Title page of the first Jane Eyre edition
|Genre(s)||Gothic horror, social criticism, Bildungsroman|
|Publisher||Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill|
|Publication date||16 October 1847|
Jane Eyre (pron.: / /) is a famous and influential novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë. It was published in London, England in 1847 by Smith, Elder & Co. with the title Jane Eyre. An Autobiography under the pen name "Currer Bell". The first American edition came out the following year, published by Harper & Brothers of New York.
Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character. The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane's childhood at Gateshead, where she is emotionally and physically abused by her aunt and cousins; her education at Lowood School, where she acquires friends and role models but also suffers privations; her time as the governess of Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her Byronic employer, Edward Rochester; her time with the Rivers family at Marsh's End (or Moor House) and Morton, where her cold clergyman-cousin St John Rivers proposes to her; and her reunion with and marriage to her beloved Rochester. Partly autobiographical, the novel abounds with social criticism. It is a novel considered ahead of its time. In spite of the dark, brooding elements, it has a strong sense of right and wrong, of morality at its core.
Jane Eyre is divided into 38 chapters and most editions are at least 400 pages long (although the preface and introduction on certain copies are liable to take up another 100). The original was published in three volumes, comprising chapters 1 to 15, 16 to 26, and 27 to 38.
Brontë dedicated the novel's second edition to William Makepeace Thackeray.
Chapters 1–4: Jane's childhood at Gateshead
A ten-year-old orphan named Jane Eyre is living with her uncle's family, the Reeds, because her mother and father died of typhus. Jane's aunt, Sarah Reed, dislikes her intensely because she is seen as the enemy to her own children in Mr. Reed's affection. Her uncle died when she was only a few years old, after eliciting a promise from Sarah Reed that she would keep the child and raise her as her own. Her aunt and the three Reed children become physically and emotionally abusive. When violently attacked for no reason by her cousin John, Jane retaliates but is punished for the ensuing fight and is locked in the "red room," the room where Mr. Reed died. As night falls, Jane begins to have visions of her uncle Reed's ghost,and begins to emit panicked screams that rouse the house, but Mrs. Reed will not let her out. Jane faints and Mr. Lloyd, an apothecary, is summoned. He talks with Jane and sympathetically suggests that she should go away to school. No matter what she does she just cannot be accepted by this new family. After two months of waiting for arrangements to be made for her schooling Jane finds out that she will be attending Lowood school for girls. However, Sarah Reed tells the school's clergyman Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane is a wicked child, ruining future chances of happiness for her niece.
Chapters 5–10: Jane's education at Lowood School
Jane arrives at Lowood Institution, a charity school, with the accusation on her head that she is deceitful. During an inspection, Jane accidentally breaks her slate, and Mr. Brocklehurst, the self-righteous clergyman who runs the school, brands her as a liar and shames her before the entire assembly.
Jane is comforted by her friend, Helen Burns. Miss Temple, a caring teacher, facilitates Jane's self-defence and writes to Mr. Lloyd whose reply agrees with Jane's. Ultimately, Jane is publicly cleared of Mr. Brocklehurst's accusations.
While the Brocklehurst family lives in luxury, the eighty pupils are subjected to cold rooms, poor meals, and thin clothing. Many students fall ill when a typhus epidemic strikes. Jane's friend Helen dies of consumption in her arms.
When Mr. Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty are laid bare, several benefactors erect a new building and conditions at the school improve dramatically.
Chapters 11–26: Jane's time as governess at Thornfield Hall
Eight years later, Jane has become a teacher at Lowood, at a salary of 15 pounds per year. After her confidante and friend Miss Temple marries, Jane finds herself longing for liberty, or change or stimulus, or at least for a new servitude. She advertises her services as a governess, and receives only one reply. The reply is from Alice Fairfax, the housekeeper of Thornfield Hall. Jane takes the position of governess for Adèle Varens, a young French girl. Out walking one winter's day, Jane encounters a horseman riding up the road. As his horse comes upon Jane, it slips on the icy road and the rider is thrown. When he rises from the ground he realizes that he has sprained his ankle, at which point in time he calls Jane a witch and accuses her of bewitching his horse. Upon her return to Thornfield Hall, she discovers that the horseman is Edward Rochester, Master of Thornfield Hall. Rochester is a moody, self-willed man nearly twenty years older than Jane, and has travelled the world. Adèle is his ward, the daughter of a French "opera dancer," his former mistress, who raised Adèle to be as vain as himself, caring only to sing and dance and have pretty dresses and toys . Adèle is not his daughter, but after her mother abandons her, he brings her to England to raise her there, hoping that more healthy and wholesome circumstances, and a good English education, will rid her of these faults.
Mr. Rochester seems quite taken with Jane, and she enjoys his company, spending many evening hours talking with him and learning about the things he has seen in his travels. However, odd things begin to happen: a strange laugh is heard in the halls, a near-fatal fire mysteriously breaks out, and a guest named Mason is attacked.
Jane receives word that Mrs. Reed has suffered a stroke and is asking for her. Returning to Gateshead, she remains for over a month while her aunt lies dying. Mrs. Reed rejects Jane's efforts at reconciliation, but does give her a letter previously withheld out of spite. The letter is from John Eyre, Jane's uncle, notifying her that he wanted her to live with him in Madeira. Mrs. Reed tells Jane that she had told her uncle that she had died of the fever at Lowood. Very soon after, she dies. Jane stays a short while longer, helping her cousin Eliza with funeral arrangements and settling the household business, before Eliza leaves to become a nun.
After returning to Thornfield, Jane broods over Rochester's apparently impending marriage to Blanche Ingram. But on a midsummer evening, he proclaims his love for Jane and proposes. As she prepares for her wedding, Jane's forebodings arise when a strange, savage-looking woman sneaks into her room one night and rips her wedding veil in two. As with the previous mysterious events, Mr Rochester attributes the incident to drunkenness on the part of Grace Poole, one of his servants.
During the wedding ceremony, Mr. Mason and a lawyer burst in and declare that Mr. Rochester cannot marry because he is already married to Mr. Mason's sister. Mr. Rochester bitterly admits the truth, explaining that his wife is a violent madwoman. He was tricked by Mr. Mason and his father into marrying her after knowing her only a short while, never having seen her alone or had much conversation with her. Her madness soon becomes apparent, however, and he decides to bring her home with him to England to confine her safely, with an attendant-nurse, Grace Poole, to look after her needs. When Grace occasionally drinks too much, it gives his wife a chance to escape, and she is the true cause of Thornfield's strange events.
Mr. Rochester asks Jane to go with him to the south of France, and live as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. Refusing to go against her principles, and despite her love for him, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.
Chapters 27–35: Jane's time with the Rivers family
Jane travels to the north of England by coach, using the little money she has saved. After accidentally leaving the bundle with her few possessions in the coach, she sleeps on the moor and attempts to trade her scarf or gloves for food, but is turned away as a beggar, a thief, or worse. Exhausted, she makes her way to the home of Diana and Mary Rivers, but the housekeeper turns her away, believing she is up to no good. She nearly faints on the doorstep, speaking aloud as she makes herself ready for death, but is saved by St. John Rivers, a young clergyman, and brother to Diana and Mary. She gives them a false name and no clues as to her past or identity, to prevent Mr. Rochester from finding her. As she regains her health, St. John finds her a teaching position at a nearby charity school. Jane becomes warm friends with Mary and Diana, but St. John is too reserved for her to relate to, despite his efforts on her behalf. Jane sees that the brother and sisters have money-related worries, but does not inquire further.
When the sisters leave for governess jobs in London, St. John becomes more comfortable around Jane, evidencing his own conflicts of the heart, which involve the beautiful and wealthy Rosamond Oliver. When Jane confronts him about his feelings for Miss Oliver, he confesses that he has turned away from them, because he feels called to be a missionary, and he knows that Miss Oliver would not accept such a life.
St. John discovers Jane's true identity, and astounds her by showing her a letter stating that her uncle John has died and left her his entire fortune of £20,000, equivalent to £1,560,000 in today's pounds. When Jane questions him further, St. John reveals that John is also his and his sisters' uncle. They had once hoped for a share of the inheritance, but have since resigned themselves to nothing. Jane, overjoyed by finding her family, insists on sharing the money equally with her cousins, and Diana and Mary come home to Moor House to stay.
St. John asks Jane to accompany him to India as his wife. He asks solely because he wishes a good missionary's wife, a role in which he believes Jane will excel. She agrees to go, but refuses marriage, believing his reserve and reason incompatible with her warmth and passion. However, his powers of persuasion eventually begin to convince her to change her mind.
However, at that very moment, she suddenly seems to hear Mr. Rochester calling her name. The next morning, she leaves for Thornfield to ascertain Mr. Rochester's well-being.
Chapters 36–38: Jane's reunion with Mr. Rochester
Jane arrives at Thornfield to find only blackened ruins. She learns that Rochester's wife set the house on fire and committed suicide by jumping from the roof. In his rescue attempts, Mr. Rochester lost a hand and his eyesight. Jane reunites with him, but he fears that she will be repulsed by his condition. When Jane assures him of her love and tells him that she will never leave him, Mr. Rochester again proposes. He eventually recovers enough sight to see their first-born son.
- Jane Eyre: The protagonist of the novel and the title character. Orphaned as a baby, she struggles through her nearly loveless childhood and becomes governess at Thornfield Hall. Although she falls in love with her wealthy employer, Edward Rochester, her strong sense of conscience does not permit her to become his mistress, and she does not return to him until his insane wife is dead and she herself has come into an inheritance.
- Mr. Reed: Jane's maternal uncle, who adopts Jane when her parents die. Before his own death, he makes his wife promise to care for Jane.
- Mrs. Sarah Reed: Jane's aunt by marriage, who adopts Jane but neglects and abuses her. Her dislike of Jane continues to her death.
- John Reed: Jane's cousin, who bullies Jane constantly, sometimes in his mother's presence. He ruins himself as an adult and is believed to die by suicide.
- Eliza Reed: Jane's cousin. Bitter because she is not as attractive as her sister, she devotes herself self-righteously to religion.
- Georgiana Reed: Jane's cousin. Though spiteful and insolent, she is also beautiful and indulged. Her sister Eliza foils her marriage to a wealthy Lord. She also becomes a friend of Jane's towards the end of the novel and eventually marries a wealthy man.
- Bessie Lee: The plain-spoken nursemaid at Gateshead. She sometimes treats Jane kindly, telling her stories and singing her songs. Later she marries Robert Leaven.
- Robert Leaven: The coachman at Gateshead, who brings Jane the news of John Reed's death, which brought on Mrs. Reed's stroke.
- Mr. Lloyd: A compassionate apothecary who recommends that Jane be sent to school. Later, he writes a letter to Miss Temple confirming Jane's account of her childhood and thereby clearing Jane of Mrs. Reed's charge of lying.
- Mr. Brocklehurst: The clergyman headmaster and treasurer of Lowood School, whose mistreatment of the students is eventually exposed. “a black pillar…the grim face at the top was like a carved mask”. Mr. Brocklehurst appears a very serious and stern character, because everything about him shows little emotion “two inquisitive looking grey eyes which twinkled under a pair of bushy brows, said solemnly in a bass voice.”
- Miss Maria Temple: The kind superintendent of Lowood School, who treats Jane and Helen (and others) with respect and compassion. She helps clear Jane of Mr. Brocklehurst's false accusation of deceit.
- Miss Scatcherd: A sour and vicious teacher at Lowood.
- Helen Burns: A fellow-student and best friend of Jane's at Lowood School. She refuses to hate those who abuse her, trusting in God and turning the other cheek. She dies of consumption in Jane's arms. Some speculate that the book's author based Helen Burns on her elder sister Maria Brontë, who showed signs of dyspraxia.
- Edward Fairfax Rochester: The master of Thornfield Manor. A Byronic hero, he is tricked into making an unfortunate first marriage before he meets Jane.
- Bertha Antoinetta Mason: The violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester.
- Adèle Varens: An excitable French child to whom Jane is governess at Thornfield. She is Mr. Rochester's ward and possibly his daughter. However, Mr. Rochester denies this because her mother had been seeing another man behind his back and because he sees no resemblance to himself in her.
- Mrs. Alice Fairfax: An elderly widow and housekeeper of Thornfield Manor. She treats Jane kindly and respectfully, but disapproves of her engagement to Mr. Rochester.
- Leah: The young, pretty and kind housemaid at Thornfield, with an occasional excitable nature.
- Blanche Ingram: A socialite whom Mr. Rochester appears to court in order to make Jane jealous. She is described as having great beauty, but displays callous behaviour and avaricious intent.
- Richard Mason: An Englishman from the West Indies, whose sister is Mr. Rochester's first wife. His appearance at Thornfield heralds the eventual revelation of Bertha Mason.
- Grace Poole: Bertha Mason's keeper. Jane is told that it is Grace Poole who causes the mysterious things to happen at Thornfield Hall.
- St. John Eyre Rivers: A clergyman who befriends Jane and turns out to be her cousin. He is Jane Eyre's cousin on her father's side. He is a devout Christian of Calvinistic leanings. By nature he is very reserved and single-minded.
- Diana and Mary Rivers: St. John's sisters and (as it turns out) Jane's cousins.
- Rosamond Oliver: A wealthy young woman who patronizes the village school where Jane teaches, and who is attracted to the Rev. St. John.
- Alice Wood: Jane's maid when she is mistress of the girls' charity school in Morton.
- John Eyre: Jane's paternal uncle, who leaves her his vast fortune. He never appears as a character.
Jane refuses to become Mr. Rochester's paramour because of her "impassioned self-respect and moral conviction." She rejects St. John Rivers' Puritanism as much as the libertine aspects of Mr. Rochester's character. Instead, she works out a morality expressed in love, independence, and forgiveness.
God and Religion
Throughout the novel, Jane endeavours to attain an equilibrium between moral duty and earthly happiness. She despises the hypocritical puritanism of Mr. Brocklehurst, and sees the deficiencies in St. John Rivers' detached devotion to his Christian duty. As a child she partly admires Helen Burns' turning the other cheek, which helps her to forgive Aunt Reed and the Reed cousins. Although she does not seem to subscribe to any of the standard forms of popular Christianity, she honours traditional morality - in particular in not marrying Rochester until he is widowed. The last sentence of the novel (which is also the next to last line of the Bible) is a prayer on behalf of St. John Rivers. Religion acts to moderate her behaviour but she never represses her true self.
In her preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Brontë made clear her belief that "conventionality is not morality" and "self-righteousness is not religion." She declared that "narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ." Throughout the novel, Brontë presents contrasts between characters who believe in and practice what she considers a true Christianity, and those who pervert religion to further their own ends. Mr. Brocklehurst, who oversees Lowood Institution, is a hypocritical Christian. He professes charity but uses religion as a justification for punishment. For example, he cites the Biblical passage "man shall not live by bread alone" to rebuke Miss Temple for having fed the girls an extra meal to compensate for their inedible breakfast of burnt porridge. He tells Miss Temple that she "may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!" Helen Burns is a complete contrast to Brocklehurst; she follows the Christian creed of turning the other cheek and loving those who hate her. On her deathbed, Helen tells Jane that she is "going home to God, who loves her."
Jane herself cannot quite profess Helen's absolute, selfless faith. Jane does not seem to follow a particular doctrine, but she is sincerely religious in a nondoctrinaire way. (It is Jane, after all, who places the stone with the word "Resurgam" (Latin for 'I will rise again') on Helen's grave, some fifteen years after her friend's death.) Jane frequently prays and calls on God to assist her, particularly in her trouble with Mr. Rochester. She prays too that Mr. Rochester is safe. When the Rivers's housekeeper, Hannah, tries to turn the begging Jane away, Jane tells her that "if you are a Christian, you ought not consider poverty a crime." The young evangelical clergyman St. John Rivers is a more conventionally religious figure. However, Brontë portrays his religious aspect ambiguously. Jane calls him "a very good man," yet she finds him cold and forbidding. In his determination to do good deeds (in the form of missionary work in India), St. John courts martyrdom. Moreover, he is unable to see Jane as a whole person, but views her as a helpmate in his proposed missionary work. Mr. Rochester is far less a perfect Christian. He is, indeed, a sinner: he attempts to enter into a bigamous marriage with Jane and, when that fails, tries to persuade her to become his mistress. He also confesses that he has had three previous mistresses. In the end, however, he repents his sinfulness, thanks God for returning Jane to him, and begs God to give him the strength to lead a purer life.
Jane's ambiguous social position — a penniless yet moderately educated orphan from a good family — leads her to criticise discrimination based on class. Although she is educated, well-mannered, and relatively sophisticated, she is still a governess, a paid servant of low social standing, and therefore powerless. Nevertheless, Brontë possesses certain class prejudices herself, as is made clear when Jane has to remind herself that her unsophisticated village pupils at Morton "are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy."
A particularly important theme in the novel is the depiction of a patriarchal society. Jane attempts to assert her own identity within male-dominated society. Three of the main male characters, Mr. Brocklehurst, Mr. Rochester and St. John, try to keep Jane in a subordinate position and prevent her from expressing her own thoughts and feelings. Jane escapes Mr. Brocklehurst and rejects St. John, and she only marries Mr. Rochester once she is sure that their marriage is one between equals. Through Jane, Brontë opposes Victorian stereotypes about women, articulating her own feminist philosophy:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. (Chapter XII)
Love and Passion
One of the secrets to the success of Jane Eyre lies in the way that it touches on a number of important themes while telling a compelling story. Indeed, so lively and dramatic is the story that the reader might not be fully conscious of all the thematic strands that weave through this work. Critics have argued about what comprises the main theme of Jane Eyre. There can be little doubt, however, that love and passion together form a major thematic element of the novel.
On its most simple and obvious level, Jane Eyre is a love story. The love between the orphaned and initially impoverished Jane and the wealthy but tormented Mr. Rochester is at its heart. The obstacles to the fulfilment of this love provide the main dramatic conflict in the work. However, the novel explores other types of love as well. Helen Burns, for example, exemplifies the selfless love of a friend. We also see some of the consequences of the absence of love, as in the relationship between Jane and Mrs. Reed, in the selfish relations among the Reed children, and in the mocking marriage of Mr. Rochester and Bertha. Jane realizes that the absence of love between herself and St. John Rivers would make their marriage a living death, too.
Throughout the work, Brontë suggests that a life that is not lived passionately is not lived fully. Jane undoubtedly is the central passionate character; her nature is shot through with passion. Early on, she refuses to live by Mrs. Reed's rules, which would restrict all passion. Her defiance of Mrs. Reed is her first, but by no means her last, passionate act. Her passion for Mr. Rochester is all consuming. Significantly, however, it is not the only force that governs her life. She leaves Mr. Rochester because her moral reason tells her that it would be wrong to live with him as his mistress: "Laws and principles are not for the time when there is no temptation," she tells Mr. Rochester; "they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise against their rigor."
Blanche Ingram feels no passion for Mr. Rochester; she is only attracted to the landowner because of his wealth and social position. St. John Rivers is a more intelligent character than Blanche, but like her he also lacks the necessary passion that would allow him to live fully. His marriage proposal to Jane has no passion behind it; rather, he regards marriage as a business arrangement, with Jane as his potential junior partner in his missionary work. His lack of passion contrasts sharply with Rochester, who positively seethes with passion. His injury in the fire at Thornfield may be seen as a chastisement for his past passionate indiscretions and as a symbolic taming of his passionate excesses.
Jane Eyre is not only a love story; it is also a plea for the recognition of the individual's worth. Throughout the book, Jane demands to be treated as an independent human being, a person with her own needs and talents. Early on, she is unjustly punished, precisely for being herself — first by Mrs. Reed and John Reed, and subsequently by Mr. Brocklehurst. Her defiance of Mrs. Reed is her first active declaration of independence in the novel, but not her last. Helen Burns and Miss Temple are the first characters to acknowledge her as an individual; they love her for herself, in spite of her obscurity. Mr. Rochester too loves her for herself; the fact that she is a governess and therefore his servant does not negatively affect his perception of her. Mr. Rochester confesses that his ideal woman is intellectual, faithful, and loving — qualities that Jane embodies. His acceptance of Jane as an independent person is contrasted by Blanche and Lady Ingram's attitude toward her: they see her merely as a servant. Lady Ingram speaks disparagingly of Jane in front of her face as though Jane isn't there. To her, Jane is an inferior barely worthy of notice, and certainly not worthy of respect. And even though she is his cousin, St. John Rivers does not regard Jane as a full, independent person. Rather, he sees her as an instrument, an accessory that would help him to further his own plans. Jane acknowledges that his cause (missionary work) may be worthy, but she knows that to marry simply for the sake of expedience would be a fatal mistake. Her marriage to Mr. Rochester, by contrast, is the marriage of two independent beings. It is because of their independence, Brontë suggests, that they acknowledge their dependence on each other and are able to live happily ever after.
Atonement and Forgiveness
Much of the religious concern in Jane Eyre has to do with atonement and forgiveness. Mr. Rochester is tormented by his awareness of his past sins and misdeeds. He frequently confesses that he has led a life of vice, and many of his actions in the course of the novel are less than commendable. Readers may accuse him of behaving sadistically in deceiving Jane about the nature of his relationship (or rather, non-relationship) with Blanche Ingram in order to provoke Jane's jealousy. His confinement of Bertha may bespeak mixed motives. He is certainly aware that in the eyes of both religious and civil authorities, his marriage to Jane before Bertha's death would be bigamous. Yet, at the same time, Mr. Rochester makes genuine efforts to atone for his behaviour. For example, although he does not believe that he is Adèle's natural father, he adopts her as his ward and sees that she is well cared for. This adoption may well be an act of atonement for the sins he has committed. He expresses his self-disgust at having tried to console himself by having three different mistresses during his travels in Europe and begs Jane to forgive him for these past transgressions. However, Mr. Rochester can only atone completely — and be forgiven completely — after Jane has refused to be his mistress and left him. The destruction of Thornfield by fire finally removes the stain of his past sins; the loss of his right hand and of his eyesight is the price he must pay to atone completely for his sins. Only after this purgation can he be redeemed by Jane's love.
Search for Home and Family
Without any living family that she is aware of (until well into the story), throughout the course of the novel Jane searches for a place that she can call home. Significantly, houses play a prominent part in the story. (In keeping with a long English tradition, all the houses in the book have names.) The novel's opening finds Jane living at Gateshead Hall, but this is hardly a home. Mrs. Reed and her children refuse to acknowledge her as a relation, treating her instead as an unwanted intruder and an inferior.
Shunted off to Lowood Institution, a boarding school for orphans and destitute children, Jane finds a home of sorts, although her place here is ambiguous and temporary. The school's manager, Mr. Brocklehurst, treats it more as a business than as school in loco parentis (in place of the parent). His emphasis on discipline and on spartan conditions at the expense of the girls' health make it the antithesis of the ideal home.
Jane subsequently believes she has found a home at Thornfield Hall. Anticipating the worst when she arrives, she is relieved when she is made to feel welcome by Mrs. Fairfax. She feels genuine affection for Adèle (who in a way is also an orphan) and is happy to serve as her governess. As her love for Mr. Rochester grows, she believes that she has found her ideal husband in spite of his eccentric manner and that they will make a home together at Thornfield. The revelation — as they are on the verge of marriage — that he is already legally married — brings her dream of home crashing down. Fleeing Thornfield, she literally becomes homeless and is reduced to begging for food and shelter. The opportunity of having a home presents itself when she enters Moor House, where the Rivers sisters and their brother, the Reverend St. John Rivers, are mourning the death of their father. She soon speaks of Diana and Mary Rivers as her own sisters, and is overjoyed when she learns that they are indeed her cousins. She tells St. John Rivers that learning that she has living relations is far more important than inheriting twenty thousand pounds. (She mourns the uncle she never knew. Earlier she was disheartened on learning that Mrs. Reed told her uncle that Jane had died and sent him away.) However, St. John Rivers' offer of marriage cannot sever her emotional attachment to Rochester. In an almost visionary episode, she hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling her to return to him. The last chapter begins with the famous simple declarative sentence, "Reader, I married him," and after a long series of travails Jane's search for home and family ends in a union with her ideal mate.
The early sequences, in which Jane is sent to Lowood, a harsh boarding school, are derived from the author's own experiences. Helen Burns's death from tuberculosis (referred to as consumption) recalls the deaths of Charlotte Brontë's sisters Elizabeth and Maria, who died of the disease in childhood as a result of the conditions at their school, the Clergy Daughters School at Cowan Bridge, near Tunstall, Lancashire. Mr. Brocklehurst is based on Rev. William Carus Wilson (1791–1859), the Evangelical minister who ran the school, and Helen Burns is likely modelled on Charlotte's sister Maria. Additionally, John Reed's decline into alcoholism and dissolution recalls the life of Charlotte's brother Branwell, who became an opium and alcohol addict in the years preceding his death. Finally, like Jane, Charlotte becomes a governess. These facts were revealed to the public in The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) by Charlotte's friend and fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.
The Gothic manor of Thornfield was probably inspired by North Lees Hall, near Hathersage in the Peak District. This was visited by Charlotte Brontë and her friend Ellen Nussey in the summer of 1845 and is described by the latter 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.
Literary motifs and allusions
Jane Eyre uses many motifs from Gothic fiction, such as the Gothic manor (Thornfield), the Byronic hero (Mr. Rochester) and The Madwoman in the Attic (Bertha), whom Jane perceives as resembling "the foul German spectre—the Vampyre" (Chapter XXV) and who attacks her own brother in a distinctly vampiric way: "She sucked the blood: she said she'd drain my heart" (Chapter XX). The mystery of Thornfield manor with its dark secrets creates a typically Gothic atmosphere of suspense. When resolved, we then get the theme of madness, also common in Gothic fiction, as is the motif of two characters, John Reed and Bertha Mason, who commit suicide. Although the novel contains no overt supernatural occurrences, hints of apparently supernatural happenings are frequently mentioned such as Jane's prophetic dreams, her sense of the ghost of her uncle, or the lightning striking the oak tree on the night before her wedding.
Jane Eyre also combines gothicism with romanticism to create a distinctive Victorian novel. Jane and Rochester are attracted to each other, but there are impediments to their love. The conflicting personalities of the two lead characters and the norms of society are an obstacle to their love, as often occurs in romance novels, but so also is Rochester's secret marriage to Bertha, the main Gothic element of the story.
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. John Reed is compared to Caligula. Jane is compared to Guy Fawkes. Both Biblical figures like Samson and mythological figures like Apollo are referred to at various times.
There have been numerous adaptations and related works inspired by Jane Eyre .
A 2009 Washington Post article (reviewing a novel about Charlotte Bronte's writing of this novel) credited Orson Welles, Timothy Dalton, and William Hurt as having the most memorable performances of Mr. Rochester. This refers to the two best-known of the three English-language speaking theatrical films and the 1983 television mini-series which is by far the longest at 5 and 1/2 hours, and has been argued to be the most faithful to the book of all versions.
Television adaptations easily available on home video include the 1970 version with George C. Scott (released as a movie in Europe), the 4 and 1/2 1973 BBC mini-series, and recent adaptations with Samantha Morton (1997) and the 4 hour 2006 BBC mini-series.
Motion picture versions (1910–1926)
Several silent film adaptations entitled Jane Eyre were released; one in 1910, two in 1914, plus:
- 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, directed by Edward José, adapted by Paul West, starring Alice Brady as Jane.
- 1921: Jane Eyre starring Mabel Ballin and directed by Hugo Ballin.
- 1926: A youth version was made in Germany called Orphan of Lowood.
Motion picture versions (1934–2011)
- 1934: Jane Eyre, starring Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce.
- 1943: I Walked with a Zombie is a horror movie loosely based upon Jane Eyre.
- 1944: Jane Eyre, with a screenplay by John Houseman and Aldous Huxley. It features Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester, Joan Fontaine as Jane, Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed, Margaret O'Brien as Adele and Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns.
Joan Fontaine had earlier starred in Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based upon the novel of the same name which was influenced by Jane Eyre.
- 1952: Sangdil, also known as Jane Eyre starring Madhubala
- 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 Mr. Rochester and Susannah York as Jane. (Released in theatres in Europe but television in the United States. Also listed below.)
- 1972: An Indian adaptation in Telugu, Shanti Nilayam, directed by C. Vaikuntarama Sastry, starring Anjali Devi.
- 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 Mr. Rochester, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane, Elle Macpherson as Blanche Ingram, Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fairfax, Anna Paquin as the young Jane, Fiona Shaw as Mrs. Reed and Geraldine Chaplin as Miss Scatcherd.
- 2011: Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as Rochester.
- A two-act ballet of Jane Eyre was created for the first time by the London Children's Ballet in 1994, with an original score by composer Julia Gomelskaya and choreography by Polyanna Buckingham. The run was a sell-out success.
- 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 Mr. Rochester, opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on 10 December 2000. It closed on 10 June 2001.
- Jane Eyre, opera in three acts, Op. 134 was composed by John Joubert in 1987–1997 to a libretto by Kenneth Birkin after the novel.
- An opera based on the novel 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.
- Jane Eyre was played for the first time in Europe in Beveren, Belgium. It was given its premiere at the cultural centre.
- The ballet "Jane," based on the book was created in 2007, a Bullard/Tye production with music by Max Reger. Its world premiere was scheduled at the Civic Auditorium, Kalamazoo, Michigan, June 29 and 30, performed by the Kalamazoo Ballet Company, Therese Bullard, Director.
- A musical production directed by Debby Race, book by Jana Smith and Wayne R. Scott, with a musical score by Jana Smith and Brad Roseborough, premiered in 2008 at the Lifehouse Theatre in Redlands, California
- A symphony (7th) by Michel Bosc premiered in Bandol (France), 11 October 2009.
Radio show versions
- 1943: Extremely loose adaptation (primarily chapters 11–26) on The Weird Circle, premiering on 11 November.
- 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 Mr. Rochester and Ann Bell as Jane.
- 1970: Jane Eyre, starring George C. Scott as Mr. Rochester and Susannah York as Jane. (Released in theatres in Europe but television in the United States. Also listed above.)
- 1973: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Sorcha Cusack as Jane, Michael Jayston as Mr. Rochester, Juliet Waley as the child Jane, and Tina Heath as Helen Burns.
- 1978: Telenovela El Ardiente Secreto (English The impassioned secret) was an adaptation of this novel.
- 1982: BBC Classics Presents: Jane Eyrehead. A parody movie by SCTV starred Andrea Martin as Jane Eyrehead, Joe Flaherty as Mr. Rochester, also starting John Candy, Eugene Levy, and Martin Short in supporting roles.
- 1983: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Zelah Clarke as Jane, Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester, Sian Pattenden as the child Jane, and Colette Barker as Helen Burns.
- 1997: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the A&E Network and starred Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Rochester and Samantha Morton as Jane.
- 2006: Jane Eyre. It was produced by the BBC and starred Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester, Ruth Wilson as Jane, and Georgie Henley as Young Jane.
- 2003: Jane Eyre. The Graphic Novel. Script Adaptation: Amy Corzine; Artwork: John M. Burns; Lettering: Terry Wiley; Classical Comics Ltd.
Literature inspired by the novel
- 1997: Mrs. Rochester: A Sequel to Jane Eyre by Hilary Bailey
- The novelist Angela Carter was working on a sequel to Jane Eyre at the time of her death in 1992. This was to have been the story of Jane's stepdaughter Adèle Varens and her mother Céline. Only a synopsis survives.
- 2000: Jane Rochester by Kimberly A. Bennett, content explores the first years of the Rochesters' marriage with gothic and explicit content.
- 2009: Adele, Grace, and Celine: The Other Women of Jane Eyre by Claire Moise. This both retells the story from the point of view of three other women and explains their fate after the main events of the story.
- 2008: Jane Eyre's Daughter by Elizabeth Newark. A fully grown daughter of Jane Eyre must choose between two men.
- 1938: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was partially inspired by Jane Eyre.
- 1958: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart makes implicit and explicit reference to Jane Eyre. The novel is a gothic romance set in a remote French chateau in the 1950s. The heroine, Linda, is, like Jane, an orphan who takes on the role of governess, this time to a young boy. She compares her situation to that of Jane Eyre on several occasions. Motifs from Eyre also appear in Stewart's The Ivy Tree (1961) but without explicit references to the novel.
- 2002: Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn, a science fiction novel based upon Jane Eyre
- 2010: Jane Slayre by Sherri Browning Erwin/Charlotte Bronte. Part of the popular series begun by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this has Jane Eyre battling vampires while also working through the events of the original story.
- 2010 Sloane Hall by Libby Sternberg, a retelling set in 1929 Hollywood as films shifted from silent to sound.
- 2007: Thornfield Hall: Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant. This is another version of Jane Eyre.
- 2010: I am Jane Eyre by Teana Rowland. This is a version of Jane Eyre which delves in to some of the unexplained aspects of the novel.
- 2010: Jane by April Lindner. Set in the 20th century with Mr. Rochester as Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rockstar.
- 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 Mr. Rochester) and Mr. Rochester. In its reshaping of events related to Jane Eyre, the novel suggests that Bertha's madness not congenital, but rather the result of terrible childhood experiences, and Mr. Rochester's uncaring treatment of her. It was also adapted into film twice.
- 2001: The novel The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde revolves around the plot of Jane Eyre. It portrays the book as originally largely free of literary contrivance: Jane and Mr. Rochester's first meeting is a simple conversation without the dramatic horse accident, and Jane does not hear his voice calling for her and ends up starting a new life in India. The protagonist's efforts mostly accidentally change it to the real version.
- 2009: Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler. A novel about Charlotte Brontë writing the story.
- 2009: Jane Airhead by Kay Woodward. A novel about a present-day teenage girl obsessed with Jane Eyre.
- Retellings from Other Character's point-of-view
- 2000: Adele: Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant
- 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.
- 2010: Rochester: A Novel Inspired by Jane Eyre by J.L. Niemann. Jane Eyre told from the first person-perspective of Edward Rochester.