Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Year of Publication
Eyre: An Autobiography
is 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
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.
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
action takes place in the rural areas of central England in the first half
of the nineteenth century.
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
Edward Fairfax Rochester:
Gruff, sometimes moody employer of Jane Eyre. He falls in love with Jane,
who is about half his age, and gains her assent to marry him even though
he already has a wife–an insane woman whom he keeps in the attic of Thornfield
Mrs. Sarah Reed:
Cruel aunt who rears Jane Eyre. Her husband made her promise to do so before
John Reed: Late husband
of Sarah Reed and brother of Jane's mother. He is entombed in the chancel
of Gateshead Church.
Young John Reed:
Son of John and Sarah Reed. He constantly bedevils Jane, reminding her
that she is a lowly orphan who does not deserve to live in the Reed home.
He is a cruel and mischievous boy, Jane says, who "twisted the necks of
the pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks, set the dogs at the sheep, stripped
the hothouse vines of their fruit, and broke the buds off the choicest
plants in the conservatory."
Eliza, Georgiana Reed:
Daughters of John and Sarah Reed. Like their brother, they make like miserable
for Jane, who says, "Eliza and Georgiana, evidently acting according to
orders, spoke to me as little as possible."
Edward Rochester's brother.
Old Mr. Rochester:
Edward Rochester's father.
Mr. Miles: Headmaster
at the school young John Reed attends. When Mrs. Reed keeps John out of
school for several weeks because of his "delicate health," Mr. Miles says
John's problem is that he receives too many cakes and sweetmeats from home.
Bessie: Nurse in
the employ of Mrs. Reed. She treats Jane humanely.
Abbot: Maid in the
employ of Mrs. Reed. She sides with Mrs. Reed against Jane.
Robert Leaven: Coachman
whom Bessie marries.
Bobby and Jane Leaven:
Children of Robert Leaven and Bessie.
Mr. Lloyd: Apothecary
who attends Jane at Gateshead Hall after she blacks out.
Mr. Carter: Surgeon
who treats Rochester after the latter falls from a horse and suffers a
sprain. He also treats the wounds Richard Mason suffered when his insane
sister attacked him.
Minister and headmaster at Lowood Orphan Asylum who embezzles money from
Wife of Mr. Brocklehurst.
Sixteen- and seventeen-year-old daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Brocklehurst.
Helen Burns, Mary Wilson:
Good friends of Jane at Lowood.
Julia Severn: Student
scolded by Brocklehurst for daring to wear her hair in curls. (She has
naturally curly hair.)
Maria Temple: Kindly
superintendent and teacher at Lowood Orphan Asylum. She becomes a good
friend of Jane.
Miss Scatcherd: History
and grammar teacher at Lowood. She treats the students cruelly. She is
especially hard on Helen Burns, whom she whips.
Miss Smith: Lowood
teacher who helps students make their clothes.
Madame Pierrot: Lowood's
French teacher from Lisle, France.
Miss Miller: An under-teacher
at Lowood who greets Jane after she arrives there from Gateshead Hall.
Miss Gryce: Welsh
teacher who shares a room with Jane after the latter becomes a teacher
Mr. Bates: Surgeon
who treats Helen Burns when she becomes ill.
Nurse: Woman who
assists Bates and informs Jane that Helen Burns is about to die.
Mrs. Alice Fairfax:
Kindly elderly woman who manages Thornfield Hall and keeps house there.
Rochester's mother was a second cousin of Mrs. Fairfax's late husband.
French girl of about ten who has been at Thornfield Hall for six months
before Jane arrives to become her governess. She is the ward of Rochester.
Although the story focuses little attention on her character development,
she is a pivotal presence in the novel in that her education and care are
the reasons that Jane Eyre goes to Thornfield Hall.
Adèle's mother and a French opera dancer. Rochester had an affair
with her after his wife went insane.
Woman with whom Adèle Varens lives for a short time before being
adopted by Rochester and taken to Thornfield Hall.
Mr. Wood: Clergyman
who is to marry Jane and Rochester.
Bertha Antoinetta Mason:
Rochester's Jamaican Creole wife, who is confined to the attic at Thornfield
Hall after going insane.
Richard Mason: Brother
of Bertha Mason. He reveals that Rochester is already married.
Jonas Mason: Jamaican
merchant and father of Bertha and Richard Mason.
Grace Poole: Servant
who watches over Bertha Mason.
Briggs: Richard Mason's
John: Servant at
Thornfield Hall and later at Ferndean Manor.
Mary: John's wife,
who is Rochester's cook.
Leah: Housemaid at
Blanche Ingram: Beautiful
young woman who is a guest at Thornfield Hall. Jane mistakenly believes
Rochester plans to marry her.
Mary Ingram: Sister
of Blanche and a guest at Thornfield Hall.
Dowager Lady Ingram:
Mother of Blanche and Mary. She is a guest at Thornfield Hall.
Mr. Eshton: Magistrate,
friend of Rochester, and a guest at Thornfield Hall.
Mrs. Eshton: Wife
of Mr. Eshton and a guest at Thornfield Hall.
Amy and Louisa Eshton:
Daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Eshton and guests at Thornfield Hall..
Sir George Lynn:
Millcote politician and a guest at Thornfield Hall.
Lady Lynn: Wife of
Sir George and a guest at Thornfield Hall.
Henry and Frederick Lynn:
Children of Sir George and guests at Thornfield Hall.
Colonel and Mrs. Dent:
Guests at Thornfield Hall.
Sam: Footman who
brings coal for the guests at Thornfield Hall and informs them of the presence
of a fortunetelling gipsy (Rochester in disguise).
woman with whom Rochester had an affair while traveling in Europe.
Clara: German woman
with whom Rochester had an affair while traveling in Europe.
Farmer: Man who gives
Jane bread on her journey through the moors.
who sells bread cakes in a village Jane comes upon during her journey through
the moors. She answers questions Jane asks about employment.
Woman at a Village House:
Woman who answers questions Jane asks about employment in a village. Jane
comes upon during her journey through the moors.
Woman at a Parsonage:
Woman who answers Jane's questions at a parsonage at which Jane seeks a
clergyman to help her find employment.
Girl at Cottage:
Girl who gives Jane porridge after the latter spends the night in woods.
Mother of Girl: Mother
of the girl at the cottage.
St. John (pronounced
Minister who, with his sisters, takes Jane in after she wanders on the
Diana and Mary Rivers:
Sisters of St. John who become good friends of Jane.
Hannah: Servant in
the Rivers household.
Alice Wood: Jane's
assistant at the school founded by St. John Rivers.
John Eyre: Uncle
of Jane, St. John Rivers, and his two sisters. He bequeaths twenty thousand
pounds to Jane, which she shares with the Rivers family.
Young woman in love with St. John Rivers.
Mr. Oliver: Father
of Rosamond and wealthy owner of a needle factory.
Mr. Granby: Well-connected
man whom Rosamond Oliver marries.
Sir Frederic Granby:
Father of Mr. Granby.
Host of Rochester Arms:
Keeper of the inn at which Jane stays when she returns to Thornfield Hall
and finds it in ruins after the fire. He informs her of what happened to
Damer de Rochester:
Ancestor entombed in the church where Jane and Rochester go to be married
before Richard Mason reveals that Rochester is already married. Damer de
Rochester was killed in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 2, 1644) during
the English Civil War.
Elizabeth: Wife of
Damer de Rochester.
Animals: Pilot, Rochester's
dog; Mesrour, Rochester's black horse; Carlo, Rosamond Oliver's dog.
Michael J. Cummings...©
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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
time, he grows quite fond of his savior–and she of him.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
sucked the blood,” Mason says. “She said she’d drain my heart.”
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."
would to God there was an end of all this!" Rochester says.
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.
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."
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.”
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jane sympathizes with him, she refuses to remain at Thornfield Hall. She
cannot endure being around a man she loves but cannot marry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Maltreated child in the home
of Mrs. Sarah Reed.
Child and adolescent student
at Lowood Orphan Asylum.
Teenage governess and teacher
at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her employer, Edward Rochester.
Wanderer through the moors after
leaving Thornfield Hall. Tired, lacking food, she becomes deathly ill.
Sojourner at the home of St.
John, Diana, and Mary Rivers, where Jane recovers.
Fulfilled young woman at Ferndean
Manor after reuniting with and marrying Rochester.
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:
God!–what delusion has come over me?
What sweet madness has seized me?"
delusion–no madness: your mind, sir, is too
strong for delusion, your health too sound for frenzy."
where is the speaker? Is it only a voice? Oh! I cannot see, but I must
feel, or my heart will stop and my brain burst. Whatever–whoever
you are–be perceptible to the touch or I cannot
groped; I arrested his wandering hand, and prisoned it in both mine.
very fingers!" he cried; "her small, slight fingers! If so there
must be more of her."
Theme: Struggling Against Adversity
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
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.
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. . . .
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,
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.
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.' "
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
Charlotte Brontë includes
many allusions in her narration. Following
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).
Chapter 8: "That
night, on going to bed, I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide
supper of hot roast potatoes, or white bread
and new milk, with which
I was wont to amuse my inward cravings." A Barmecide is an imaginary
or pretended banquet. Barmecide was the name of a prince in The Arabian
Nights who served a beggar a "feast" consisting of empty dishes.
Chapter 16: "Reason
having come forward and told, in her own quiet way a plain,
unvarnished tale, showing how I had rejected the real, and rabidly
devoured the ideal . . . ." Plain, unvarnished tale recalls a line
written by Shakespeare in Othello: "I will a round unvarnish’d tale
deliver" (1. 3. 104). Othello is defending himself against accusations
that he abducted Desdmona, the daughter of a Venetian senator, saying he
will tell the whole truth (round unvarnish’d tale).
Chapter 19: "The
library looked tranquil enough as I entered it, and the Sibyl–if
Sibyl she were–was seated snugly enough in an easy-chair at the chimney-corner."
In ancient Greek literature and mythology, a sibyl was a very old woman
who prophesied or told fortunes; sibyl was a title, not a name. In the
sentence above from Jane Eyre, the narrator is referring to Rochester
disguised as a gipsy fortuneteller.
Chapter 25: "I thought
sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah;
and now and then a freshening gale,
wakened by hope, bore my
spirit triumphantly towards the bourne." Beulah is a reference to
a land of peace and contentment in Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan
Chapter 27: "In the
servants' hall two coachmen and three gentlemen's gentlemen stood or sat
round the fire; the abigails, I suppose,
were upstairs with their mistresses; the new servants, that had been hired
from Millcote, were bustling about everywhere. Abigail is the name of a
maid in The Scornful Lady, a play by Francis Beaumont (1585-1616)
and John Fletcher (1579-1625). The word abigail (with a lower-case
was later used as a synonym for maid.
Questions and Essay Topics
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.
2. Although Jane Eyre
is a romance novel, Charlotte Brontë brings to the book as much realism
as idealism. For example, rather than presenting pretty cardboard cutouts
as her main characters, Brontë gives us imperfect specimens of humanity:
plain-looking Jane Eyre, a lowly orphan, and coarse-featured Edward Rochester,
a gruff landowner. What are other examples of realism in the novel? What
are examples of idealism?
3. What is Jane Eyre's most
4. While preaching biblical
principles, Mr. Brocklehurst embezzles funds intended for the children
of Lowood Ophan Asylum. Are there many Brocklehursts in the world today?
Document your answer.
5. Do you believe St. John
Rivers should have married Rosamond Oliver? Explain your answer.
6. In what ways does Edward
Rochester "see" more clearly after losing one eye and temporarily losing
the sight in another?
7. In what ways does Rochester
resemble the classical tragic hero of ancient Greek plays?
8. Explain the following
passage which appears in Chapter 26, after Richard Mason reveals that Rochester
is already married: "A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December
storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed
the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud: lanes
which last night blushed full of flowers, to-day were pathless with untrodden
snow; and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and flagrant
as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests
in wintry Norway."