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Jane Eyre


Jane Eyre is a famous 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".

Plot Summary

Chapters 1-4: Jane's childhood at Gateshead

The novel begins in Gates head Hall, where a ten-year-old orphan named Jane Eyre is living with her uncle's family. The uncle, surnames Reed, dies shortly after adopting Jane. His wife, Mrs. Sarah Reed, and her three children (John, Eliza and Georgiana) neglect and abuse Jane. They dislike Jane's plain looks and quiet yet passionate character. The novel begins with young John Reed bullying Jane, who retaliates, with unwonted violence. Jane is blamed for the ensuing fight, and Mrs. Reed has two servants drag her off and lock her up in the "Red Room", the unused chamber in which Mr. Reed died. Still locked in that night, Jane sees a light and panics, thinking that her uncle's ghost has come. Her scream rouses the house, but Mrs. Reed just locks her up for a longer period of time. Then Jane has a fit and passes out. An apothecary, Mr. Lloyd, comes to Gates head Hall and suggests that Jane goes to school. After this event, young Jane says what is one of the novel's most famous quotations: "Greed is an evil that will one day destroy us."

Chapters 5-10: Jane's education at Lowood School

Mr. Brocklehurst is a cold, cruel, self-righteous, and highly hypocritical clergyman who runs a charity school called Lowood Institution. He accepts Jane as a pupil in his school, but Jane is devastated when Mrs. Reed asks him to warn the teachers that she has a tendency to deceit. After Brocklehurst departs, Jane bluntly tells Mrs. Reed how she hates the Reed family. Mrs. Reed, so shocked that she is scarcely capable of responding, leaves the drawing room in haste.

Jane initially finds life at Lowood grim. Miss Maria Temple, the youthful superintendent, is just and kind, but another teacher, Miss Scatcherd, is sour and abusive. Mr. Brocklehurst, visiting the school for an inspection, has Jane placed on a tall stool before the entire assemblage after dropping and breaking a slate. He then tells them that "...this girl, this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut—this girl is—a liar!"

Later that day, Miss Temple allows Jane to speak in her own defence. After Jane does so, Miss Temple writes to Mr. Lloyd. His reply agrees with Jane's, and she is publicly cleared of Mr. Brocklehurst's accusation.

ane is impressed with one pupil, Helen Burns, who accepts Miss Scatcherd's cruelty and the school's deficiencies with passive dignity, practising the Christian teaching of turning the other cheek. Jane admires and loves the gentle Helen and they become good friends, but Jane cannot bring herself to emulate her friend's behaviour. While the typhus epidemic is raging, Helen dies of consumption (tuberculosis) with Jane in her arms.

Many die in the typhus epidemic, and Mr. Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty are laid bare. Several rich and kindly people donate to put up a new school building in a more healthful location. New rules are made, and improvements in diet and clothing are introduced. Though Mr. Brocklehurst cannot be overlooked, due to his wealth and family connections, new people are brought in to share his duties of treasurer and inspector, and conditions improve dramatically at the school.

Chapters 11-26: Jane's time as governess at Thornfield Manor

The narrative resumes eight years later. Jane has been a teacher at Lowood for two years, but she thirsts for a better and brighter future. She advertises as a governess and is hired by Mrs. Alice Fairfax, housekeeper of the Gothic manor Thornfield, to teach a rather spoiled but amiable little French girl named Adèle Varens. A few months after her arrival at Thornfield, Jane goes for a walk and aids a horseman who has sprained his ankle when his horse slipped on a patch of ice. She helps him back on the horse and he inquires as to her place of residence without revealing his own identity. On her return to Thornfield, Jane discovers that the horseman is her employer, Mr. Edward Rochester, a moody yet wonderful, passionate, Byronic, and charismatic gentleman nearly twenty years older than she. Adèle is his ward from a previous romantic relationship with a French ballerina. Mr. Rochester took her in, after her mother died, but is completely aware that Adele is not his daughter, because Céline Varens had many affairs.

Rochester seems quite taken with Jane. He repeatedly summons her to his presence and talks with her. Jane is happy at Thornfield, but there are soon events to tarnish her new happiness: a strange laugh in the halls, a near fatal fire from which she has to save the master of the house, an attack upon a houseguest: Mr Richard Mason.

One night Jane has a presentiment and the next day receives word that Mrs. Reed, upon hearing of her son John's apparent suicide after leading a life of dissipation and debt, has suffered a near-fatal stroke and is asking for her. Jane returns to Gateshead and remains there for over a month while a frequently incoherent Mrs. Reed lies dying in bed. Although she rejects Jane's efforts at reconciliation, Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter that she had previously withheld out of spite. The letter is from Jane's father's brother, John Eyre, notifying her of his intent to leave her his fortune upon his death.

About a fortnight after Jane's return to Thornfield, Jane, after months of concealing her emotions, vehemently proclaims her love for Edward, who in turn passionately proposes to her. Following a month of courtship, 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 Grace Poole.

The wedding goes ahead nevertheless. But during the ceremony in the church, the mysterious Mr. Mason and a lawyer step forth and declare that Rochester cannot marry Jane because his own wife is still alive. Rochester bitterly and sarcastically admits this fact, explaining that his wife is a violent madwoman whom he keeps imprisoned in the attic, where Grace Poole looks after her. But Grace Poole imbibes gin immoderately, occasionally giving the madwoman an opportunity to escape. It is Rochester's mad wife who is responsible for the strange events at Thornfield. Rochester nearly committed bigamy, and kept this fact from Jane. The wedding is cancelled, and Jane is heartbroken.

Rochester then asks Jane to accompany him to the south of France, where they will live as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. But though she still loves him, Jane refuses to betray the God-given morals and principles she has always believed in. Although she loves Rochester more than anything else, she cannot abandon her morals, and chooses to leave in the middle of the night.

Chapters 27-35: Jane's time with the Rivers

In the dead of night, she slips out of Thornfield and takes a coach far away to the north of England. When her money gives out, she sleeps outdoors on the moor and reluctantly begs for food. One night, freezing and starving, she comes to Moor House (or Marsh End) and begs for help. St. John Rivers, the young clergyman who lives in the house, admits her after his servant, Hannah, refuses to allow her into the house. There she is cared for by the sisters of St. John, Diana and Mary, who are only too happy to nurse her back to health. They are, in fact, more warm towards her than St. John, who is wary of the stranger in his home.

Jane, who gives the false surname of Elliott, quickly recovers. St. John arranges for Jane to teach a charity school for girls in the village of Morton.

When St. John becomes more comfortable around Jane, and once she recovers from her illness, the two take a walk and come across Rosamond Oliver, who talks with them for a while. Later, when Jane tries to confront him about his feelings for Ms. Oliver, St.John confesses he is indeed in love, but doubts of asking her hand in marriage as he feels she deserves better than the life of religion he is planning.

John's show of emotion contrasts here to his usual frosty facade, as he thinks about what should be done and what he feels would work better. He doesn't follow his heart, however, which is a contrast with Jane who always follows her feelings.

Suspecting Jane's true identity, St. John relates Jane's experiences at Thornfield to Jane and advises her that her uncle, John Eyre, has died and left her his fortune of 20,000 pounds. Jane confesses her true identity to St.John but then queries how St.John received information of her inheritance. St.John reveals that his uncle, who denied the Rivers children a share of his inheritance is in fact also Jane's uncle. St.John, his sisters and Jane

St. John intends to travel to India to devote his life to missionary work. He asks Jane to accompany him as his wife. Jane consents to go to India but refuses to marry him as they are not in love. St. John continues to pressure Jane to marry him, and his forceful personality causes her to eventually capitulate. But at that moment she hears what she thinks is Rochester's voice calling her name, and this breaks her out of St. John's influence for a moment. The next morning, she goes to Thornfield to find out about Mr. Rochester's well-being, as her last wish before she departs forever to India with St. John.

Chapters 36-38: Jane's reunion with Mr. Rochester.

The next day, Jane takes a coach to Thornfield. But only blackened ruins lie where the manorhouse once stood, matching an earlier premonition she had of the estate in a dream. An innkeeper tells Jane that Rochester's mad wife set the house alight and then committed suicide by jumping from the roof. Rochester rescued the servants from the burning mansion but lost a hand and his eyesight in the process of attempting to save his wife. He now lives in an isolated manor house called Ferndean. Going to Ferndean, Jane reunites with Rochester. At first he fears that she will refuse to marry a blind cripple and Jane fears he will no longer want marriage but when both reveal their feelings and Mr Rochester again proposes Jane accepts him without hesitation.

Rochester eventually recovers sight in one eye, and can see their first-born son when the baby is born.

The Characters

  • Jane Eyre: The protagonist and title character, orphaned as a baby. She is a plain-featured, small and reserved but talented, empathetic, hard-working, honest (not to say blunt), and passionate girl. Skilled at studying, drawing, and teaching, she works as a governess at Thornfield Hall and falls in love with her wealthy employer, Edward Rochester. But her strong sense of conscience does not permit her to become his mistress, and she does not return to him until his insane wife is dead and she herself has come into an inheritance.
  • Mr. Reed: Jane's maternal uncle. He adopts Jane when her parents die. Before his own death, he makes his wife promise to care for Jane.
  • Mrs. Sarah Reed: Jane's aunt by marriage, who resides at Gateshead. Because her husband insists, Mrs. Reed adopts Jane. Jane, however, receives nothing but neglect and abuse at her hands. At the age of ten, Jane is sent away to a charity school. Years later, Jane attempts to reconcile with her aunt, but Mrs. Reed spurns her, still resenting that her husband loved Jane more than his own children and that Jane had stood up to her and called her heartless shortly before being sent away to school. Shortly afterward, Mrs. Reed dies of a stroke.
  • John Reed: Mrs. Reed's son, and Jane's cousin. He is Mrs. Reed's "own darling," though he bullies Jane constantly, sometimes in his mother's presence. His mother dotes on him, but he treats her condescendingly. He goes to college, ruining himself and Gateshead through gambling. Word comes of his death by suicide.
  • Eliza Reed: Mrs. Reed's elder daughter, and Jane's cousin. Bitter because she is not as attractive as her sister, Georgiana Reed, she devotes herself self-righteously to Catholicism. After her mother's death, she enters a French convent, where she eventually becomes the Mother Superior.
  • Georgiana Reed: Mrs. Reed's younger daughter, and Jane's cousin. Though spiteful and insolent, she is indulged by everyone at Gateshead because of her beauty. In London, Lord Edwin Vere falls in love with her, but his relations are against their marriage. Lord Vere and Georgiana decide to elope, but Eliza finds them out. Georgiana returns to Gateshead, where she grows plump and vapid, spending most of her time talking of her love affair. After Mrs. Reed's death, she marries a wealthy but worn-out society man.
  • Bessie Lee: The plain-spoken nursemaid at Gateshead. She sometimes treats Jane kindly, telling her stories and singing her songs. Later she marries Robert Leaven.
  • Robert Leaven: The coachman at Gateshead, who sometimes gives Jane a ride on Georgiana's bay pony. Months after she goes to Thornfield Hall, he brings her the news of John Reed's death, which had brought on Mrs. Reed's stroke.
  • Mr. Lloyd: A compassionate apothecary who recommends that Jane be sent to school. Later, he writes a letter to Miss Temple confirming Jane's account of her childhood and thereby clearing Jane of Mrs. Reed's charge of lying.
  • Mr. Brocklehurst: The arrogant, hypocritical clergyman who serves as headmaster and treasurer of Lowood School. His family leads an opulent lifestyle. At the same time, he preaches a doctrine of Christian austerity and self-sacrifice to everyone in hearing. When his dishonesty is brought to light, he is made to share his office of inspector and treasurer with more kindly people, who greatly improve the school.
  • Miss Maria Temple: The kind, attractive young superintendent of Lowood School. She recognizes Mr. Brocklehurst for the cruel hypocrite he is, and treats Jane and Helen with respect and compassion. She helps clear Jane of Mrs. Reed's false accusation of deceit.
  • Miss Scatcherd: A sour and vicious teacher at Lowood. She behaves with particular cruelty toward Helen, using her as a scapegoat for anything and everything.
  • Helen Burns: An angelic fellow-student and best friend of Jane's at Lowood School. Several years older than the ten-year-old Jane, she stoically accepts all the cruelties of the teachers and the deficiencies of the school's room and board. She refuses to hate the tyrannical Mr. Brocklehurst or the vicious Miss Scatcherd, or to complain, believing in the New Testament teaching that one should love one's enemies and turn the other cheek. Jane reveres her for her profound Christianity, even though she herself believes that returning hate for hate is necessary to prevent evil from taking over. Helen, uncomplaining as ever, dies of consumption in Jane's arms. In the book it is noted that she was buried in an unmarked grave until some years later, when a marble gravestone with her name and the word 'Resurgam' inscribed on it appears. The possible inference is that this was provided by Jane.
  • Edward Fairfax Rochester: The owner of Thornfield Manor, and Jane's lover and eventual husband. He possesses a strong physique and great wealth, but his face is very plain and his moods prone to frequent change. Impetuous and sensual, he falls madly in love with Jane because her simplicity, bluntness, intellectual capacity and plainness contrast so much with those of the shallow society women to whom he is accustomed. But his unfortunate marriage to the maniacal Bertha Mason postpones his union with Jane, and he loses a hand and his eyesight while trying to rescue his mad wife after she sets a fire that burns down Thornfield. He is a Byronic hero.
  • Bertha Mason: The violently insane secret wife of Edward Rochester. From the West Indies and of Creole extraction, her family possesses a strong strain of madness, of which Rochester did not know until, lured by her wealth and beauty, he had married her. Her insanity manifests itself in a few years, and Rochester resorts to imprisoning her in the attic of Thornfield Manor. She escapes four times during the novel and wreaks havoc in the house, the fourth time actually burning it down and taking her own life in the process.
  • Adèle Varens: A naive, vivacious and rather spoiled French child to whom Jane is governess at Thornfield. She is Rochester's ward because her mother, Céline Varens, an opportunistic French opera singer and dancer, was Rochester's mistress. Rochester does not believe himself to be Adèle's father: Céline had other lovers, and as Rochester puts it, "Pilot {his dog} is more like me" than Adèle. Although not particularly fond of her, he nonetheless extends the little girl the best of care. In time, she grows up to be a very pleasant and well-mannered young woman.
  • Mrs. Alice Fairfax: An elderly widow and housekeeper of Thornfield Manor. She treats Jane kindly and respectfully, but disapproves of her engagement to Mr Rochester.
  • Blanche Ingram: A beautiful but self-absorbed, cruel and shallow socialite whom Mr. Rochester appears to court in order to make Jane jealous. Blanche despises the rather dowdy protagonist because she is a governess. Later Jane discovers Blanche Ingram did not love Mr. Rochester but rather his fortune.
  • Richard Mason: A strangely blank-eyed but handsome Englishman from the West Indies, he stops Jane and Rochester's wedding with the proclamation that Rochester is still married to Bertha Mason, his sister.
  • St. John Eyre Rivers: A clergyman who is Jane Eyre's cousin on her father's side. He is a devout, almost fanatical Christian of Calvinistic leanings. He is charitable, honest, patient, forgiving, scrupulous, austere and deeply moral; with these qualities alone, he would have made a saint. But he is also proud, cold, exacting, controlling and unwilling to listen to dissenting opinions. He was in love with Rosamond Oliver, but did not propose to her because he felt that she would not make a "suitable" wife. Jane venerates him and likes him, regarding him as a brother, but she refuses to marry him because he doesn't love her and is incapable of real kindness.
  • Diana and Mary Rivers: St. John's sisters and Jane's cousins, they are kind and intellectual young women who contrive to lead an independent life while retaining their intelligence, purity and sense of meaning in life. Diana warns Jane against marrying her icy brother.
  • Grace Poole: Bertha Mason's keeper, a frumpish woman verging on middle age. She drinks gin immoderately, occasionally giving her maniacal charge a chance to escape. Rochester and Mrs. Fairfax attribute all of Bertha's misdeeds to her.
  • Rosamond Oliver: The rather shallow and coquettish, but beautiful and good-natured daughter of Morton's richest man. She donates the funds to launch the village school because she is in love with St. John. However, as St.John refuses to let himself love her, she in time becomes engaged to the wealthy Mr. Granby.
  • John Eyre: Jane's paternal uncle, who leaves her his vast fortune of 20,000 pounds. He never appears as a character. He is also St. John's Maternal Uncle and leaves him and his sisters 31 pounds and 10 shillings (i.e. 30 guineas) as a result. Jane divides her 20,000 pounds amongst the four of them (St. John, Mary, Diana and herself) leaving each with 5,000 pounds.