Jane Eyre Book summary

Charlotte Brontë

Overview

About

Jane Eyre was Charlotte Brontë's second novel and received both critical as well as commercial success when it was published in 1847. The novel is categorized as a bildungsroman story that draws on the Gothic tradition. There are several autobiographical elements to the novel, which is a stinging critique of the highly stratified and misogynistic Victorian England. Jane's deplorable experience at Lowood Institute is representative of Charlotte and her sister's poor treatment at Cowan Bridge, whose Tuberculosis outbreak caused Charlotte to lose her sisters much like the protagonist of Jane Eyre loses her dear friend Helen Burns. Charlotte, like Jane, had also worked as a governess and had nursed an ambition of starting a school.

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Plot Summary

Jane Eyre is a ten-year-old orphan girl who is being raised by her wealthy and callous aunt, Mrs. Reed, at Gateshead Hall. Jane is severely mistreated by her cousins Eliza, Georgiana, and John Reed, who make her feel unwanted and unloved. Her aunt punishes her for resisting John Reed's cruel behavior by locking her in the red room where her uncle, Mr. Reed had died and been laid before his funeral. Jane is overcome with fear as she recalls that her uncle had compelled her aunt to care for Jane, a request that Mrs. Reed has only nominally kept. Jane passes out with fear as she begins to believe that her unhappy state would cause her uncle's soul to be roused from death. She is nursed back to health by Bessie the nurse, who is the only member of the household that treats her with a degree of warmth, and the apothecary, Mr. Lloyd. Jane tells him of her unhappy existence, and he intervenes with Mrs. Reed on her behalf by asking Mrs. Reed to send Jane to school.

Mrs. Reed agrees to send Jane to Lowood institution, a charitable school run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a hypocritically pious man who exposes his students to cruel privations with the claim of teaching them humility. At the school, Jane meets the devout yet meek Helen Burns, who soon passes away due to tuberculosis. She also encounters Miss Maria Temple, the kind and caring superintendent of the school, who becomes Jane's teacher, companion, and mother figure during her time at Lowood. Jane spends six years at the school as a student, and two years as a teacher, but her life at the school begins to feel limited once Miss Temple departs after her marriage. Jane advertises to be hired as a governess and receives a position at Thornfield Hall for Adele Varens. Jane's new role does not allow her to experience the liberty that she had sought until the arrival of the enigmatic Mr. Rochester. Jane finds herself unusually comfortable in the presence of the abrupt and honest Mr. Rochester. She learns that Adele is the daughter of Celine Varens, who had been cheating on him with another man. Mr. Rochester had taken Adele as his ward when her mother had abandoned her by eloping with another man. Their relationship develops into something deeper as Jane saves Mr. Rochester from a fire that she believes has been set by an odd servant, Grace Poole.

Mr. Rochester attempts to make Jane jealous by purposefully fueling rumors that he is soon going to be married to the wealthy and beautiful Blanche Ingram. Jane also learns that Mr. Rochester is keeping a secret regarding Grace Poole when he becomes extremely disturbed at learning of a visitor from West Indies called Mr. Mason. Jane helps Mr. Rochester by caring for Mr. Mason in secret after he's attacked by an individual residing in a hidden room on the third story. Jane has to return to Gateshead Hall when she learns of her cousin, John Reed's death, and the deteriorating health of her aunt Mrs. Reed. She learns about the existence of a wealthy uncle, Mr. John Eyre, who had wanted Jane to be the heir to his fortune but had been wrongfully told by Mrs. Reed that Jane Eyre had passed away while she had been at Lowood Institution.

Mrs. Reed dies that very night, and Jane stays at Gateshead to help her cousins prepare for their journeys as Georgina travels to London while Eliza leaves for Europe to take the veil.

Jane returns to Thornfield Hall with pleasure as she returns to Mr. Rochester, but with a fear that she would be separated from him after his supposed marriage with Miss Ingram. Mr. Rochester asks Jane to marry him after he reveals that he had only ever meant to marry her and never Miss Ingram. Jane is reluctant to marry Mr. Rochester for she feels that theirs is an unequal match given his wealthy status, and the wedding is prevented dramatically as it is revealed that Mr. Rochester had a living wife residing at Thornfield Hall. She is introduced to the mad Bertha Mason, sister of Mr. Mason, who lives in a hidden room under the care of Grace Poole. Mr. Rochester explains to Jane that he had been forced into marrying Bertha upon the command of his father, who had only chosen her for the dowry that her family offered, and the Mason family as they had prevented him from ever learning of her illness. Jane is unable to remain with Mr. Rochester and leaves Thornfield Hall in secret without any money. She reaches an unfamiliar place and has to beg in the streets for two days before the Rivers family takes her in. She is nursed back to health by the intelligent and generous Diana and Mary Rivers. Jane is given work as a schoolmistress by the handsome and pious St John Rivers. He discovers Jane's true name and then reveals that she is his cousin through his mother's family. He also tells her of the fortune that she had inherited from their now-deceased uncle John Eyre, a fortune that he had hoped to receive in some part.

Jane divides her newly inherited fortune equally between the four cousins and attempts to discover a new purpose for her life. She is continually worried about Mr. Rochester and thinks about him often even as she builds a new life with the Rivers siblings. St John asks Jane to marry him and accompany him in his travels as a missionary, but Jane recognizes that St John has no love for her and only wants to be with her because he feels that she would make a suitable missionary wife. Jane returns to Thornfield Hall to learn about Mr. Rochester and finds the mansion burned to the ground. She discovers that a fire had been set by the mad Bertha Mason that had resulted in her death, and caused Mr. Rochester to lose his eyesight as well as a hand while he had attempted to rescue his crazed wife. Jane finds the saddened Edward Rochester at Ferndean and agrees to marry him, now that he is a widow and she is independent.

  • Author(s)

    Charlotte Brontë
  • Publication date

    1847

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Bildungsroman, Romance

  • Pages

    532

Keywords

Novel, Literature

Publisher

Smith, Elder & Co

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