Jane Eyre, a young orphan raised by the Reeds, her uncle's family, is sent off to the charity school Lowood, where she is befriended by the consumptive Helen Burns, who soon dies. After several years at Lowood, Jane takes a position as a governess, looking after Adele Varens, a ward of Mr. Rochester in his masion, Thornfield. Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love, after several plot twists. As they arrange to get married it is revealed that Mr. Rochester already has a wife, a Spaniard named Bertha, who is insane and has been living in the attic of Mr. Rochester's house under the supervision of an alcoholic nurse, Grace Poole, and thus is not free to marry. Jane leaves Thornfield, eventually finding her way to the house of St. John Rivers and his two sisters. St. John discovers that Jane is a relative of the Rivers and that she has actually interited a substantial fortune. After arranging to share the fortune with the Rivers, she refuses to marry St. John but agrees to accompany him as a missionary to India. As she is about to leave for India, she hears, telepathically, the voice of Mr. Rochester calling her name, and returns to Thornfield, to find that Bertha had set the house on fire, herself died in the fire, and that in this fire Mr. Rochester has lost one hand and his sight. She finally agrees to marry Rochester, and the novel ends happily.
Hung on a fairly traditional bigamy plot, this is a story reflecting Bronte's ambivalence towards the evangelical Christian tradition in which she herself was raised. Many of the evangelical characters in the story conform outwardly to their faith but act in an extremely cruel fashion, while for others, faith is a source of strength and charity. Bronte is especially concerned with the relationship between religion as grounded in external rules and the superficial appearance of piety and religion as based in the heart, herself favouring the religion of the heart over outward appearances.