Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jane Eyre, a plain child with a vivid imagination, intelligence, and great talent in art and music. Left an orphan in childhood, she is forced to live with her Aunt Reed, who was the sister-in-law of her father. At the Reed home, she is mistreated and spurned, and she is finally sent to a charity home for girls. Her education completed, she teaches at the school for several years and then takes a position as a private governess to the ward of Mr. Rochester. After a strange, tempestuous courtship, she and Mr. Rochester are to be married, but the revelation that his insane first wife still lives prevents the wedding. After each has suffered many hardships, Jane and Mr. Rochester are eventually married.
Edward Fairfax Rochester
Edward Fairfax Rochester, a gentleman of thirty-five, the proud, sardonic, moody master of Thornfield. Before Jane Eyre’s arrival to become a governess in his household, he visits Thornfield only occasionally. After he falls in love with Jane, much of his moroseness disappears. When they are separated because the presence of his insane wife becomes known, Mr. Rochester remains at Thornfield. His wife sets fire to the house, and Mr. Rochester loses his eyesight and the use of an arm during the conflagration, in which his wife dies. Summoned, she believes, by his call, Jane Eyre returns a short time later, and the two are married.
(The entire section is 1163 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Jane, the main character of Jane Eyre, is sensitive and passionate, intelligent and reflective. As a child, she is keenly aware of her status as an orphan and an outsider. She learns to observe others quietly and takes refuge from her loneliness in books. When pushed beyond the limits of her tolerance for pain and injustice, Jane reacts impetuously. At Gateshead, she rebukes both John Reed and his mother for their cruelty toward her; later, at Thornfield, provoked by Rochester's emotional manipulation, she hotly declares herself his equal and soulmate. Though she is often described as a small, plain "sprite," and though she attempts to curb her self-righteousness with an attitude of stoic acceptance, Jane shows flashes of spirit and temper that make her a compelling character.
When the novel begins, Jane, a ten-year-old, lives with her imperious Aunt Reed and her cousins John, a spoiled, sadistic fourteen-year-old, Georgiana, plump, primped, and shallow, and Eliza, sour and sharp-tongued. Both her aunt and her cousins revile her as an ingrate, but years later, on her deathbed, Mrs. Reed reveals to Jane that her husband—Jane's uncle—had forced Mrs. Reed to promise that Jane would be raised as a member of the family. Only Bessie Lee, a maidservant at Gateshead, treats Jane with some degree of kindness and respect.
When Jane arrives at the Lowood boarding school, she learns to contend with Mr. Brocklehurst, a hypocritical trustee of...
(The entire section is 1018 words.)
A woman who is the "nurse" at Mrs. Reed's house, Gateshead Hall, Bessie helps take care of the Reed children and young Jane Eyre. Jane regards Bessie as the most sympathetic figure in the Reed household, although Bessie seems somewhat aloof. In her narrative, Jane recalls Bessie as "pretty" and "a slim young woman, with black hair, dark eyes, very nice features, and good, clear complexion." Jane also remarks on Bessie's "capricious and hasty temper, and indifferent ideas of principle or justice." Bessie helps Jane prepare for her departure to Lowood Institution. Bessie shows up again about eight years later as Jane is leaving Lowood for Thornfield Hall. She has married, and she tells Jane what has happened to the Reeds in the intervening years. She also says that Jane's uncle had come to Gateshead Hall searching for Jane but had gone back to his home on Madiera when Mrs. Reed told him that Jane was dead. Jane meets Bessie again when she (Jane) returns to Gateshead to visit the dying Mrs. Reed.
Mr. Brocklehurst is the proprietor of Lowood Institution—the boarding school for orphans that Jane Eyre attends. He is introduced in chapter 4, when he comes to Gateshead Hall (Mrs. Reed's home) to examine Jane before admitting her to Lowood. He is described as "a black pillar! The straight, narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect on the rug." Mr. Brocklehurst is one of the novel's hypocrites....
(The entire section is 3671 words.)