By Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2007.
Type of Work and Year of Publication
.......Jane Eyre: An Autobiographyis a romance novel with elements of the Gothic novel and the bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel). Smith, Elder and Company published it in 1847 under Charlotte Brontë's pseudonym, Currer Bell.
.......A Gothic novel focuses on dark, mysterious, terrifying events. The story unfolds at one or more spooky sites, such as a dimly lit castle, an old mansion on a hilltop, a misty cemetery, a forlorn countryside, or the laboratory of a scientist conducting frightful experiments. In some Gothic novels, characters imagine that they see ghosts and monsters. In others, the ghosts and monsters are real. The weather in a Gothic novel is often dreary or foul: There may be high winds that rattle windowpanes, electrical storms with lightning strikes, and gray skies that brood over landscapes. The Gothic novel derives its name from the Gothic architectural style popular in Europe between the Twelfth and Sixteenth centuries. Gothic structures–such as cathedrals–featured cavernous interiors with deep shadows, stone walls that echoed the footsteps of worshippers, gargoyles looming on exterior ledges, and soaring spires suggestive of a supernatural presence.
.......A bildungsroman is a novel that centers on the period in which a young person grows up. This type of novel was pioneered by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in his novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship). Bildungsroman is a German word meaning novel (roman) of educational development (bildungs). It is also referred to as an apprenticeship novel.
.......The action takes place in the rural areas of central England in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Protagonist: Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre: Strong-willed, plain-looking daughter of a poor clergyman. Both of her parents die while she is still an infant. A cruel aunt rears her to age ten as an unwanted and inferior member of the family, then sends her to a charity school, Lowood Orphan Asylum. Jane spends six years there as a student and two years as a teacher before
accepting a position, at age eighteen, as the governess of the ward of Edward Rochester at his estate, Thornfield Hall. Jane is intelligent, well educated (thanks in part to her love of books), industrious, loyal, compassionate, and morally upright, with an independent spirit.
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2007
.......Jane Eyre’s parents died before she was old enough to form memories of them. Her father had been an impoverished clergyman whom her mother married over the objections of family members who said the clergyman was beneath her. After the marriage, Jane’s mother was disinherited She was not to receive a single shilling.
.......One year into the marriage, Jane’s father caught typhus while ministering to the poor, and her mother caught the disease from him. Both died within months. Jane’s uncle, John Reed–the brother of her mother–adopted Jane, but he died not long after he brought the infant to his home, Gateshead Hall.
.......Jane has recorded the events of her life, and here is her story, beginning when she is ten years old and under the supervision of Mr. Reed’s widow, Sarah.
.......Mrs. Reed and her children–John, Eliza, and Georgiana–treat Jane cruelly. In fact, John, a stout fourteen-year-old, terrorizes Jane, who recalls that “he bullied and punished me; not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice in the day, but continually: every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near."
.......One day, in a room adjoining the drawing room, Jane takes Bewick’s History of British Birds from a bookcase and begins reading it on a window seat. Moments later, John appears, commands her to stand before him, and tells her that "you have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mama says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen's children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mama's expense."
.......Then he brains her with the book. Jane falls and cuts her head on the door. A spunky child, she accuses him of acting like the Roman emperors, whom she had read about in Goldsmith’s History of Rome. He grabs her hair and further bullies her. After Eliza and Georgiana summon Mrs. Reed, she assumes Jane caused the ruckus and orders the nurse, Bessie, and a maid, Abbot, to lock Jane in the “red room,” the scene of Mr. Reed’s death and wake nine years before. Since that time, “a sense of dreary consecration had guarded it from frequent intrusion.”
.......While Jane broods, day passes into night. Wind howls and rain beats at a window. If Mr. Reed were alive, she thinks, he would treat her kindly. Before he died, he made Mrs. Reed promise to rear Jane as her own child. In the darkness, Jane sees a light on the wall. Frightened that it is an otherworldly presence, she runs to the door and screams. When Bessie and Abbot come, Jane tells them she saw a light, a sign perhaps that a ghost was about to appear. Abbot accuses her of lying. Mrs. Reed arrives and pushes Jane back into the room and locks the door. Bessie, who has always treated Jane humanely, is powerless to rescue her in the face of Mrs. Reed’s tyranny.
.......Sometime later, Jane awakens in her own bed with Bessie and Mr. Lloyd, an apothecary, tending her. She has no memory of how she got there. But when overhearing Bessie and Mrs. Reed talking in a nearby room, she learns that she had suffered a “fit” and spoken of something dressed in white that had passed her, followed by “a great black dog.” She had also spoken of “a light in the churchyard” over a grave.
.......The apothecary returns the following day to check on her condition. When he questions her about what made her ill, she tells him about the cruel treatment she receives at Gateshead Hall. Mr. Lloyd, a kindly man, asks her whether she would like to go away to school. She says she would indeed, and Mr. Lloyd speaks with Mrs. Reed, who (eager to get rid of Jane) arranges an interview at her home with the headmaster-treasurer of Lowood Orphan Asylum, Mr. Brocklehurst, who is a also clergyman. His mother, Naomi Brocklehurst, founded the institution, located fifty miles away, near Lowton.
.......In presenting Jane for enrollment at Lowood, Mrs. Reed advises Brocklehurst to “keep a strict eye on her, and, above all, to guard against her worst fault, deceit.” In response, Brocklehurst tells Jane that “all liars shall have their portion in the lake burning with fire and brimstone.” Mrs. Reed also tells Brocklehurst that she wishes Jane to spend all her vacations at Lowood. After Brocklehurst leaves, Jane tells Mrs. Reed: "I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed [Mrs. Reed's late husband]; and this book about the liar, you may give to your girl, Georgiana, for it is she who tells lies, and not I."
.......Lowood is bleak building with mullioned windows and sparse furnishings. On her first morning there, Jane and the other students are served burnt porridge. The girls sample it before realizing how horrible it tastes, then eat no more. In geography class, the superintendent, Miss Maria Temple, surprises the girls when she tells them that she has ordered bread and cheese for them.
.......Such generosity is uncommon at Lowood, Jane learns in the ensuing weeks and months. To be sure, the benefactors of the school provide adequate funds for the children, but Brocklehurst scrimps on food and clothing for the children and pockets the savings.
.......Of course, Lowood is an improvement over Gateshead Hall, but there is still cruelty with which to reckon. For example, when Brocklehurst visits Jane’s classroom one day, he singles her out as a liar and makes her stand on a stool in front of the class to expose her to scorn. He also ridicules a student named Julia Severn for daring to wear her hair in curls. (Her hair is naturally curly.) On another occasion, a teacher of history and grammar, Miss Scatcherd, whips Jane's best friend, Helen Burns. She also sentences Helen “to a dinner of bread and water . . . because she had blotted an exercise in copying it out.” When Jane advises Helen to resist Miss Scatcherd's treatment, Helen tells her that "it is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you; and besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil." Sometime later, Helen dies of consumption.
.......However, Jane endures during her six years as a Lowood student, thanks in part to the kindnesses of Miss Temple, who clears Jane of the charge of lying after writing to Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary in whom Jane confided at Gateshead Hall. To Jane, Miss Temple is “a mother, governess . . . and companion.” Miss Temple eventually marries and leaves Lowood. Meanwhile, benefactors make improvements to Lowood and reduce the authority of Brocklehurst.
.......Jane learns that her old nurse at Gateshead, Bessie, has married a coachman, Robert Leaven, and bears two children, Bobby and a girl she has named Jane. She also learns that a Mr. Eyre–the brother of Jane’s father–had visited Gateshead looking for Jane. Told she was at a school fifty miles away, he left on business in a foreign land, Madeira.
.......Jane stays on two more years as a teacher at Lowood, then–yearning for a new life–advertises for a teaching job in a private home. She receives and accepts an offer from Alice Fairfax, a housekeeper, on behalf of her employer, Edward Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall, about six miles from the town of Millcote. Upon her arrival there in autumn, Jane is pleased to discover that Miss Fairfax, an elderly woman, is kindly and genial. She informs Jane that she is to serve as the governess for Adèle Varens, a French girl of about ten who has been at Thornfield Hall for six months as the ward of Mr. Rochester. With Adèle is a nurse, Sophie. Fortunately, Jane had learned French at Lowood from another teacher, Madame Pierrot, and is able to speak with Adèle and Sophie in French, although the girl is learning English.
.......After her mother died, Adèle had lived a short time with a “Madame Frederic” before Rochester invited her to live at Thornfield. For school lessons, Jane and Adèle use the library–equipped with books, a piano, a painting easel, and two globes.
.......Mrs. Fairfax takes Jane on a tour of the mansion that includes a trip to the roof to view the lands that the Rochester family has owned for generations. As they descend from the attic, Jane hears a laugh and asks whether Mrs. Fairfax heard it. The latter tells Jane that it probably came from Grace Poole, a servant who sometimes sews in a room on the third floor.
.......Three months pass before Jane meets Rochester. While she is taking a walk, he falls from a horse as he rides by and suffers a sprain. At his side is his dog, Pilot. Unaware of who he is, Jane stops to help him to his horse. Jane recalls that "he had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow . . . . He was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five."
.......When a surgeon, Mr. Carter, attends him at Thornfield Hall, Jane discovers his identity. The two of them get along well, although he can be gruff and moody.
.......One afternoon, while Adèle plays on the grounds and Rochester walks with Jane, he tells her that Adèle’s mother, Céline Varens, was a French opera dancer whom he established in a hotel, showered with gifts, and carried on a grand passion. But one day, he observed her with a young man in an officer’s uniform–a roué he had run across before and whom he despised–and overheard Céline ridiculing Rochester’s “deformities.” He then broke off with her and, the next morning, wounded the young man in a duel. Later, Céline abandoned Adèle and absconded to Italy with a singer or a musician. Rochester then adopted Adèle even though he was almost certain that she was not his child.
.......That evening, after going to bed, Jane hears diabolical laughter outside her room. When she investigates, she sees smoke coming from Rochester’s room and rushes inside. Flames are consuming the curtains around his bed while he appears to be in deep sleep. A candlestick lies on the floor. When Jane attempts to rouse him but fails, she concludes that the smoke had put him in a stupor. Grabbing a filled ewer from his wash basin, she throws the water on the fire and on Rochester, then retrieves a pitcher of water from her own room and manages to extinguish the fire and awaken Rochester. She tells him about the laugh she heard, and they both agree it came from Grace Poole. As Jane is about to leave the room, he stops her and tells her that she saved his life–“snatched me from a horrible and excruciating death.” He takes her hand and tells her he is deeply indebted to her. However, he says, she must tell no one about the incident and is not to worry about Grace Poole.
.......In time, he grows quite fond of his savior–and she of him.
.......After going away, Rochester returns about three weeks later with a group of friends, including a beautiful woman named Blanche Ingram. They are all to be lodged and entertained at Thornfield Hall. The house is full, the maids and cooks are busy, and there is much cheer and revelry over the next several days as the guests occupy themselves with various entertainments. Jane assumes Rochester plans to marry Miss Ingram “for family, perhaps political reasons, because her rank and connections suited him; I felt he had not given her his love, and that her qualifications were ill adapted to win from him that treasure."
.......One day, a new guest–Richard Mason, from Spanish Town, Jamaica–arrives while Rochester is away from Thornfield Hall. He says he knows Rochester and then joins the other guests as they socialize.
.......After Rochester returns, he appears in the guise of an old gipsy, wearing a red cloak and a black hat, and tells fortunes in a voice that fools listeners. Later, when he is in the library alone with Jane, he begins speaking in his normal voice, which Jane recognizes. After he removes his disguise, Jane mentions the presence of the new guest, Mason. Rochester goes pale and asks Jane for wine. After she fetches him a glass of it, Rochester recovers himself and tells Jane to go back out with the guests and whisper to Mason “that Mr. Rochester has come and wishes to see him.” Jane does so, escorts Mason to the library, then leaves.
.......After everyone retires that evening, “a savage, a sharp, a shrilly sound” is heard throughout the mansion. The cry rouses all the guests, who come forth terrified or confused. Rochester calms them, saying, “A servant has had a nightmare; that is all. She's an excitable, nervous person: she construed her dream into an apparition, or something of that sort, no doubt; and has taken a fit with fright.”
.......Then he tells Jane to fetch a sponge and salts. After she obtains them, he takes her to a room on the third floor. There, Mason sits in a chair suffering from wounds to an arm and shoulder. Jane tends him while Rochester goes out for a doctor. Hours later, around dawn, he returns with Mr. Carter, the same surgeon who treated Rochester for his sprain. When Carter tends Mason's wounds, their conversation indicates that a woman with a knife attacked Mason. When Rochester wrested the weapon from her, she bit Mason.
.......“She sucked the blood,” Mason says. “She said she’d drain my heart.”
.......Jane continues to assist while Mason undergoes treatment. After the surgeon pronounces him well enough to travel, a coach comes for him at about 5:30 a.m. Rochester sees him off. Before leaving, Mason tells Rochester, "Let her be taken care of; let her be treated as tenderly as may be."
......."Yet would to God there was an end of all this!" Rochester says.
.......Believing Grace Poole attacked Mason, Jane asks Rochester whether she will be dismissed. Rochester says no and tells her not to worry about the servant. Nor should she concern herself about Mason, he says. However, Rochester acknowledges that he is vulnerable to someone, but he cannot disclose the details.
.......Meanwhile, Jane’s aunt, Mrs. Reed, sends her coachman, Robert Leaven (the husband of Bessie) for Jane. He tells her Mrs. Reed has suffered a stroke and is near death after learning that her son, John–Jane’s bully at Gateshead Hall–apparently killed himself at his residence in London after consorting with bad companions, running himself into debt, and running afoul of the law. When Jane arrives, she talks briefly with Bessie and Mrs. Reed’s daughters, Eliza and Georgiana, before seeing Mrs. Reed, whose mind is in a confused state. She talks to Jane as if Jane were another person, noting that "I had a dislike to her mother always; for she was my husband's only
sister, and a great favourite with him: he opposed the family's disowning her when she made her low marriage; and when news came of her death, he wept like a simpleton."
.......Mrs. Reed falls into a stupor and more than ten days pass before Jane can speak to her again. In the interim, Jane paints and talks with the two sisters, with whom she gets along well enough. When Jane finally talks with Mrs. Reed, who continues to decline, the woman gives her a letter from John Eyre, In it, Eyre, unmarried and childless, asks for Jane’s address so that he may write to her and invite her to live in Madeira with him as his adopted child and heir. When Jane asks why Mrs. Reed did not inform her previously about the letter, she says that "I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly ever to lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity.”
.......Mrs. Reed dies and is buried, Georgiana moves to London, and Eliza leaves for France to study Roman Catholicism and become a nun. Jane, after spending more than a month at Gateshead, returns to Thornfield Hall.
.......There, she receives a wonderful surprise: Rochester asks her to marry him. She accepts the proposal, of course. However, when they are at the altar about to be united, a London solicitor, Briggs, announces that Rochester is already married. Briggs reads the details about the marriage from a document, signed by Richard Mason. It says that Rochester had married Bertha Antoinetta Mason, daughter of Jonas Mason, in Spanish Town, Jamaica, fifteen years before the present date. Richard Mason, her brother, then steps forward to disclose that Rochester’s wife is living at Thornfield Hall. (It was she who attacked him and tore open his shoulder with her teeth.) Rochester acknowledges the marriage but says that his wife is insane and must be confined to the attic of Thornfield Hall under the care of Grace Poole. He then escorts his listeners to the attic to show them his wife. In her narrative, Jane describes the woman: "What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing, and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as a mane, hid its head and face."
.......Before leaving, Mason’s solicitor, Briggs, tells Jane that Richard Mason had planned to return to Jamaica but stopped over in Madeira to recover from the wounds his sister inflicted. In Madeira, Briggs says, Mason met John Eyre, who spoke of a letter he had received from Jane in which she disclosed plans to marry Rochester. Mason, of course, informed Eyre that Rochester was already married. Because John Eyre had fallen ill, he was unable to travel to England to alert Jane of Rochester’s previous marriage. But Mason, sufficiently recovered from his injuries, was able to act on John Eyre’s behalf and, after arriving, contacted Briggs on Eyre’s recommendation. Together, they went to the church to stop the wedding.
.......After Mason and Briggs leave Thornfield Hall, Rochester has a long talk with Jane. He begs her forgiveness, and she gives it. Then he explains in detail the circumstances surrounding his marriage.
.......His father, a greedy man, learned that an old acquaintance of his, a West Indies planter and merchant named Jonas Mason, planned to give his daughter, Bertha, an extraordinary gift: thirty thousand pounds. Rochester’s father then sent his son to Jamaica to court her, telling him that she was a rare beauty but withholding information about her expected fortune. She was, in fact, beautiful–tall, dark, and statuesque, the daughter of Jonas’s Creole wife.
.......“Her family wished to secure me because I was of good race," Rochester says. "So did she.” Rochester thought he loved her. He never met her mother, for he was given the impression that she was dead. However, she was alive–in an insane asylum. Rochester’s father and brother, Rowland, were aware of the history of insanity in the Mason family but kept it a secret. It was the thirty thousand pounds that interested them. In short, Rochester married her. After four years, she began to go mad. Meanwhile, Rochester’s father and brother had died, and he inherited their money and became rich. Doctors declared his wife insane.
.......In time, he wanted to escape from her terrifying presence, so he returned to Europe with Bertha, hired Grace Poole to care for her at Thornfield Hall, and went off to foreign lands and wandered for ten years–sojourning in St. Petersburg, Paris, Rome, Naples, and Florence. He kept company with many ladies: English, French, Italian, German. After his affair with Celene Varens, he had two more–with an Italian named Giacinta and a German named Clara. However, no woman has ever meant so much to him, he says, as Jane.
.......Although Jane sympathizes with him, she refuses to remain at Thornfield Hall. She cannot endure being around a man she loves but cannot marry.
.......It is now summer. Early one morning, she leaves on the first coach out of the area. However, it drops her two days later at a place called Whitcross because she lacks enough fare to continue. After she gets out and the coachman drives off, she discovers that she left a parcel containing belongings on the coach. At that moment, she realizes she is destitute and has no place to go.
.......After wandering through the countryside, she comes upon a village, but no one offers to help her. At dark, desperately hungry, she asks a farmer for food and he gives her a thick slice of bread. Eventually, she knocks at the door of a house late at night, but the servant, Hannah, refuses to admit her. When she is on the brink of collapsing, a man arrives at the house and takes her in. He is a minister, named St. John Rivers. In the house, besides Hannah, are two sisters of Rivers, Diana and Mary. It is the family home, although St. John Rivers lives at Morton, nearby, where he maintains a parish. Jane identifies herself by a false surname–Elliott.
.......After several days in bed, Jane regains her strength and the minister promises to help her find suitable employment. In the meantime, she remains with the family, enjoying the company of Diana and Mary. In turn, they much cherish her company, for all three young ladies have many of the same interests.
.......After a month, the two sisters begin preparing to leave for positions they hold as governesses in southern England, and St. John offers Jane a position teaching impoverished girls at a school he is founding. He has already established such a school for boys. Her salary would be thirty pounds a year. A cottage attached to the school would be her home. Jane readily accepts the post.
.......Meanwhile, St. John receives visits from an attractive young woman, Rosamond Oliver, the daughter of the wealthy operator of a needle factory. It becomes obvious to Jane that Rosamond loves the minister, and he acknowledges his attraction for her. However, he does not return her attentions, believing that if he married her the marriage would not last. Besides, he says, he plans one day to become a missionary in the Far East. To be the wife of such a man would not suit her.
.......One day, St. John receives a letter notifying him and his sisters that their uncle has died. He bequeathed a fortune of twenty thousand pounds to another relation but only thirty guineas to the Rivers family. Sometime later, Rivers learns through a lawyer that his late uncle was also the uncle of a young lady named Jane Eyre. Rivers’ observation of “Jane Elliott” since meeting her, as well as her background and other information, suggests to him that she is Miss Eyre and the heiress to John Eyre’s fortune. Jane admits her identity. She is the cousin of St. John, Diana, and Mary. What is more, she declares that she will share her inheritance with St. John and his sisters. St. John then asks her to become his wife and work at his side as a missionary in India. But, much as she admires St. John, she cannot marry him, for she does not love him.
.......It is Rochester that she loves and, upon thinking of him again, she returns to Thornfield Hall to find out what has happened to him since they departed. Upon her arrival there, she learns that there has been a fire that reduced the mansion to ashes. During the fire, Rochester attempted to save his wife when she was on the roof screaming for help. But it was no use. Bertha Mason Rochester ended up dead on the pavement. Rochester lost an eye and a hand in the rescue effort, and an injury to his other eye eventually drew a veil of darkness over it. He then took up residence at Ferndean Manor (about thirty miles away) with two servants, sent Adèle to a school, and gave Mrs. Fairfax a generous annuity before she left to live with friends. Jane reunites with him at Ferndean Manor and they eventually marry. Within two years, the veil of darkness lifts from the injured eye, and he can see the world again–and Jane and the son she bore.
.......Jane Eyre tells her story in first-person point of view as she looks back on her life after her marriage to Edward Rochester. She begins the narrative when she is a ten-year-old orphan being reared by a cruel aunt.
Charlotte Brontë structures the thirty-eight chapter novel according to stages in Jane Eyre's life. These stages center on Jane as a
.......The climax of a novel or another literary work can be defined as (1) a major turning point in the story or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Jane Eyre occurs, according to the first definition, when Richard Mason and his solicitor reveal at the wedding ceremony that Edward Rochester is already married. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Rochester, temporarily blinded by the fire, realizes that Jane Eyre has returned to him. Here is the dialogue:
......."Great God!–what delusion has come over me? What sweet madness has seized me?"..
Main Theme: Struggling Against Adversity
.......Throughout the novel, Jane Eyre struggles against forces that use her cruelly. After fate robs her of her mother and father, it places her in the home of an abusive aunt whose children bully Jane and remind her that she ranks as a lowly orphan without entitlement to the privileges they enjoy. At Lowood school, she struggles against ridicule, cold, loneliness, and the maltreatment of fellow students by school authorities. She recalls in Chapter 7 that
My first quarter at Lowood seemed an age; and not the golden age either; it comprised an irksome struggle with difficulties in habituating myself to new rules and unwonted tasks. The fear of failure in these points harassed me worse than the physical hardships of my lot. . . Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains. . . .Then the scanty supply of food was distressing: with the keen appetites of growing children, we had scarcely sufficient to keep alive a delicate invalid. From this deficiency of nourishment resulted an abuse, which pressed hardly on the younger pupils: whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion. Many a time I have shared between two claimants the precious morsel of brown bread distributed at tea-time; and after relinquishing to a third half the contents of my mug of coffee, I have swallowed the remainder with an accompaniment of secret tears, forced from me by the exigency of hunger........At Thornfield Hall, Jane struggles to fathom eerie and mysterious happenings and to win the love of the man at the center of them, Edward Rochester. As to the latter struggle, Jane herself sometimes becomes the enemy. In a kind of soliloquy in Chapter 26, she berates herself for daring to think that Rochester would marry her:
You," I said, "a favourite with Mr. Rochester? You, gifted with the power of pleasing him? You, of importance to him in any way? Go! your folly sickens me. And you have derived pleasure from occasional tokens of preference–equivocal tokens shown by a gentleman of family and a man of the world to a dependent and a novice. How dared you? Poor stupid dupe!–Could not even self-interest make you wiser? You repeated to yourself this morning the brief scene of last night?–Cover your face and be ashamed! He said something in praise of your eyes, did he? Blind puppy! Open their bleared lids and look on your own accursed senselessness!.......But after Rochester does ask her to marry him, a perverse turn of events prevents the marriage, desolating Jane. After leaving Thornfield Hall, she struggles for her very survival while wandering aimlessly in the countryside, then struggles to regain her health in the home of a kindly family that takes her in. After she marries Rochester, her struggle continues when she helps him cope with the blindness inflicted upon him by the fire at Thornfield Hall. Fortunately, it is a happy struggle: "Never did I weary of reading to him; never did I weary of conducting him where he wished to go: of doing for him what he wished to be done." When sight returns to one of his eyes, Jane embarks upon a new experience in her life, normalcy.
Jane Eyre focuses on several kinds of love: romantic (Jane and Rochester's love for each other), sisterly (Jane's love for Helen Burns and other students at Lowood, for Maria Temple, and for the Rivers family), compassionate (the love of Jane, Maria Temple, and others for the downtrodden), and familial (the love of Diane, Mary, and St. John Rivers for one another).
Lack of Love and False Love
Lack of love causes Jane's miserable childhood at Gateshead Hall, as well as the ridicule and deprivation she and other children suffer at Lowood Orphan Asylum. False love is in part responsible for Edward Rochester's disastrous marriage to Bertha Mason. What he thought was love for her was instead infatuation. St. John Rivers loves Rosamond Oliver but instead proposes to Jane Eyre, whom he does not truly love, because he believes she would make a good partner for him in the missionary field.
Jane Eyre's tormentors at Gateshead Hall label her a liar when she is in fact truthful. After Mrs. Reed tells Mr. Brocklehurst to monitor Jane for deceit, he forces her to stand on a stool in front of her classmates as punishment for lying ways. The kindly superintendent of the school, Maria Temple, later exonerates Jane; it was Mrs. Reed and others who were deceitful. Mr. Brocklehurst deceives the benefactors of the school about the use of their money–he keeps a portion of it for himself. The family of Rochester's first wife, as well as his own father and brother, deceive him about her background–in particular, her family's history of insanity–before he marries her. Rochester himself deceives Jane about the strange occurrences at Thornfield Hall–in particular, the unearthly laughter she hears and the role of Grace Poole. In addition, he allows Jane to believe that he is single and eligible for marriage when in fact he is already married. Jane deceives the Rivers family about her identity, claiming her surname is "Elliott."
Jane Eyre speaks up for herself not only as a human being deserving just treatment but also as a woman deserving the same. In this regard, an important moment in the novel occurs in Chapter 12 when Jane observes that
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.In asserting herself, however, Jane never attempts to exceed the boundaries of moral propriety. For example, after it becomes known that Edward Rochester's first wife is alive, she refuses to accept his invitation to live with him in an adulterous arrangement.
Mr. Brocklehurst, the headmaster at Lowood Orphan Asylum, pockets part of the money provided by benefactors of the school for proper food and clothing for the students. Rochester's father and brother promote his marriage to Bertha Mason because of her family's offered dowry of thirty thousand pounds.
Jane ably fends for herself against the cruelty and injustice inflicted upon her. As an avid reader, she also educates herself. Moreover, upon graduating from Lowood Orphan Asylum, she takes control of her destiny, choosing to teach at Lowood and then to strike out on her own as a teacher and governess. When Rochester asks her to live with him after acknowledging that he is married to an insane woman, Jane's sense of dignity and propriety makes her refuse to do so even though she loves him. When St. John Rivers proposes to her, she refuses to marry him. She then returns to Rochester after his first wife dies and freely marries him, well knowing that a sightless man will test her mettle.
From time to time in the novel, Jane Eyre sees or hears what she thinks could be manifestations from the beyond or encounters situations that suggest the presence of a ghost. For example, when Mrs. Reed confines her to the red room at Gateshead Hall (Chapter 2), Jane begins to remember "what I had heard of dead men, troubled in their graves by the
violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the perjured and avenge the oppressed; and I thought Mr. Reed's spirit, harassed by the wrongs of his sister's child, might quit its abode–whether in the church vault or in the unknown world of the departed–and rise before me in this chamber." After she sees a strange light she thinks that the "swift darting beam was a herald of some
coming vision from another world. My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears, which I deemed the rushing of wings; something seemed near me; I was oppressed, suffocated: endurance broke down; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort." Years later at Thornfield Hall, Jane asks Mrs. Fairfax whether servants sleep in certain rooms on the third floor (Chapter
11). Mrs. Fairfax tells her, "No; they occupy a range of smaller apartments to the back; no one ever sleeps here: one would almost say that, if there were a ghost at Thornfield Hall, this would be its haunt." Jane also hears unearthly laughter at Thornfield Hall.
.......The fire in Edward Rochester's room (Chapter 15) foreshadows the fire that burns down Thornfield Hall and kills Rochester's insane wife, Bertha. After extinguishing the fire in Rochester's chamber, Jane tells her master that she saw a candle on the floor upon entering the room and concludes that Grace Poole set the fire. However, when Jane sees Grace Poole the next day (Chapter 16), the latter betrays no sign of guilt as she talks with Jane. Also, Rochester keeps Grace on rather than firing her. .......Thus, the reader has reason to suspect that another presence in the house was the cause of the fire. Whatever the case, the fire alerts the reader that danger lurks in the house. This danger could manifest itself again–and does. After Thornfield Hall burns to the ground, the host at the Rochester Arms tells her that Rochester's insane wife, Bertha, set the fire:
She had a woman to take care of her called Mrs.Poole–an able woman in her line, and very trustworthy, but for one fault–a fault common to a deal of them nurses and matrons–she kept a private bottle of gin by her, and now and then took a drop over-much. It is excusable, for she had a hard life of it: but still it was dangerous; for when Mrs. Poole was fast asleep after the gin and water, the mad lady, who was as cunning as a witch, would take the keys out of her pocket, let herself out of her chamber, and go roaming about the house, doing any wild mischief that came into her head. They say she had nearly burnt her husband in his bed once: but I don't know about that. However, on this night, she set fire first to the hangings of the room next her own, and then she got down to a lower storey, and made her way to the chamber that had been the governess's . . . and she kindled the bed there. . . .
.......Brontë writes descriptions with syntactical grace and striking imagery, as in the following passage:
A splendid Midsummer shone over England: skies so pure, suns so radiant as were then seen in long succession, seldom favour even singly, our wave-girt land. It was as if a band of Italian days had come from the South, like a flock of glorious passenger birds, and lighted to rest them on the cliffs of Albion. The hay was all got in; the fields round Thornfield were green and shorn; the roads white and baked; the trees were in their dark prime; hedge and wood, full-leaved and deeply tinted, contrasted well with the sunny hue of the cleared meadows between........The first sentence of this passage rings with alliteration: splendid, Midsummer, skies, so, suns, so, seen succession, seldom, singly. The second sentence presents a simile in which Italian days become birds. The first clause of the third sentence departs from the airy lyricism of the first two sentences: "The hay was all got in–a welcome relief." The passage finishes with a description of hues and shades and other characteristics of the scene Jane Eyre sees.
.......Here is another example of a descriptive passage, in which Jane tells of the Rivers sisters and their home:
I liked to read what they liked to read: what they enjoyed, delighted me; what they approved, I reverenced. They loved their sequestered home. I, too, in the grey, small, antique structure, with its low roof, its latticed casements, its mouldering walls, its avenue of aged firs–all grown aslant under the stress of mountain winds; its garden, dark with yew and holly–and where no flowers but of the hardiest species would bloom–found a charm both potent and permanent. They clung to the purple moors behind and around their dwelling–to the hollow vale into which the pebbly bridle-path leading from their gate descended, and which wound between fern-banks first, and then amongst a few of the wildest little pasture-fields that ever bordered a wilderness of heath, or gave sustenance to a flock of grey moorland sheep, with their little mossy-faced lambs:–they clung to this scene, I say, with a perfect enthusiasm of attachment........To maintain intimacy with the reader, the narrator sometimes addresses him or her directly, as in this sentence: “Why have I alluded to this man? I have alluded to him, Reader, because I think I see in him an intellect profounder and more unique than his
contemporaries have yet recognised. She also sometimes addresses herself, a technique that enables her to reveal an objective, unbiased voice within her that lends credibility to her self-evaluations: “Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: to-morrow, place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect; omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.' "
.......To help maintain suspense or provide transition, the narrator frequently introduces unexplained occurrences, such as the strange light on the wall in Gateshead Hall, the unearthly laughter at Thornfield Hall, and the “voices” that guide her.
Charlotte Brontë includes many allusions in her narration. Following are examples:
Chapter 8: "We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia; and not the least delight of the entertainment was the smile of gratification with which our hostess regarded us, as we satisfied our famished appetites on the delicate fare she liberally supplied." In Greek
mythology, nectar was the drink of the gods, and ambrosia their food. Both conferred immortality on the consumer. Nectar and ambrosia became synonyms for any delicious drink (nectar) and any delicious food (ambrosia).
1. Like the fictional Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë went away to school, returned to the same school to teach, served for a time as a governess, received a proposal of marriage from a minister (in fact, two ministers), learned to speak French, and eventually married the man of her choice. Write an informative essay comparing and
contrasting the fictional Jane with the real-life Charlotte. Include in your essay a discussion of the background similarities already mentioned, as well as others that your research reveals. In addition, present information on the dissimilarities between Jane and Charlotte. Finally, compare and contrast their personalities, beliefs, and attitudes.