Places Discussed

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Gateshead Hall

Gateshead Hall is the 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.

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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

Lowton is a 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

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

Millcote is a 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 is the home of Rochester, his ward Adele, 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

Whitcross is the 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 is the 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 is 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.

Setting

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370

Set in early nineteenth-century England, Jane Eyre moves through various locations, all informed by autobiographical detail from Bronte's life. As a child living in Mrs. Reed's house, Gateshead Hall, Jane experiences overt class subordination. After her altercation with Mrs. Reed's bully son, John, Jane is forcibly removed to an isolated room where she senses a presence, "a rushing of wings"; this ephemeral visitation recurs throughout the novel, each time signalling a major change in Jane's life.

At Lowood school, more than six dozen girls ranging in age from nine to twenty years are constantly reminded that they are beholden to the charitable donors who pay partial costs for their schooling. The building is bleak, sparely furnished, and underheated, and the stern and spartan conditions severely test Jane's resolve. Jane remains at Lowood as a teacher after completing her studies, but following the urging of a disembodied voice, she soon advertises for a governess position and is solicited by Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield. At Thornfield Manor, a gothic three-story mansion, Jane serves as governess to Adele Varens, a ward of Edward Rochester, owner of the estate.

After a year at Thornfield, Jane is summoned to Gateshead to attend to the dying Mrs. Reed, and it is against this backdrop that the tempestuous scene of Rochester's marriage proposal and Jane's acceptance is played.

Her wedding ceremony dramatically interrupted by a shocking revelation, Jane travels to Whitcross, located two days away from Thornfield in the moors of the north Midlands. Lacking food and money, Jane eats and sleeps in the heather until she is welcomed into Moor House, the rustic home of St. John Rivers, a sincere parson. She is offered employment by St. John as mistress of a new girls' school and moves into a simple cottage, but a premonition of Rochester's voice calling her back to Thornfield finally prompts her departure from Whitcross.

Upon returning to Thornfield, Jane finds only a fire-blackened shell, the site of her earlier happiness and security gutted by a fire set off by Rochester's insane wife, now dead. Jane reunites with Rochester, now blind and living at Ferndean, an isolated manor house 30 miles distant. They marry, and the simple, virtuous life of Ferndean restores Rochester's sight.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on May 6, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2444

Narrative

Jane Eyre is written in the first person, and told from the viewpoint of its main character, Jane Eyre. As part of her first-person narrative, Bronte uses one of the oldest conventions in English fiction: this novel is allegedly a memoir written by a real woman named Jane Eyre and edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte's pseudonym). (Indeed, the full title of the book is Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. As part of this convention, the narrator occasionally addresses the reader directly with the word "reader.") Modern readers know, of course, that this is simply a convention, and accept it as such.

Although the first-person viewpoint means that the narrative scope is somewhat restricted, at times the narrator of Jane Eyre seems more omniscient (aware and insightful) than a typical first-person narrator. Much of the action seems to unfold naturally. In part, this may be because the story is told in retrospect. That is, in Bronte's narrative technique, the action is not happening as it is being told, but has already happened. As in many traditional first-person narratives, the narrator in Jane Eyre describes other characters astutely, both their external appearance and their inner personalities. There are also passages in which the narrator offers particular observations and opinions about life—observations and opinions that sometimes seem as if they are coming from the author. Yet the novel's suspense relies on the fact that the narrator is not entirely omniscient—or at least on the fact that she does not reveal key information until the point in the chronology of events when Jane herself became aware of this information. For example, the narrative does not report that Rochester is married and that his wife is locked away upstairs until the moment in the wedding ceremony when other characters come forth with this information. Similarly, Jane lives with the Rivers for some time before she, and the reader, learn that they are her cousins.

Setting

The action of the book takes place in northern England sometime in the early- to mid-nineteenth century, and covers a span of about a dozen years. Bronte does not give specific year-dates for the incidents in the book, nor does she refer to contemporary historical events. Scholars generally assume that Jane Eyre's "autobiography" parallels Charlotte Bronte's life at the same age. Because the narrative frequently mentions specific months and seasons, the reader is rarely in doubt as to the exact time of year a particular incident is taking place. This precision helps give the book a more realistic feeling.

Bronte uses a succession of several main settings—primarily, individual houses—for the plot's action. She describes the settings vividly, thereby creating a particular atmosphere as well as giving the illusion of realism. Moreover, setting is used in a way that gives the novel structural unity and variety. Each setting or grouping of settings corresponds with a distinct phase of Jane Eyre's life.

Among the novel's main settings are Gateshead Hall, the home of Jane's aunt (by marriage), with whom the orphaned girl is living at the beginning of the book. At the age of ten, Jane is sent to Lowood Institution, a charity school for impoverished orphans. From there, at age eighteen Jane goes to Thornfield Hall to serve as a governess. When she learns the secret of Mr. Rochester's marriage to Bertha, she flees across the moors to Moor House, where she is taken in by the Reverend St. John Rivers. Toward the end of the book she finds Mr. Rochester at his other home, Ferndean Manor—Thornfield having been destroyed in a fire set by Bertha during Jane's absence.

Bronte does not use the real names of her locations. However, scholars have identified a number of real places as models for the settings in the book. Lowood Institution is believed to be based on the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge, in Yorkshire, which Bronte attended as a girl. Thornfield Hall may be modeled on two different manor houses with which Bronte was familiar. The first, called Norton Conyers, is near the city of Ripon in North Yorkshire. North Lees Hall, a large, forbidding-looking stone manor house in Derbyshire, also seems to fit the description of Thornfield. In 1846 Bronte spent three weeks in the village of Heathersage, in Derbyshire, visiting her old school friend Ellen Nussey. Just before Bronte left to return to her home at Haworth, Ellen's brother, the local vicar, conducted a funeral service for a man named Thomas Eyre. The Eyre family was prominent in the area, and Bronte would most likely also have seen the name on various memorials in the church. North Lees Hall is nearby. Local history books recount that the first mistress at North Lees Hall, one Agnes Ashurst, was insane and was kept locked in an upstairs room. This woman died in a fire, just as Bertha does in the novel. (There is a similar legend about Norton Conyers.) In this area, visible from the vicarage where Bronte stayed, is another manor house called Moorseats—believed to be the model for Moor House.

Regardless of the factual bases of her settings, Bronte's descriptions of these settings, and of the surrounding countryside, are always exceptionally vivid. These descriptions help the reader visualize the places where the action is taking place. They also create a particular mood and atmosphere. Bronte takes stock Gothic descriptive elements (clouds, moonlight, stormy weather, dark hallways) and gives them a particularity that transcends the limitations of the Gothic genre.

Structure

Addressing the reader at the beginning of chapter 11, Jane remarks that "a new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play." Jane Eyre is divided into thirty-eight chapters. More significantly, however, the novel can be seen in three distinct parts. Each of these parts traces a pattern of conflict and resolution (or rather, until the work's conclusion, partial resolution); Jane is faced with particular obstacles and opportunities. Running through each of these sections is Jane's effort to find or establish a true home.

The first part (comprised of chapters 1 through 10), covers Jane's childhood and schooling. These chapters are set at Gateshead Hall and at Lowood Institution. The major characters include Mrs. Reed and her children, Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and Miss Temple. The main conflicts and incidents include Jane's rebellion against Mrs. Reed and her friendship with the fatally ill Helen.

Chapters 10 through 27 tell of Jane's life as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with Edward Rochester. Apart from Jane herself, Mr. Rochester is the central character in this section. Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, Blanche Ingram, Grace Poole, Bertha Mason, and Mr. Mason also have significant roles. The dramatic action in this section centers on Jane's growing love for Mr. Rochester (and vice versa), Jane's fear that Rochester will marry Blanche, and a series of strange incidents that occur at Thornfield.

Finally, chapters 28 through the end of the book center on Jane's life after she has fled Thornfield. The action here takes place in the countryside and at Moor House and Moorton. The Reverend St. John Rivers is the other main character here, along with his two sisters. Although Rochester does not reappear until the end of the book, his presence remains significant in Jane's mind. Dramatic highlights in this part of the novel include Jane's attempt to find shelter, her uneasy relationship with Rivers, and her ultimate return to Mr. Rochester. Many readers and critics have found this to be the weakest, most contrived part of the book. However, the events of this section serve to test Jane's devotion to Rochester. When she returns to marry him at the end of the book, both characters (and their circumstances) have evolved and matured from what they were at the time of their planned wedding in the second section.

Gothicism

Because of its powerful writing, and because of its concern with moral and social issues beyond the immediate plot, Jane Eyre is not generally considered a Gothic novel as such. However, it makes use of many of the elements found in the Gothic genre popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and critics sometimes place the work in the Gothic tradition, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and M. G. Lewis's The Monk (1796) are considered classic examples of this genre. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) also uses some Gothic elements, while Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818) satirized the excesses of the genre.

Gothic literature and the Gothic tradition is identifiable by certain characteristics. Often written in overblown language, Gothic novels involve bizarre characters and melodramatic incidents. Menacing castles, decaying manor houses, and wild landscapes are frequently used as settings. The plots of these novels contain an element of the fantastic or the supernatural. There is usually a mood of mystery or suspense, and an innocent heroine is almost always threatened with some unspeakable horror. Additionally, unexplained events take place at night.

Another characteristic of this genre is a hero who has led an adventurous, unconventional life that makes him romantically attractive, but who also has a flaw (usually a terrible secret from his past) that cuts him off from respectable society or makes him socially unacceptable. The Gothic hero may be prone to violent outbursts, but he typically suffers from his awareness of his past actions. In real life, the British poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), was often considered a model of the Gothic hero. (Indeed, the term "Byronic hero" is sometimes used to describe Mr. Rochester and other Gothic heroes.) For Bronte, her brother Branwell also exhibited some of the characteristics associated with a Gothic hero.

In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester might be seen as a Gothic hero. However, Bronte has made him a rounded character, not a stereotype. His circumstances are Gothic, but Bronte imbues them with a moral significance. Thornfield Hall might seem a Gothic residence, but apart from the mysterious presence of Grace Poole (who turns out to be benign if unattractive) and Bertha, it is a comfortable house. The facts surrounding Bertha's presence at Thornfield are highly Gothic, as is Bertha herself. Again, however, she is not important in herself, but for what she represents. Other similarities to Gothic may be seen in Bertha's attacks on Messrs. Rochester and Mason and her intrusion into Jane's bedroom; the sudden interruption of Jane and Mr. Rochester's wedding; Jane's flight across the countryside; the cold-hearted Reverend St. John Rivers; the destruction of Thornfield by fire; and the supernatural intervention of Jane hearing Rochester's voice calling her back to him.

Coincidence

When critics point out the weaknesses of Jane Eyre, they almost always mention its use of unbelievable coincidence. Yet, by no means was Bronte the only major writer to use coincidence as a device for advancing a novel's plot. During the Victorian period, the use of coincidence for this purpose was very common, even among the greatest writers. It was an accepted literary convention of the period. The works of Charles Dickens for example, are filled with coincidences that no one would believe today, yet Dickens's books remain great works of literature. Thomas Hardy who wrote later in the Victorian period, also has unbelievable coincidences occur in most of his novels.

Of the coincidences in Jane Eyre, at least two have drawn critical comment. The first concerns the way in which Bertha's brother, Mason, finds out about Jane's impending marriage to Rochester. Mason, who lives in Jamaica, is in the wine trade. So is Jane's uncle, John Eyre, who lives on the island of Madeira, several thousand miles away. Earlier, on his way back to Jamaica after his attack by Bertha, Mason happened to stop at Madeira and stayed with John Eyre, unaware of Mr. Eyre's relation to Jane. When John Eyre mentions that his niece, Jane, is to marry a Mr. Rochester, Mason hurries back to England to stop the wedding. The second incredible coincidence concerns the way that Jane receives her inheritance and learns that the Riverses are her cousins. After Jane flees Thornfield and is penniless and on the verge of starvation, she is finally taken in by strangers—St. John Rivers and his two sisters. The Riverses nurture her back to health and provide her with lodging, friendship, and a position as a schoolmistress, but she does not tell them her real identity. One day St. John tells Jane that he has had a letter from a London attorney informing him that his uncle—John Eyre—has died and left a fortune to Jane Eyre. St. John deduces that the young woman he has assisted is that very Jane, and Jane discovers that the very people who had helped her as a stranger are in fact her cousins. Both these coincidences strain the reader's credibility, yet they are necessary in order to drive important developments in the plot.

Symbolism and Imagery

Jane Eyre is filled with imagery drawn from nature and the English countryside. Bronte uses this imagery to suggest her characters' moral condition and state of mind. There are numerous references to weather and to the sky, in the form of storms, rain, clouds, and sun. At the very opening of the novel, Jane sets the scene by mentioning that "the cold winter wind" had brought with it "clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating." The moon, too, appears frequently. There is a full moon on the night when Bertha attacks her brother, as there is on the night when Jane flees Thornfield. Later, St. John Rivers reads his Bible in the moonlight. Tree imagery is perhaps even more significant. Critic Mark Shorer has noted that "nearly every important scene in the development of the passion of Rochester and Jane Eyre takes place among trees—in an orchard, an arbor, a woods, a 'leafy enclosure.'" Shortly after Jane has agreed to marry Rochester, he tells her that she looks "blooming." After their wedding is interrupted, "the woods which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant . . . now spread, waste, wild and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway." Ferndean, the house where the blind and maimed Rochester has gone after Thornfield is destroyed, is hidden by the "thick and dark . . . timber . . . of the gloomy wood about it." The house itself can scarcely be distinguished from the trees; when Jane arrives there, she also notes that "there were no flowers, no garden-beds." On their reunion, Rochester tells Jane that "I am no better than the old lightening-struck chestnut-tree in Thornfield orchard." Jane retorts that, on the contrary, he is "green and vigorous," and tells him that "plants will grow about your roots . . . because your strength offers them so safe a prop."

Literary Qualities

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Critics agree that Jane Eyre offers a fine example of the author-as-narrator; narrative credibility follows from an intimate knowledge of the speaker. The novel is also an excellent fusion of the pious moral tone of Victorian literature and the Gothic elements of earlier romanticism. Thornfield and its bizarre third-floor inhabitant combine with Jane's telepathic messages from the beyond and with awesome happenings in nature to produce scintillating ghostly touches.

Bronte uses foreshadowing and symbolic character- or place-naming to leave hints for the reader about plot development. At Lowood, Miss Scatcherd is as hard and abrasive as her name, and Maria Temple acts as the sanctified refuge for Jane that her surname signifies. Overall, the plot is rich with memorable characters acting within a predictable range of psychological and social motivations. Their actions and dialogue are well documented, and the settings are described adequately enough to provide appropriate context.

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