Jane Eyre

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

Title Jane Eyre

Title page of the first edition of Jane Eyre
Author Charlotte Brontë
Country England
Language English
Genre(s) Romance novel
Publisher Smith Elder and Co, Cornhill
Released 16 October 1847
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 521 pages (Penguin Classics edition, 2006)
ISBN ISBN 0-141-44114-3 (Penguin Classics edition, 2006)

Jane Eyre is a classic romance novel by Charlotte Brontë which was published in 1847 by Smith, Elder & Company, London, and is one of the most famous British novels.

Charlotte Brontë first published the book as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography under the pseudonym Currer Bell, and it was an instant success, earning the praise of many reviewers, including William Makepeace Thackeray, to whom Charlotte Brontë dedicated her second edition.


Spoiler warning: Plot or ending details follow.

The narrator and main character, ten-year-old Jane Eyre, is a poor orphan being raised in the home of her wealthy aunt, the widowed Mrs. Reed. Although bound by a deathbed promise to her husband to raise his orphaned niece, Jane, Mrs. Reed dislikes her and likewise her children are unkind to Jane, and frequently harp on Jane’s inferior social status. Jane's plainness, her perceptive and passionate nature, and her occasional "visions," or vivid dreams, do not help to secure her relatives' affections.

When tensions in her foster home escalate, Jane is sent to Lowood, a boarding school run by the inhumane Mr. Brocklehurst. Although Mr. Brocklehurst attempts to prejudice her fellow pupils against her as a "liar" (Mrs. Reed's accusation), she finds kindness both from Miss Temple, a teacher, and Helen Burns, a fellow student. Helen is learned and intelligent, has a patient and philosophical mind, and has an unwavering faith in God. Helen, although often chastised by teachers for her disorganisation and forgetfulness, is unfailingly humble and patient under chastisement, and encourages Jane to be so, also. To be so submissive is against Jane's nature; although Jane learns while at Lowood to hide her temper and character, the injustices of the world still burn in her soul.

After some time, a typhus epidemic sweeps through the school, worsened by the semi-starvation the pupils have been enduring. Many of the girls die, although Jane is unaffected. At the same time, Helen is dying of consumption, the fate that she accepts with an utterly calm and saintly attitude. After Helen's death and the typhus epidemic, conditions at Lowood improve. This is due to an inquiry of why typhus fever struck Lowood that revealed Mr. Brocklehurst's uncaring ways. Jane slowly finds her place at the institution, eventually becoming a teacher, but when her mentor, Miss Temple, marries and moves away, Jane decides to leave. She is desperate to see the world beyond Lowood and, at the age of eighteen, places an advertisement in the newspaper. She soon secures a position as governess in Thornfield Hall.

At first, her life at Thornfield is quiet. Jane's only companions are her pupil, Adèle, the young French ward of the absent Mr. Rochester, and Mrs. Fairfax, a genteel elderly widow who is Mr. Rochester's housekeeper. But everything changes when Edward Rochester, the owner of the manor, arrives. The manner of their meeting is unusual: on a dark winter's afternoon, Jane takes a walk to the nearest village to post a letter. On the way, she is startled by a large hound appearing eerily out of the mist; at first Jane takes the dog for the spirit Gytrash, but soon realises no supernatural forces are at work when a horse and rider follow after. Spooked by Jane's sudden appearance, the horse slips on some ice, and the rider is thrown to the ground. Jane comes to his aid, and assists him to mount his horse again, since he has twisted his ankle. His manner is abrupt and curt; he inquires of her where she lives, and what her position at Thornfield is, then rides away. Returning from her walk, she sees the same hound, and is informed by the servants that Mr. Rochester has returned - the mysterious traveller.

The next evening, Mr. Rochester sends for Jane to speak with him in the library, and she undergoes an odd sort of interview at his hands. His manner is still abrupt and rather harsh. He is about thirty-eight, dark haired and dark eyed, square of brow and strong of feature, and ruggedly athletic; however, he is not a handsome man, as Jane bluntly points out on one occasion. Mr. Rochester's quirks of temper surprise Jane at first, although they do not discompose her; she is more comfortable with honesty and poor manners than she is among the hypocrisies and smoothnesses of polite society. As Mr. Rochester seeks out her company more frequently, she comes to understand and respect him, and the two become friends. Mr. Rochester eventually takes Jane into his confidence, and reveals that Adèle may be his daughter, although he disbelieves this to be the case; she is, however, the illegitimate daughter of a French opera dancer with whom Mr. Rochester once had a liaison.

As their acquaintance grows closer, Jane finds herself falling in love with her employer; but she believes, despite the strong intellectual and emotional connection that has grown between them, that he cannot care for her because of her low status and plain looks. During this time an incident occurs, which turns out to be a foreshadowing of dark events to come. Startled awake by a noise in the hall, Jane goes into the corridor, hears a strange laugh and smells smoke coming from Mr. Rochester's room. Throwing open the door of his room, she discovers his bed-curtains ablaze, and Mr. Rochester deeply asleep on the bed. She manages to wake him and to extinguish the fire with water from the washstand. Mr. Rochester then leaves the room for several minutes. When he returns, he says he has resolved the matter to his satisfaction, and hints that the culprit is Grace Poole, an odd servant who lives on the otherwise abandoned third floor. He then takes Jane's hand and thanks her tenderly for saving his life; he seems reluctant for her to go. However, feeling cold (and aware that she and Mr. Rochester should not be alone in his bedroom in the middle of the night), she soon takes her leave.

The next morning, after encountering an oddly sanguine Grace Poole, Jane discovers that Mr. Rochester has just left to go and visit the family of a local beauty, Miss Blanche Ingram, and is not expected to return for some weeks. Within a few weeks, however, he brings Miss Ingram and other guests to Thornfield for an extended house party, and forces Jane to sit in company each evening, where she observes his attentions to the beautiful Miss Ingram. Although pained, Jane is not jealous, because she perceives that, while beautiful, Blanche is proud and unpleasant, and incapable of capturing Rochester's love. During the house party, another dramatic incident occurs. A mysterious Jamaican gentleman, a Mr. Richard Mason, appears, to Mr. Rochester's apparent distress. That night, the entire household is awakened by terrific yells. Mr. Rochester dismisses the fears of the guests by saying that a servant has had a bad dream. However, Jane knows better; she dresses herself and soon Mr. Rochester fetches her and takes her to the third storey, where Mason lies bleeding. He has been stabbed and bitten, although by what or whom it is not clear–perhaps Grace Poole. After promising not to say a word, Jane stays with Mason while Rochester fetches a surgeon. When the surgeon arrives, Rochester has Mason bundled out of the house before dawn.

As the house party continues, Jane receives a visit from her Aunt's coachman, informing her that her Aunt Reed is dying after suffering a stroke, and wishes to speak with her. Jane gains a reluctant leave of absence from Mr. Rochester and travels to Gateshead. She learns that her cousin John Reed had committed suicide following a long period of debauchery; the news of the suicide brought on Mrs. Reed’s stroke. Mrs. Reed dislikes Jane as much as ever, but wishes to clear her conscience before death by revealing to Jane that she had once received a letter from Jane's uncle John Eyre (on her father’s side long estranged), who having heard of Jane's friendless situation wished to make amends and adopt her. Mrs. Reed had spitefully replied to this letter that Jane was dead. She gives Jane the letter, and Jane freely forgives her, being finally moved out of her long anger at her aunt by pity. But Mrs. Reed doesn't want to make friends; once she has made her confession, she has no wish to see more of Jane. Eventually Mrs. Reed dies.

After a month, Jane returns to Thornfield. A few weeks after her return, Jane takes to the garden one evening for a walk. Mr. Rochester follows her there. He informs Jane that he has found a new situation for her, in Ireland; when he marries, Jane must go to her new position, and Adèle must go to boarding school. Hearing this news, Jane breaks down and weeps, saying that she finds it hard to bear the thought of leaving Thornfield and Mr. Rochester. Rochester then asks her to marry him, revealing that he has loved none but her all along; the charade with Miss Ingram was merely an attempt to induce Jane to love him by stirring her jealousy. Jane accepts his proposal, and they plan to be married in a month's time.

Although very happy, Jane finds her month of engagement to be something of a trial. Mr. Rochester wishes to lavish extravagant gifts and praise on her, but Jane feels oppressed by the sense that he is treating her as a sort of doll to dress up. She is haunted by comparisons with the attentions Mr. Rochester paid to former mistresses, such as Adèle's mother; she doesn’t want to be "kept", and fears that Mr. Rochester will tire of her after they are married, as he tired of his mistresses. In order to keep him in line, and satisfy her own conscience, she continues to serve as Adèle's governess throughout the month, and continually attempts to provoke Mr. Rochester into irritation, in order to keep him from becoming too sentimental.

Finally, the wedding morning arrives. However, barely has the ceremony started when it is interrupted by Richard Mason and his lawyer, who claim that the marriage cannot go on because Mr. Rochester still has a wife living: Mason's sister Bertha, a Creole whom he married fifteen years earlier in Jamaica. Mr. Rochester admits the marriage and takes the assembly to the "deserted" third floor of Thornfield. There he reveals that Mrs. Rochester is a violent lunatic kept under the care of Grace Poole; it is Bertha who was responsible for the fire that nearly killed Mr. Rochester, and for attacking her brother; by stealing the keys on several occasions when Grace Poole was drunk. Jane, in shock, retreats to her room. She stays there in mental anguish most of the day. When she finally emerges, Mr. Rochester tells her the story of how he was tricked into an arranged marriage with the wealthy Bertha Mason by his father, who knew the history of mental illness and drunkenness in her family. After the marriage, Rochester discovered that his wife's tastes were antipathetic in every way to his own, and that he hated her. After four years of unhappy marriage, Bertha went mad, and he brought her back to England where he confined her to Thornfield. Mr. Rochester then entreats Jane to stay with him and be his wife in all but law, but Jane refuses, although sorely tempted. Her strong internal moral guide will not allow her to become Mr. Rochester’s mistress.

Feeling that Rochester will attempt to detain her, and not trusting herself to resist temptation for much longer, Jane sneaks out from Thornfield in the middle of the night, with a meagre bundle of possessions and twenty shillings: all the money she has. She finds a passing coach and rides as far as her money will take her. She disembarks without a penny, and accidentally leaves her bundle of food and clothes in the coach. Completely destitute, she wanders to the nearest town, and attempts first to find work, then to beg for food. She sleeps out on the open moors for two nights, becoming ever hungrier and more desperate. Finally, starving, weather-beaten, and at the end of her strength, she collapses on the doorstep of a lonely cottage on the moor. One of the residents, St. John Rivers, a handsome young clergyman, takes pity on her and gives her shelter. St. John (pronounced "Sinjun") lives there with his sisters, Diana and Mary. The three nurse Jane back to health, and find her employment as the teacher of the village school. Jane begins to find life tolerable again, although she pines for Mr. Rochester. By a remarkable coincidence, Jane discovers that the Riverses are in fact her cousins, and that their mutual uncle, John Eyre, has died and left Jane his fortune of twenty thousand pounds. The Riverses were left out of the will due to an old family feud. Jane, in her gratitude, decides to share the inheritance equally among the four of them. This still leaves her a wealthy woman. Meanwhile, St. John, who plans to go to India as a missionary, has been teaching Jane Hindi (Hindostanee) and reveals that he wishes Jane to come to India with him as his wife. However, while Jane admires St. John and has a sisterly affection for him, she finds him cold and knows that he does not love her – is in fact incapable of the sort of love that Mr. Rochester had for her. She rejects him, but his force of personality and moral persuasion are difficult to refuse, and she is on the point of being browbeaten into coming to India, when she hears Mr. Rochester's anguished voice calling to her supernaturally.

Unable to bear any longer not knowing what has become of him, and whether he has returned in despair to his previous immoral ways, she returns to Thornfield. To her shock, she finds a hollow ruin - Thornfield has burned to the ground. From the local innkeeper, she learns that the insane Mrs. Rochester escaped one night and set the fire, then ran to the roof and threw herself off. Mr. Rochester attempted to stop her and failed, but returning through the burning house, was hit by a falling beam. One hand was crushed and had to be amputated, he lost one eye, and the sight of the other. He is now living in another house he owns, Ferndean Manor, about thirty miles off. Jane hurries to Ferndean. They are reunited, and though Mr. Rochester fears at first that Jane will no longer wish to marry him now that he is crippled and blind, she soon puts his fears to rest. Three days later, they are married.

Speaking from a vantage point ten years on, Jane tells of their happy marriage, and reveals that she has given birth to a son. Eventually Mr. Rochester regains some sight in his remaining eye. In the last paragraphs of the novel, she reads a letter from St. John Rivers, now apparently dying in India, but welcoming his impending union with his Saviour, echoing the death of Helen Burns near the beginning of the novel.

Spoilers end here.


The early sequences, in which the orphaned Jane is sent to Lowood, a harsh boarding school, are based on the author's own experiences. Two of her sisters died in childhood as a result of the conditions at their school, the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, near Tunstall in Lancashire. Mr Brocklehurst is based on the Revd William Carus Wilson (1791-1859), the founder of the school, and Helen Burns is a representation of Charlotte's sister Maria. These facts were revealed to the public in The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) by Charlotte's friend the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and caused considerable controversy at the time. The Gothic Thornfield was probably inspired by North Lees Hall, near Hathersage in the Peak District. This was visited by Charlotte Bronte and her friend Ellen Nussey in the summer of 1845 and described by Ellen Nussey in a letter dated 22 July 1845. It was the residence of the Eyre family and its first owner Agnes Ashurst was reputedly confined as a lunatic in a padded second floor room. (Davies 2006).

Literary motifs and allusions

Jane Eyre uses many motifs from Gothic fiction such as the Gothic Hall, the Byronic hero (Rochester) and the The Madwoman in the Attic (Bertha) who is perceived by Jane to resemble 'the foul German spectre - the vampire' (chapter 25) and who attacks her brother in a distinctly vampiric way: 'She sucked the blood: she said she'd drain my heart' (chapter 20). Literary allusions from the Bible, fairy tales, The Pilgrim's Progress, Paradise Lost and the novels and poetry of Sir Walter Scott are also much in evidence (Davies 2006). The novel also deliberately avoids some conventions of Victorian fiction, e.g. not contriving a deathbed reconciliation between Aunt Reed and Jane Eyre and avoiding the portrayal of a fallen woman.


A Christmas frost had come at mid-summer: a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hay-field and corn-field lay a frozen shroud ... and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and fragrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway. My hopes were all dead. ... (Chapter 26)


Jane Eyre has engendered numerous adaptations and related works inspired by the novel:

Silent film versions

  • Three adaptations entitled Jane Eyre were released; one in 1910, two in 1914.
  • 1915: Jane Eyre starring Louise Vale
  • 1915: A version was released called The Castle of Thornfield.
  • 1918: A version was released called Woman and Wife.
  • 1921: Jane Eyre starring Mabel Ballin
  • 1926: A version was made in Germany called Orphan of Lowood.

Sound film versions

  • 1934: This film featured Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce.
  • 1940: Rebecca (film), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based upon the novel of the same name which was influenced by Jane Eyre. Joan Fontaine, who starred in this film, would also be cast in the 1944 version of Jane Eyre to reinforce the connection.
  • 1943: I Walked with a Zombie is a horror movie based upon Jane Eyre.
  • 1944: Jane Eyre, with a screenplay by John Houseman and Aldous Huxley. It features Orson Welles as Rochester, Joan Fontaine as Jane, and Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns.
  • 1956: A version was made in Hong Kong called The Orphan Girl.
  • 1963: A version was released in Mexico called El Secreto (English: "The Secret").
  • 1970: Jane Eyre, starring George C. Scott as Rochester and Susannah York as Jane.
  • 1978: A version was released in Mexico called Ardiente Secreto (English: "Ardent Secret").
  • 1996: Jane Eyre, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring William Hurt as Rochester, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane, supermodel Elle Macpherson as Blanche Ingram, Anna Paquin as the young Jane, and Geraldine Chaplin as Miss Scatcherd.

Musical versions

  • A musical version with a book by John Caird and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, with Marla Schaffel as Jane and James Stacy Barbour as Rochester, opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on December 10, 2000. It closed on June 10, 2001.
  • An opera version was written in 2000 by English composer Michael Berkeley, with a libretto by David Malouf. It was given its premiere by Music Theatre Wales at the Cheltenham Festival.

Television versions

  • 1952: This was a live television production presented by "Westinghouse Studio One (Summer Theatre)"
  • Adaptations appeared on British and American television in 1956 and 1961.
  • 1963:Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Richard Leech as Rochester and Ann Bell as Jane.
  • 1973: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Michael Jayston as Rochester and Sorcha Cusack as Jane.
  • 1983: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Timothy Dalton as Rochester and Zelah Clarke as Jane.
  • 1997: Jane Eyre, with Ciaran Hinds as Rochester and Samantha Morton as Jane.
  • 2006: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Toby Stephens as Rochester, Ruth Wilson as Jane, and Georgie Henley as Young Jane.


  • 1938: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was partially inspired by Jane Eyre. ,
  • 1966: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. The character, Bertha Mason, serves as the main protagonist for this novel which acts as a "prequel" to Jane Eyre. It describes the meeting and marriage of Antoinette (later renamed Bertha by Rochester) and Rochester. In its reshaping of events related to Jane Eyre, the novel suggests that Bertha's madness is the result of Rochester's rejection of her and her Creole heritage. It was also adapted into film twice.
  • 1997: Mrs Rochester: A Sequel to Jane Eyre by Hilary Bailey
  • 2000: Adele: Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant
  • 2001 novel The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde revolves around the plot of Jane Eyre.
  • 2002: Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn, a science fiction novel based upon Jane Eyre
  • 2002: Jane Rochester by Kimberly A. Bennett
  • 2006: The French Dancer's Bastard: The Story of Adele From Jane Eyre by Emma Tennant. This is a slightly modified version of Tennant's 2000 novel.
  • 2007: Thornfield Hall: Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant. This is another version of Jane Eyre.
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