. Chapters 23−25 Questions and Answers 8. Chapters 26−27 Questions and Answers 9. Chapters 28−29 Questions and Answers 10. Chapters 30−31 Questions and Answers 11. Chapter 32−33 Questions and Answers 12. Chapter 34−35 Questions and Answers 13. Chapters 36−38 Questions and Answers
Chapters 1−3 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. Where does Jane live, and with whom? 2. What is her status, and how is she treated? 3. Why is Jane off reading alone? 4. Where is she sitting? 5. What happens between Jane and John? 6. What is Jane’s reaction to being hit with the book? 7. How do we know that Mrs. Reed is an unkind woman? 8. How does Jane behave in the Red Room? 9. Why does Jane imagine a ghost or spirit? 10. How do we learn about Jane’s appearance? Answers 1. Jane lives at Gateshead hall with her aunt through marriage, Mrs. Reed, and her three cousins, John, Eliza, and Georgiana. 2. Jane is an orphan. She is treated very cruelly by Mrs. Reed and her children. 3. Mrs. Reed will not let Jane sit with the family. 4. Jane is sitting on a window seat in the breakfast room. Quizzes
5. John throws a book at Jane, causing her head to bleed. 6. Jane hits John back and screams that he is “a wicked and cruel boy.” 7. Mrs. Reed ejects Jane from the family circle, banishes her to the Red Room, and refuses to let her out when she sobs. 8. Jane reacts by working herself into a fit. 9. The Red Room is the room where Jane’s uncle, Mr. Reed, has died. Jane also sees a light on the ceiling. 10. Both Bessie and Miss Abbot discuss Jane’s plainness, and Jane compares herself unfavorably to her beautiful cousin Georgiana. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 4−6 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. How does Jane spend her last few months at Gateshead Hall? 2. What is Mr. Brocklehurst’s attitude toward Jane? 3. What does Mrs. Reed tell Mr. Brocklehurst about Jane? 4. Why does Jane become upset at Mrs. Reed’s statement? 5. What are the conditions at the Lowood School? 6. How would you characterize Miss Scatcherd? 7. Why does Jane think Helen Burns is approachable? 8. What shocks Jane about Helen? 9. How does Brontë use Helen as a symbol of Christian love? 10. How does Jane react to Helen’s pious beliefs? Answers 1. Jane continues to be excluded from the family’s activities even during the Christmas holiday season. 2. Mr. Brocklehurst admonishes Jane for being naughty and reminds her that the wicked go to hell. 3. Mrs. Reed tells Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane has a tendency to deceit. 4. Jane becomes very upset because she knows herself to be an utterly truthful person.
Chapters 4−6 Questions and Answers
5. At Lowood, the rooms were dark and cold, the meals were not nutritious, and basically inedible, and the treatment by most of the teachers was cruel. 6. Miss Scatcherd is a mean woman who consistently picks on Helen Burns and then beats her. 7. Jane realizes that she and Helen have a love of reading in common. 8. Jane is shocked that Helen is not resentful toward the people who are mean to her. 9. Helen recites Christ’s teachings and honestly lives by his words. 10. Jane says it would be impossible for her to love Mrs. Reed or John Reed. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 7−10 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. What are the conditions at Lowood during the winter months? 2. How does Mr. Brocklehurst humiliate Jane? 3. Upon whom does Jane rely on for love and affection? 4. What happens at Lowood that changes the whole atmosphere? 5. How does Jane react after Miss Temple proves she is not a liar? 6. How does Helen view her impending death? 7. What happens to Jane during her last eight years at Lowood? 8. Why does Jane decide to leave Lowood? 9. How does she find other employment? 10. What news does Bessie bring her? Answers 1. The children are half starved and sent out in the cold without warm clothing, and they must walk two miles to and from church on Sundays. 2. Mr. Brocklehurst tells the whole school that Jane is a liar, and instructs the students to shun her. 3. Helen Burns and Miss Temple give Jane some of the love she needs. 4. Most of the girls become sick with typhus, and Mr. Brockle−hurst is dismissed. 5. Jane excels at her studies, and takes up French and drawing. Chapters 7−10 Questions and Answers
6. Helen accepts her death and looks forward to being in God’s care. 7. Jane settles into the routine and eventually becomes a teacher. 8. After Miss Temple marries, Jane realizes she is ready for a change. 9. Jane puts an advertisement in the newspaper requesting a position as a teacher. 10. Bessie tells Jane that the Reed girls are not as intelligent as she, and that John is a disappointment to his mother. She also tells Jane that her uncle, John Eyre, had been looking for her several years earlier. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 11−15 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. How did Jane first meet Mr. Rochester? 2. Describe Mrs. Fairfax’s personality. 3. Explain Jane’s identification with Adele. 4. What is Jane’s mood when Mr. Rochester comes home? 5. What intrigues Mr. Rochester about Jane? 6. What do Jane and Mr. Rochester think about each other’s appearance? 7. Why does Jane think Grace Poole odd? 8. Explain the circumstances that ended the relationship between Celine Varens and Mr. Rochester. 9. Why is Jane’s knowledge of French important to her now? 10. How does Jane react to having her hand held by Mr. Rochester? Answers 1. Jane meets Mr. Rochester on the road when his horse slips on the ice. 2. Mrs. Fairfax is a warm and friendly person. She is very happy to have Jane join the staff at Thornfield. 3. Jane likes Adele immediately, but cares even more for her when she finds out that she is an orphan like herself. 4. Jane is feeling rather bored and restless. 5. Mr. Rochester is fascinated by her strength and honesty. 6. Jane does not think Rochester handsome, and he thinks Jane to be plain. Chapters 11−15 Questions and Answers
7. She believes her to be the person with the strange laugh and the one who started the fire. 8. Celine brought another man to her bedroom, and Mr. Rochester overheard them discussing him in a negative way. 9. Adele speaks mostly French and very little English. 10. Jane cannot sleep for the rest of the night, and describes herself as feeling feverish. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 16−19 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. What effect has Mr. Rochester had on Jane? 2. Why does she want to suppress her feelings? 3. How does Jane react to Mr. Mason? 4. Why is she so curious about Grace Poole? 5. What does she observe about Blanche? 6. How does Rochester try to keep Jane involved in the festivities? 7. What does he observe about her feelings? 8. How do we know Jane is more clever than the other guests? 9. What reaction does Rochester have when he learns that Richard Mason has arrived? 10. What is the significance of Jane being able to physically support Rochester, again? Answers 1. Jane admits to loving Rochester. 2. She believes she cannot compete with Blanche Ingram, who is described as being beautiful, and socially prominent. 3. Jane takes an immediate dislike to him. 4. Believing Grace to be the person who caused the fire, and who mysteriously laughs, Jane does not understand why Grace is allowed to get away with her behavior. 5. After observing Blanche interact with the other guests, Jane concludes that she is a phony, and that Mr. Rochester could not possibly love her. She assumes it is a political arrangement. 6. Rochester insists on her attendance at the events, and asks where she is going when she attempts to leave. Chapters 16−19 Questions and Answers
7. He tells her she looks depressed, though Jane denies it. 8. Jane recognizes Rochester under the gypsy costume, although he apparently fooled the rest of the guests. 9. He becomes very distressed and leans on Jane for support. 10. This gesture represents his growing emotional need for her, and Jane’s constant presence as his helper. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 20−22 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. What is the added mystery in this chapter? 2. How is Rochester’s behavior contradictory? 3. What has happened to John Reed? 4. What important information does Mrs. Reed tell Jane? 5. Who is with Mrs. Reed when she dies? 6. How is the attacker described by Richard Mason? 7. What becomes of Georgiana and Eliza Reed? 8. How does Jane feel when she is approaching Thornfield Hall? 9. What does she blurt out to Rochester? 10. How does Jane describe him? Answers 1. Richard Mason is attacked by someone in the attic. 2. Rochester intimates his love for Jane, but proceeds with his plans to marry Blanche. 3. John Reed apparently drank himself into debt, eventually using up his mother’s money as well. The rumor is that he killed himself. 4. Mrs. Reed tells Jane of her uncle, John Eyre, who three years earlier sought to make Jane his heir. Mrs. Reed told him that Jane had died of typhus at Lowood. 5. Nobody is with Mrs. Reed, she dies alone. 6. Richard Mason describes his attacker as an animal who bit him and sucked his blood. 7. Georgiana goes on to make a prestigious match, and Eliza enters the convent. Chapters 20−22 Questions and Answers
8. She is extremely excited about seeing Rochester again; she talks about how she had never felt like this, as if she were coming home. 9. She tells Rochester that anywhere he is, is her home. 10. She describes him as being very happy. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 23−25 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. Where and at what time of the year and day does Rochester’s proposal take place? 2. What prompts him to propose? 3. How does Jane react at first? 4. Why are they forced to run into the house after the proposal? 5. How does Jane respond to Rochester’s offer of jewels and fancy clothes? 6. What warning does Mrs. Fairfax give Jane? 7. How do Jane’s fears show up in her dreams? 8. Who wakes Jane from her fitful sleep? 9. What happens to the chestnut tree? 10. Where does Jane sleep on the eve of her wedding? Answers 1. It is mid−summer when Rochester proposes. They are in the orchard at night. 2. Jane passionately reveals her true feelings, calling them “equals.” 3. Jane is shocked; she thinks he is just playing a joke on her. 4. A violent thunderstorm breaks out, so they run into the house. 5. She tells him it would not become her, she would not be “Jane Eyre.” 6. Mrs. Fairfax warns Jane that “all is not gold that glitters.” 7. She dreams once more of an infant and sees Thornfield Hall in ruins. 8. The mad, mystery woman enters Jane’s room.
Chapters 23−25 Questions and Answers
9. The tree is split in two by a lightning bolt. 10. Jane spends the night with Adele, and is unable to sleep. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 26−27 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. How is the wedding ceremony interrupted? 2. What is the relationship between Richard Mason and Bertha Rochester? 3. Where is the Mason family from? 4. How did Rochester come to marry Bertha? 5. How many years ago were they married? 6. What secret was kept from Rochester about the Mason family? 7. How does John Eyre figure in this chapter? 8. What is the solution Rochester offers to Jane? 9. What hastens Jane’s retreat from Thornfield Hall? 10. How do we know this has been a devastating experience for Jane? Answers 1. A lawyer, Mr. Briggs, reads a letter stating that Rochester had already been married. 2. They are sister and brother. 3. The Mason family is from the West Indies. 4. The marriage was arranged by his father. 5. They were married fifteen years ago. 6. There was a secret history of madness and insanity in the family. 7. It was a letter from John Eyre to Richard Mason that prompted Richard’s appearance at the wedding. 8. Rochester first suggests she be his mistress, and then suggests they marry and move to the south of France. 9. Jane has a dream where she hears her mother telling her to flee.
Chapters 26−27 Questions and Answers
10. Jane’s description of her tremendous struggle with her decision, and her description of how painful it will be for her to leave Rochester is evidence of her devastation. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 28−29 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. What is the name of the house where the Rivers family lives? 2. What happened to Jane when she first came to town? 3. How did Hannah react to Jane? 4. Was Moor House similar to Thornfield Hall? 5. How did the Rivers family decide to let Jane stay? 6. What did they surmise about Jane’s background? 7. Why does Jane choose an alias? 8. What are the occupations of St. John Rivers, and his sisters, Diana and Mary? 9. How does St. John Rivers describe Jane? 10. What are Jane’s observations of St. John Rivers? Answers 1. The Rivers family lives at Marsh End, or Moor House. 2. She begs for food and money, but is not offered any help. 3. Hannah leaves her outside in the rain. 4. No, Moor House is a modest house, with small rooms, and homey but simple furnishings. 5. After observing her, they retreat to another room to discuss her in private, then return and bring her to bed. 6. They think she dresses well, and is educated because of the way she speaks. 7. She doesn’t want to explain about her experience at Thorn−field Hall. 8. St. John is a minister, and Diana and Mary are governesses. 9. He refers to her as a “half−frozen bird,” and “not at all handsome.” 10. She describes him as being handsome, but bland in personality.
Chapters 28−29 Questions and Answers
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Chapters 30−31 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. What do the Rivers sisters have in common with Jane? 2. Why does Jane admire Diana? 3. What is Jane’s observation of St. John? 4. What, and where, is Jane’s new home? 5. Who are her pupils? 6. Who dies and leaves the Rivers family a small inheritance? 7. How does Jane describe Miss Oliver? 8. What is Miss Oliver’s connection to the school? 9. Who is Mr. Oliver? 10. How does St. John react to Miss Oliver? Answers 1. They all love reading, and are well educated. 2. She admires her strength and leadership qualities. 3. She thinks him cold, and lacking in passion. 4. Jane’s new home is a cottage on the grounds of the school. 5. Jane’s pupils are mostly poor, uneducated children of farmers. 6. Their “Uncle John” leaves the Rivers family a small inherit−ance upon his death. 7. Jane describes Miss Oliver as a “perfect beauty.” 8. Miss Oliver is the benefactress of the school. 9. Mr. Oliver is Miss Oliver’s father; the sole rich man in the town of Morton. 10. Jane observes him blushing in Miss Oliver’s presence, and realizes that he is in love with Miss Oliver. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 30−31 Questions and Answers
Chapter 32−33 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. How has Jane’s status changed? 2. What does she observe about St. John Rivers and Rosamond Oliver? 3. What does Mr. Oliver tell Jane? 4. How are Jane’s dreams different from her days? 5. Why does Miss Oliver like Jane? 6. How does Jane shock St. John? 7. What language is Jane studying? 8. How does St. John feel about Rosamond Oliver? 9. What does St. John do with Jane’s paper? 10. What is Jane’s reaction to St. John’s attention to her paper? Answers 1. She is now regarded with respect by the towns−people. 2. St. John and Miss Oliver are attracted to each other. 3. Mr. Oliver tells Jane that he would not oppose a match between his daughter and St. John. 4. Her days are quiet and orderly, and her dreams are excited and passionate. 5. Miss Oliver respects Jane’s mind and talent. 6. Jane shocks St. John by telling him, “you tremble and become flushed when ever Miss Oliver enters the schoolroom.” 7. Jane is studying German. 8. He loves her, but does not think she is suited to missionary life. 9. He tears off a piece of a paper she is leaning on while painting. 10. She dismisses it as unimportant. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 32−33 Questions and Answers
Chapter 34−35 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. What time of year is it? 2. How did Jane prepare Moor House for Diana’s and Mary’s return? 3. Why does St. John want to marry Jane? 4. Why does she refuse him? 5. What did Diana think of this idea? 6. How does Jane constantly describe St. John? 7. What happened to Rosamond Oliver? 8. What does Jane say when St. John asks her if she will look for Mr. Rochester? 9. What stops Jane from giving in to St. John’s request? 10. What does Jane say when she hears Rochester calling her name? Answers 1. It is Christmas time. 2. Jane cleaned and redecorated the house. 3. He thinks Jane would make a good missionary wife. 4. She knows he doesn’t love her, and she doesn’t love him. 5. Diana agreed with Jane, that missionary life would not be for her, but she says that St. John is a good man. 6. St. John is described as extremely cold and unfeeling. 7. Miss Oliver married someone else. 8. Jane tells St. John she must find out what happened to Rochester. 9. She hears Rochester call her name. 10. “I am coming, wait for me! Oh, I will come.” » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapter 34−35 Questions and Answers
Chapters 36−38 Questions and Answers Study Questions 1. Why does Jane go to look for Rochester? 2. What stops her, at the last minute, from giving in to St. John? 3. How does Diana react to knowing that Jane turned down St. John’s proposal? 4. How does Jane find Thornfield Hall? 5. Where does she stay? 6. What does The Host tell Jane? 7. What is Rochester’s reaction to having Jane come back to him? 8. What mystical occurrence does Rochester describe? 9. How has Rochester’s philosophy changed? 10. What becomes of Diana, Mary, and St. John Rivers? Answers 1. She can’t stop thinking or dreaming about him. 2. She hears Rochester’s voice calling her name. 3. Diana supports Jane, recognizing St. John’s faults, but calling him a “good man.” 4. Thornfield Hall is burned to the ground. 5. Jane stays at the Rochester Arms Inn, where The Host informs her of Rochester’s fate. 6. Rochester is blind and maimed; Bertha has died in the fire she started. 7. He cannot be more passionate about his feelings. He reacts jealousy to St. John and is worried that Jane will not love his deformed body. 8. He called out for Jane in the middle of the night, and he heard “a voice” answer him. 9. Rochester has a new faith in God, and openly prays. 10. Diana marries a sea−captain, Mary marries a clergyman, and they visit every year. St. John stays in India, and Jane fears he will be with God soon. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Chapters 36−38 Questions and Answers
Characters Bessie A woman who is the "nurse" at Mrs. Reed's house, Gateshead Hall, Bessie helps take care of the Reed children and young Jane Eyre. Jane regards Bessie as the most sympathetic figure in the Reed household, although Bessie seems somewhat aloof. In her narrative, Jane recalls Bessie as "pretty" and "a slim young woman, with black hair, dark eyes, very nice features, and good, clear complexion." Jane also remarks on Bessie's "capricious and hasty temper, and indifferent ideas of principle or justice." Bessie helps Jane prepare for her departure to Lowood Institution. Bessie shows up again about eight years later as Jane is leaving Lowood for Thornfield Hall. She has married, and she tells Jane what has happened to the Reeds in the intervening years. She also says that Jane's uncle had come to Gateshead Hall searching for Jane but had gone back to his home on Madiera when Mrs. Reed told him that Jane was dead. Jane meets Bessie again when she (Jane) returns to Gateshead to visit the dying Mrs. Reed. Mr. Brocklehurst Mr. Brocklehurst is the proprietor of Lowood Institution—the boarding school for orphans that Jane Eyre attends. He is introduced in chapter 4, when he comes to Gateshead Hall (Mrs. Reed's home) to examine Jane before admitting her to Lowood. He is described as "a black pillar! The straight, narrow, sable−clad shape standing erect on the rug." Mr. Brocklehurst is one of the novel's hypocrites. Although he professes to run Lowood as a charitable institution, he is more concerned with making a profit than he is with educating the girls who live at the school. He criticizes Miss Temple for giving the girls a special lunch of bread and cheese, saying that the girls' bodies should be starved to help save their souls. He also denounces some girls for having naturally curly hair and orders it to be cut off. (However, he does not seem to object to his own daughters' elaborate curls.) When Jane drops her slate and breaks it, Mr. Brocklehurst makes her stand on a stool in front of the class as punishment. The character of Mr. Brocklehurst is based partly on William Cams Wilson, an evangelical clergyman who founded the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge. Wilson mismanaged the school and many of the girls (including Charlotte Bronte and her sisters) suffered from the resulting poor conditions. However, Wilson was evidently well intentioned, unlike the hypocritical Brocklehurst. Helen Burns Helen Burns is a girl who becomes Jane Eyre's best friend at Lowood Institution—the boarding school for orphans that Jane attends. Jane meets Helen in chapter 5, during an outdoor exercise period. Jane notes that Helen is reading Samuel Johnson's Rasselas; the book's name strikes Jane as "strange, and consequently attractive." Jane has earlier heard "the sound of a hollow cough" but does not immediately identify Helen with this cough. (The cough foreshadows Helen's fatal bout of consumption, or tuberculosis). Four years older than Jane, the fourteen−year−old Helen helps the newly arrived orphan adjust to the school and teachers. Helen embodies the virtues of patience, forbearance, humility, forgiveness, and Christian love. She conveys the importance of these qualities to the more worldly Jane. As Helen lies dying of tuberculosis, she tells Jane that she is not afraid: she is going to a better world. Jane gets into bed with Helen; the next morning, Helen has died. The character of Helen Burns is modeled after Charlotte Bronte's eldest sister Maria, who died of tuberculosis in 1825. Jane Eyre The narrator, central character, and eponymous heroine of Jane Eyre, Jane is both a fully realized fictional creation in the novel and, in many ways, a voice for the author, Charlotte Bronte. In a book that makes use of many of the stock situations and characters of the Gothic genre, Jane stands out as a woman who runs against the Gothic stereotype of the submissive woman in distress. Physically plain and slight, Jane is acutely intelligent and fiercely independent. She is also a shrewd judge of character. Throughout the novel, she relies on her intelligence and determination to achieve self−fulfillment. Yet her strength of character does not make Characters
her immune to suffering; on the contrary, she suffers because she is so keenly aware of the difference between how things are and how they might be. Jane believes that "we were born to strive and endure." Her nature is passionate, but she also recognizes the dangers of uncontrolled passion. Although she is rebellious when rebellion is called for, she is inherently conscious that actions must be tempered by reason. When she refuses to become Rochester's mistress, she cites a higher moral law as her justification: "Laws and principles are not for the time when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise against their rigor. . . ." In this action, as well as in refusing to marry St. John Rivers, she proves her unwillingness to compromise her principles. She wants to achieve her goals on the right terms, not on any terms. Utterly opposed to hypocrisy, she nonetheless is capable of recognizing that goodness exists within flawed human beings. Because she is secure in herself, she is able to give herself fully to Rochester as his equal. At the end of the novel, writing about her marriage in language reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, she says: "I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine." Intellectual, faithful, loving, Jane Eyre is one of the most original, vivid, and significant characters in the nineteenth−century English novel. Mrs. Fairfax The housekeeper at Thornfield Hall, Mrs. Fairfax replies to Jane's advertisement and offers her the position of governess at Thornfield. Jane initially assumes that she is the owner of the house. An older woman, Mrs. Fairfax is a widow, and is a distant relation of Mr. Rochester by marriage. Jane finds her "a placid−tempered, kind−natured woman, of competent education and average intelligence." Although she treats Jane in a friendly manner, she cannot provide the kind of intellectual stimulation and companionship that Jane craves. Blanche Ingram Blanche Ingram is a young woman, the daughter of a local aristocrat who spends some time in the company of Mr. Rochester. Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that Rochester is expected to marry her. Blanche is very tall but has a proud, haughty manner, a "mocking air," and a "satirical laugh." Her speech is affected, especially when she speaks to her snobbish mother, Lady Ingram. In short, Blanche is "very showy" but "not genuine." She treats Jane with extreme condescension and exhibits a "spiteful antipathy" toward Adele. Although she herself is in love with Rochester, Jane seems to stoically accept that he will marry Blanche. Ironically, this apparent certainty makes Jane more passionate toward Rochester, who in turn reveals that he had no intention of marrying Blanche. As well as serving the plot function of bringing Jane's passion for Rochester to a head, Blanche serves as a character foil to Jane: her artificiality makes Jane's frankness all the more evident and attractive. Lady Ingram The mother of Blanche Ingram, Lady Ingram makes rude, condescending remarks about governesses during a social visit to Thornfield Hall. She reminds Jane of Mrs. Reed, with whom she has certain parallels. Jack See John Reed Mr. Lloyd An apothecary who examines and treats young Jane Eyre in chapter 3, Mr. Lloyd is a sympathetic figure. He notes that Jane is profoundly unhappy at Gateshead Hall (Mrs. Reed's home) and asks Jane if she would like to go away to school. He apparently broaches this subject with Mrs. Reed, although it is some months before Jane is sent away to Lowood Institution. Bertha Mason Bertha Mason, the insane wife of Edward Rochester who has been hidden away in an attic room at Thornfield Hall, is one of the more exotic figures of nineteenth−century fiction. Yet she appears on only a few pages of the book and never speaks. (Indeed, she is not capable of rational conversation; the noises she makes are Characters
scarcely human). She is not so much a character as a symbol, although critics do not agree on exactly what she symbolizes. She may be an embodiment of violence, unbridled sexuality, or the animal nature that lies behind the veil of civilization. She also suggests Rochester's dark side. It has been suggested, too, that she is Jane's darker double. (Indeed, Bertha's confinement in the attic may be seen as an echo of Jane's earlier confinement in a locked room at Gateshead Hall.) In more immediate terms of the plot, Bertha functions as an impediment to Jane's marriage to Rochester. Her Gothic existence is felt long before it is revealed. Shortly after her arrival at Thornfield, Jane hears a strange laughter that is attributed to Grace Poole, the woman who in fact looks after Bertha. Bertha subsequently instigates several violent acts that disrupt the calm of Thornfield, setting fire to Rochester's bed and later attacking her brother, Mr. Mason. On both occasions, Jane intervenes, respectively rescuing Rochester and tending to Mr. Mason's wounds. On both occasions, Rochester tells Jane that Grace Poole was responsible for this violence. On the eve of Jane and Rochester's intended wedding, Bertha enters Jane's room and tears Jane's wedding veil; Jane tells Rochester what she has seen, but Rochester dismisses the vision as a nightmare. Once Bertha can no longer be denied, Rochester shows her to Jane and tells Jane the sordid story of his arranged marriage, years earlier in Jamaica, to this woman whom he barely knew. Bertha ultimately dies when she sets fire to Thornfield—an act that also results in terrible injury to Rochester; but this action sets up Jane's return and Rochester's redemption. Mr. Mason Mr. Mason is the brother of Mrs. Rochester (Bertha Mason). Mason's sudden arrival at Thornfield Hall during Rochester's social party clearly upsets Rochester, though Jane is not aware of its significance. That night, Jane hears a horrible sound and discovers that Mason has been attacked and is bleeding badly. On Rochester's instructions, she tends to Mason, whose true identity she does not know. Mason is spirited away early the next morning. He returns to interrupt Jane and Rochester's wedding and reveals that Rochester is already married. Mason, who resides in the West Indies, is conventionally handsome, but Jane notes that his face lacks character. Rochester suggests to Jane that Mason shares the Mason family congenital feeblemindedness. Miss Miller An "underteacher" at Lowood Institution—the boarding school for orphans that Jane Eyre attends—Miss Miller is introduced in chapter 5 when Jane arrives at Lowood. She receives Jane and helps to orient her. Miss Miller is described as "a tall lady with dark hair, dark eyes, and a pale and large forehead." Jane's narrative also describes her as "ruddy in complexion, though of a careworn countenance; hurried in gait and action, like one who had always a multiplicity of tasks on hand." Miss Miller disapproves of Mr. Brocklehurst and of the way he runs the school, but is powerless to do anything about it. Jane notes that she looks "purple, weather−beaten, and over−worked." Rosamond Oliver The daughter of a wealthy landowner who lives near the home of St. John Rivers, Rosamond Oliver is very pretty, kind, and high−spirited. Jane finds her "elfin" and fairy−like. However, she is essentially vacuous. Jane initially assumes that Rosamond and St. John will marry, but St. John is uninterested in Rosamond, preferring to consider Jane as his potential wife. Grace Poole Grace Poole is a mysterious servant who works at Thornfield Hall. When Jane hears strange laughter coming from the attic, Mrs. Fairfax tells her that it is only Grace Poole, who occasionally works there as a seamstress. Grace is "between thirty and forty; a set, square−made figure, red−haired, and with a hard, plain face." She is also fond of alcohol. Rochester initially tells Jane that Grace is responsible for the mysterious incidents at Gateshead. Jane later learns that Grace is actually employed to look after Mrs. Rochester (Bertha Mason), who is insane and who is kept locked in the attic. Georgiana Reed Georgiana, Jane Eyre's cousin and the younger daughter of Mrs. Reed, is introduced early in the novel when Characters
the young orphan Jane is living at Gateshead Hall as a ward of Mrs. Reed. Young Georgiana has "pink cheeks and golden curls" as well as "a spoiled temper, an acrid spite, a capricious and insolent carriage." She is "universally indulged" by her mother. When Jane returns to Gateshead some nine years later, Georgiana has grown into a frivolous, self−centered woman. Jane eventually learns that Georgiana has married a wealthy man. John Reed Jane Eyre's cousin John, the son of Mrs. Reed, is introduced at the beginning of the novel when the young orphan Jane is living at Gateshead Hall as a ward of Mrs. Reed. John, or Jack, is fourteen years old at this time. He bullies and torments Jane behind his mother's back. Jane finds him "disgusting and ugly," but Mrs. Reed indulges the boy and blames Jane for causing trouble while overlooking John's sadistic behavior. Some years later, Jane hears that John has been expelled from college. When Jane is summoned to Gateshead to attend the dying Mrs. Reed, she learns that John had become even more dissolute and has committed suicide. Mrs. Reed Mrs. Reed is Jane Eyre's aunt, the widow of Jane's uncle Mr. Reed (who was the brother of Jane's mother and who died nine years before the novel begins). She is also the mother of John (Jack), Eliza, and Georgiana. Mrs. Reed is introduced at the beginning of the novel, when the young orphan Jane is living at Gateshead Hall as her ward. When Mr. Reed was on his deathbed, Mrs. Reed promised him that she would "rear and maintain" the orphan Jane. However, Mrs. Reed resents Jane and treats her as an unwanted burden rather than as a dependent child. She continually belittles Jane and punishes her for what she regards as Jane's rebellious nature, while overlooking the faults of her own children. She arranges for Jane to be sent away to Lowood Institution, a boarding school for orphans. In chapter 4, Jane defies Mrs. Reed and tells her what she really thinks of her. This incident is Jane's first moral victory. Jane returns to Gateshead just before Mrs. Reed dies, but is unable to effect a reconciliation. Diana Rivers The sister of Mary and St. John Rivers; Diana Rivers also turns out to be Jane Eyre's cousin. When Jane arrives at Moor House, hungry and penniless, seeking shelter after she has fled Thornfield Hall, Diana and Mary help restore her to health. Skilled, talented, and well−read, the Rivers sisters develop a close friendship with Jane. Like her, they are both governesses, and Bronte portrays them in a favorable light. Mary Rivers The sister of Diana and St. John Rivers; she also turns out to be Jane Eyre's cousin. When Jane arrives at Moor House, hungry and penniless, seeking shelter after she has fled Thornfield Hall, Mary and Diana help restore her to health. Skilled, talented, and well−read, the Rivers sisters develop a close friendship with Jane. Like her, they are both governesses, and Bronte portrays them in a favorable light. St. John Rivers A handsome young clergyman who is the brother of Diana and Mary Rivers; St. John also turns out to be Jane Eyre's cousin. When Jane arrives at Moor House, hungry and penniless, after she has fled Thornfield Hall, St. John offers her shelter. Although Jane becomes close friends with the Rivers sisters, she finds that St. John has "a reserved, an abstracted, and even . . . a brooding nature"; he is also restless and does not feel at home in England. He tells Jane that she is "intelligent" and that "human affections and sympathies have a most powerful hold on you." Listening to him preach a sermon with Calvinist overtones, she realizes that he has not found peace in his religious faith. He offers Jane the post of schoolmistress at a girls' school he is establishing. It is Rivers who reveals to Jane that they are cousins and that she has inherited a fortune of twenty thousand pounds from their mutual uncle, John Eyre. He persistently asks Jane to marry him and accompany him to India as a missionary—an offer she declines because she realizes that the marriage would be loveless. Although St. John is intelligent, he is austere and inflexible and is unable to appreciate Jane for herself; he would lead her into a life (and death) of martyrdom. In this, he is a complete contrast to the passionate Mr. Characters
Rochester. Mr. Rochester Mr. Rochester is the central male character and hero (or perhaps antihero) in Jane Eyre. He is generally considered to be one of the most memorable romantic characters in nineteenth−century English fiction. A wealthy landowner, Rochester is the master of Thornfield Hall. Jane gradually falls in love with him after she arrives at Thornfield to tutor his ward Adele, the daughter of an earlier mistress. When Mr. Rochester is introduced, he is somewhere between age thirty−five and forty, and thus is as much as twenty years older than Jane. Jane first meets him when she is walking from Thornfield to a nearby town to mail a letter. When his horse slips on the ice he is thrown and injured slightly; Jane helps him to remount. She only learns his identity when she returns to Thornfield and finds him there. He is described as having "a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow" and is not considered handsome. The frequent references to his supposed ugliness help to underscore the fact that he is not a conventional hero; they suggest both secret troubles and hidden strengths that are more than skin−deep. Also, by deliberately making him physically unattractive, (at least by a conventional definition of attractiveness), Bronte wants the reader to know that Jane is not attracted to him because of his looks but because she recognizes something good in his soul. Rochester may be considered a Gothic hero. He is haunted by his guilty knowledge and by a past of which he is ashamed. Like the typical Gothic hero, he is prone to bouts of depression and to seemingly irrational behavior; he also possesses a macabre sense of humor. However, he is much more complex than a stereotypical Gothic hero and has more humanity. His treatment of his insane wife may seem cruel by modern standards, but in his eyes it is the best that can be done for her and is preferable to abandoning her. Yet he also acts selfishly in wishing to keep her existence a secret. He considers himself the victim of a cruel hoax: His marriage to Bertha was an arranged one, and he was not told that insanity ran in her family. His subsequent wanderings in Europe and his taking of three successive mistresses are perhaps a stock reaction to the restrictions imposed on him by his sham marriage. His relationship with Jane springs from a different motive. He recognizes Jane for what she is, and realizes that he can find salvation in her love. However, in knowingly planning to enter into a bigamous marriage, and then suggesting that she become his mistress, he transgresses moral law. He must lose Jane and suffer punishment and penance (in the form of losing his eyesight and his right hand, as well as his home) by fire before Jane can be fully restored to him. His marriage to Jane is the meeting of true minds, a marriage without secrets or locked doors. Mrs. Rochester See Bertha Mason Miss Scatcherd A teacher at Lowood Institution—the boarding school for orphans that Jane Eyre attends— Miss Scatcherd is the most severe of the teachers. Jane's friend Helen Burns tells Jane that "you must take care not to offend her." Miss Scatherd punishes Helen for some minor infraction by flogging Helen on the neck with a bunch of twigs, and she verbally abuses Helen. However, Helen accepts her punishment meekly. Miss Temple The superintendent of Lowood Institution—the boarding school for orphans that Jane Eyre attends—Miss Temple is introduced in chapter 5 when Jane arrives at Lowood. Jane describes her as "tall, fair, and shapely," with "a stately air and carriage." She is also kindly, perceptive, well educated, and genuinely concerned with the welfare of her students. After the schoolgirls are fed an inedible breakfast, Miss Temple orders that they receive a special lunch of "bread and cheese." Later, she invites Jane and Helen Burns to her room, where she offers the two girls some seedcake and converses with them. She recognizes that both Helen and Jane are exceptional, and acts as their mentor. When Miss Temple eventually marries and leaves Lowood, Jane (who is by then age eighteen, and who with Miss Temple's help has become a teacher at the school) decides to leave the school herself and take a position as a governess.
Adele Varens Mr. Rochester's young ward, about seven or eight years old, Adele is the daughter of a French opera−dancer with whom Mr. Rochester has had an affair. The woman had claimed that Mr. Rochester was the father, but there is some ambiguity as to whether this is really the case. Adele has lived most of her young life in France and speaks a mixture of French and English. When her mother abandons her, Mr. Rochester has her brought to England, where he intends to raise her. On Mr. Rochester's instructions, Mrs. Fairfax hires Jane to be Adele's governess at Thornfield. Adele is lively and talkative and likes to sing and dance. Jane finds her somewhat coquettish behavior disconcerting, but she comes to feel affection for Adele in spite of the girl's flaws. By contrast, Blanche Ingram regards Adele with distaste. » Back to Table of Contents
Themes Love and Passion One of the secrets to the success of Jane Eyre, and the source of its strength in spite of numerous flaws, lies in the way that it touches on a number of important themes while telling a compelling story. Indeed, so lively and dramatic is the story that the reader might not be fully conscious of all the thematic strands that weave through this work. Critics have argued about what comprises the main theme of Jane Eyre. There can be little doubt, however, that love and passion together form a major thematic element of the novel. On its most simple and obvious level, Jane Eyre is a love story. The love between the orphaned and initially impoverished Jane and the wealthy but tormented Rochester is at its heart. The obstacles to the fulfillment of this love provide the main dramatic conflict in the work. However, the novel explores other types of love as well. Helen Burns, for example, exemplifies the selfless love of a friend. We also see some of the consequences of the absence of love, as in the relationship between Jane and Mrs. Reed, in the selfish relations among the Reed children, and in the mocking marriage of Rochester and Bertha. Jane realizes that the absence of love between herself and St. John Rivers would make their marriage a living death, too. Throughout the work, Bronte suggests that a life that is not lived passionately is not lived fully. Jane undoubtedly is the central passionate character; her nature is shot through with passion. Early on, she refuses to live by Mrs. Reed's rules, which would restrict all passion. Her defiance of Mrs. Reed is her first, but by no means her last, passionate act. Her passion for Rochester is all consuming. Significantly, however, it is not the only force that governs her life. She leaves Rochester because her moral reason tells her that it would be wrong to live with him as his mistress. "Laws and principles are not for the time when there is no temptation," she tells Rochester; "they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise against their rigor. . . ." Blanche Ingram feels no passion for Rochester; she is only attracted to the landowner because of his wealth and social position. St. John Rivers is a more intelligent character than Blanche, but like her he also lacks the necessary passion that would allow him to live fully. His marriage proposal to Jane has no passion behind it; rather, he regards marriage as a business arrangement, with Jane as his potential junior partner in his missionary work. His lack of passion contrasts sharply with Rochester, who positively seethes with passion. His injury in the fire at Thornfield may be seen as a chastisement for his past passionate indiscretions and as a symbolic taming of his passionate excesses. Independence Jane Eyre is not only a love story: It is also a plea for the recognition of the individual's worth. Throughout the book, Jane demands to be treated as an independent human being, a person with her own needs and talents. Early on, she is unjustly punished precisely for being herself—first by Mrs. Reed and John Reed, and Themes
subsequently by Mr. Brocklehurst. Her defiance of Mrs. Reed is her first active declaration of independence in the novel, but not her last. Helen Burns and Miss Temple are the first characters to acknowledge her as an individual, they love her for herself, in spite of her obscurity. Rochester too loves her for herself; the fact that she is a governess and therefore his servant does not negatively affect his perception of her. Rochester confesses that his ideal woman is intellectual, faithful, and loving—qualities that Jane embodies. Rochester's acceptance of Jane as an independent person is contrasted by Blanche and Lady Ingram's attitude toward her: they see her merely as a servant. Lady Ingram speaks disparagingly of Jane in front of her face as though Jane isn't there; to her, Jane is an inferior barely worthy of notice, and certainly not worthy of respect. St. John Rivers does not regard Jane as a full, independent person. Rather, he sees her as an instrument, an accessory that would help him to further his own plans. Jane acknowledges that his cause (missionary work) may be worthy, but she knows that to marry simply for the sake of expedience would be a fatal mistake. Her marriage to Mr. Rochester, by contrast, is the marriage of two independent beings. It is because of their independence, Bronte suggests, that they acknowledge their dependence on each other and can be completely happy with one another in this situation. God and Religion In her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Bronte made clear her belief that "conventionality is not morality" and "self−righteousness is not religion." She declared that "narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world−redeeming creed of Christ." Throughout the novel, Bronte presents contrasts between characters who believe in and practice what she considers a true Christianity and those who pervert religion to further their own ends. Mr. Brocklehurst, who oversees Lowood Institution, is a hypocritical Christian. He professes charity but uses religion as a justification for punishment. For example, he cites the biblical passage "man shall not live by bread alone" to rebuke Miss Temple for having fed the girls an extra meal to compensate for their inedible breakfast of burnt porridge. He tells Miss Temple that she "may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!" Helen Burns is a complete contrast to Brocklehurst; she follows the Christian creed of turning the other cheek and loving those who hate her. On her deathbed, Helen tells Jane that she is "going home to God, who loves her." Jane herself cannot quite profess Helen's absolute, selfless faith. Jane does not seem to follow a particular doctrine, but she is sincerely religious in a nondoctrinaire way. (It is Jane, after all, who places the stone with the word "Resurgam" on Helen's grave, some fifteen years after her friend's death.) Jane frequently prays and calls on God to assist her, particularly in her trouble with Rochester. She prays too that Rochester is safe. When the Rivers's housekeeper, Hannah, tries to turn the begging Jane away, Jane tells her that "if you are a Christian, you ought not consider poverty a crime." The young evangelical clergyman St. John Rivers is a more conventionally religious figure. However, Bronte portrays his religious aspect ambiguously. Jane calls him "a very good man," yet she finds him cold and forbidding. In his determination to do good deeds (in the form of missionary work in India), Rivers courts martyrdom. Moreover, he is unable to see Jane as a whole person, but views her as a helpmate in his proposed missionary work. Rochester is far less a perfect Christian. He is, indeed, a sinner: He attempts to enter into a bigamous marriage with Jane and, when that fails, tries to persuade her to become his mistress. He also confesses that he has had three previous mistresses. In the end, however, he repents his sinfulness, thanks God for returning Jane to him, and begs God to give him the strength to lead a purer life. Atonement and Forgiveness Much of the religious concern in Jane Eyre has to do with atonement and forgiveness. Rochester is tormented by his awareness of his past sins and misdeeds. He frequently confesses that he has led a life of vice, and many of his actions in the course of the novel are less than commendable. Readers may accuse him of behaving sadistically in deceiving Jane about the nature of his relationship (or rather, non−relationship) with Blanche Ingram in order to provoke Jane's jealousy. His confinement of Bertha may bespeak mixed motives. He is certainly aware that in the eyes of both religious and civil authorities, his marriage to Jane before Themes
Bertha's death would be bigamous. Yet, at the same time, he makes genuine efforts to atone for his behavior. For example, although he does not believe that he is Adele's natural father, he adopts her as his ward and sees that she is well cared for. This adoption may well be an act of atonement for the sins he has committed. He expresses his self−disgust at having tried to console himself by having three different mistresses during his travels in Europe and begs Jane to forgive him for these past transgressions. However, Rochester can only atone completely—and be forgiven completely—after Jane has refused to be his mistress and left him. The destruction of Thornfield by fire finally removes the stain of his past sins; the loss of his right hand and of his eyesight is the price he must pay to atone completely for his sins. Only after this purgation can he be redeemed by Jane's love. Search for Home and Family Without any living family that she is aware of (until well into the story), throughout the course of the novel Jane searches for a place that she can call home. Significantly, houses play a prominent part in the story. (In keeping with a long English tradition, all the houses in the book have names.) The novel's opening finds Jane living at Gateshead Hall, but this is hardly a home. Mrs. Reed and her children refuse to acknowledge her as a relation, treating her instead as an unwanted intruder and an inferior. Shunted off to Lowood Institution, a boarding school for orphans and destitute children, Jane finds a home of sorts, although her place here is ambiguous and temporary. The school's manager, Mr. Brocklehurst, treats it more as a business than as school in loco parentis (in place of the parent). His emphasis on discipline and on spartan conditions at the expense of the girls' health make it the antithesis of the ideal home. Jane subsequently believes she has found a home at Thornfield Hall. Anticipating the worst when she arrives, she is relieved when she is made to feel welcome by Mrs. Fairfax. She feels genuine affection for Adele (who in a way is also an orphan) and is happy to serve as her governess. As her love for Rochester grows, she believes that she has found her ideal husband in spite of his eccentric manner and that they will make a home together at Thornfield. The revelation—as they are literally on the verge of marriage—that he is already legally married—brings her dream of home crashing down. Fleeing Thornfield, she literally becomes homeless and is reduced to begging for food and shelter. The opportunity of having a home presents itself when she enters Moor House, where the Rivers sisters and their brother, the Reverend St. John Rivers, are mourning the death of their father (When the housekeeper at first shuts the door in her face, Jane has a dreadful feeling that "that anchor of home . . . was gone.") She soon speaks of Diana and Mary Rivers as her own sisters, and is overjoyed when she learns that they are indeed her cousins. She tells St. John Rivers that learning that she has living relations is far more important than inheriting twenty thousand pounds. (She mourns the uncle she never knew. Earlier she was disheartened on learning that Mrs. Reed told her uncle that Jane had died and sent him away.) However, St. John Rivers' offer of marriage cannot sever her emotional attachment to Rochester. In an almost visionary episode, she hears Rochester's voice calling her to return to him. The last chapter begins with the famous simple declarative sentence, "Reader, I married him," and after a long series of travails Jane's search for home and family ends in a union with her ideal mate. » Back to Table of Contents
Style Narrative Jane Eyre is written in the first person, and told from the viewpoint of its main character, Jane Eyre. As part of her first−person narrative, Bronte uses one of the oldest conventions in English fiction: this novel is allegedly a memoir written by a real woman named Jane Eyre and edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte's pseudonym). (Indeed, the full title of the book is Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. As part of this convention, the Style
narrator occasionally addresses the reader directly with the word "reader.") Modern readers know, of course, that this is simply a convention, and accept it as such. Although the first−person viewpoint means that the narrative scope is somewhat restricted, at times the narrator of Jane Eyre seems more omniscient (aware and insightful) than a typical first−person narrator. Much of the action seems to unfold naturally. In part, this may be because the story is told in retrospect. That is, in Bronte's narrative technique, the action is not happening as it is being told, but has already happened. As in many traditional first−person narratives, the narrator in Jane Eyre describes other characters astutely, both their external appearance and their inner personalities. There are also passages in which the narrator offers particular observations and opinions about life—observations and opinions that sometimes seem as if they are coming from the author. Yet the novel's suspense relies on the fact that the narrator is not entirely omniscient—or at least on the fact that she does not reveal key information until the point in the chronology of events when Jane herself became aware of this information. For example, the narrative does not report that Rochester is married and that his wife is locked away upstairs until the moment in the wedding ceremony when other characters come forth with this information. Similarly, Jane lives with the Rivers for some time before she, and the reader, learn that they are her cousins. Setting The action of the book takes place in northern England sometime in the early− to mid−nineteenth century, and covers a span of about a dozen years. Bronte does not give specific year−dates for the incidents in the book, nor does she refer to contemporary historical events. Scholars generally assume that Jane Eyre's "autobiography" parallels Charlotte Bronte's life at the same age. Because the narrative frequently mentions specific months and seasons, the reader is rarely in doubt as to the exact time of year a particular incident is taking place. This precision helps give the book a more realistic feeling. Bronte uses a succession of several main settings—primarily, individual houses—for the plot's action. She describes the settings vividly, thereby creating a particular atmosphere as well as giving the illusion of realism. Moreover, setting is used in a way that gives the novel structural unity and variety. Each setting or grouping of settings corresponds with a distinct phase of Jane Eyre's life. Among the novel's main settings are Gateshead Hall, the home of Jane's aunt (by marriage), with whom the orphaned girl is living at the beginning of the book. At the age of ten, Jane is sent to Lowood Institution, a charity school for impoverished orphans. From there, at age eighteen Jane goes to Thornfield Hall to serve as a governess. When she learns the secret of Mr. Rochester's marriage to Bertha, she flees across the moors to Moor House, where she is taken in by the Reverend St. John Rivers. Toward the end of the book she finds Mr. Rochester at his other home, Ferndean Manor—Thornfield having been destroyed in a fire set by Bertha during Jane's absence. Bronte does not use the real names of her locations. However, scholars have identified a number of real places as models for the settings in the book. Lowood Institution is believed to be based on the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, in Yorkshire, which Bronte attended as a girl. Thornfield Hall may be modeled on two different manor houses with which Bronte was familiar. The first, called Norton Conyers, is near the city of Ripon in North Yorkshire. North Lees Hall, a large, forbidding−looking stone manor house in Derbyshire, also seems to fit the description of Thornfield. In 1846 Bronte spent three weeks in the village of Heathersage, in Derbyshire, visiting her old school friend Ellen Nussey. Just before Bronte left to return to her home at Haworth, Ellen's brother, the local vicar, conducted a funeral service for a man named Thomas Eyre. The Eyre family was prominent in the area, and Bronte would most likely also have seen the name on various memorials in the church. North Lees Hall is nearby. Local history books recount that the first mistress at North Lees Hall, one Agnes Ashurst, was insane and was kept locked in an upstairs room. This woman died in a fire, just as Bertha does in the novel. (There is a similar legend about Norton Conyers.) In this area, visible from the vicarage where Bronte stayed, is another manor house called Moorseats—believed to be the model Style
for Moor House. Regardless of the factual bases of her settings, Bronte's descriptions of these settings, and of the surrounding countryside, are always exceptionally vivid. These descriptions help the reader visualize the places where the action is taking place. They also create a particular mood and atmosphere. Bronte takes stock Gothic descriptive elements (clouds, moonlight, stormy weather, dark hallways) and gives them a particularity that transcends the limitations of the Gothic genre. Structure Addressing the reader at the beginning of chapter 11, Jane remarks that "a new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play." Jane Eyre is divided into thirty−eight chapters. More significantly, however, the novel can be seen in three distinct parts. Each of these parts traces a pattern of conflict and resolution (or rather, until the work's conclusion, partial resolution); Jane is faced with particular obstacles and opportunities. Running through each of these sections is Jane's effort to find or establish a true home. The first part (comprised of chapters 1 through 10), covers Jane's childhood and schooling. These chapters are set at Gateshead Hall and at Lowood Institution. The major characters include Mrs. Reed and her children, Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and Miss Temple. The main conflicts and incidents include Jane's rebellion against Mrs. Reed and her friendship with the fatally ill Helen. Chapters 10 through 27 tell of Jane's life as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with Edward Rochester. Apart from Jane herself, Mr. Rochester is the central character in this section. Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, Blanche Ingram, Grace Poole, Bertha Mason, and Mr. Mason also have significant roles. The dramatic action in this section centers on Jane's growing love for Mr. Rochester (and vice versa), Jane's fear that Rochester will marry Blanche, and a series of strange incidents that occur at Thornfield. Finally, chapters 28 through the end of the book center on Jane's life after she has fled Thornfield. The action here takes place in the countryside and at Moor House and Moorton. The Reverend St. John Rivers is the other main character here, along with his two sisters. Although Rochester does not reappear until the end of the book, his presence remains significant in Jane's mind. Dramatic highlights in this part of the novel include Jane's attempt to find shelter, her uneasy relationship with Rivers, and her ultimate return to Mr. Rochester. Many readers and critics have found this to be the weakest, most contrived part of the book. However, the events of this section serve to test Jane's devotion to Rochester. When she returns to marry him at the end of the book, both characters (and their circumstances) have evolved and matured from what they were at the time of their planned wedding in the second section. Gothicism Because of its powerful writing, and because of its concern with moral and social issues beyond the immediate plot, Jane Eyre is not generally considered a Gothic novel as such. However, it makes use of many of the elements found in the Gothic genre popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and critics sometimes place the work in the Gothic tradition, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and M. G. Lewis's The Monk (1796) are considered classic examples of this genre. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) also uses some Gothic elements, while Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818) satirized the excesses of the genre. Gothic literature and the Gothic tradition is identifiable by certain characteristics. Often written in overblown language, Gothic novels involve bizarre characters and melodramatic incidents. Menacing castles, decaying manor houses, and wild landscapes are frequently used as settings. The plots of these novels contain an element of the fantastic or the supernatural. There is usually a mood of mystery or suspense, and an innocent heroine is almost always threatened with some unspeakable horror. Additionally, unexplained events take place at night. Style
Another characteristic of this genre is a hero who has led an adventurous, unconventional life that makes him romantically attractive, but who also has a flaw (usually a terrible secret from his past) that cuts him off from respectable society or makes him socially unacceptable. The Gothic hero may be prone to violent outbursts, but he typically suffers from his awareness of his past actions. In real life, the British poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788−1824), was often considered a model of the Gothic hero. (Indeed, the term "Byronic hero" is sometimes used to describe Mr. Rochester and other Gothic heroes.) For Bronte, her brother Branwell also exhibited some of the characteristics associated with a Gothic hero. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester might be seen as a Gothic hero. However, Bronte has made him a rounded character, not a stereotype. His circumstances are Gothic, but Bronte imbues them with a moral significance. Thornfield Hall might seem a Gothic residence, but apart from the mysterious presence of Grace Poole (who turns out to be benign if unattractive) and Bertha, it is a comfortable house. The facts surrounding Bertha's presence at Thornfield are highly Gothic, as is Bertha herself. Again, however, she is not important in herself, but for what she represents. Other similarities to Gothic may be seen in Bertha's attacks on Messrs. Rochester and Mason and her intrusion into Jane's bedroom; the sudden interruption of Jane and Mr. Rochester's wedding; Jane's flight across the countryside; the cold−hearted Reverend St. John Rivers; the destruction of Thornfield by fire; and the supernatural intervention of Jane hearing Rochester's voice calling her back to him. Coincidence When critics point out the weaknesses of Jane Eyre, they almost always mention its use of unbelievable coincidence. Yet, by no means was Bronte the only major writer to use coincidence as a device for advancing a novel's plot. During the Victorian period, the use of coincidence for this purpose was very common, even among the greatest writers. It was an accepted literary convention of the period. The works of Charles Dickens, for example, are filled with coincidences that no one would believe today, yet Dickens's books remain great works of literature. Thomas Hardy, who wrote later in the Victorian period, also has unbelievable coincidences occur in most of his novels. Of the coincidences in Jane Eyre, at least two have drawn critical comment. The first concerns the way in which Bertha's brother, Mason, finds out about Jane's impending marriage to Rochester. Mason, who lives in Jamaica, is in the wine trade. So is Jane's uncle, John Eyre, who lives on the island of Madeira, several thousand miles away. Earlier, on his way back to Jamaica after his attack by Bertha, Mason happened to stop at Madeira and stayed with John Eyre, unaware of Mr. Eyre's relation to Jane. When John Eyre mentions that his niece, Jane, is to marry a Mr. Rochester, Mason hurries back to England to stop the wedding. The second incredible coincidence concerns the way that Jane receives her inheritance and learns that the Riverses are her cousins. After Jane flees Thornfield and is penniless and on the verge of starvation, she is finally taken in by strangers—St. John Rivers and his two sisters. The Riverses nurture her back to health and provide her with lodging, friendship, and a position as a schoolmistress, but she does not tell them her real identity. One day St. John tells Jane that he has had a letter from a London attorney informing him that his uncle—John Eyre—has died and left a fortune to Jane Eyre. St. John deduces that the young woman he has assisted is that very Jane, and Jane discovers that the very people who had helped her as a stranger are in fact her cousins. Both these coincidences strain the reader's credibility, yet they are necessary in order to drive important developments in the plot. Symbolism and Imagery Jane Eyre is filled with imagery drawn from nature and the English countryside. Bronte uses this imagery to suggest her characters' moral condition and state of mind. There are numerous references to weather and to the sky, in the form of storms, rain, clouds, and sun. At the very opening of the novel, Jane sets the scene by mentioning that "the cold winter wind" had brought with it "clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating." The moon, too, appears frequently. There is a full moon on the night when Bertha attacks her brother, as there is on the night when Jane flees Thornfield. Later, St. John Rivers reads his Bible in the moonlight. Tree imagery is perhaps even more significant. Critic Mark Shorer has noted that "nearly every important scene in the Style
development of the passion of Rochester and Jane Eyre takes place among trees—in an orchard, an arbor, a woods, a 'leafy enclosure.'" Shortly after Jane has agreed to marry Rochester, he tells her that she looks "blooming." After their wedding is interrupted, "the woods which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant . . . now spread, waste, wild and white as pine−forests in wintry Norway." Ferndean, the house where the blind and maimed Rochester has gone after Thornfield is destroyed, is hidden by the "thick and dark . . . timber . . . of the gloomy wood about it." The house itself can scarcely be distinguished from the trees; when Jane arrives there, she also notes that "there were no flowers, no garden−beds." On their reunion, Rochester tells Jane that "I am no better than the old lightening−struck chestnut−tree in Thornfield orchard." Jane retorts that, on the contrary, he is "green and vigorous," and tells him that "plants will grow about your roots . . . because your strength offers them so safe a prop." » Back to Table of Contents
Historical Context Bronte's England: The Social Context Jane Eyre is set in the north of England sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century. During this period, British society was undergoing slow but significant change. Perhaps most apparent was the transition from a rural to an industrial economy. The Industrial Revolution had begun in Britain in the late 1700s, and by the time of Jane Eyre, it was running full steam. Although Charlotte Bronte wrote about some of the effects of the Industrial Revolution in her 1849 novel Shirley, she touches on three areas of social concern in Jane Eyre: education, women's employment, and marriage. Victorian attitudes toward education differed considerably from those prevalent in modern America. For one thing, the level of one's schooling was determined by social class and also by gender. At all levels of society and in virtually all levels of the education system, boys and girls were taught separately. The children of poor or working−class families were taught in local schools, such as the one in which Jane Eyre is a schoolmistress. Such children would rarely progress beyond learning basic skills; most learning was by rote. Most of these children would have left school by their early teen years to work on farms or in factories; boys would often leave to join the army or navy. Upper− and upper−middle−class families, on the other hand, sought to enroll their sons in exclusive private schools (known paradoxically as public schools). In truth, however, conditions in these schools were often as harsh as those in schools for orphans and the poor such as Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre. But a public school education would serve as an entree into good society; the graduates of public schools staffed the higher ranks of government and the professions. Virtually all young men who went on to university (i.e., college) first attended public schools. Women were excluded from universities until the 1870s. The first women did not graduate from an English university until 1874, when four women received degrees from Cambridge University. Young children in upper−class and upper−middle−class families—both boys and girls—would often receive their earliest education from governesses. Governesses were women who were hired to serve as live−in tutors; they provided their charges with ongoing lessons in a variety of subjects until the child was old enough to be sent away to school. For the most part these women were daughters of the middle classes and the professional classes who had attained a certain level of education. Although the profession of governess was not financially rewarding, it was respectable. Working conditions for governesses varied, depending upon the particular family for which a governess might work. Some parents treated their hired governess with respect, as a professional, while others considered governesses little more than servants who were expected to keep in their place. In the traditional curriculum of the time, girls and young women did not study such "serious" subjects as Historical Context
mathematics, science, or classics. However, they were taught grammar, history, geography, and French. Art, music, and sewing or embroidery were also considered appropriate subjects, and young women were all expected to have a knowledge of the Bible and basic Christian teachings. These subjects were taught both by governesses and at school. Jane Eyre may not be a typical governess, but clearly she has an excellent command of most of these subjects. By the middle of the nineteenth century, some twenty−five thousand women in England worked as governesses. Jane Eyre depicts several views of marriage. The marriage of Rochester and Bertha owes more to the Gothic imagination than to reality, while the marriage of Rochester and Jane may also have been more the exception than the norm. Perhaps the most historically accurate view of marriage in early Victorian England is suggested by those marriages in the novel that might, but do not, take place. The anticipated marriage of Rochester and Blanche Ingram, for example, would seem an appropriate one to many Victorians because the two partners come from the same social class. A marriage such as the potential one between Jane and St. John Rivers would also not have been unusual. A husband such as Rivers would secure a "helpmeet" to share his burdens, while the woman in such a marriage would be given an opportunity to establish her own home and family and to do good works. » Back to Table of Contents
Critical Overview When it was published in October, 1847, Jane Eyre attracted much attention, and the novel became an almost instant commercial success. So high was demand for the book that the publisher issued a second edition within three months, followed by a third edition in April, 1848. The influential novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was one of Jane Eyre's earliest admirers. He wrote to the publisher, saying that he was "exceedingly moved & pleased" by the novel. He also asked the publisher to express his admiration to the author. Bronte subsequently dedicated the second edition of the book to Thackeray. Jane Eyre was reviewed in some of Britain's leading newspapers and literary journals. Most early reviewers were enthusiastic. The Edinburgh Review pronounced it "a book of singular fascination." The critic for the London Times newspaper called it "a remarkable production" and noted that the story "stand[s] boldly out from the mass." The Westminster Review noted that the book's characters were astonishingly lifelike (However, a reviewer in Spectator took the opposite view, saying that the characters did not behave like people in real life.) Fraser's Magazine gave a resounding endorsement and helped to spur sales by encouraging readers to "lose not a day in sending for it." Contrary to this general praise, a handful of reviewers professed to be shocked by the passions expressed in the novel. A writer in the Christian Remembrancer regarded the book as an attack on Christianity and an example of "moral Jacobinism." Elizabeth Rigby (Lady Eastlake) denounced it in her unsigned notice in the Quarterly Review, calling it "pre−eminently an anti−Christian composition" and an attack on the the English class system. Perhaps unconsciously echoing Mrs. Reed, she condemned the title character as "the personification of an unregenerate and undisciplined spirit." The identity of Jane Eyre's author was still unknown, but Rigby commented that if it was a woman, she "had forfeited the society of her sex." However, unknown to Bronte and to the public, the book received the ultimate Victorian seal of approval: Queen Victoria privately referred to Jane Eyre as "that intensely interesting novel" and read it to Prince Albert. Of Bronte's four novels, Jane Eyre has continued to be the most popular and has received the most attention of critics and scholars. Writing in the mid−twentieth century, the critic M. H. Scargill noted in the University of Toronto Quarterly that Jane Eyre marked a turning point in the English novel, away from external concerns Critical Overview
and toward personal experience. Scargill called the novel "a profound, spiritual experience" in which fiction approaches the condition of poetry. Modern feminists see Jane Eyre as one of the first feminist novels. In her biography of Bronte, entitled The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family, Rebecca Fraser remarks that it was "Charlotte's protest against the stifling convention society imposed, which never allowed true feeling to be voiced." However, Scargill notes that "Jane Eyre may speak for women, but it speaks also for all humanity. . . ." Much discussion centers on just what makes Jane Eyre such a compelling work. Critics have noted that the book succeeds in spite of some obvious weaknesses, particularly its episodic structure and a plot that in places defies credibility. In the hands of a less talented author than Bronte, the story might have amounted to little more than a conventional Gothic romance. What makes the work so memorable, say most modern critics, is the sharp delineation of the characters, the vivid realization of the settings, and the powerful theme of redemption through love. Mark Schorer is one critic who takes the book to task. "The action is pitted with implausibilities, indeed, absurdities," notes Shorer, yet "somehow the whole of the novel is compelling and strong even though so much of it is composed of . . . silly, feeble parts." Ultimately, however, Schorer finds that this novel has a "visionary quality" that makes it more akin to dramatic poetry than to conventional realistic fiction. Similarly, Margaret Lane, in her Introduction to "Jane Eyre", remarks that "It is . . . this rare capacity for emotional feeling, expressed in a singularly musical, pure, and moving prose, which gives [Bronte] her unique place as a writer. Her prose is so compelling that it has at times an almost hypnotic quality; we lose touch with our surroundings and are swept along on the strong current of her imagination." In a similar vein, Rebecca Fraser has argued that while Bronte lacked the creative scope of Dickens, George Eliot, and Tolstoy, "the incandescent power of her writing gives Jane Eyre . . . a uniquely flavoured niche in the affections of the reading public." The novel's grip on the imagination is further confirmed by the numerous film, television, and stage adaptations that have been produced over the years. A century and a half after it was written, many readers of all ages continue to name Jane Eyre as one of their favorite novels. » Back to Table of Contents
Essays and Criticism 1. Overview of Jane Eyre 2. Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism 3. Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre
Overview of Jane Eyre In the following essay, Arnold A. Markley provides a general overview of the many aspects of Jane Eyre, portraying the novel as unique, both for its time and even for contemporary literature. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was first published in England in October, 1847, and it made a huge splash among the Victorian reading public. The novel was subtitled, "An Autobiography," and readers through the years have been charmed by the strong voice of the heroine who tells the story of her life. The narrator's habit of addressing the reader directly throughout the book, making statements such as "Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt," and "reader, forgive me for telling the plain truth!" are quite effective in drawing the reader into the action of the novel. Jane Eyre is a character whose strength and individuality are remarkable for her times. As model for women Essays and Criticism
readers in the Victorian period and throughout the twentieth century to follow, Jane Eyre encouraged them to make their own choices in living their lives, to develop respect for themselves, and to become individuals. But the early readers of Jane Eyre were not all charmed by the heroine's bold personality. Many readers objected to the novel because they felt that it was "un−Christian," taking offense at Bronte's often bitter attacks on certain aspects of religion and the church in contemporary England. The character of Mr. Brocklehurst, for example, a deeply religious but highly hypocritical figure, was based on a well known clergyman alive at the time, and many readers recognized the characterization right away. Other Victorian readers felt that the novel was "coarse" because it addresses issues and incidents that were not "proper" for a female narrator to discuss. When Edward Rochester tells Jane of his past history with women, for example, and his possible fathering of Adele Varens, many readers found it highly improper to imagine a man speaking of such matters to a young girl of eighteen. Moreover, Mr. Rochester's plans to marry Jane even though he was married already was a rather shocking situation for a novel to explore. Many readers believed that the writer of the novel was a man, not able to imagine that a woman could possibly write such a story. Bronte's use of the pen−name, "Currer Bell" encouraged this assumption for some time. Many women writers like Bronte chose to publish under a man's name because publishers, critics, and readers were much more likely to respond well to a work by a man, and because the general belief was that it was improper for ladies to write at all. The issue of female independence is central to Jane Eyre. Much of the strength of Jane's character comes directly from Bronte who was able to voice a lot of her own thoughts and feelings concerning the life of women in the nineteenth century. Additionally, Bronte based a fair amount of the material in the story on actual events from her own family's life. The Lowood School, for example, is closely based on an actual boarding school for the daughters of clergymen that Bronte and several of her sisters attended as children. Her depiction of the horrors of life in such a place is not exaggerated; the conditions were such that two of Bronte's sisters died from illnesses they contracted while living at the school. In the nineteenth century women had far less personal freedom, and there were few options available for them to support themselves outside of choosing to marry and raise children. Jane's work as a governess represents one of the only respectable ways in which a woman could employ herself if she lacked personal wealth. Even so, governesses were typically treated only a little better than servants, as seen when Mr. Rochester brings his wealthy houseguests to Thornfield and they disdain to interact with Jane at all. Many readers have noted the strong relationship between Jane Eyre's story and fairy tales. Her descriptions of her early life are very similar to the story of "Cinderella," for example. Her aunt, Mrs. Reed, is akin to the archetypal evil stepmother, and Jane is mistreated while the other children of the house are indulged in every way. The story of Jane's relationship with Mr. Rochester also reflects a few details of the story of "Beauty and the Beast." Mr. Rochester is, after all, described as a rather unattractive man with a gruff exterior, yet Jane gradually grows to love him despite his exterior, much as Beauty grows to love the Beast. Despite the story's roots in traditional fairy tales, however, it is quite modern and unusual in its description of a woman's search for self and for the life of her choice. Sandra Gilbert has discussed the novel as the story of a woman's coming of age that is accomplished through several important psychological stages. The story begins with Jane's first home, the Reeds' Gateshead, where Jane learns to stand up for herself when she is wrongfully accused of being a liar and a bad child. The story then moves to the grim setting of the Lowood School where Jane gains an education and "becomes a lady" as her old nurse Bessie declares when she visits Jane at the end of chapter 10. Here she is given the model of the saintly Miss Temple, and here she encounters the equally saintly Helen Burns, who responds to her irrational abuse at the hands of Miss Scatcherd with calm acceptance. Helen is in many ways a model Christian who always turns the other cheek, but Jane cannot respond to such treatment m the same way, and her resolve to demand fair treatment in her life is solidified by her relationship with Helen. Essays and Criticism
Jane then moves on to a new life at Thornfield, whose name suggests some degree of the troubles she will endure there before fleeing to a new chapter in her life with the Rivers family at Moor House, or Marsh End, which Gilbert sees as the end of Jane's journey to adulthood, and where she finally finds a family to replace the awful Reeds of her childhood. Finally, Jane chooses to return to Mr. Rochester, at a new place, Ferndean, hidden deep in the woods. Ferndean represents a separation from the rest of society which is appropriate, since her relationship with Mr. Rochester is to be a new kind of relationship—one between equals, and based on spiritual love, a concept of marriage quite unusual for its time. One of the most unusual aspects of Jane Eyre is the depiction of Jane's relationship with Mr. Rochester. From the beginning, the novel defies contemporary conventions of the romance in its emphasis on Jane as a plain woman, lacking the physical beauty which usually characterized fictional heroines. As mentioned previously, Mr. Rochester is also described as being physically unattractive, dark, and sullen. At one point soon after their meeting, Mr. Rochester asks Jane if she finds him attractive, and she surprises him and the reader with a firm "No." Jane and Mr. Rochester's early conversations also progress in unusual ways; characteristically with his questioning her in terms of her beliefs and opinions, and her honest, if restrained, answers to his unusual questions. As the relationship progresses, Mr. Rochester tests Jane more and more. His first test is with statements desired to provoke a certain response. Then he tests her with his manipulative disguise as the old gypsy woman to try to discover her feelings for him, and with his cruel manner of proposing marriage by first allowing Jane to believe that he intends to marry Blanche Ingram. If Jane is not the typical Victorian heroine, Mr. Rochester is certainly not the typical Victorian hero. In addition to these unusual conversations, Bronte gives readers a number of glimpses of Jane and Mr. Rochester in various positions that are unusual for literary depictions of Victorian couples. For example, we frequently see her, a small girl, giving physical support to the older and stalwart Mr. Rochester. When he falls off of his horse upon first seeing Jane, it is Jane who helps Mr. Rochester. When Mr. Rochester's bedroom is set aflame, Jane rescues him. Later, when he is shocked to learn of Mr. Mason's arrival at Thornfield after the gypsy incident, Jane is there for him. And at the end, when he is crippled and blind Rochester depends entirely on Jane to guide him. Moreover, when Mr. Rochester finally does propose marriage to her, Jane reacts with restraint and strongly refuses his wishes to give her jewels and fine new clothes. Jane is able to gain a new perspective on her relationship with Mr. Rochester when she meets her cousin, St. John Rivers. Unlike Mr. Rochester, Rivers is a strikingly attractive man, but Jane finds his piety and coldness very unattractive. As cruel Mr. Brocklehurst tried to control Jane by telling her that bad girls go to hell, Rivers gradually begins to impose his will on Jane by using religion to subdue her, telling her that she will deny God if she does not accept his proposal of marriage and accompany him as a missionary to India. Just as she is about to break under the strain of this latest male oppressor, Jane psychically hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling her back to him. Another fascinating aspect of Jane Eyre is Mr. Rochester's mad wife, Bertha Mason Rochester. Some critics, including Sandra Gilbert, interpret Bertha as a double of Jane—representing her "dark side" in psychological terms. Bertha can be said to represent Jane's anger and rage at society's attempts to control her and imprison her in a particular role. Perhaps Bertha's imprisonment at Thornfield can be related to the horrible fear of imprisonment that Jane suffered at being shut up in the terrifying red room at the Reeds' house as a child. Moreover, Bertha appears or is heard laughing at times that mark developments in the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester. She even acts out at least one of Jane's unconscious wishes when she comes into Jane's room on the night before Jane's wedding and rips up the wedding veil that Jane felt uncomfortable about wearing. Many readers feel that the treatment of the pathetic Bertha in the novel undercuts any effort on the author's part to provide an encouraging story for women in presenting Jane as a woman who insists on her own independence. The novelist Jean Rhys reacted to the novel in this way, and responded by writing her own "prequel" to Jane Eyre, entitled Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), in which she develops Bertha's own personal story, and the story of her relationship with Edward Rochester before the events of Jane Eyre. Essays and Criticism
All in all, Jane Eyre is the story of an unusual woman who finds a family, who finds a lover, and who finds herself in a world that has not made her growing into adulthood an easy process in any way. Jane progresses from being an unwanted member of a cruel family of cousins who are forced to help her, to finding the ideal family of cousins in the Rivers, who she is able to help when she comes into her inheritance from her uncle John. It is this inheritance that gives Jane the freedom to make her own choices and to choose never to be dependent on anyone again. But the choice she makes is to return to the man she loves, who, chastened by his symbolic injuries in the burning of his old home and freed from his earlier marriage by the death of his first wife, is at last able to enter into the kind of spiritual relationship of equality that Jane desires as an independent woman and a strong woman who has always managed to remain true to herself. Source: Arnold A. Markley, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1998. Markley is an assistant professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism In the following excerpt, Frederick L. Ashe follows Jane's deprived childhood experiences and connects them to her relationship with Rochester later in life. Critics have traditionally endowed the heroine and eponym of Charlotte Bronte's romantic masterwork, Jane Eyre, with a prodigious free will. According to various commentators, Jane draws on her knowledge either of good and evil or of her own nature in choosing between a series of conventional literary oppositions—reason and passion, absolute and relative morality, and, finally, love without marriage and marriage without love. Such a reading, however, judges the actions of Jane the young woman without allowing for the extraordinary childhood forces that largely determine her adult personality, thus essentially ignoring the first quarter of the novel. While many have celebrated Bronte's carefully wrought description of her protagonist's first eighteen years for its vivid pathos, no one has as yet accorded this childhood its deserved weight in the novel's ultimate resolution. When viewed from the vantage of modern child psychology, Jane's background—ten years spent at Gateshead barren of affection or adult encouragement, and eight years at Lowood School marked by severe physical privations, public humiliations, and exposure to the cheerless philosophy of Helen Burns—can only exempt Bronte's heroine from common standards of morality or human incentive. The Jane Eyre who emerges from this past of injustice and mental depression is an odd mixture of pride and insecurity. She is saddled with a tenacious pessimism concerning her prospects for happiness, and it is this mentality against which she must struggle, and this over which she triumphs in the end. It is hard to imagine anyone learned enough to read Jane Eyre who would consider her first ten years emotionally healthful ones. Orphaned in her first year, Jane is given up to her resentful Aunt Reed, whose husband (Jane's mother's brother) also dies within the year. Jane's life to age ten is one of ostracism by the Reed family and unrelenting anxiety over the chidings of the servants, the violence of her cousin John Reed, and the punishments and beratings of Mrs. Reed. Though we as readers do not meet Jane until her tenth year, we may deduce from Mrs. Reed's deathbed admission that Jane's situation has been destitute since infancy—"I hated it the first time I set my eyes on it—a sickly, whining, pining thing"—and her declaration that her children could never bear to be friendly to Jane. The older Jane, who narrates the novel, makes a characteristically self−deprecating excuse for the Reeds' behavior, claiming, "I know that had I been a sanguine, brilliant, careless, exacting, handsome, romping child—though equally dependent and friendless—Mrs. Reed would have endured my presence more complacently." But we cannot admit this statement as "the more sober judgment of the mature Jane, that as a child she brought much of her punishment upon herself." For a child in such circumstances as Jane's at Gateshead to develop the traits that the "mature Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism
Jane" enumerates would be unimaginable. Susan D. Bernstein, in ["Madam Mope: The Bereaved Child in Bronte's Jane Eyre], uses Bronte's depiction of childhood in Jane Eyre to illustrate the effects of grief and loss on children. Bernstein concentrates on the novel's first few chapters, which describe a typical afternoon of melancholy and exclusion for the ten−year−old Jane, culminating in her traumatic banishment to the Red Room—which Jane has supposed to be haunted since her uncle died there years earlier—for defending herself against an attack by her John. The medical implications of the Red Room incident run perhaps even deeper than Bernstein allows, as Jane's emotional reaction provides a textbook example of mental depression. Jane in this scene quite clearly demonstrates five of the eight identifiable symptoms of adult or child depression cited by the American Psychiatric Association. First, she manifests a loss of appetite in her inability to eat either the night she is locked in the Red Room or the following day. Secondly, she is unable to sleep: "For me, the watches of that long night passed in ghastly wakefulness." Third, she displays a lack of interest in usual activities, as she is unable to muster enthusiasm over her favorite engraved dinner plate or over Gulliver's Travels. Fourth, Jane experiences feelings of guilt and worthlessness: "All said I was wicked, and perhaps I might be so." Finally, Jane indulges in suicidal fantasy in her thoughts of forsaking food or drink. It is now widely agreed that most childhood disorders can be traced to either a faulty relationship with the child's parents or to anxiety−provoking experiences that the child cannot understand. Aside from the antagonistic relationship with her guardian, the ghost in the Red Room constitutes for Jane a frightening experience, and as an older narrator she attributes to the incident "some fearful pangs of mental suffering." Only hope enables human beings to endure such adverse conditions as those Jane endures at Gateshead, and it is the hope of leaving the Reeds that revives Jane's spirits following her fright in the Red Room. This initial experience with hope, however, proves a negative one; the young Jane is learning early the futility of optimism. The change that delivers her from Gateshead is a move to Lowood School, where onto her life of emotional privation is grafted one of physical hardship. At a critical stage in her development Jane is subjected to severe cold and near starvation, conditions that claim the lives of many of her classmates. Her bad luck with adults remains constant as well, as she is almost immediately singled out in front of her classmates by Mr. Brocklehurst, the school's headmaster. Brocklehurst christens Jane a deceitful child, and warns her classmates to "shun her example: if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse." Lowood school can be seen as Brocklehurst's project for infusing orphan girls with an ascetic abhorrence of worldly pleasures, and the fire−and−brimstone religion he imposes proves ideal for instilling in his pupils a sense of fear and guilt about happiness on earth. At Lowood Jane also meets Helen Burns, a character whose acceptance of fate has led critics to read her as a positive model for Jane. But while Helen's calm stoicism later helps Jane to accept hardship, it does little to prepare her for human happiness. Helen lives only for death and the reunion it will bring with her savior. Her reliance on "an invisible world and a kingdom of spirits" may signify a venerable religious faith, but it also serves as a defense mechanism against the sufferings she has found life to hold for an orphan child. Jane finds "an alloy of inexpressible sadness" in Helen's stance—only as Helen dies does Jane see her happy. To Jane, Helen's death represents yet another defeat of hope, as it cuts short what would have been Jane's first real friendship. Jane longs for happiness in this rife, and Helen Burns provides one more affirmation that such longing is for naught. Although Jane does finally find friendship and encouragement at Lowood in the person of Miss Temple, it is not enough to counteract the effects of her gloomy childhood. Miss Temple is rarely able to abate the physical severity of the school, and nothing can erase the damage wrought by Jane's miserable first decade. The Jane of Lowood is the product of an absolute lack of love and affection, qualities critical to the healthy development of a growing child. While Bronte seemed to sense this truth, modern child psychology has codified it. A loving family atmosphere and a favorable emotional climate in the home are today widely held to be the most important factors in the healthy mental development of the growing child. Parents or adult guardians who Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism
deprive their children of warmth or affection risk having their child become withdrawn and depressed, and, like Jane, devoid of any sense of optimism or security. Moreover, such overstrictness as Jane suffers at the hands of Mrs. Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst is today seen as a major source of childhood anxiety and low self−esteem, qualities which well describe the Jane Eyre of Gateshead and Lowood. Not only does Jane's early life provide an accurate portrayal of childhood depression, but the subsequent emotional development of Bronte's character possesses astonishing psychological verisimilitude as the natural extension of a rocky youth. John Bowlby has done extensive work in the area of childhood loss of or separation from the mother, and has determined such events to have a profound effect in later life. Bowlby claims that the most important factor in the development of mental health is the infant or young child's "warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother or a permanent mother−substitute—one who steadily 'mothers' him." The effects of an unsatisfactory maternal relation, such as Jane's with her Aunt Reed, may extend to the child's later capacity to make and sustain relationships with others. Jane's pessimism is, moreover, a natural result of her maltreatment by the Reeds, who reinforced in her the notion of her own inadequacy and unlovability, a notion, says Bowlby, that may lead the child when grown to develop "a model of attachment figures as likely to be unavailable, or rejecting," and will likely "confirm in [her] the belief that any effort [she] might make to remedy [her] situation would be doomed to failure." Jane Eyre bears out this observation. The mature Jane's need for romantic love is matched by her assurance that such love does not exist for her. This is not to suggest that Charlotte Bronte was versed in psychological literature, or that Jane Eyre is a calculated illustration of how an abnormal childhood might affect one's later development. Bronte's understanding of the Bowlby pattern was an experiential one, and, literature being the outgrowth of an author's imagination and experience, it is not surprising that Jane Eyre should follow that pattern. While the critic is well−advised to retain a degree of skepticism towards the narrative patterns necessarily imposed by biographers on the retrievable facts of their subjects' lives, and while one must be careful when using biographical evidence not to reduce imaginative art to mere mimesis, readers cannot ignore the verifiable pattern of Bronte's life in interpreting Jane Eyre, which was originally subtitled An Autobiography and was published under a pseudonym. The most basic facts of Bronte's life reveal a history of loss quite similar to Jane's, and it is safe to assume from her later correspondence that Bronte responded to her experience by developing a pessimistic attitude towards her own prospects, an attitude her biographers have characterized variously as a "lack of hope" and a "skeptical incredulity about good fortune." Jane's habitual mistrust of good fortune manifests itself perhaps most strongly when she finds herself developing amorous feelings toward Rochester. She refuses to succumb to her will because she cannot imagine his returning the love— she cannot allow for a happy ending. In her conviction that "sense would resist delirium: judgment would warn passion," Jane endeavors to punish her own presumptuousness by juxtaposing an idealized bust of Blanche Ingram with an unflattering portrait of herself—a constant reminder that Rochester could never love "a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain." In this poignant scene Jane berates herself violently for her own giddy idealism. A more optimistic character with a more realistic self−image could not but read Rochester's many signs of affection, and accept his inability to love the haughty Blanche. But Jane refuses any insight that favors herself, and as a result she suffers greatly before Rochester's proposal. The proposal again piques Jane's mistrust. After her characteristic initial response—"I was silent: I thought he mocked me''—she tempers her bliss by insisting on casting the future in the most unflattering light Her response upon hearing pronounced for the first time the name "Jane Rochester" is consistent with her refusal to accept joy: "The feeling, the announcement sent through me, was something stronger than was consistent with joy—something that smote and stunned: it was, I think, almost fear." It is the pessimist—the product of Gateshead, where human attention meant criticism, and of Lowood, where life was taught as a struggle and where Jane's first friend died only months after they met—who says to Rochester: Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism
"It can never be, sir, it does not sound likely Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in this world. I was not born for a different destiny to the rest of my species to imagine such a lot befalling me is a fairy tale—a daydream . . . for a little while you will perhaps be as you are now,—a very little while, and then you will turn cool; and then you will be capricious, and then you will be stern, and I shall have much ado to please you but when you get well used to me, you will perhaps like me again,—like me, I say, not love me. I suppose your love will effervesce in six months, or less." It is fitting that a Bronte character will not view even her opportunity to marry the man she loves as more than a new servitude. Jane's refusal during the courtship to be pampered or flattered does not betoken pride, but instead a belief that she does not deserve to be treated well. Her incredulity is stoked both by Bertha Rochester's mysterious pre−nuptial antics and by her own portentous dreams. As she awaits Rochester's return on the night before the wedding, she muses, "I feared my hopes were too bright to be realized; and I had enjoyed so much bliss lately that I imagined my fortune had passed its meridian, and must now decline." Jane still sees happiness as a fluke, which will always be ephemeral. In this instance such does indeed prove to be the case, and when Rochester's first marriage and his technically bigamous intent are exposed, Jane is patently unsurprised. She blames herself for her shattered hopes, and instantly forgives Rochester. "Real affection, it seemed, he could not have for me; it had only been fitful passion, that was balked, he would want me no more. I should fear even to cross his path now: my view must be hateful to him. Oh, how blind had been my eyes! How weak my conduct." Her pithy declaration as she leaves Rochester, "we are born to strive and endure," sums up the philosophy that Gateshead and Lowood have fostered. Jane's every adult decision has been biased by the belief that the happiest alternative always is the least realistic. Jane's departure from Thornfield marks a new stage in her psychic development. She exhibits a sustaining pride during her destitute wanderings on the way to Moor House, and even allows herself to believe that the horrible fate of wandering penniless and friendless through the countryside is not for her. In Diana and Mary Rivers she finally meets two people whose company she can enjoy. When a genealogical quirk brings her a large inheritance, she views it as something that will have only positive effects. It is during this year that Jane begins psychologically to outgrow the effects of her childhood—to realize that life can be at least pleasant, even for her. But she still has one obstacle to overcome. Though Jane learns at Moor House that life can be bearable, she also realizes that it cannot be happy unless she spends it with Rochester. St. John Rivers' pragmatic proposal to marry Jane and take her along for missionary work in India awakens in the heroine a struggle between her natural pessimism and her deep−rooted desire for Rochester and happiness in England. We never believe that Jane would be happy in India, but her guilty sense of religious duty coupled with her doubts about happiness in England come quite close to making her accept Rivers' proposal. Towards the novel's end Jane's inner battle gathers in narrative intensity, climaxing in her famous discernment of Rochester's mystical voice in the night. This voice represents a triumph of Jane's true desires. She truly wants to be with Rochester, and she truly believes that "the best things the world has" are the "domestic endearments and household joys" that she might enjoy as Mrs. Rochester. The voice she hears convinces Jane to reject Rivers and a pessimistic sacrifice of future happiness, and to gamble on recovering Rochester and bliss. The voice represents the defeat of the pessimist in Jane Eyre. By ignoring the deterministic role of Jane's childhood and her adult struggle against it, traditional criticism has in essence reduced Jane Eyre to the status of a clever vehicle for the restatement of conventional literary formulas. To see the adult Jane as the crippled but determined product of an unhealthy childhood is to re−establish the novel as the very plausible portrait of a full human life. Jane's happy ending must not be viewed merely as a proper or improper choice between right and wrong, but as the resolution of an intense psychological drama, wherein the degree of free will needed to make such a happy choice is finally attained.
Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism
Source: Frederick L. Ashe, "Jane Eyre: The Quest for Optimism," in Studies in the Novel, Summer, 1988, pp. 121−30. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre In the following excerpt, Maria Yuen demonstrates how Jane refuses to accept that she is socially and sexually inferior to Rochester and others because of her class situation and gender. When Jane is emancipated from the thraldom of her aunt's family, she moves on to a larger social unit, the community of Lowood, exchanging moral oppression for the religious oppression of Mr. Brocklehurst. But Jane has by now built up her defenses: "I stood lonely enough, but to that feeling of isolation I was accustomed: it did not oppress me much." By nature antipathic to Brocklehurst's hypocritical Evangelicalism, Jane is nevertheless drawn towards two other representatives of religion at Lowood. Helen Burns represents a Christian ideal that Jane admires but does not aspire to. Jane, with her intense awareness of self and her fierce sense of justice, could never adopt Helen's attitude of resignation and forgiveness. Again, with her passionate longing for life, Jane could not subscribe to Helen's calm acceptance of death. Miss Temple, on a more human level, embodies the religion of love, goodness and kindness which provides the inspiration and motivation for Jane through her eight years at Lowood. But with the departure of Miss Temple, all Jane's old hunger for life, for experience returns in force: "I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped. . . . For change, stimulus." "I longed to go where there was life and movement." Jane is formed not for religion, but for love. Her repressed nature now reasserts itself as she prepares to embark on a new adventure in life. Jane's world is an even smaller one than Maggie's [Tulliver's in George Eliot's novel The Mill on the Floss]—she progresses from a barely tolerated dependent in a household of unloving relatives, through a charity child in a charity institution among similarly deprived children, to a governess of a foreign born child of questionable birth in a strange environment, Thornfield. The first two main phases of Jane's life are spent almost exclusively in the two houses or establishments—Gateshead Hall and Lowood—which form the background for her early development. Through these experiences and vicissitudes Jane's personality becomes more and more withdrawn, so that from the solitary child she grows into the "quaint, quiet, grave" young woman whose cool exterior nevertheless conceals "a heart hungering for affection [suggests Kathleen Tillotson in her book Novels of the Eighteen−Forties, 1956]." It is [as Eliot writes in, The Mill on the Floss] "this need of love, this hunger of the heart" that precipitates the emotional and moral crisis in the novel. Jane Eyre's dilemma is very much like George Eliot's own—whether to live with Rochester as his unmarried wife or sever all relations with him—and George Eliot's strong condemnation of Jane's renunciation is understandable. Perhaps a quotation from George Eliot's own novel will throw light on her reaction to Jane's decision. Near the end of The Mill on the Floss, in a passage that comes nearest to George Eliot's own conception of the moral problem at the heart of the novel, we find this authorial comment: "Moral judgements must remain false and hollow unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot." This is central to George Eliot's notion of morality and explains in large measure her censure of Jane Eyre. George Eliot obviously thinks that Jane's "special circumstances" justify a defiance of conventional morality and social laws. Her dissatisfaction arises from what she interprets as Jane's misplaced good faith and good intentions. What George Eliot fails to see is that Jane's renunciation of Rochester is made not in the interests of a law, diabolical or not, but in self−interest. And the motivation of Jane's action is not self−sacrifice, but rather self−protection.
Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre
Rochester tries to appeal to Jane's judgement of the balance of consequences: Is it better to drive a fellow−creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law, no man being injured by the breach?—for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me. Jane is almost convinced as she tries to reason within herself: Think of his misery, think of his danger, look at his state when left alone, remember his headlong nature−consider the recklessness following on despair—soothe him, save him, love him, tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do? And then comes the reply from the depths of Jane's soul: Jane is almost convinced as she tries to reason within herself: I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. In the crisis, she can only fall back on herself, on her sense of self−protection, on her instinct for self−survival. If Jane is adhering to a principle, it is the principle of self−respecting personal integrity. As she said: "I still possessed my soul." Rochester in his saner moments would have understood the motivation of her decision, as is shown by his penetrating analysis of Jane's character in the guise of a gypsy woman on an earlier occasion: That brow professes to say—"I can live alone, if self−respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. . . . Reason sits firm and holds the reins, judgement shall have the casting vote in every decision. . . . I shall follow the guiding of that still small voice which interprets the dictates of conscience." This is of course ironic in the light of later events, for it is precisely these same self−respect, reason, judgement, and conscience that combine to frustrate Rochester. Jane Eyre's painful decision to leave Rochester is in line with her magnificent outburst in the moonlit garden on Midsummer's eve: Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh, it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal—as we are! In a further demonstration of spirit before she understands Rochester's intentions, she declares proudly: "I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you." She might have said the same at the later crisis of emotion and event in which she actually leaves him. In this outburst of pent−up emotions, Jane is assuming for herself and her sex a position and an attitude never before granted to heroines in English fiction—equality in love. Charlotte Bronte believes that love between man and woman is an all−consuming passion shared not only physically, but mentally and spiritually—"to the finest fibre of my nature," as Jane says. What Charlotte Bronte is asking for is a recognition of the emotional needs of a woman—the right to feel, to love unreservedly. In a way, Jane is an . . . unconventional heroine. She claims independence and Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre
rejects subservience. She will consent only to a marriage which is the union of equals in independence. Charlotte Bronte sees the relationship between man and woman as one of mutual need, a kind of equal partnership in which the woman is not just the object of pursuit or desire, but is recognized as an active contributor—unafraid to love with all−consuming passion, willing to devote herself to the man, and yet exacting respect and a recognition of her rights as an individual. Charlotte Bronte does not advocate an absolute union, a complete merging of man and woman—this would mean the dissolution of the self. Unlike Catherine Earnshaw who declares! "I am Heathcliff," Jane asserts: "I care for myself." Instead of losing herself in some "otherness," Jane fights to preserve her own identity. The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff involves a fusion of personalities and leads towards mutual annihilation. The relationship [as suggested by Ruth Bernard Yeazell in her essay "More True Than Real: Jane Eyre's 'Mysterious Summons'," Nineteenth−Century Fictions, 1974] between Jane and Rochester is grounded on the equality and integrity of two independent selves and leads towards life. In the "Eden−like" garden of Thomfield, Jane appears to have secured both love and independence (of spirit, at least); but when it turns out to be a Paradise Lost, Jane must flee temptation and her lover, in order to preserve the integrity of her self against an overwhelming passion. In a curious passage earlier on, Charlotte Bronte expresses what could well be taken as the manifesto of the Women's Liberation Movement: Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel, they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer, and it is narrow−minded in their more privileged fellow−creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. Charlotte Bronte's concern with the "condition of women" question in her day is revealed here. She herself has struggled for independence and equality not as an exhilaration dreamed of but as a necessity, and the feminist attitude expressed here is assumed by her heroine. . . . Charlotte Bronte really prepares the way for . . . other "rebel" heroines by showing her heroine overcoming social and sexual inferiority with moral, emotional, and intellectual superiority. Jane first encounters Rochester not as his equal but as his subordinate. She escapes the confines of Lowood to enter into a "new servitude," a servitude not just in terms of work but also in terms of love. The relationship between Rochester and Jane is that of master and servant, just as the relationship between hero and heroine in all the other Charlotte Bronte novels is that of teacher and pupil. But the master−servant relationship between Rochester and Jane is essentially one of mutual admiration and respect. Rochester loves Jane for her superiority of mind and heart, and Jane feels "akin" to Rochester and has, in her own words, "something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilate me mentally to him." F. A. C. Wilson [in an essay "The Primrose Wreath: the Heroes of the Bronte Novels," Nineteenth−Century Fiction, 1974] suggests that for Charlotte Bronte, the ideal relationship between man and woman is an extremely flexible one "by which both partners freely alternate between 'masculine,' or controlling, and 'feminine,' or responsive roles" and that "Jane, for her part, enjoys her sexual status as a subordinate, but this is only insofar as it is a role in a game." Jane has no feeling of inferiority at all: she is only conforming outwardly to the Victorian concept of the prescribed roles for men and women, while in reality she believes in equality between the sexes, as evidenced in her vehement assertion of equality in the garden of Thornfield, and Rochester's response "My bride is here, . . . because my equal is here, and my likeness" testifies to his agreement. Her sexual status as a subordinate may be more apparent than real, but her social status as an employee makes her dependent on her master for her livelihood. Jane's sensitive feelings about her position and her strong sense of individuality and independence make her resent any attempt to encroach on her personality. Just before their marriage, when Rochester wants to shower her with fineries and to deck her out in jewels and satin and lace, Jane feels "a sense of annoyance and degradation," partly because her aesthetic sense tells her she looks better as "plain Jane," partly because her moral taste finds such extravagance Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre
abhorrent, but mainly because she feels this is a violation of her sense of self and a reflection on her essential dependence. Refusing to play the pampered slave to Rochester's benevolent despot of a sultan, she tells him: "I will be myself" and "I only want an easy mind, sir; not crushed by crowded obligations." She prefers to be herself and to be loved for what she is. It is in a state of reaction against what she construes as Rochester's attempted violation of her sense of self that immediately after this Jane writes to inform her wealthy Uncle John in Madeira of her impending marriage with the underlying motive of perhaps obtaining what she terms an "independency," thereby bringing about the chain of events that leads to the interrupted wedding. So Jane unwittingly incurs her own unhappiness through her desire for independence, which means more than just economic and social status—independence means personal identity and self−esteem. Source: Mana Yuen, "Two Crises of Decision in Jane Eyre," in English Studies, June, 1976, pp 215−26. » Back to Section Index » Back to Table of Contents
Suggested Essay Topics Chapters I – III 1. Discuss how Jane’s passionate nature is established. 2. Characterize Mrs. Reed, John Reed, Eliza, and Georgiana. 3. Explain first−person narrative, and why it might be beneficial to the story. 4. Discuss one, or more, of the themes that Brontë has established so far. 5. Explore the symbols that Brontë uses to enhance the story. Chapters IV – VI 1. Contrast the attitudes and behavior of Miss Temple and Miss Scatcherd. 2. Compare Jane’s treatment at Gateshead Hall and at the Lowood School. 3. Discuss examples of Jane’s passionate nature. 4. Explain how Brontë uses Helen Burns as a symbol of Christian goodness. 5. Describe a typical day at Lowood School. Chapters VII – X 1. Characterize Mr. Brocklehurst; include a physical description. 2. Describe the deathbed scene between Helen Burns and Jane. Explain Helen’s philosophy. 3. Discuss Jane’s behavior after Miss Temple reveals that she is not a liar. 4. Discuss Jane’s need for a change after spending eight years at Lowood. Chapters XI – XV Suggested Essay Topics
1. Compare the environment at Thornfield Hall to the Lowood School. 2. Examine how Jane has come to the rescue of Mr. Rochester. 3. Explain how the mysterious laugh leads Jane and the reader to know that all is not what it seems at Thornfield Hall. 4. Discuss Jane and Mr. Rochester’s growing attraction. 5. Identify and discuss the symbols in Jane’s artwork. Chapters XVI – XIX 1. Discuss how the mystery of Grace Poole is perpetuated. 2. Brontë has Jane give detailed descriptions of the physical appearance of the characters; compare and contrast the physical appearance of Jane with Blanche Ingram. 3. Discuss evidence of Rochester’s growing love for Jane. 4. Characterize Edward Rochester; include physical descriptions. Chapters XX – XXII 1. Discuss how the mystery becomes more intriguing. 2. Explain the element of foreshadowing in Jane’s dream about the infant. 3. Analyze Rochester’s contradictory behavior; why is Jane confused? 4. Discuss Jane’s declaration of love for Rochester. Chapters XXIII – XXV 1. Discuss how suspense is built in these three chapters. 2. Explain why Jane does not want to be lavished with expensive gifts. 3. Point out examples of symbolism; how do they fit into the story? Chapters XXVI – XXVII 1. Analyze Rochester’s reasoning behind trying to marry Jane, when he is already married. 2. Describe how Jane’s reaction and choice regarding Mr. Rochester’s proposal are consistent with her character. 3. Discuss how Jane’s dreams are prophetic. Chapters XXVIII−XXIX 1. Describe Jane’s experience as a beggar, and discuss how Jane’s faith in God gives her the strength to survive. 2. Describe the characteristics of Diana, Mary, and St. John.
Suggested Essay Topics
3. Analyze the symbolism of the light Jane follows to Moor House. Chapters XXX – XXXI 1. Discuss why Jane believes the life of a teacher is better than that of a governess. 2. Characterize St. John Rivers. 3. Examine Jane’s camaraderie with Diana and Mary Rivers. 4. Discuss the job options for a woman in the Victorian Age. 5. Explain Jane’s new sense of achievement. Chapters XXXII – XXXIII 1. Characterize Rosamond Oliver. 2. Discuss Jane’s new status and sense of accomplishment. 3. Explain Jane’s decision to share her inheritance. 4. Examine St. John’s ambition to be a minister. Chapters XXXIV – XXXV 1. Compare St. John Rivers with Mr. Rochester. 2. Discuss Jane’s reasoning in rejecting St. John’s proposal. 3. Discuss St. John’s reasoning in rejecting Rosamond Oliver for a wife, and pursuing Jane. Chapters XXXVI – XXXVIII 1. Discuss the attributes that make Jane and Rochester equals. 2. Examine some of the symbols contributing to the richness of the scene with Rochester and Jane reunited. 3. Examine the mystical experience both Jane and Rochester have. 4. Discuss the terms in which Jane marries Rochester. 5. Explain Jane’s/Brontë’s view of Christian love. » Back to Table of Contents
Sample Essay Outlines
• Topic #1 Choose one or more aspects of Charlotte Brontë’s life and discuss how she transferred these facts into fiction in Jane Eyre. Sample Essay Outlines
Outline I. Thesis Statement: Many aspects and experiences of Charlotte Brontë’s life can be seen in Jane Eyre’s life. A. Background of Victorian England l. Views on child rearing 2. Roles for woman II. Charlotte Brontë’s Early Life A. Daughters of the Clergy School at Cowan Bridge 1. Harsh treatment 2. Death of sisters Maria and Elizabeth B. Lowood School 1. Harsh treatment 2. Death of Helen Burns III. Education A. Charlotte’s work as a teacher and governess 1. Roe Head B. Jane’s work as a teacher and governess 1. Thornfield Hall IV. Romantic hero A. Charlotte and Constantin Heger B. Jane and Rochester • Topic #2 Examine Charlotte Brontë’s religious background, and how she presented her Christian values through the novel Jane Eyre. Outline I. Thesis Statement: Charlotte Brontë’s religious beliefs and Christian values were represented by a variety of characters in the novel Jane Eyre. II. Introduction A. Religion in Victorian England B. Charlotte Brontë’s religious background 1. Her parents 2. Her education III. Characters A. As seen through Jane’s eyes 1. Mrs. Reed 2. Mr. Brocklehurst 3. St. John Rivers 4. Helen Burns 5. Miss Temple 6. Mr. Rochester B. Jane’s Christian values for herself 1. Her moral beliefs 2. Her integrity 3. Her reliance on God to give her strength
Sample Essay Outlines
• Topic #3 Jane’s sense of self is evident from the very first time we meet her. Discuss her independent actions. Outline I. Thesis Statement: Throughout her life, Jane Eyre makes a determined effort to adhere to her strong sense of self and independence. II. Early life A. Gateshead Hall 1. The Red Room 2. Her verbal attacks at Mrs. Reed 3. Her honesty to Mr. Brocklehurst B. Lowood School 1. Her stamina to keep going against all adversity 2. Her striving for education 3. Her need to take care of herself C. Thornfield Hall 1. Her brutal honesty with Rochester 2. Her flee from temptation D. Morton 1. Establishing herself as a teacher 2. Reacting to St. John’s proposal 3. Receiving an inheritance E. Ferndean 1. Returning to Rochester on her own terms 2. Achieving independence through money and education 3. Knowledge of self • Topic #4 Discuss Jane’s search for love, and the various relationships in which she finds love. Outline I. Thesis Statement: Jane Eyre, being an orphan raised by a cruel relation, desperately needs love and companionship, which she does find in various relationships throughout her life. II. Gateshead Hall A. Bessie III. Lowood School A. Miss Temple B. Helen Burns IV. Thornfield Hall A. Adele B. Mr. Rochester V. Moor House A. Diana and Mary VI. Her final relationship and marriage to Rochester. » Back to Table of Contents Sample Essay Outlines
Compare and Contrast
• 1840s: Like other creative and intellectual pursuits, novel writing is considered a male preserve. Women such as the Bronte sisters, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), and in France, George Sand (Amandine−Aurore Lucille Dupin), write under male pseudonyms in order to have their work taken seriously. Today: Many of the leading novelists in Britain are women, and they are regarded as the equals of their male counterparts. Major British women novelists include A. S. (Antonia) Byatt, P. D. (Phyllis) James, Iris Murdoch, and Muriel Spark. • 1840s: Many well−to−do families employed women as governesses to educate their children at home and to supervise children's activities. By 1851, some twenty−five thousand women worked as governesses in Britain. Although being a governess was regarded as respectable, opportunites for governesses to move into other positions were limited. Today: Some young women take temporary jobs abroad as "au pairs," supervising a family's children in return for room, board, and wages. Although these jobs are low−paying, they allow young women to travel and gain life experience before going into another profession or continuing their education. • 1840s: A typical English governess or school teacher might make from fifteen to thirty pounds per year. Today: The standard salary for teachers in England rose to 420 pounds per week in 1995. • 1840s: Preschooling is virtually nonexistent. Today: Nearly two−thirds of three and four year olds in Britain attend nursery school. • 1847: College admission is limited to young men, most of whom come from the upper class. Today: Almost one out of every three teenagers goes on to college. Higher education is free for all students in Britain, therefore, young people do not have to work their way through college. • 1840s: Haworth was a small, isolated hilltop town. Textile mills provided the local industry. Today: Haworth thrives on tourism, with more than 250,000 tourists visiting Haworth every year. Many tourists go to the Bronte Parsonage, which houses a museum displaying original manuscripts and drawings by Charlotte Bronte and her siblings. The museum also includes other interesting items, such as Charlotte's wedding dress and her tiny gloves. » Back to Table of Contents
Topics for Further Study
• In her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte wrote: "Conventionality is not morality. Self−righteousness is not religion. . . . Appearance should not be mistaken for truth." What are some examples of these precepts in Jane Eyre? • Research the treatment of mental illness around the time of Jane Eyre. What ideas did doctors of Charlotte Bronte's time have about the causes of mental illness? How did society in general regard Compare and Contrast
people with this kind of disease? How might someone like Bertha Mason be treated today? • As a younger son, Rochester would not have inherited his father's estate; the estate would first have gone to Rochester's older brother. Under English law at the time of Jane Eyre, property passed only to the oldest son; therefore, younger sons were usually left little money and had to make their own livings. What professions did younger sons in such a family usually follow? Also, how did this custom affect the daughters in a family? • The early twentieth−century English novelist Virginia Woolf once said that "in order for a woman to write, she must have money and a room of her own." Do you think that this maxim applies to Charlotte Bronte as an author? Also, consider the ways in which money and a "room of her own" (that is, a home) are important to the character Jane Eyre. » Back to Table of Contents
• Jane Eyre has been the subject of numerous adaptations for other media. During the silent film era, there were at least three silent movie versions. The first talking picture adaptation was released in 1934. Written by Adele Comandini (based on Charlotte Bronte's book) and directed by Christy Cabanne, it starred Virginia Brace, Colin Clive, Beryl Mercer, Aileen Pringle, Jameson Thomas, David Torrence, and Lionel Belmore. Produced by Monogram Studios. • The most famous film version of Jane Eyre was adapted by John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, and Robert Stevenson and released in 1944. Directed by Stevenson, it starred Joan Fontaine, Orson Welles, Margaret O'Brien, Sara Allgood, Agnes Moorehead, and Elizabeth Taylor. • Franco Zeffirelli and Hugh Whitemore wrote the script for the 1996 film version of Jane Eyre, directed by Zeffirelli. This version starred Charlotte Gainsbourg, William Hurt, Anna Paquin, Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw, Elle Macpherson, Geraldine Chaplin, and John Wood. • The first adaptation of Jane Eyre for television was broadcast in 1939 on the NBC network. Produced and directed by Edward Sobol, this version starred Flora Campbell, Dennis Hoey, Effie Shannon, Daisy Belmore, and Ruth Mattheson. • While there have been other adaptations of Jane Eyre for television since 1939, critics have noted that the most faithful one is the BBC's television mini−series adaptation of Jane Eyre produced in 1983. Directed by Julian Aymes, it starred Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. • Jane Eyre has lent itself to numerous adaptations for the stage. A recent version included one for a 1996 regional touring production in England, adapted and directed by Charles Vance. • The book was recorded, unabridged, in a series of four sound cassettes, read by Juliet Stevenson. Available from BBC Enterprises Ltd., New York, NY, 1994. • An abridged recording read by Dame Wendy Hiller is available on two cassettes from Listen for Pleasure, Downsview, Ontario, Canada. » Back to Table of Contents
What Do I Read Next?
• Anne Bronte is the least well known of the three Bronte sister novelists. Written at the same time as Jane Eyre, her first novel, Agnes Grey (1847), is the story of an unhappy governess. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), is considered a more ambitious and passionate work. Charlotte Bronte was disturbed by Anne's depiction of the heroine's alcoholic husband, who was based on Branwell Bronte. • The Life of Charlotte Bronte, by Elizabeth Gaskell, was comissioned by Reverend Patrick Bronte just after Charlotte's death and was originally published in 1857. Gaskell, one of the best−known English novelists of her time, had met Charlotte in 1850, and the two became close friends. Gaskell's frank biography caused some controversy and passages were cut from it in subsequent editions. However, the first edition of the work remains in print and is today considered a classic of English literary biography. • The poetry of Charlotte Bronte is represented in a modern Everyman edition of the Brontes' Selected Poems, along with poems by Emily, Anne, and Branwell Bronte. Published in 1985, this edition was edited by Juliet Barker, curator and librarian of the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth. Barker is also the author of a family biography, The Brontes. • The Brontes (1969), by Phyllis Bentley, is an illustrated biography of the three Bronte sister−authors (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) in Thames and Hudson's "Literary Lives" series. This book is especially good in depicting the conditions in which Charlotte Bronte lived, and in relating the places where she lived to her life and work. • Readers have noted some similarities between Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier's classic 1938 romantic suspense novel Rebecca. A young woman recounts the early days of her marriage to a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter. The first Mrs. de Winter—Rebecca—died mysteriously, and her memory casts a chilling spell over large English manor house where the new Mrs. de Winter has come to live. • Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) is a novel by Jean Rhys that might be considered a "prequel" to Jane Eyre. In this novel, Rhys imagines the life of young Edward Rochester and the first Mrs. Rochester in Jamaica some years before the action of Jane Eyre. • Bronte (1996) is a novel by Glyn Hughes, a young British writer who lives in West Yorkshire. The book is a fictional account of the inner and outer lives of the members of the Bronte family, including Charlotte. » Back to Table of Contents
Bibliography and Further Reading Sources Bentley, Phyllis. The Brontës. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1969. Blom, Margaret Howard. Charlotte Brontë. Boston: C.K. Hall & Co., 1977. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: E. M. Hale & Company, 2nd edition. Cecil, David. Early Victorian Novelists. New York: The Bobbs−Merrill Company, 1935. Evans, Barbara and Gareth Lloyd. The Scribner Companion to The Brontës. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982. Fraser, Rebecca. The Brontes: Charlotte Bronte and Her Family. Crown Publishers, 1988.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: J. M. Dent, 1960. First published 1857. Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth−Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press, 1979. Himmelfarb, Gertrude. Victorian Minds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1968. Lane, Margaret. Introduction to Jane Eyre. Dent/Dutton, 1969. Laver, James. Victorian Vista. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1955. Martin, Robert Bernard. The Accents of Persuasion: Charlotte Brontë’s Novels. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1966. Moglen, Helen. Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1976. Peters, Margot. Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Brontë. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975. Scargill, M. H. "All Passion Spent: A Revaluation of 'Jane Eyre'." In University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 2, January, 1950, pp. 120−25. Schorer, Mark. "Jane Eyre." In The World We Imagine: Selected Essays. Chatto & Windus, 1969, pp. 80−96. Further Reading Allott, Miriam, ed. The Brontes: The Critical Heritage. Routledge, 1974. An excellent resource for studying contemporary reviews and critiques of Charlotte Bronte's works. Barker, Juliet. The Brontes. St. Martin's Press, 1994. An unusually detailed and comprehensive biography with a wealth of information on Charlotte Bronte, her parents, and her brother and sisters and their writings. Blom, Margaret Howard. Charlotte Bronte. Twayne, 1977. Includes sections on Bronte's life and on Jane Eyre, and assesses Bronte's achievement in the novel. deFord, Miriam Allen. "Charlotte Bronte." In British Authors of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft. H. W. Wilson, 1936, pp. 74−6. An overview survey of Bronte and her work, written in a somewhat dated prose style. Dunn, Richard J., ed. Jane Eyre. Norton, 1971, updated, 1987. Includes important background information, contemporary criticism, and useful interpretive articles on a variety of aspects of the novel. Gates, Barbara Timm, ed. Critical Essays on Charlotte Bronte. G. K. Hall, 1990. Includes a collection of both contemporary and modern reviews of and critical responses to Bronte's novels. Gordon, Lyndall. Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life. W. W. Norton, 1995. The definitive biography of Charlotte Bronte. Leavis, Q. D. "Introduction." In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Penguin Books, 1966, pp. 7−29. An exceptionally insightful discussion of the novel, and an important source for understanding how the novel breaks with Victorian literary tradition.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Lloyd Evans, Barbara, and Gareth Lloyd Evans. Everyman's Companion to the Brontes. J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. Includes both commentaries and synopses of the Brontes' novels, including Jane Eyre. MacPherson, Pat. Reflecting on "Jane Eyre." Routledge, 1989. Provides some useful background for a study of the novel, including a discussion of Jane as a governess and a discussion of Jane's personal progress from one stage in her life to another. Nestor, Pauline. Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." St. Martin's Press, 1992. Includes material on the historical and cultural context of the novel and an interpretation of its themes of motherhood, sexuality, and identity. Newman, Beth, ed. "Jane Eyre," by Charlotte Bronte. Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996. Contains the text of the novel, an essay on its critical history, and a collection of five insightful critical essays from the perspectives of psychoanalytic, feminist, deconstruction, Marxist, and cultural critics. Includes the article by Sandra Gilbert mentioned in the essay. Prose, Francine. "The Brilliance of the Brontes." In Victoria, Vol. 11, No. 3, March, 1997. Prose discusses the enduring appeal of Jane Eyre in the context of a general consideration of the Brontes' particular genius. Prose points out that although readers remember the vivid, melodramatic aspects of the novel, much more of the book is devoted to describing the sufferings of children and the poor. Rosengarten, Herbert J. "Charlotte Bronte." In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 21: Victorian Novelists Before 1885, edited by Ira B. Nadel and William E. Fredeman. Gale Research, 1983, pp 24−54. A comprehensive overview of Bronte's life and works. Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing. Princeton University Press, 1977. Interprets the novel as an important document for providing a view of the female experience in the mid−nineteenth century. Smith, Cathy. "Moors and Mansions: Jane Eyre Country." In Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1996, p. L13. Smith identifies real places in Derbyshire, England, believed to be models for some of the locations depicted in Jane Eyre. She also discusses the origin of the name "Eyre" and identifies a historical precedent for Bertha Mason. » Back to Table of Contents
Bibliography and Further Reading