Title page of the first Jane Eyre edition
|Genre||Gothic fiction, social criticism, bildungsroman|
|Publisher||Smith, Elder, and Company|
|Publication date||16 October 1847|
|Text||Jane Eyre at Wikisource|
Jane Eyre // (originally published as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography) is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë. It was published on 16 October 1847 by Smith, Elder & Co. of London, England, under the pen name "Currer Bell." The first American edition was released the following year by Harper & Brothers of New York.
Primarily of the bildungsroman genre, Jane Eyre follows the emotions and experiences of its eponymous character, including her growth to adulthood, and her love for Mr. Rochester, the byronic master of fictitious Thornfield Hall. In its internalisation of the action — the focus is on the gradual unfolding of Jane's moral and spiritual sensibility and all the events are coloured by a heightened intensity that was previously the domain of poetry — the novel revolutionised the art of fiction. Charlotte Brontë has been called the 'first historian of the private consciousness' and the literary ancestor of writers like Joyce and Proust. The novel contains elements of social criticism, with a strong sense of morality at its core, but is nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time given the individualistic character of Jane and the novel's exploration of classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Characters
- 3 Themes
- 4 Context
- 5 Literary motifs and allusions
- 6 Adaptations and influence
- 7 Reception
- 8 References
- 9 External links
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. During these sections the novel provides perspectives on a number of important social issues and ideas, many of which are critical of the status quo (see the Themes section below). Literary critic Jerome Beaty notes that the close first person perspective leaves the reader "too uncritically accepting of her worldview" and often leads reading and conversation about the novel towards supporting Jane, regardless of how irregular her ideas or perspectives.
Jane Eyre is divided into 38 chapters and most editions are at least 400 pages long. The original publication was 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.
The novel begins with the titular character Jane Eyre living with her maternal uncle's family, the Reeds, as a result of her uncle's dying wish. The novel starts when Jane is ten years old and several years after her parents died of typhus. Mr. Reed was the only one in the Reed family to be kind to Jane. Jane's aunt Sarah Reed does not like her, treats her as a burden and discourages her children from associating with Jane. Mrs. Reed and her three children are abusive to Jane, both physically and emotionally. The servant Bessie proves to be Jane's only ally in the household even though Bessie sometimes harshly scolds Jane. Excluded from the family activities, Jane is incredibly unhappy with only a doll and occasionally books in which to find solace. One day, Jane is locked in the red room where her uncle died, and she panics after seeing visions of him. She is finally rescued when she is allowed to attend Lowood School for Girls, after the physician, Dr. Lloyd, convinces Mrs. Reed to send Jane away. Before Jane leaves, she confronts Mrs. Reed and declares that she'll never call her "aunt" again, that Mrs. Reed and her daughters, Georgiana, and Eliza are deceitful and that she'd tell everyone at Lowood how cruelly Mrs. Reed treated her.
Jane arrives at Lowood Institution, a charity school, the head of which (Brocklehurst) has been told 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 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 six years as a student and two as a teacher, Jane decides to leave Lowood, like her friend and confidante Miss Temple. She advertises her services as a governess and receives one reply. It is from Alice Fairfax, the housekeeper at Thornfield Hall. She takes the position, teaching 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 to the horse. Later, back at the mansion she learns that this man is Edward Rochester, master of the house. He teases her, asking whether she bewitched his horse to make him fall. Adele is his ward, left in Mr. Rochester's care when her mother abandoned her. Mr. Rochester and Jane enjoy each other's company and spend many hours together.
Odd things start to happen at the house, such as a strange laugh, a mysterious fire in Mr. Rochester's room, on which Jane throws water, and an attack on Rochester's house guest, Mr. Mason. Jane receives word that her aunt was calling for her, after being in much grief because her son has died. She returns to Gateshead and remains there for a month caring for her dying aunt. Mrs. Reed gives Jane a letter from Jane's paternal uncle, Mr John Eyre, asking for her to live with him. Mrs. Reed admits to telling her uncle that Jane had died of fever at Lowood. Soon after, Jane's aunt dies, and she returns to Thornfield. Jane begins to communicate to her uncle John Eyre.
After returning to Thornfield, Jane broods over Mr. 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, Mr. 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 cannot marry because he is still married to Mr. Mason's sister, Bertha. Mr. Rochester admits this is true, but explains that his father tricked him into the marriage for her money. Once they were united, he discovered that she was rapidly descending into madness and eventually locked her away in Thornfield, hiring Grace Poole as a nurse to look after her. When Grace gets drunk, his wife escapes, and causes the strange happenings at Thornfield. Jane learns that her own letter to her uncle John Eyre, which happened to be seen by Mr. Mason, who knew John Eyre and was there, was how Mr. Mason found out about the bigamous marriage. 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. Thereafter, Jane was forced to live in the streets begging for food, until one day she accidentally came across family members of her uncle John Eyre which she later learns of the inheritance of money from his death.
Jane travels through England using the little money she had saved. She accidentally leaves her bundle of possessions on a 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 and a clergyman, 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 remains 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 Eyre has died and left her his entire fortune of 20,000 pounds (equivalent to over £1.3 million in 2011, calculated using the RPI). 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.
Thinking she will make a suitable missionary's wife, St. John asks Jane to marry him and to go with him to India, not out of love, but out of duty. Jane initially accepts going to India, but rejects the marriage proposal, suggesting they travel as brother and sister. As soon as Jane's resolve against marriage to St. John begins to weaken, she mysteriously hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling her name. Jane then returns to Thornfield to find only blackened ruins. She learns that Mr. 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 and they are married. He eventually recovers enough sight to see their first-born son.
- Jane Eyre: The protagonist of the novel and the title character. Orphaned as a baby, she struggles through her nearly loveless childhood and becomes governess at Thornfield Hall. Jane is passionate and opinionated, and values freedom and independence. She also has a strong conscience and is a determined Christian.
- Mr. Reed: Jane's maternal uncle, who adopts Jane when her parents die. According to Mrs. Reed, he pitied Jane and often cared for her more than for his own children. Before his own death, he makes his wife promise to care for Jane.
- Mrs. Sarah Reed: Jane's aunt by marriage, who adopts Jane on her husband's wishes, but abuses and neglects her. She eventually disowns her and sends her to Lowood School.
- John Reed: Jane's cousin, who as a child bullies Jane constantly, sometimes in his mother's presence. He ruins himself as an adult by drinking and gambling and is thought to have committed suicide.
- Eliza Reed: Jane's cousin. Bitter because she is not as attractive as her sister, she devotes herself self-righteously to religion. She leaves for a nunnery near Lisle after her mother's death, determined to estrange herself from her sister.
- Georgiana Reed: Jane's cousin. Although beautiful and indulged, she is insolent and spiteful. Her sister Eliza foils her marriage to the wealthy Lord Edwin Vere, when they were about to elope. She also becomes a friend of Jane's towards the end of the novel and eventually marries a wealthy man.
- Bessie Lee: The plain-spoken nursemaid at Gateshead. She often treats Jane kindly, telling her stories and singing her songs. Later she marries Robert Leaven.
- Robert Leaven: The coachman at Gateshead, who brings Jane the news of John Reed's death, which 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 clergyman, headmaster and treasurer of Lowood School, whose maltreatment of the students is eventually exposed. A religious traditionalist, he advocates for his charges the most harsh, plain, and disciplined possible lifestyle—but not, hypocritically, for himself and his own family. His second daughter Augusta hereby states: "Oh, my dear papa, how quiet and plain all the girls at Lowood look... they look at my dress and mama's, as if they never seen a silk gown before."
- Miss Maria Temple: The kind superintendent of Lowood School, who treats the students with respect and compassion. She helps clear Jane of Mr. Brocklehurst's false accusation of deceit, and cares for Helen in her last days. Eventually she marries Reverend Naysmith.
- Miss Scatcherd: A sour and vicious teacher at Lowood.
- Helen Burns: Jane's best friend at Lowood School. She refuses to hate those who abuse her, trusting in God and praying for peace one day in heaven. She teaches Jane to trust Christianity, and dies of consumption in Jane's arms. Elizabeth Gaskell, in her biography of the Brontë sisters, wrote that Helen Burns was 'an exact transcript' of Maria Brontë, who died of consumption at age 11.
- Edward Fairfax Rochester: The master of Thornfield Manor. A Byronic hero, he is tricked into making an unfortunate first marriage to Bertha Mason many years before he meets Jane, with whom he falls madly in love.
- Bertha Antoinetta Mason: The violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester; moved to Thornfield and locked in the attic and eventually commits suicide by burning down Thornfield Hall.
- Adèle Varens: An excitable French child to whom Jane is governess at Thornfield. She has been Mr. Rochester's ward since her mother, Mr. Rochester's mistress, abandoned her and "ran away to Italy with a musician or singer" (ch. 15).
- Mrs. Alice Fairfax: An elderly widow and the housekeeper of Thornfield Manor. She cares for both Jane and Mr. Rochester.
- Leah: The young, pretty and kind housemaid at Thornfield, with an occasional excitable nature.
- Blanche Ingram: A socialite whom Mr. Rochester temporarily courts to make Jane jealous. She is described as having great beauty, but displays callous behaviour and avaricious intent.
- Richard Mason: An Englishman from the West Indies, whose sister is Mr. Rochester's first wife. He took part in tricking Mr. Rochester into marrying Bertha, earning both of their anger. He still, however, cares for his sister's well-being.
- Grace Poole: Bertha Mason's caretaker. Mr. Rochester pays her a very high salary to keep Bertha hidden and quiet, and she is often used as an explanation for odd happenings. She has a weakness for drink that occasionally allows Bertha to escape.
- St. John Eyre Rivers: A clergyman who befriends Jane and turns out to be her cousin. He is thoroughly practical and suppresses all his human passions and emotions in favour of piety. He is determined to go to India as a missionary, even if it means losing his love, Rosamond.
- Diana and Mary Rivers: St. John's sisters and (as it turns out) Jane's cousins. They are poor, intelligent, and kind-hearted, and want St. John to stay in England.
- Rosamond Oliver: A beautiful, wealthy young woman, the patron of the village school where Jane teaches. She falls in love with St. John, only to be rejected because she will not make a good missionary's wife.
- Alice Wood: Jane's maid when she is mistress of the girls' charity school in Morton.
- John Eyre: Jane's paternal uncle, who leaves her his vast fortune and wishes to adopt her at the age of 13. Mrs. Reed prevents the adoption out of spite towards Jane.
- Mr. Oliver: Rosamond Oliver's father. He is a kind and charitable old man and is fond of St. John.
||This section possibly contains original research. (November 2008)|
Jane refuses to become Mr. Rochester's paramour because of her "impassioned self-respect and moral conviction." She rejects St. John Rivers' religious fervour as much as the libertine aspects of Mr. Rochester's character. Instead, she works out a morality expressed in love, independence, and forgiveness. Jane does not want to be seen as an outcast to society by being a mistress to Rochester.
God and religion
Throughout the novel, Jane endeavours to attain an equilibrium between moral duty and earthly happiness. She despises the hypocrisy of Mr. Brocklehurst, and sees the deficiencies in St. John Rivers' indulgent yet detached devotion to his Christian duty. As a child, Jane admires Helen Burns' life's philosophy of 'turning the other cheek', which in turn helps her in adult life to forgive Aunt Reed and the Reed cousins for their cruelty. Although she does not seem to subscribe to any of the standard forms of popular Christianity, she honours traditional morality – particularly seen when she refuses to marry Mr. Rochester until he is widowed. The last sentence of the novel is a prayer of St. John Rivers on his own behalf: "Religion serves to moderate Jane's behavior, but she never represses her true self."
In her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Brontë makes her beliefs clear; "conventionality is not morality" and "self-righteousness is not religion," declaring that narrow human doctrines, which serve only to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. Throughout the novel, Brontë presents contrasts between characters who believe in and practice what she considers a true Christianity, and those who pervert religion to further their own ends. Here are further examples:
Mr. Brocklehurst, who oversees Lowood Institution, is a hypocritical Christian. He professes aid and charity but does the opposite by using religion as a justification for punishment. For instance, he cites the Biblical passage "man shall not live by bread alone", to rebuke Miss Temple for having fed the girls an extra meal to compensate for their inedible breakfast of burnt porridge. He tells Miss Temple that she "may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!".
Helen Burns is a complete contrast to Brocklehurst; she follows the Christian creed of 'turning the other cheek' and by loving those who hate her. On her deathbed, Helen tells Jane "I'm going home to God, who loves me." Jane herself cannot quite profess Helen's absolute, selfless faith. Jane does not seem to follow a particular doctrine, but she is sincerely religious in a non-doctrinaire, general way; it is Jane, after all, who places the stone with the word "Resurgam" (Latin for 'I will rise again') on Helen's grave, some fifteen years after her friend's death. Jane is seen frequently praying and calling on God to assist her, especially with her struggles concerning Mr. Rochester; praying for his wellness and safety.
When Hannah, the Rivers' housekeeper, tries to turn the begging Jane away at the door, Jane tells her that "if you are a Christian, you ought not consider poverty a crime."
The young evangelical clergyman St. John Rivers is a more conventionally religious figure. However, Brontë portrays his religious aspect ambiguously. Jane calls him "a very good man," yet she finds him cold and forbidding. In his determination to do good deeds (in the form of missionary work in India), St. John courts martyrdom. Moreover, he is unable to see Jane as a whole person, but views her only as a helpmate in his impending missionary work.
Mr. Rochester is a less than perfect Christian. He is, indeed, a sinner: he attempts to enter into a bigamous marriage with Jane and, when that fails, tries to persuade her to become his mistress. He also confesses that he has had three previous mistresses. However, at the end of the book Mr.Rochester repents his sinfulness, thanks God for returning Jane, and asks Him for the strength to lead a purer life.
Jane's ambiguous social position — a penniless yet decently educated orphan from a good family – leads her to criticise some discrimination based on class, though she makes class discriminations herself. Although she is educated, well-mannered, and relatively sophisticated, she is still a governess, a paid servant of low social standing, and therefore relatively powerless.
A particularly important theme in the novel is the depiction of a patriarchal society. Jane attempts to assert her own identity within male-dominated society. Three of the main male characters, Mr. Brocklehurst, Mr. Rochester and St. John Rivers, try to keep Jane in a subordinate position and prevent her from expressing her own thoughts and feelings. Jane escapes Mr. Brocklehurst and rejects St. John, and she only marries Mr. Rochester once she is sure that their marriage is one between equals. Through Jane, Brontë opposes Victorian stereotypes about women, articulating her own feminist philosophy:
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. (Chapter XII)
It is also interesting to note that while most readings of Jane Eyre accept that Bertha is truly insane, the only specific claim Mr Rochester makes against her is that she has been 'unchaste'. While this admittedly continues to be considered unacceptable behaviour in a spouse, it hardly qualifies as insanity. Some feminist readings of the novel have taken this to mean that the strictures imposed on women contemporary to the book were such that stepping outside of them could have been construed as insane. Whether or not Bertha was genuinely mad before she was confined to the attic is open to interpretation.
Other interpretations have seen this as evidence that Bertha was syphilitic, and that the romanticism of the book neglects the truth that Edward Rochester would have been as well. The book may use the syphilitic condition as a metaphor for the sexual predation and narcissistic projection of Edward Rochester; Edward says Bertha is "unchaste" in an attempt to relieve himself of the psychic pain of his having the disease himself and his own likely role in Bertha acquiring that condition as well as the fact he likely has the disease and risks infecting Jane. His psychological projection combined with his position of power distorts reality such that it gives Bertha no choice but to be "insane" (which may be combined with actual physical brain deterioration from the syphilis) if any challenge to his veracity would cause her greater problems, such as abandonment, starvation, etc.
Love and passion
A central theme in Jane Eyre is that of the clash between conscience and passion — which one is to adhere to, and how to find a middle ground between the two. Jane, extremely passionate yet also dedicated to a close personal relationship with God, struggles between either extreme for much of the novel. An instance of her leaning towards conscience over passion can be seen after it has been revealed that Mr. Rochester already has a wife, when Jane is begged to run away with Mr. Rochester and become his mistress. Up until that moment, Jane had been riding on a wave of emotion, forgetting all thoughts of reason and logic, replacing God with Mr. Rochester in her eyes, and allowing herself to be swept away in the moment. However, once the harsh reality of the situation sets in, Jane does everything in her power to refuse Mr. Rochester, despite almost every part of her rejecting the idea and urging her to just give into Mr. Rochester's appeal. In the moment, Jane experiences an epiphany in regards to conscience, realising that “laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this.” Jane finally comes to understand that all passion, as she had been living her life up until then, and all conscience, as she had leaned towards during her time at Lowood, is neither good nor preferable. In this case, Jane had allowed herself to lean too far in the direction of passion, and she is in danger of giving up all logic and reason in favour of temptation. However, Jane finally asserts that in times of true moral trial, such as the one she is in with Mr. Rochester at the moment, to forgo one's principles, to violate the “law given by God,” would be too easy — and not something she is willing to do. Jane's struggles to find a middle ground between her passionate and conscience-driven sides frequently go back and forth throughout the novel, but in this case she has drawn the line as to where passion is taking too great a role in her life, and where she will not allow herself to forgo her moral and religious principles.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2012)|
The role and standing of women in the Victorian era is considered by Brontë in Jane Eyre, specifically in regard to Jane's independence and ability to make decisions for herself. As a young woman, small and of relatively low social standing, Jane encounters men during her journey, of good, bad, and morally debatable character. However, many of them, no matter their ultimate intentions, attempt to establish some form of power and control over Jane. One example can be seen in Mr. Rochester, a man who ardently loves Jane, but who frequently commands and orders Jane about. As a self-assured and established man, and her employer, Mr. Rochester naturally assumes the position of the master in their relationship. He sometimes demands rather than questioning Jane, tries to manipulate and assess her feelings towards him, and enjoys propping up Jane through excessive gifts and luxuries that only he would have been able to provide. Jane, however, believes in the importance of women's independence, and strives to maintain a position in life devoid of any debts to others. Her initial lack of money and social status unnerves her, as she realises that without the means to be an independent woman, she is bound to either struggle through life trying to make a living or marry and become dependent on a man. Even after Jane agrees to marry Mr. Rochester, and is swept up in the passion of the moment, the feminist elements of her personality still show through. She is uncomfortable with the showering of lavish gifts, as she resents that they will make her further reliant on and in debt to Mr. Rochester, and thus tries to resist them. Furthermore, Jane asserts that even after she is married to Mr. Rochester, she will continue to be Adèle's governess and earn her keep. This plan, which was entirely radical and unheard of for the time, further illustrates Jane's drive to remain a somewhat independent woman.
This feminist undercurrent also presents itself Jane's interaction with her long-lost cousin, St. John Rivers. St. John repressed Jane's feeling and controlled her excessively. She often felt that he "took away [her] liberty of mind". During her stay with her cousin, St. John proposes to Jane, by claiming her "as a soldier would a new weapon". Jane realizes that she cannot marry a man who constantly forces her into submission and treats her like an object, and she refuses to marry him. Once again, her need for independence shines through.
The only time Jane truly feels ready to marry a man is when she is equal to him. In the end of Jane Eyre, Jane inherits twenty thousand pounds from her uncle. This allows her to be economically independent from Mr. Rochester. Also, Mr. Rochester becomes lame and blind after the fire that ripped through his home. He now depends on Jane, rather than Jane depending on him. This change in the power dynamic of their relationship unites the two of them once again.
While the significant men present in Jane's life throughout the novel all try to, in some form or another, establish themselves as dominant over Jane, she in most cases remains resistant at least to a certain degree, refusing to submit fully or lose all of her independence. The only time Jane feels comfortable attaching herself to a man is when she knows that she is his financial, intellectual, and emotional equal. This final adherence to her strong convictions on the independence of women point out Brontë's similar views on the patriarchal Victorian society of the time.
Atonement and forgiveness
Much of the religious concern in Jane Eyre has to do with atonement and forgiveness. Mr. Rochester is tormented by his awareness of his past sins and misdeeds. He frequently confesses that he has led a life of vice, and many of his actions in the course of the novel are less than commendable. Readers may accuse him of behaving sadistically in deceiving Jane about the nature of his relationship (or rather, non-relationship) with Blanche Ingram to provoke Jane's jealousy. His confinement of Bertha may bespeak mixed motives. He is certainly aware that in the eyes of both religious and civil authorities, his marriage to Jane before Bertha's death would be bigamous. Yet, at the same time, Mr. Rochester makes genuine efforts to atone for his behaviour. For example, although he does not believe that he is Adele's natural father, he adopts her as his ward and sees that she is well cared for. This adoption may well be an act of atonement for the sins he has committed. He expresses his self-disgust at having tried to console himself by having three different mistresses during his travels in Europe and begs Jane to forgive him for these past transgressions. However, Mr. Rochester can only atone completely – and be forgiven completely – after Jane has refused to be his mistress and left him. The destruction of Thornfield by fire finally removes the stain of his past sins; the loss of his left hand and of his eyesight is the price he must pay to atone completely for his sins. Only after this purgation can he be redeemed by Jane's love.
Search for home and family
Without any living family that she is aware of (until well into the story), throughout the course of the novel Jane searches for a place that she can call home. Significantly, houses play a prominent part in the story. (In keeping with a long English tradition, all the houses in the book have names). The novel's opening finds Jane living at Gateshead Hall, but this is hardly a home. Mrs. Reed and her children refuse to acknowledge her as a relation, treating her instead as an unwanted intruder and an inferior.
Shunted off to Lowood Institution, a boarding school for orphans and destitute children, Jane finds a home of sorts, although her place here is ambiguous and temporary. The school's manager, Mr. Brocklehurst, treats it more as a business than as school in loco parentis (in place of the parent). His emphasis on discipline and on spartan conditions at the expense of the girls' health make it the antithesis of the ideal home.
Jane subsequently believes she has found a home at Thornfield Hall. Anticipating the worst when she arrives, she is relieved when she is made to feel welcome by Mrs. Fairfax. She feels genuine affection for Adèle (who in a way is also an orphan) and is happy to serve as her governess. As her love for Mr. Rochester grows, she believes that she has found her ideal husband in spite of his eccentric manner and that they will make a home together at Thornfield. The revelation – as they are on the verge of marriage – that he is already legally married – brings her dream of home crashing down. Fleeing Thornfield, she literally becomes homeless and is reduced to begging for food and shelter. The opportunity of having a home presents itself when she enters Moor House, where the Rivers sisters and their brother, the Reverend St. John Rivers, are mourning the death of their father. She soon speaks of Diana and Mary Rivers as her own sisters, and is overjoyed when she learns that they are indeed her cousins. She tells St. John Rivers that learning that she has living relations is far more important than inheriting twenty thousand pounds. (She mourns the uncle she never knew. Earlier she was disheartened on learning that Mrs. Reed told her uncle that Jane had died and sent him away.) However, St. John Rivers' offer of marriage cannot sever her emotional attachment to Rochester. In an almost visionary episode, she hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling her to return to him. The last chapter begins with the famous simple declarative sentence, "Reader, I married him," and after a long series of travails Jane's search for home and family ends in a union with her ideal mate.
The early sequences, in which Jane is sent to Lowood, a harsh boarding school, are derived from the author's own experiences. Helen Burns's death from tuberculosis (referred to as consumption) recalls the deaths of Charlotte Brontë's sisters Elizabeth and Maria, who died of the disease in childhood as a result of the conditions at their school, the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, near Tunstall, Lancashire. Mr. Brocklehurst is based on Rev. William Carus Wilson (1791–1859), the Evangelical minister who ran the school, and Helen Burns is probably modelled on Charlotte's sister Maria. Additionally, John Reed's decline into alcoholism and dissolution recalls the life of Charlotte's brother Branwell, who became an opium and alcohol addict in the years preceding his death. Finally, like Jane, Charlotte becomes a governess. These facts were revealed to the public in The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) by Charlotte's friend and fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.
The Gothic manor of Thornfield was probably inspired by North Lees Hall, near Hathersage in the Peak District. This was visited by Charlotte Brontë and her friend Ellen Nussey in the summer of 1845 and is described by the latter in a letter dated 22 July 1845. It was the residence of the Eyre family, and its first owner, Agnes Ashurst, was reputedly confined as a lunatic in a padded second floor room.
It has been suggested that the Wycoller Hall in Lancashire, close to Haworth, provided the setting for Ferndean Manor to which Mr Rochester retreats after the fire at Thornfield: there are similarities between the owner of Ferndean, Mr Rochester's father, and Henry Cunliffe who inherited Wycoller in the 1770s and lived there until his death in 1818; one of Cunliffe's relatives was named Elizabeth Eyre (née Cunliffe).
Literary motifs and allusions
Jane Eyre uses many motifs from Gothic fiction, such as the Gothic manor (Thornfield), the Byronic hero (Mr. Rochester) and The Madwoman in the Attic (Bertha), whom Jane perceives as resembling "the foul German spectre—the Vampyre" (Chapter XXV) and who attacks her own brother in a distinctly vampiric way: "She sucked the blood: she said she'd drain my heart" (Chapter XX). The mystery of Thornfield manor with its dark secrets creates a typically Gothic atmosphere of suspense. When resolved, we then get the theme of madness, also common in Gothic fiction, as is the motif of two characters, John Reed and Bertha Mason, who commit suicide. Although the novel contains no overt supernatural occurrences, hints of apparently supernatural happenings are frequently mentioned such as Jane's prophetic dreams, her sense of the ghost of her uncle, the lightning striking the chestnut tree on the night she agrees to marry Mr. Rochester, and Jane and Mr. Rochester being able to hear each other's call over miles of separation when St John forces Jane into a decision to marry him.
Jane Eyre also combines Gothicism with romanticism to create a distinctive Victorian novel. Jane and Rochester are attracted to each other, but there are impediments to their love. The conflicting personalities of the two lead characters and the norms of society are an obstacle to their love, as often occurs in romance novels, but so also is Rochester's secret marriage to Bertha, the main Gothic element of the story.
Literary allusions from the Bible, fairy tales, The Pilgrim's Progress, Paradise Lost, and the novels and poetry of Sir Walter Scott are also much in evidence. John Reed is compared to Caligula. Jane is compared to Guy Fawkes. Both Biblical figures like Samson and figures from Greek myths such as Apollo are referred to at various times.
Adaptations and influence
The novel has been adapted into a number of popular forms, including film, television and theatre. However, perhaps more importantly, the novel has been the center of a number of rewritings and reinterpretations. Most notably reinterpretations and rewritings by notable authors have become important within British and American literature, including novels like Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.
According to a review of Jane Eyre in The Quarterly Review, it was found to be "pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition". Although Brontë clearly intended for the book to be a protest against Victorian lifestyle, which caused a great unrest with the Quarterly Review, they found Jane Eyre to be more radical than its original intent: "We do not hesitate to say that the tone of mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Eyre". Although Jane Eyre is now commonly accepted into the canon of high-school English literature, its immediate reception was in stark contrast to its modern-day reception. In 2003 the novel was ranked number 10 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
- Harold Bloom declared Eyre a "classic of Gothic and Victorian literature." Bloom, Harold (July 2007). "Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"". Midwest Book Review (Chelsea House Publishers): 245.
- Burt, Daniel S. (2008). The Literature 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights, and Poets of All Time. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438127064.
- A classic feminist discussion of Jane Eyre is the book The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (Yale University Press, 1979) See also Martin, Robert B. Charlotte Brontë's Novels: The Accents of Persuasion. NY: Norton, 1966
- Jerome Beaty. "St. John's Way and the Wayward Reader" in Brontë, Charlotte (2001 (Orig. 1847)). Richard J. Dunn, ed. Jane Eyre (Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition ed.). W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 491–502. ISBN 0393975428.
- Bronte, Charlotte (2008). Jane Eyre. Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications. ISBN 160459411X.
- "Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1830 to Present". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
- Brontë, Charlotte. 1847. Jane Eyre. London. Smith, Elder & Co.
- Gaskell, Elizabeth (1857). The Life of Charlotte Brontë 1. Smith, Elder & Co. p. 73.
- Oates, Joyce Carol (1988). "Jane Eyre: An Introduction". University of San Francisco. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
- Bronte, Charlotte (1926). Jane Eyre. New York: the Book League of America. p. 323.
- Bronte, Charlotte (1926). Jane Eyre. New York: the Book League of America. p. 329.
- "Jane Eyre: a Mancunian?". BBC. 10 October 2006. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
- "Salutation pub in Hulme thrown a lifeline as historic building is bought by MMU". Manchester Evening News. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- Stevie Davies, Introduction and Notes to Jane Eyre. Penguin Classics ed., 2006.
- "Wycoller Sheet 3: Ferndean Manor and the Brontë Connection" (pdf). Lancashire Countryside Service Environmental Directorale. 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
- "Paris museum wins Bronte bidding war". BBC News. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
- Shapiro, Arnold (Autumn 1968). "In Defense of Jane Eyre". 4 8: 683.
- "The Big Read", BBC, April 2003. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
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- Jane Eyre at The Victorian Web
- Jane Eyre at the Brontë Parsonage Museum Website
- The Brontë Society website
The novel online
- Jane Eyre Full text of Jane Eyre at Project Gutenberg
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