How does Charlotte Bronte maintain a sense of suspense throughout Jane Eyre?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Charlotte Bronte maintains a feeling of suspense throughout Jane Eyre by keeping the reader unsure how the story will end through a series of twists, turns, and unexplained happenings. 

According to Roane State's Online Writing Lab, the definition of suspense is "the tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown." Bronte employs this masterfully in Jane Eyre to keep the reader on edge as Jane questions the purpose of her life and the strange events taking place around her at Thornfield Hall.

Jane Eyre as a character is kept in suspense for the entire first part of the novel. Her living situation is abusive and uncertain after the deaths of the only people who truly loved her. When she sees the ghost of her deceased uncle, the reader is left questioning whether the encounter is real. At the same time, Jane is wondering what will become of her in life without someone to guide her.

Her school is also an abusive environment; it's unhealthy enough that her best friend dies from consumption. Jane stays for years before taking a position as a tutor for the orphaned ward of Jane's eventual husband, Mr. Rochester, at Thornfield Hall.

Things get especially strange at Thornfield Hall. While Jane is there, a series of odd events occur, including:

  • a fire in Mr. Rochester's room
  • an attack on Mr. Mason, a guest
  • the illness and death of Jane's aunt, who admits to bilking her out of an inheritance
  • a visit from a strange figure who destroy's Jane's wedding veil

Jane is told that the events could be linked to a servant -- but Mr. Rochester is unwilling to fire her. Before they can marry, Jane finds out that her betrothed is already married to an insane woman. The maid is not the cause of the havoc. Rather, Mr. Rochester's wife occasionally escapes and causes the incidents at Thornfield Hall.

Mr. Rochester reacts to Jane finding out the truth about his crazed wife by saying:

"That is my wife," said he. "Such is the sole conjugal embrace I am ever to know—such are the endearments which are to solace my leisure hours! And this is what I wished to have" (laying his hand on my shoulder): "this young girl, who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon. I wanted her just as a change after that fierce ragout. Wood and Briggs, look at the difference! Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder—this face with that mask—this form with that bulk; then judge me, priest of the Gospel and man of the law, and remember, with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged!" 

But Jane rejects his proposal to live as man and wife regardless, leaving him until after his wife commits suicide and he is maimed in the fire she set. 

According to "Harmless Pleasure": Gender, Suspense, and "Jane Eyre," by Caroline Levine, "By definition, suspense casts doubt on the necessity of a particular ending." Keeping the reader from a sense of surety is exactly how Bronte maintains a sense of suspense throughout the novel. Until Jane and Mr. Rochester are reunited and she assures him she can see past his new deformities, the reader is unsure what the ending will be. 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bronte is able to maintain suspense in her novel Jane Eyre by showing mysterious happenings at Edward Rochester's home. Jane is warned about going into a specific room in the house. Here is where readers are cued into the fact that there must be something up in the attic that Rochester does not want her to see.

Not only is Jane told to stay out of the room, mysterious things happen when she is in Rochester's home. A fire starts abruptly, Jane hears horrible noises, and she comes to think that someone is watching her in both her bedroom and as she moves about the house.

In the end, as part of the climax and falling action combined, Jane comes to find out the Rochester is married to Bertha Mason, the woman hidden away in the attic of the Rochester home.

It is the mystery surrounding the unexplainable happenings at the Rochester home which maintain suspense for the active and engaged reader of the novel.