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.
The Victorian Age refers to the period in England when Queen Victoria reigned, (1837–1901). During this time, the Industrial Revolution created profound economical changes in society. The introduction of machinery changed England from primarily an agricultural country to an industrial one, and created a great social upheaval. Production lead to the rise of factories in the cities, and the need for factory workers. Farm workers migrated from rural to urban communities in large numbers, which created mass unemployment. The living conditions for the masses were poor; children and women were employed in factories and paid extremely low wages.
New class distinctions emerged from this growth of industrial production. The “gentry” were the landowners, the unemployed were the “poor,” and a new “middle class” emerged. The representative middle class man included the shop-keeper, the merchant, and the village parson.
The Victorian middle class adhered to the social conventions of family domesticity and religion. Charlotte Brontë’s time was characterized by public moralizing, a stifling religious outlook, and private hypocrisy. Victorian gentlemen publicly preached morality but patroned brothels. In Victorian society, propriety and prudence were the accepted virtues.
The idealized Victorian family of the middle class was a fraction of the population, which included many people living in factory slums. There were great gaps between the rich and the poor, and many orphaned children were exposed to extreme suffering. All of this existed outside official notice of Victorian worship of family life, domesticity, and the hearth.
Middle class women were expected to marry, produce large families, and tend to their children. Unmarried middle class women were limited to respectable work as a governess or teacher. Women who were poor worked in the factories.
Women’s restrictions were evident in the very garments that they wore, and they were expected to act with the utmost propriety. An excerpt from The Habits of Good Society, published anonymously in 1855, describes the proper behavior for women upon entering a room:
Her face should wear a smile; she should not rush in head-foremost; a graceful bearing, a light step, an elegant bend to common acquaintance, a cordial pressure, not shaking, of the hand extended to her, are requisite of a lady. Let her sink gently into a chair. . . . Her feet should scarcely be shown and not crossed. . . .
Obedience in children was expected and cherished as proper behavior. Punishments might be beatings or solitary confinement. The method of imposing self-discipline or severe punishment in this world, and a threat of terrible penalties in the world to come (the Ten Commandments were often quoted), kept many children in line. Children were either educated at home by a governess or sent away to school where the treatment was often cruel. The following letters were exchanged between a mother and daughter over an incident at school:
My Dear Martha,
. . . you must kneel down and pray to God to keep you from sinning, and every night and morning you must do the same, for you will never be a good girl until He takes you into His keeping. It is because you have forgotten Him that you have been disobedient. . . .
My Dearest Mother,
I have indeed been very wicked to distress you and my dear father as I have done. . . . I have prayed to Christ to forgive me and love me once more, and I feel comforted now.
True to the times in which she lived, Charlotte’s life was one of restraint, piety, and Christian virtue. The Brontë family was dedicated to these images. Maria Branwell Brontë was an extremely pious woman, and marrying the Reverend only magnified the religious issue. Charlotte was raised in this constraining atmosphere, yet her passionate nature and literary gifts enabled her to write an accurate tale of her times.
Jane Eyre was critically acclaimed in 1847 as “decidedly the best novel of the season,” by G. H. Lewes in The Westminster Review. The Victorians respected the reality of the story, however, some critics thought it to be anti-Christian, and vulgar. Today, Jane Eyre endures as one of the most popular English novels, and is considered by some scholars to be the prototype of the feminist novel.
List of 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 Lee—Servant at Gateshead Hall.
Miss Abbot—Servant at Gateshead Hall.
Mr. Lloyd—Apothecary who treats Jane at Gateshead Hall.
Mr. Brocklehurst—Minister of Brocklebridge Church, headmaster at Lowood School.
Mr. Bates—Doctor who treats Jane at Lowood School.
Helen Burns—Student at Lowood school who befriends Jane, and then dies of tuberculosis.
Miss Miller—An under-teacher at Lowood. She is in charge of Jane when Jane first arrives at Lowood School.
Maria Temple—Teacher at Lowood School.
Miss Scatcherd—Teacher at Lowood School.
Mary Ann Wilson—Jane’s friend at Lowood School.
John Eyre—Jane’s uncle, her father’s brother.
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.
John and Mary—Servants at Thornfield.
Grace Poole—Caretaker of Bertha Rochester at Thornfield.
Blanche Ingram—The beautiful lady friend of Mr. Rochester.
Richard (Dick) Mason—Bertha Rochester’s brother.
Robert Leaven—Bessie’s husband.
Mr. Briggs—Solicitor who stops Jane’s marriage to Mr. Rochester.
Bertha Rochester—Mad wife of Edward Rochester.
Hannah—Servant at Moor House.
Diana and Mary Rivers—Sisters of St. John Rivers.
St. John Rivers—Minister of the parish at Morton, master of Moor House; cold, strict, principled, and reserved.
Rosamond Oliver—Admires Mr. St. John Rivers, daughter of Mr. Oliver.
Mr. Oliver—Father of Rosamond.
The Host—Former butler of Edward Rochester’s father, and the innkeeper of The Rochester Arms.
Estimated Reading Time
Jane Eyre is divided into 38 chapters of varying length. It should take approximately 15 hours to read Jane Eyre.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1393 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Chapters 1-3 Summary and Analysis
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
While Mrs. Reed and her children sit...
(The entire section is 972 words.)
Chapters 4-6 Summary and Analysis
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
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
Mary Ann Wilson: Jane’s friend at Lowood School
John Eyre: Jane’s uncle, her father’s brother
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
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
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
Blanche Ingram: the beautiful lady friend of Mr. Rochester
Richard (Dick) Mason: Bertha Rochester’s brother
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
Robert Leaven: Bessie’s husband
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
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
Mr. Briggs: a lawyer who stops Jane’s marriage to Mr. Rochester
Bertha Rochester: mad wife of Edward Rochester
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
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
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
Miss Rosamond Oliver: admires St. John Rivers, daughter of Mr. Oliver
Mr. Oliver: father of Rosamond
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
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
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
The Host: former butler of Edward Rochester’s father, and the innkeeper of the Rochester Arms
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.)
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