Jane Eyre Summary

Overview

Jane Eyre

Summary of the Novel
Jane Eyre, an orphan, lives with her abusive aunt, Sarah Reed, and her mean-spirited cousins, John, Eliza, and Georgiana, at Gateshead Hall.

She is sent away to the Lowood School where the conditions are very harsh. Jane befriends a fellow student, Helen Burns, and Miss Temple, a teacher. When Helen Burns dies, and Miss Temple marries, Jane decides to leave Lowood, and secures a job as a governess at Thornfield.

At Thornfield, Jane’s duties are to teach the master’s foster child Adele Varens. Although he has a brusque manner, Jane finds the master, Edward Fairfax Rochester, attractive and fascinating.

One night Jane is awakened by strange noises. Seeing smoke coming from Mr. Rochester’s room, she runs in and throws water on the fire, awakening him. He leads Jane to believe that it is Grace Poole, a servant, who caused the damage.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rochester apparently pursues Blanche Ingram, a local beauty, while Jane’s love for him continues to grow.

Jane leaves Thornfield to visit the dying Mrs. Reed, who tells her that John Eyre, her father’s brother, is trying to contact her.

When Jane returns to Thornfield, Mr. Rochester switches his affections from Blanche to Jane, and proposes marriage. The wedding ceremony is interrupted by Mr. Briggs, who claims that Mr. Rochester is already married. The mad Bertha Rochester, who is locked away on the third floor of Thornfield, is exposed to Jane. Jane flees, and arrives at Moor House where she is taken in by St. John Rivers, a minister. Jane receives an inheritance from her uncle, John Eyre. St. John Rivers proposes marriage to Jane, but she declines since she still has Mr. Rochester on her mind.

Jane returns to Thornfield and discovers it has burned to the ground. It seems that Bertha Rochester set the fire and died in it, while Mr. Rochester suffered a mangled hand that had to be amputated and has been left blind. Jane reunites with Mr. Rochester at Ferndean, his current home, and they marry. Ten years pass, and Jane tells us how contented she is with married life, Mr. Rochester has regained partial vision in one eye, and they have a newborn son.

As an orphan, Jane’s status is the lowest in the social class system. Because of her status (of which she is constantly reminded as a child) she strives to better herself through education and employment. During her struggles, Jane observes the other classes, including the religious zealots, with great insight and comes to recognize the many hypocrisies of the characters.

Emotionally, Jane is a lonely and ostracized child who recognizes her need for love and actively searches for it throughout her life, eventually finding her home with Mr. Rochester. Her search not only teaches her the true essence of love, but also enables her to raise her social position through hard work and the financial inheritance she receives.

Estimated Reading Time
Jane Eyre is divided into 38 chapters of varying length. It should take approximately 15 hours to read Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jane Eyre appealed to the Victorian reading public on both sides of the Atlantic. Published under a pseudonym, the novel had its London enthusiasts at first speculating about the real author, then marveling at the achievement of a little-known, isolated vicar’s daughter from Yorkshire. In America, the plot and narrative technique of Jane Eyre were quickly imitated by women writers hoping to capitalize on the novel’s popularity. The plot contains many elements to capture and maintain the reader’s attention: an abused orphan who rebels successfully against her oppressors, a mystery involving screams in the attic and a burning bed, a marriage stopped at the altar, sensual temptation and moral victory, and the reformation of a good man gone wrong.

The appeal of the book is not dependent solely on a lively plot; Jane Eyre herself is an engaging character. Unwilling to accept others’ definitions of her as an unattractive, dependent relation, Jane asserts herself against those who treat her badly. Faced with unpleasant cousins and oppressive schoolteachers, Jane fights for what she thinks is right. She is made to feel that her passionate responses are a character flaw, but the reader is made to see that her rebelliousness is appropriate.

In a book that explores the conflict between individual and society, it is not surprising that there are a number of structural oppositions as well. Jane’s worldly cousins, the Reeds, are countered by her intellectual cousins, the Riverses. The tyrannical schoolmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, is paired with the soothing headmistress, Miss Temple. Most important is the contrast between the two proposals of marriage that Jane receives, and the men who make them: Mr. Rochester recognizes Jane’s true character, but he would pamper and oppress her with riches; St. John Rivers respects Jane’s intellectual capabilities and self-control, but he would withhold true love and expect Jane to destroy her health doing difficult missionary work in India. Jane is able to resist both of them because she has developed a healthy sense of self-worth and has risen above the abuse she received as a child. Her emotional independence is matched by an unexpected inheritance, which alleviates Jane’s need to work in subservient positions. Thus strengthened, Jane can return to Rochester after his first wife dies. The physical mutilation he has undergone—blinding and loss of an arm—makes him dependent on Jane for more than amusement. In a marriage of mutual respect and support, Jane’s self-image can continue to prosper.

Jane Eyre Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jane Eyre is an orphan whose parents died when she was a baby, at which time she passed into the care of Mrs. Reed of Gateshead Hall. Mrs. Reed’s husband, now dead, was the brother of Jane Eyre’s mother; on his deathbed, he directed his wife to look after the orphan as after her own three children. At Gateshead Hall, Jane experiences ten years of neglect and abuse. One day, a cousin knocks her to the floor. When she fights back, Mrs. Reed punishes her by sending her to the gloomy room where Mr. Reed died. There Jane loses consciousness, and the conflict causes a dangerous illness from which she is nursed slowly back to health by sympathetic Bessie Leaven, the Gateshead Hall nurse.

No longer wishing to keep her unwanted charge in the house, Mrs. Reed makes arrangements for Jane’s admission to Lowood School. Early one morning, Jane leaves Gateshead Hall without farewells and is driven fifty miles by stage to Lowood, her humble possessions in a trunk beside her.

At Lowood, Jane is a diligent student and well liked by her superiors, especially by Miss Temple, one of the teachers, who refuses to accept without proof Mrs. Reed’s low estimate of Jane’s character. During the period of Jane’s schooldays at Lowood, an epidemic of fever that causes many deaths among the girls leads to an investigation, after which there are improvements at the institution. At the end of her studies, Jane is retained as a teacher but she grows weary of her life at Lowood and advertises for a position as a governess. She is engaged by Mrs. Fairfax, housekeeper at Thornfield, near Millcote.

At Thornfield, the new governess has only one pupil, Adele Varens, a ward of Jane’s employer, Mr. Edward Rochester. From Mrs. Fairfax, Jane learns that Mr. Rochester travels much and seldom comes to Thornfield. Jane is pleased with the quiet country life, with the beautiful old house and gardens, the book-filled library, and her own comfortable room.

While she is out walking one afternoon, Jane meets Mr. Rochester for the first time, going to his aid after his horse throws him. She finds her employer a somber, moody man, quick to change in his manner and brusque in his speech. He commends her work with Adele, however, and confides that the girl is the daughter of a French dancer who deceived him and deserted her daughter. Jane feels that this experience alone cannot account for Mr. Rochester’s moody nature.

Mysterious happenings at Thornfield puzzle Jane. Alarmed by a strange noise one night, she finds Mr. Rochester’s door open and his bed on fire. When she attempts to arouse the household, he commands her to keep quiet about the whole affair. She learns that Thornfield has a strange tenant, a woman who laughs like a maniac and stays in rooms on the third floor of the house. Jane believes that this woman is Grace Poole, a seamstress employed by Mr. Rochester.

Mr. Rochester attends many parties in the neighborhood, where he is obviously paying court to Blanche Ingram, daughter of Lady Ingram. One day, the inhabitants of Thornfield are informed that Mr. Rochester is bringing a party of house guests home with him. The fashionable Miss Ingram is among the party. During the house party, Mr. Rochester calls Jane to the drawing room, where the guests treat her with the disdain they think her humble position deserves. To herself, Jane already confessed her interest in her employer, but it seems to her that he is interested only in Blanche. One evening, while Mr. Rochester is away from home, the guests play charades. At the conclusion of the game, a Gypsy fortune-teller appears to read the palms of the lady guests. During her interview with the Gypsy, Jane discovers that the so-called fortune-teller is Mr. Rochester in disguise. While the guests are still at Thornfield, a stranger named Mason arrives to see Mr. Rochester on business. That night, Mason is mysteriously wounded by the inhabitant of the third floor. The injured man is taken away secretly before daylight.

One day, Robert Leaven comes from Gateshead to tell Jane that Mrs. Reed, now on her deathbed, asks to see her former ward. Jane returns to her aunt’s home. The dying woman gives Jane a letter, dated three years earlier, from John Eyre in Madeira, who asked that his niece be sent to him for adoption. Mrs. Reed confesses that she wrote back informing him that Jane died in the epidemic at Lowood. The sin of keeping the news of her relatives from Jane—news that would have meant relatives, adoption, and an inheritance—becomes a burden on the conscience of the dying woman.

Jane goes back to Thornfield, which she now looks on as her home. One night in the garden, Rochester embraces her and proposes marriage. Jane accepts and makes plans for a quiet ceremony in the village church. She also writes to her uncle in Madeira, explaining Mrs. Reed’s deception and telling him she is to marry Rochester. Shortly before the date set for the wedding, Jane has a harrowing experience, awakening to find a strange, repulsive-looking woman in her room. The intruder tries on Jane’s wedding veil and then rips it to shreds. Rochester tries to persuade Jane that the whole incident is in her imagination, but in the morning she finds the torn veil in her room. When she and Mr. Rochester are saying their vows at the church, a stranger speaks up and declares the existence of an impediment to the marriage. He presents a document, signed by the Mr. Mason who was wounded during his visit to Thornfield, which states that Edward Fairfax Rochester married Bertha Mason, Mr. Mason’s sister, in Spanish Town, Jamaica, fifteen years earlier. Rochester admits the fact and then conducts the party to the third-story chamber at Thornfield. There they find the attendant Grace Poole and her charge, Bertha Rochester, a raving maniac. Bertha was the woman Jane saw in her room.

Jane feels that she must leave Thornfield at once. She notifies Rochester and leaves early the next morning, using all of her small store of money for the coach fare. Two days later, she sets down on the north midland moors. Starving, she begs for food. Finally, she is befriended by the Reverend St. John Rivers and his sisters, Mary and Diana, who take Jane in and nurse her back to health. Assuming the name of Jane Elliot, she refuses to divulge any of her history except her connection with the Lowood institution. St. John Rivers eventually finds a place for her as mistress in a girls’ school.

Shortly afterward, St. John Rivers receives word from his family solicitor that John Eyre died in Madeira, leaving Jane a fortune of twenty thousand pounds. Because Jane disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the lawyer is trying to locate her through the next of kin, St. John Rivers. Jane’s identity is revealed through her connection with Lowood School, and she learns, to her surprise, that St. John Rivers and his sisters are really her cousins. She insists on sharing her inheritance with them.

When St. John Rivers decides to go to India as a missionary, he asks Jane to go with him as his wife—not because he loves her, as he frankly admits, but because he admires her and wants her services as his assistant. Jane feels indebted to him for his kindness and aid, but she hesitates and asks for time to reflect.

One night, while St. John Rivers is awaiting her decision, she dreams that Rochester is calling her name. The next day, she returns to Thornfield by coach. She finds the mansion gutted—a burned and blackened ruin. Neighbors tell her that the fire broke out one stormy night, set by the madwoman, who died while Rochester was trying to rescue her from the roof of the blazing house. Rochester was blinded during the fire and now lives at Ferndean, a lonely farm some miles away. Jane goes to him at once and shortly after marries him. Two years later, Rochester regains the sight of one eye, so that he is able to see his new child when it is placed in his arms.

Jane Eyre Summary

Whether viewed as a richly woven tapestry of feminine imagination, as a tableaux of romanticism in the Victorian era, or as an early treatise on...

(The entire section is 1729 words.)

Jane Eyre Chapter Summary and Analysis

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Chapters 1-3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Jane Eyre: protagonist and narrator of the story, orphaned, living with the Reed family when the story begins

Mrs. Sarah Reed: widow of Jane Eyre’s uncle, mistress at Gateshead Hall

Eliza Reed: oldest daughter in the Reed family, cousin to Jane Eyre

John Reed: only son in the Reed family, a bully, cousin to Jane Eyre

Georgiana Reed: youngest daughter (the beauty) in the Reed family, cousin to Jane Eyre

Bessie: servant at Gateshead Hall

Miss Abbot: servant at Gateshead Hall

Mr. Lloyd: apothecary who treats Jane at Gateshead Hall

Summary
While Mrs. Reed and her children sit...

(The entire section is 972 words.)

Chapters 4-6 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Mr. Brocklehurst: minister of Brocklebridge Church, headmaster at Lowood School

Miss Miller: an under-teacher at Lowood School. She is in charge of Jane when Jane first arrives at Lowood

Maria Temple: teacher at Lowood School

Helen Burns: student at Lowood School who befriends Jane, and then dies of tuberculosis

Miss Scatcherd: teacher at Lowood School

Summary
Jane endures a few more months at Gateshead Hall. Since her outburst, she is treated with more dislike from Mrs. Reed and is required to sleep in a small closet and take her meals alone. While the other children play, Jane is kept separate, and is hardly...

(The entire section is 1155 words.)

Chapters 7-10 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Mary Ann Wilson: Jane’s friend at Lowood School

John Eyre: Jane’s uncle, her father’s brother

Summary
Jane’s difficult existence at the Lowood School continues. She describes the insufficient meals, and how the poor clothing contributes to her sore feet at night after having to spend an hour outdoors in the cold without boots. On Sundays, they have to walk two miles in the cold to Brocklebridge Church, where cold meat and bread are served for dinner, before they have to walk the two miles back to school.

Mr. Brocklehurst comes to Lowood one day, demanding that the girls’ hair be cut off and that they should not be offered...

(The entire section is 982 words.)

Chapters 11-15 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Edward Fairfax Rochester: master of Thornfield Hall; demanding, impatient, and passionate

Mrs. Alice Fairfax: housekeeper at Thornfield Hall, distant relative of Rochester by marriage

Celine Varens: former mistress of Mr. Rochester

Adele Varens: daughter of Celine, ward of Mr. Rochester, Jane’s pupil

Leah: kitchen maid at Thornfield Hall

John and Mary: servants at Thornfield Hall

Grace Poole: caretaker of Bertha Rochester at Thornfield

Summary
Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall hoping that Mrs. Fairfax will not turn out to be like Mrs. Reed. She is pleasantly surprised to find her to be a...

(The entire section is 1350 words.)

Chapters 16-19 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Blanche Ingram: the beautiful lady friend of Mr. Rochester

Richard (Dick) Mason: Bertha Rochester’s brother

Summary
Mr. Rochester continues to occupy Jane’s thoughts. She wakes up thinking, “I wanted to hear his voice again, yet I feared to meet his eye.” When she encounters Grace Poole, she is completely puzzled by her, and cannot quite understand why she is not reprimanded for her behavior.

Jane looks forward to seeing Mr. Rochester again, but is told that he has gone away for awhile. During this time she hears a good deal of gossip about Blanche Ingram from Mrs. Fairfax. Afterwards, she admonishes herself for thinking that...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)

Chapters 20-22 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Robert Leaven: Bessie’s husband

Summary
During the night, everyone awakens to a loud cry and a sharp sound. Rochester calms everyone down, but summons Jane to the attic to help him. There she discovers Richard Mason soaked in blood, apparently stabbed. Rochester instructs Jane to nurse him and stay with him for at least an hour or two, and demands that they not speak to each other. “Richard—it will be at the peril of your life if you speak to her: open your lips—agitate yourself—and I’ll not answer for the consequences.” When leaving the room, Rochester says again, “Remember!—No conversation.”

Jane is frightened of the person...

(The entire section is 1427 words.)

Chapters 23-25 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Jane takes a walk in the garden on a mid-summer night, and the smell of Rochester’s cigar lets Jane know that he is near. She tries to avoid him, but he summons her into the orchard where they begin discussing his upcoming wedding.

When he suggests that she might take a governess job in Ireland, Jane tells him, “It’s a long way off, sir?” “From what, Jane,” he asks, and she replies, “From, you, sir,” and starts to cry.

Rochester admits, “I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the...

(The entire section is 1694 words.)

Chapters 26-27 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Mr. Briggs: a lawyer who stops Jane’s marriage to Mr. Rochester

Bertha Rochester: mad wife of Edward Rochester

Summary
On the morning of the wedding, Jane is taking her time dressing, while Rochester is impatiently waiting. He hurries her into the carriage and to the church. As they walk through the graveyards, Jane spots unfamiliar faces off in the distance.

Just when the priest is asking Rochester to repeat his wedding vow, a voice pops up saying there are “impediments” to the marriage. The ceremony is stopped and a lawyer steps forward to read a letter, stating that Mr. Rochester already has a wife; he had been married fifteen...

(The entire section is 985 words.)

Chapters 28-29 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Diana and Mary Rivers: sisters of St. John Rivers

St. John Rivers: minister of the parish at Morton, master of Moor House

Hannah: servant at Moor House

Summary
Jane travels two days before she finally winds up at a crossroads and continues into a little town, called Morton. She discovers that she has left her money in the coach, so she is quite penniless. She wanders about the village, and goes into a store to ask for bread, but she becomes so embarrassed, she only asks to sit down.

She then goes around asking people if anyone needs a servant, but she receives negative responses from everyone. She continues to search for...

(The entire section is 1406 words.)

Chapters 30-31 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Miss Rosamond Oliver: admires St. John Rivers, daughter of Mr. Oliver

Mr. Oliver: father of Rosamond

Summary
After a few days, Jane is well enough to be up and about. Jane finds she has a lot in common with Diana and Mary Rivers. They like to read, and are well educated, and enjoy sharing their knowledge with Jane.

Jane is particularly fond of Diana, who she describes as “superior and a leader.” Diana offers to teach Jane German, and Jane thinks she is an excellent instructor. Jane, in turn, surprises and charms the sisters by giving them art lessons.

St. John Rivers is more remote, and doesn’t spend that much time at...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)

Chapter 32-33 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Jane adjusts to her new lifestyle, eventually gaining the trust of the town people. “I felt I had become a favorite in the neighborhood. Whenever I went out, I heard on all sides cordial salutations, and was welcomed with friendly smiles.” At night, Jane’s mind is tormented by dreams about Rochester.

She describes how she would “rush into strange dreams at night: dreams many–colored, agitated, full of the ideal, the stirring, the stormy–dreams where, amidst unusual scenes charged with adventure, with agitating risk and romantic chance, I still again and again met Mr. Rochester, always at some exciting crisis; and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting...

(The entire section is 1251 words.)

Chapter 34-35 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Christmas is approaching and the Morton School is closed. Jane returns to Moor House with Hannah to await the arrival of Diana and Mary. Jane redecorates and cleans the house. Diana and Mary are delighted with the changes she has made, but St. John remains as cool as always.

The women spend a happy week together. One night as St. John is saying goodnight to everyone, he kisses Diana and Mary, but not Jane. Diana pushes Jane towards him, and tells St. John to treat Jane as his sister, also.

Jane describes St. John’s kiss. “There are no such things as marble kisses, or ice kisses, or I should say my ecclesiastical cousin’s salute belonged to one of these classes; but there...

(The entire section is 931 words.)

Chapters 36-38 Summary and Analysis

New Character
The Host: former butler of Edward Rochester’s father, and the innkeeper of the Rochester Arms

Summary
The next day, Jane stays in her room until St. John leaves. He slips a note under her door, asking for her decision, but doesn’t talk to her. At breakfast, Jane tells Diana and Mary that she is going on a journey for four days “to see or hear news of a friend about whom I had for some time been uneasy.”

When Jane reaches Thornfield she is shocked to see “a blackened ruin.” Jane goes to the Rochester Arms Inn, and asks The Host if he has any information. The Host details the circumstances of the fire that left Thornfield Hall in ruins: it...

(The entire section is 1524 words.)