Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre traces the personal development of a young woman who must struggle to maintain a separate identity and independence in the suffocating pressures of her culture. She grapples with the societal expectations of her gender, which frequently conflict with her intuitive sense of self. Each setting and situation that Jane encounters denotes a phase in her personal progress, teaching her and preparing her for the next experience.

The linear organization of Jane’s maturation process is attributable to the viewpoint of the narrator. The narrator is not the child, teenager, or young woman that Jane is during the course of the narrative, but the adult wife and mother who is recounting her story. With hindsight and from a mature perspective, Jane can recognize the pivotal, shaping events of her life. She takes account of her life, selecting events so that a pattern of personal development becomes apparent, what all people do in making sense of their past. The reader also senses Brontë’s voice. Although the novel is not an autobiography, it contains autobiographical elements—Brontë’s experience at the Clergy Daughter’s School is similar to Jane’s years at Lowood, for example. Certainly Brontë draws from her own experience as a maturing young woman in describing the life of Jane Eyre.

Each setting indicates a stage of growth for Jane. Under the cruel treatment of her aunt, Sarah Reed, at Gateshead Hall, Jane learns as a child to rely on her own inner strength. The strong self-reliance that she develops as a protective mechanism in this brutal environment sustains her throughout her life. At Lowood, Jane finds sincere friendship in Helen Burns and a compassionate mother-figure in Maria Temple. Jane learns from Helen’s religious stoicism, but realizes that she is too much in need of human companionship to accept such a solitary existence completely. When Miss Temple leaves to get married, Jane believes that she also must leave, having matured enough to break free from this surrogate mother.

As governess in Thornfield Hall, Jane finds in Edward Fairfax Rochester a kindred spirit equal to her in passion and strong individualism, but also suffering from a faltering sense of identity in regard to what he is and what is expected of him. Bertha, Rochester’s insane wife, who lives in the attic, haunts them both as a symbol of their still-unresolved identities. They cannot truly be united until each has worked out these inner problems.

Jane finally finds real family support with her three cousins at Moor House. She attains self-confidence from her success with the school and financial independence from her uncle’s inheritance. From her unemotional relationship with her cousin St. John Rivers, a zealous minister, she realizes that she needs a passionate love, and her inner standard of religious morals is further solidified in contrast to his frigid piety.

Jane Eyre contains gothic, Romantic, and Victorian elements. Elements of these styles do not simply exist for their own sake, but underscore the major theme of Jane’s personal progress. The gothic and Romantic elements—Bertha’s ghostlike haunting, Thornfield’s dark and castlelike image, the spiritual connection between Rochester and Jane, nature’s sympathetic response to Jane’s emotions with storms and sunshine—are symbolic of Jane’s dark struggles with her identity and her romantic tendency to follow her intuition. The Victorian emphasis on realism, on domestic concerns of marriage and family, and the reconciliation of feeling with reason also pervade the novel.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Gateshead Hall

Gateshead Hall. Upper-middle class home of the Reed family. Gateshead Hall, identified only as located in “—shire,” England, is the home in which Jane spends the first ten years of her life with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her three cousins. It is here that Jane learns to take care of herself—training that prepares her for the hardships that are to follow during her years at an orphan asylum.

Two places in particular within Gateshead Hall play prominent roles in Jane’s life there. The window seat in which the reader first encounters Jane as she reads a book on the history of British birds is surrounded by thick red curtains and shelters her from both the cold, raw weather on the outside of the window and the cold, loveless environment of the Reed household on the other side of the curtain. Shortly after Jane leaves the womblike safety of the window seat, she is banished to the red room, her late uncle’s old bedroom, after being unjustly accused of fighting with her cousin John. It is from the unhappy atmosphere of Gateshead Hall that Jane acquires the strength of character to help her with the difficulties she must face in the future.


Lowton. Fictional town near which the Lowood Orphan Asylum is located, some fifty miles from Gateshead Hall. This school is believed to be based in part on the Cowan Bridge School that Charlotte Brontë and her sisters attended as girls.

Lowood Orphan Asylum

Lowood Orphan Asylum. After the incident of the red room, Mrs. Reed contacts Mr. Brocklehurst, treasurer of the Lowood Orphan Asylum, to arrange for Jane to live at the school permanently. Jane’s first year at Lowood, especially, is difficult because Mr. Brocklehurst forces the teachers and students to survive on inadequate nourishment and in harsh living conditions. By the spring of her first year at Lowood, typhoid fever ravages the school, resulting in an investigation of Brocklehurst’s methods and leading to vastly improved conditions for the inhabitants of Lowood.

Jane spends the next eight years at Lowood—six years as a student and two years as a teacher. Though her remaining years at Lowood are less difficult than the first, Jane still yearns for more from life. During her years at Lowood, Jane learns from her close friend, Helen Burns, and the superintendent of Lowood, Miss Temple, what it means to live life as a true Christian.


Millcote. Fictional English village that is the location of Thornfield Hall, the home of Edward Fairfax Rochester. The village affords Jane the first glimpse of her new home after she leaves Lowood School and is also the scene of her near-marriage to Rochester.

Thornfield Hall

Thornfield Hall. Home of Rochester, his ward Adela, and the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax. It is there that Jane begins to enjoy life for the first time. However, as the house’s name implies, the house is also a field of thorns, in which Jane learns the joys and pain of true love as well. Thornfield is a large upper-class estate with many rooms and an equal number of secrets. One secret that is kept from Jane and visitors to the estate is that on the upper floor of the mansion, Rochester is hiding Bertha, his legal wife, who has gone mad. After Jane’s arrival, the house transforms from a place nearly abandoned by its master to the scene of family tranquillity, parties, and Jane and Rochester’s growing love for each other. Later, however, it becomes a place of pain and regret that Jane must leave in secret in order to escape the prospect of love without the sanctity of marriage.


Whitcross. Fictional crossroads on the moors of northern England to which Jane flees from Rochester and the memories of their lost love. Left with no food, money, or clothes, Jane must beg for scraps of food and spends several nights sleeping outside.

Moor House

Moor House. Home of St. John, Diana, and Mary Rivers. Left with no other options, Jane finds herself outside Moor House, hoping to find food, lodging, and possible employment. The cottage is warm and inviting, and the Rivers family takes in an ailing Jane and nurses her back to health. Finding Jane to be well bred and educated, St. John immediately employs Jane to run a school for village girls. In her small home and school Jane finds the contentment of employment to be both fulfilling and enjoyable. However, Jane soon discovers that she is both an heiress to a considerable fortune and the cousin of the Rivers family. She is also faced with a marriage proposal from St. John. Realizing that she loves only Rochester, she leaves Moor House to go to him. Upon arriving in Millcote, Jane learns that Thornfield Hall has burned down, Rochester’s wife has died, and Rochester has moved to his other home, Ferndean Manor.

Ferndean Manor

Ferndean Manor. One of Rochester’s homes, located two miles from Millcote. After Jane learns of the change in Rochester’s circumstances, she rushes to Ferndean Manor and finds that he is both blind and maimed as a result of the fire that destroyed Thornfield Hall and killed Bertha. Jane and Rochester decide on a quiet wedding with only the two of them present. It is at Ferndean Manor that Jane is rewarded for her years of suffering and longing for love and where the Rochesters finally begin a long and happy marriage.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Published in 1847, Jane Eyre was a popular success. Although many women writers were read by the Victorian public, true literary respectability required a masculine name; hence Brontë used the pseudonym “Currer Bell.” The popularity of this intelligent novel should force one to reconsider the often belittled and maligned tastes of the largely female reading public of the period. One can imagine that the novel appealed to women then, and today, because it reflects the frustratingly limiting condition of women in the nineteenth century. Although the novel’s end suggests a happy, typically Victorian domestic solution to Jane’s problems—the reconciliation of Jane and Rochester—this conclusion does not assuage the more pervasive difficulties that Jane encounters in defining her identity as a woman within nineteenth century constraints. Modern readers appreciate Jane’s strength and independence and her admirable struggle to live with integrity within a culture stifling for women.

For example, Jane’s job as a governess exemplifies only one confusing female role in the 1800’s. Women had very few alternatives for survival. If not supported by a father or a husband, an educated, middle-class woman likely was forced to become a governess, a position of lifelong servitude and repression of personal desires. As a woman who possesses the education, tastes, and behaviors of upper-class decorum so that she can teach them to her charges, the governess was frustrated to be treated as simply another household servant. Much of Jane’s confusion about her identity at Thornfield stems from her contradictory role as governess.

Marriage, however, was no saving grace. Jane expresses the very modern fear, practically unheard of in the nineteenth century, of losing her identity in marriage. She resists compromising her identity and denigrating herself in conforming to Rochester’s idea of a wife. In her wedding dress, she does not recognize herself before the mirror, nor can she write “Mrs. Rochester” on her luggage. As St. John’s wife, she fears she would be “always restrained, and always checked—forced to keep the fire of my nature continually low.” When Rochester is maimed and socially ruined, essentially bringing his physical strength and social position equal to that of Jane, the threat of domination no longer exists. Jane announces her decision in the powerful, self-asserting words of the final chapter: “Reader, I married him.”

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Haworth Village, home of the Brontë sisters, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (now West Yorkshire), England. Published by Gale Cengage

Bronte's England: The Social Context
Jane Eyre is set in the north of England sometime in the first half of the...

(The entire section is 725 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Set in early nineteenth-century England, Jane Eyre moves through various locations, all informed by autobiographical detail from...

(The entire section is 370 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Jane Eyre is written in the first person, and told from the viewpoint of its main character, Jane Eyre....

(The entire section is 2444 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Critics agree that Jane Eyre offers a fine example of the author-as-narrator; narrative credibility follows from an intimate knowledge...

(The entire section is 148 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jane Eyre explores the predicaments of those bound by law, conventions, and social status to lives not of their own choosing. Like...

(The entire section is 153 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • 1840s: Like other creative and intellectual pursuits, novel writing is considered a male preserve. Women such as the...

(The entire section is 340 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Examine the behavior of Georgiana Reed, Blanche Ingram, and Rosamond Oliver to determine their ultimate goals. What are they? Do you think...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. How are Jane, Edward, and Bertha all imprisoned in different ways by different circumstances? What liberates them? How do these different...

(The entire section is 166 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • In her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte wrote: "Conventionality...

(The entire section is 225 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bronte's novel The Professor recalls her experiences at the Pensionnat Heger and explores the effects of ambition and authoritarianism...

(The entire section is 74 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

  • Jane Eyre has been the subject of numerous adaptations for other media. During the silent film era, there were at least three...

(The entire section is 295 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Bentley, Phyllis. The Brontës. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1969.

Blom, Margaret...

(The entire section is 783 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • Anne Bronte is the least well known of the three Bronte sister novelists. Written at the same time as Jane Eyre, her first novel,...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Alexander, Christina. The Early Writing of Charlotte Bronte. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983. Analysis of Bronte's childhood...

(The entire section is 299 words.)