Study Guide

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre Essay - Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

One of the most striking characteristics of this novel is the voice of Jane Eyre herself, who tells her own story. Without that voice and the intimacy it provides for the reader, credulity would be strained, for the action of the novel is at times inadvertently ridiculous or far-fetched, and the characterizations are often simplistic.

Problems with credibility, however, recede into the background as Jane speaks directly to the reader, commenting on past actions or announcing events to come. On other occasions, she allows a scene to speak for itself but shifts from past to present tense to underline the force of the narrative and its emotional content. One of the most famous lines in all literature is the sentence, “Reader, I married him,” which occurs after Jane returns to Thornfield to find the chastened, blinded, and maimed Edward Rochester, who becomes her husband.

The overall linear structure of the novel is quite straightforward: The first ten chapters treat Jane’s childhood and education; the next seventeen chapters bring Jane to Thornfield Hall and introduce her to Rochester, carrying their relationship to the point of the collapse of their initial marriage plan; the next eight chapters detail Jane’s flight and the developments that ensue with regard to the Rivers family, culminating in St. John Rivers’ proposal of marriage to Jane; and the last three chapters detail Jane’s return to Thornfield, including her marriage to Rochester and the beginning of their life together.

The second and third sections of the novel are dominated by male figures who symbolize opposing forms of love: Rochester, who stands for physical passion, and St. John, who stands for spiritual passion. At the end of the novel, Rochester, having passed through redemptive fires and having repented of his hubris, can embody the fully integrated masculine self, capable of both physical and spiritual passion.

Jane, too, must pay for her pride. Her flight from Thornfield Hall after the collapse of the marriage plans, her deprivations, her illness--these are the means by which Jane passes from youthful rebellion to a mature acceptance of the conditions of her life and an understanding of her own emotional and physical needs.

Bibliography:

Blom, Margaret Howard. Charlotte Brontë. Boston: Twayne, 1977. This introductory work asserts that Jane Eyre reflects Brontë’s own contradictory struggle to be both independent and controlled by a man. Using biographical information as a springboard for analysis, the work examines Brontë’s novels in separate chapters, including notes, an index, and a bibliography.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. This feminist work examines recurrent themes in the works of major nineteenth century female writers. Interprets Jane Eyre as a progress novel tracing Jane’s maturation, emphasizing the complex meaning of Bertha. Although 700 pages long, the book’s extensive index and chapters divided by writer and work make it convenient for research.

Imlay, Elizabeth. Charlotte Brontë and the Mysteries of Love: Myth and Allegory in “Jane Eyre.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Discusses the relationships in the novel, focusing particularly on that between Jane and Rochester. Looks at uses of myth and symbol in Brontë’s depiction of relationships.

Kadish, Doris Y. The Literature of Images: The Narrative Landscape from “Julie” to “Jane Eyre.” New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987. Discusses the web of image and metaphor that governs Jane Eyre and transforms this realist novel.

King, Jeannette. “Jane Eyre.” Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1986. An effective introduction to Jane Eyre, the book is arranged by literary elements with chapter headings such as “Characterization,” “Language,” and “Structure and Theme.” Based on a tutorial approach in which readers are asked to reread certain chapters before reading discussion portions carefully examining the passages.

London, Bette. “The Pleasures of Submission: Jane Eyre and the Production of the Text.” English Literary History 58, no. 1 (Spring, 1991): 195-214. A look at the historical period when the novel was written. Specifically addresses the portrayals of women in nineteenth century fiction by women writers.

Macpherson, Pat. Reflecting on “Jane Eyre.” London: Routledge, 1989. The author’s conversational style and humor make this an entertaining work of criticism. Offers extensive character examinations of Jane, Bertha, and St. John and suggests that Brontë is practicing biting social criticism behind the disarming disguise of feminine confession.

Nestor, Pauline. Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Arguing that Jane does not control her own actions, this work of new feminist criticism rejects previous estimations of Jane as a feminist hero. Offers interesting analyses of the themes of motherhood, sexuality, and identity and surveys the work’s historical background and criticism. Includes an index, notes, and a bibliography.

Peters, Joan D. “Finding a Voice: Toward a Woman’s Discourse of Dialogue in the Narration of Jane Eyre.” Studies in the Novel 23, no. 2 (Summer, 1991): 217-236. Discusses the instabilities, difficulties, and resistances of the narrative voice in the novel.

Pinion, F. B. A Brontë Companion. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1975. A good reference work on all the Brontës, including biographical material, chapter-length analyses of their novels, a section on characters and places, an index, an annotated bibliography, and illustrations.