Jane Eyre (character)
Mabel Ballin as the title character in the 1921 film Jane Eyre.
|First appearance||Jane Eyre|
|Created by||Charlotte Brontë|
|Family||Reverend Eyre (father, deceased)|
Jane Eyre (née Reed) (mother, deceased)
|Spouse||Edward Fairfax Rochester|
|Children||Adèle Varens (daughter, adopted)|
|Relatives||John Eyre (uncle)|
Mr Reed (uncle, deceased)
Sarah Reed (née Gibson) (aunt by marriage)
John Reed (cousin, deceased)
Eliza Reed (cousin)
Georgiana Reed (cousin)
St. John Eyre Rivers (cousin)
Diana Rivers (cousin)
Mary Rivers (cousin)
Jane Eyre is the fictional heroine of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel of the same name. Jane, an orphan, is employed as a governess, and becomes romantically involved with her employer, the mysterious and moody Edward Rochester. Jane is noted for her strong mindedness and individualism, and is an influential character in literature, especially romantic and feminist writing.
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Jane Eyre is an orphan living unhappily with her relations, the Reeds. Mrs. Reed only keeps Jane on because it was the dying wish of her late husband, Jane's maternal uncle. The Reeds openly resent, neglect, and abuse Jane, and justify it by saying she is a charity case and she should be grateful for any care. In addition, Jane is not a pretty child, nor is her demeanor sweet. She keenly feels the injustice of her treatment. After a fight with her older cousin, John, Jane is locked into the Red Room, which she believes is haunted, and goes into a swoon. This is something of a catalyst: Mrs. Reed decides to get Jane out of the house, for the benefit of her own children. Mrs. Reed sends Jane to Lowood Hall, a school for other charity girls where they will learn to be governesses. At Lowood, Jane is desperate to be loved and accepted, but learns from her friend Helen Burns to be more patient and seek solace in prayer and her own conscience. Helen Burns dies, and Jane weathers a typhoid epidemic at the school.
Over time, Jane gets a good education and becomes a particular friend of Miss Maria Temple, the school's principal. After a few years of teaching at Lowood (without once returning to the Reeds' house, Gateshead) Jane decides it is time to go out into the world. She seeks work as a governess, and is employed to Thornfield Hall, to care for a solitary orphan, Adele. Jane goes to Thornfield, learns about the distant master, a Mr. Rochester, and starts to teach his ward, although she finds Adele to be a less-than-stellar student.
One morning when Jane is out for a walk, she meets a mysterious man when his horse slips and he falls – this is Mr. Rochester. Jane and Rochester are immediately interested in each other. She is fascinated by his rough, craggy, dark appearance as well as his abrupt, almost rude manners, which she thinks are easier to handle than polite flattery. He is very interested in figuring out how Jane is herself, comparing her to an elf or sprite and admiring her unusual strength and stubbornness.
Rochester quickly learns that he can rely on Jane in a crisis – one evening, Jane finds Rochester asleep in his bed with all the curtains and bedclothes on fire, and she puts out the flames and rescues him. Jane and Rochester find that they can have interesting and in-depth conversations, and both fall steadily in love with each other. However, Rochester soon invited some of his acquaintances to Thornfield, including the beautiful Blanche Ingram. Rochester lets Blanche flirt with him constantly in front of Jane to make her jealous and encourages rumors that he's engaged to Blanche.
During the week-long house party, a man named Richard Mason shows up, and Rochester seems afraid of him. At night, Mason sneaks up to the third floor and somehow gets stabbed and bitten. Rochester asks Jane to tend Richard Mason's wounds secretly while he fetches the doctor. The next morning before the guests find out what happened, Rochester sneaks Mason out of the house.
Before Jane can discover more about the mysterious situation, she gets a message that her Aunt Reed is very sick and is asking for her. Jane, forgiving Mrs. Reed for mistreating her when she was a child, goes back to take care of her dying aunt. When Jane returns to Thornfield, Blanche and her friends are gone, and Jane realizes how attached she is to Mr. Rochester. Although he lets her think for a little longer that he's going to marry Blanche, eventually Rochester stops teasing Jane and proposes to her. She blissfully accepts.
On the day of Jane's wedding, during the church ceremony, two men show up claiming that Rochester is already married. Rochester admits that he is married to another woman, but tries to justify his attempt to marry Jane by taking them all to see his "wife." Mrs. Rochester is Bertha Mason, the "madwoman in the attic" who tried to burn Rochester to death in his bed, stabbed and bit her own brother (Richard Mason), and who's been doing other creepy things at night. Rochester was tricked into marrying Bertha fifteen years ago in Jamaica by his father, who wanted him to marry for money and didn't tell him that insanity ran in Bertha's family. Rochester tried to live with Bertha as husband and wife, but she was too horrible, so he locked her up at Thornfield with a nursemaid, Grace Poole. Meanwhile, he traveled around Europe for ten years trying to forget Bertha and keeping various mistresses. Adèle Varens (Jane's student) is the daughter of one of these mistresses, though she may not be Rochester's daughter. Eventually he got tired of this lifestyle, came home to England, and fell in love with Jane.
After explaining all this, Rochester claims that he was not really married because his relationship with Bertha wasn't a real marriage. He wants Jane to go and live with him in France, where they can pretend to be a married couple and act like husband and wife. Jane refuses to be his next mistress and runs away before she's tempted to agree.
Jane travels in a direction away from Thornfield. Having no money, she almost starves to death before being taken in by the Rivers family, who live at Moor House near a town called Morton. The Rivers siblings – Diana, Mary, and St. John (pronounced "Sinjin") – are about Jane's age and well-educated, but somewhat poor. They take whole-heartedly to Jane, who has taken the pseudonym "Jane Elliott" so that Mr. Rochester can't find her. Jane wants to earn her keep, so St. John arranges for her to become the teacher in a village girls' school. When Jane's uncle Mr. Eyre dies and leaves his fortune to his niece, it turns out that the Rivers siblings are actually Jane's cousins, and she shares her inheritance with the other three.
St. John, who is a devoted clergyman, wants to be more than Jane's cousin. He admires Jane's work ethic and asks her to marry him, learn Hindustani, and go with him to India on a long-term missionary trip. Jane is tempted because she thinks she'd be good at it and that it would be an interesting life, and she would be doing God's work. Still, she refuses because she knows she doesn't love St. John, and he does not love her back. He just believes Jane would make a good missionary's wife because of her skills. To top it off, St. John actually loves a different girl named Rosamond Oliver, but he won't let himself admit it because he thinks she would make an unsuitable wife for a missionary.
Jane offers to go to India with him, but just as his cousin and co-worker, not as his wife. St. John won't give up and keeps pressuring Jane to marry him. Just as she's about to give in, she imagines Mr. Rochester's voice calling her name.
The next morning, Jane leaves Moor House and goes back to Thornfield to find out what's going on with Mr. Rochester. She finds out that Mr. Rochester searched for her everywhere, and, when he couldn't find her, sent everyone else away from the house and shut himself up alone. After this, Bertha set the house on fire one night and burned it to the ground. Rochester rescued all the servants and tried to save Bertha, too, but she committed suicide and he was injured. Now Rochester has lost an eye and a hand and is blind in the remaining eye.
Jane goes to Mr. Rochester and offers to take care of him as his nurse or housekeeper. He asks her to marry him and they have a quiet wedding, and after two years of marriage Rochester gradually gets his sight back – enough to see their firstborn son. And Adopted Adele Varens.
Jane Eyre is described as plain, with an elfin look. Jane describes herself as, "poor, obscure, plain and little." Mr. Rochester once compliments Jane's "hazel eyes and hazel hair", but she informs the reader that Mr. Rochester was mistaken, as her eyes are not hazel; they are in fact green.
It has been said that "Charlotte Brontë may have created the character of Jane Eyre as a means of coming to terms with elements of her own life." By all accounts, Brontë's "homelife was difficult." Jane's school, Lowood, is said to be based on the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, where two of Brontë's sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, died. Brontë declared, "I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself," in regards to creating Jane Eyre.
When she was twenty, Brontë wrote to Robert Southey for his thoughts on writing. "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be", he said. When Jane Eyre was published about ten years later, it was purportedly written by Jane, and called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, with Currer Bell (Brontë) merely as editor. And yet, Brontë still published as Currer Bell, a man.
Historical and cultural context
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Jane Eyre has been described by historian David Hackett Fischer as evocative of a cultural and geographic milieu of the North Midlands of England that in the mid-17th century had produced the Religious Society of Friends, a Protestant religious sect. Many members of this sect immigrated to North America and settled the Delaware Valley in the late 17th and early 18th century. This geographical area had for many centuries contained a significant population of Scandinavian-descended people who were oppressed by and resisted the Norman Conquest based in French Catholicism (the Gothic feature in Jane Eyre, represented by Edward Rochester) and had remained distinct from the Anglo-Saxon culture that produced the Puritan sect (the evangelical Calvinist feature in Jane Eyre, variants of which are represented by Brocklehurst and St. John). The Jane Eyre character's examined inner soul and self with some emotional availability and overtones of a Communitarian Christianity, plain appearance, view of women as equals to men in economic and political rights and responsibility, and power of dissent and civil disobedience are features of Religious Society of Friends political and cultural views. These views later informed the drafting of the United States Constitution including its concept of Person, as embodied in drafting done by John Dickinson, who was of this cultural and political ancestry and represented the Delaware Valley at the U.S. Constitutional Convention. In the 2011 film adaptation of the novel, Judi Dench, who comes from this cultural and religious background, played the character of Mrs. Alice Fairfax.
- Gilbert, Sandra & Gubar, Susan (1979). The Madwoman in the Attic. Yale University Press.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- "Analysis of Major Characters, "Jane Eyre"". Home : English : Literature Study Guides : Jane Eyre. Sparknotes. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
Charlotte Brontë may have created the character of Jane Eyre as a means of coming to terms with elements of her own life.
- Lilia Melani? (2005-03-29). "Charlotte Brontë, "Jane Eyre"". Core Studies 6: Landmarks of Literature. Brooklyn College. Retrieved 2007-06-09.
- Fischer, David Hackett (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press. p. 445. ISBN 978-0-19-506905-1.
- Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, pp. 445–446.
- Calvert, Jane (2009). Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88436-5.