Jane Eyre ( /ˌdʒeɪn ˈɛə/) is a famous and influential novel by
English writer Charlotte Brontë. It was published in London, England, in 1847 by
Smith, Elder & Co. with the title Jane Eyre. An Autobiography under the pen name
"Currer Bell," the "autobiography's" supposed editor. The first American edition
was released the following year by Harper & Brothers of New York. The Penguin
edition describes it as an "influential feminist text" because of its indepth
exploration of a strong female character's feelings.
The novel merges elements of three distinct genres. It has the form of a Bildungsroman, a story about a child's maturation, focusing on the emotions and experiences that accompany growth to adulthood. The novel also contains much social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core, and finally has the brooding and moody quality and a Byronic character typical of Gothic fiction.
It is a novel often considered ahead of its time due to its portrayal of the development of a thinking and passionate young woman who is both individualistic, desiring for a full life, while also highly moral. Jane evolves from her beginnings as a poor and plain woman without captivating charm to her mature stage as a compassionate and confident whole woman. As she matures, she comments much on the complexities of the human condition. Jane also has a deeply pious personal trust in God, but is also highly self-reliant. Although Jane suffers much, she is never portrayed as a damsel in distress who needs rescuing. For this reason, it is sometimes regarded as an important early feminist (or proto-feminist) novel.
Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character.
The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane's childhood at Gateshead,
where she is emotionally and physically abused by her aunt and cousins; her
education at Lowood School, where she acquires friends and role models but also
suffers privations and oppression; her time as the governess of Thornfield Hall,
where she falls in love with her Byronic employer, Edward Rochester; her time
with the Rivers family during which her earnest but cold clergyman-cousin St
John Rivers proposes to her; and the finale with her reunion with and marriage
to her beloved Rochester.
Jane Eyre is divided into 38 chapters and most editions are at least 400 pages long (although the preface and introduction on certain copies are liable to take up another 100). The original was published in three volumes, comprising chapters 1 to 15, 16 to 26, and 27 to 38; this was a common publishing format during the 19th century, see Three-volume novel.
Brontë dedicated the novel's second edition to William Makepeace Thackeray.
Young Jane argues with her guardian Mrs. Reed of Gateshead.
Illustration by F. H. Townsend.The novel begins with a ten-year-old orphan named
Jane Eyre who is living with her uncle's family, the Reeds, as her uncle's dying
wish. Both of Jane's parents died of typhus. Jane’s aunt Sarah Reed doesn’t like
her and treats her like a servant. She and her three children are abusive to
Jane, physically and emotionally. One day Jane gets locked in the room in which
her uncle died, and panics after seeing visions of him. She is finally rescued
when she is allowed to attend Lowood School for Girls.
Jane arrives at Lowood Institution, a charity school, with the accusation that she is deceitful. During an inspection, Jane accidentally breaks her slate, and Mr. Brocklehurst, the self-righteous clergyman who runs the school, brands her as a liar and shames her before the entire assembly. Jane is comforted by her friend, Helen Burns. Miss Temple, a caring teacher, facilitates Jane's self-defense and writes to Mr. Lloyd whose reply agrees with Jane's. Ultimately, Jane is publicly cleared of Mr. Brocklehurst's accusations.
The eighty pupils at Lowood are subjected to cold rooms, poor meals, and thin clothing. Many students fall ill when a typhus epidemic strikes. Jane's friend Helen dies of consumption in her arms. When Mr. Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty are discovered, several benefactors erect a new building and conditions at the school improve dramatically.
After eight years of school Jane decides to leave, like her friend and confidante Miss Temple. She advertises her services as a governess, and receives one reply. It is from Alice Fairfax, who is a keeper of Thornfield Hall. She takes the position, caring for Adele Varens, a young French girl. While Jane is walking one night to a nearby town, a horseman passes her. The horse slips on ice and throws the rider. She helps him. Later, back at the mansion she learns that this man is Edward Rochester, master of the house. He wonders whether she bewitched his horse to make him fall. Adele is his ward, who could be his daughter; she was left in Mr. Rochester's care when her mother died. Mr. Rochester and Jane enjoy each other's company and spend many hours together.
Odd things happen at the house, such as a strange laugh, a mysterious fire and an attack on Rochester's house guest, Mr. Mason. Jane hears that her aunt was calling for her, after being in much grief because her son committed suicide. She returns to Gateshead and remains there for a month caring for her dying aunt. Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter from Jane's uncle, John, asking for her to live with him. Mrs. Reed admits to telling her uncle that Jane had died of fever. Soon after, Jane's aunt dies, and Jane returns to Thornfield.
St. John Rivers admits Jane to Moor House.After returning to Thornfield, Jane broods over Rochester's impending marriage to Blanche Ingram. But on a midsummer evening, he proclaims his love for Jane and proposes. As she prepares for her wedding, Jane's forebodings arise when a strange, savage-looking woman sneaks into her room one night and rips her wedding veil in two. As with the previous mysterious events, Rochester attributes the incident to drunkenness on the part of Grace Poole, one of his servants. During the wedding ceremony, Mr. Mason and a lawyer declare that Mr. Rochester can not marry because he is married to Mr. Mason’s sister. He admits this is true, and explains his wife is crazy and that he was tricked into marrying her. She lives in Thornfield and has Grace Poole, as nurse, to look after her. When Grace gets drunk, his wife escapes, and causes the strange happenings at Thornfield. Mr. Rochester asks Jane to go with him to the south of France, and live as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. Refusing to go against her principles, and despite her love for him, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.
Jane travels through England using the little money she had saved. She left her bundle of her possessions on the coach and has to sleep on the moor, trying to trade her scarf and gloves for food. Exhausted, she makes her way to the home of Diana and Mary Rivers, but is turned away by the housekeeper. She faints on the doorstep, preparing for her death. St. John Rivers, Diana and Mary's brother, saves her. After she regains her health, St. John finds her a teaching position at a nearby charity school. Jane becomes good friends with the sisters, but St. John is too reserved.
The sisters leave for governess jobs and St. John becomes closer with Jane. St. John discovers Jane's true identity, and astounds her by showing her a letter stating that her uncle John has died and left her his entire fortune of £20,000 (equivalent to £1.34 million in today's pounds). When Jane questions him further, St. John reveals that John is also his and his sisters' uncle. They had once hoped for a share of the inheritance, but have since resigned themselves to nothing. Jane, overjoyed by finding her family, insists on sharing the money equally with her cousins, and Diana and Mary come to Moor House to stay.
Jane then goes to Thornfield to find only blackened ruins. She learns that Rochester's wife set the house on fire and committed suicide by jumping from the roof. In his rescue attempts, Mr. Rochester lost a hand and his eyesight. Jane reunites with him, but he fears that she will be repulsed by his condition. When Jane assures him of her love and tells him that she will never leave him, Mr. Rochester again proposes. He eventually recovers enough sight to see their first-born son.