Jane Eyre Summary

Jane Eyre is a novel by Charlotte Brontë about an orphaned young woman in nineteenth-century England.

  • Jane Eyre is raised by her cruel and wealthy relatives before being sent to Lowood, a charitable school with miserable conditions.
  • Jane eventually becomes a governess and finds a position at Thornfield, the eerie home of the enigmatic Edward Rochester, with whom she falls in love.
  • Mr. Rochester returns Jane's feelings and asks Jane to marry him, but a shocking revelation prevents the marriage from taking place.
  • Jane flees Thornfield but eventually returns to reconcile with Mr. Rochester.

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Last Updated on September 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 705

Jane Eyre begins at Gateshead Hall, where a young orphan named Jane Eyre lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and three cousins. Though Jane’s relations are wealthy, they treat her cruelly and never let her forget that she only avoids poverty through their charity. As the relationship between Jane and the Reeds deteriorates, Mrs. Reed decides to send Jane away to Lowood school, a charitable institution. Before Jane departs, Mrs. Reed warns Mr. Brocklehurst, the manager of Lowood, that Jane is a liar. Deeply offended by her aunt’s deceit, young Jane vows never to forgive her.

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The conditions at Lowood school are harsh. Mr. Brocklehurst is cruel and hypocritical, forcing the students to remain humble by making their own clothes and sharing beds while his own daughters live in luxury. The girls are given meager portions of often inedible food, and their living quarters are freezing cold. Despite these difficulties, Jane manages to find a friend in Helen Burns, a fellow student; however, Helen dies during a typhus outbreak at the school, leaving Jane devastated. After the typhus epidemic, the unsanitary and grim conditions at the school are publicly revealed, and Lowood is put under new management. Jane stays at the school for six more years as a student and two years as a teacher before setting off for a new job as a governess at Thornfield Hall.

At Thornfield, Jane’s pupil is a young French girl named Adèle. Adèle is the ward of Mr. Edward Rochester, the enigmatic and often-absent owner of Thornfield. When Jane finally meets Mr. Rochester, she finds herself intrigued by his peculiar personality and blunt honesty. Likewise, Mr. Rochester is fascinated by Jane’s forthright nature and strong convictions. Strange events occur during Jane’s stay at Thornfield: eerie laughs can be heard at night, a mysterious fire is started, and a guest is stabbed in the night. Mr. Rochester begins to court a local beauty named Blanche Ingram, upsetting Jane, who recognizes her own growing feelings for him.

Jane travels to Gateshead to visit Mrs. Reed, who is now on her deathbed. While there, Jane is elated to learn that she has a living uncle, John Eyre, who wishes to know her. After Mrs. Reed dies, Jane returns to her post at Thornfield, where preparations are underway for Mr. Rochester to wed. She is shocked, however, when Mr. Rochester proposes to her rather than Blanche Ingram. Jane joyfully accepts his proposal, but their wedding is interrupted when a man objects, announcing, to Jane's horror, that Mr. Rochester is already married. Mr. Rochester confesses that he is married and that he conceals his first wife, Bertha, in the attic of Thornfield. Bertha is mad, and it is she who is responsible for the strange sounds and occurrences at Thornfield. Jane is devastated, and despite Mr. Rochester’s pleas for her to stay, she flees Thornfield under the cover of night.

Jane wanders for several days until, nearly starving, she is taken in by a clergyman named St. John Rivers and his two sisters. Jane comes to love the sisters, though she remains slightly intimidated by St. John. During this period, Jane learns that her uncle has died and left her his fortune. She splits this evenly between herself and the Rivers family—who she has discovered are her cousins. St. John urges Jane to marry him and come with him to India as a missionary’s wife, but Jane, knowing he does not actually love her, refuses. After hearing Mr. Rochester’s voice on the wind, Jane takes it as a sign and decides to visit Thornfield.

When Jane arrives at Thornfield, she is shocked to find a charred ruin standing in its place. A local innkeeper relays that Bertha Rochester set the hall on fire after escaping from her confinement one evening. As the hall burned, Bertha leapt from the roof to her death. Mr. Rochester took great pains to rescue everyone inside and, as a result, lost his hand and his eyesight in the fire. Jane goes to visit Mr. Rochester and the two reconcile. Jane and Mr. Rochester marry, and his eyesight gradually recovers enough that he can see their firstborn son.

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