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Jane Eyre

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the Victorian novel. For other uses, see Jane Eyre (disambiguation).

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 of all time.

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.

It was also after the publication of Jane Eyre that Charlotte decided to reveal the true identity of Currer Bell, which put an end to some great public effort to pinpoint the book's author (even Thackeray himself had been among the nominees, and it may be noted here that Charlotte's dedicating the book to him was to cause her some greater embarrassment, when she found out about the parallels between the book's plot and Thackeray's domestic situation).

The story is that of a governess, Jane Eyre. Despite her plainness, she captures the heart of her enigmatic employer, Edward Rochester, but soon discovers he has a secret that could jeopardize any hope of happiness between them.

Plot summary

The narrator and main character, Jane Eyre, is a poor orphan with a joyless life as a child in the opening chapters. Her wealthy aunt, the widowed Mrs. Reed, is bound by a deathbed promise to her husband to raise his orphaned niece, Jane. However, she and her children are unkind to Jane, never failing to emphasize how she is below them. Jane's plain, intelligent, and passionate nature, combined with her occasional "visions" or vivid dreams, certainly do not help to secure her relatives' affections.

Thomas Bewick's A History of British Birds illustration which Jane terms "an object of terror."
Thomas Bewick's A History of British Birds illustration which Jane terms "an object of terror."

When tensions escalate, Jane is sent to Lowood, a boarding school run by the inhumane Mr. Brocklehurst. She is soon branded a liar, which hurts her even more than malnutrition and cold, but Miss Temple, the teacher Jane admires, later clears her of these charges. She also finds her only friend in Helen Burns, who is very learned and intelligent, has a patient and philosophical mind, and believes firmly in God. Helen is often singled out for punishment by a teacher, Miss Scatcherd, who claims she is a bad child because she is disorganized, incompetent, and often late. Helen accepts these faults, and teaches Jane to accept discipline in order to improve her fiery temper and character. While Jane responds to the injustices of the world with a barely contained burning temper, Helen accepts earthly sufferings, including her own premature death from consumption (now known as tuberculosis;TB), with calmness and a martyr-like attitude.

After a serious typhus epidemic occurs simultaneously with Helen's death, the conditions in Lowood improve and Jane slowly finds her place in the institution, eventually becoming a teacher. When Miss Temple marries and moves away, Jane decides to change careers. She is desperate to see the world beyond Lowood and puts out an advertisement in the local paper, soon securing a position as governess in Thornfield Hall.

At first, life is very quiet with Jane teaching a young French girl, Adelé, and spending time with the old housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. But everything changes when the owner of the manor—brooding, Byronic, fiery Edward Rochester—arrives. Though on rough footing at first, he and Jane slowly become acquainted with and grow to respect each other. Mr. Rochester creates an elaborate set-up by seemingly courting a proud local beauty named Miss Blanche Ingram until Jane cannot bear it any longer. Mr. Rochester then admits that his courtship of Miss Ingram was a ruse to arouse Jane's jealousy and that it is she whom he truly loves. His feelings are returned, and they become engaged despite their differences in social status, age, and experience. Jane is young and innocent at nineteen years old, while Rochester is nearly forty—worldly, and thoroughly disillusioned with life and religion. Jane is determined to stay modest, plain, and virtuous, and Rochester is almost equally determined to offer her expensive presents and finery. The former has the moral high ground, though, and the weeks before the wedding are spent mostly as she wishes.

The wedding ceremony is interrupted by Mr. Mason, who declares that Mr. Rochester is already married to Mr. Mason's sister. His mad wife Bertha Mason, a Creole from Jamaica whom his family wanted him to marry (for the money), resides in a room on the third floor of Thornfield Hall, and her presence explains all sorts of mysterious events that have taken place during Jane's stay in Thornfield. Mr. Rochester offers to take her abroad to live with him, but Jane is not willing to sacrifice her morals or self-respect for earthly pleasures, let alone accept the status of mistress, even though Rochester insists Jane will break his heart if she refuses him. Torn between her love for Rochester and her own integrity and religion, Jane flees Thornfield in the middle of the night, with very little money and nowhere to go.

She wanders for a few days and finally finds safe haven, under an alias, with a vicar, St. John Rivers(pronounced Sin Jin), and his two sisters. They bond, and in due course Jane is given a position as village schoolteacher. Later, St. John learns Jane's true identity, and, by an incredible coincidence, it transpires that he and his sisters are actually her cousins. Additionally, Jane conveniently inherits a large sum of money from an uncle who lived abroad and who had been searching for her for years — but due to the lies of Mrs. Reed, was unable to find her. The cousins are left without inheritance because of an old family feud, but — over their objections — Jane insists on dividing the money so that all four of them are now financially secure. This gives St. John the means to pursue his true calling, to go to India as a missionary, but first he proposes a marriage of convenience to Jane in order for her to accompany him. They do not love each other, but by marrying they could do good works together as missionaries. Though this is her opportunity to choose a husband of high morals, she declines because the marriage would lack love. Despite her refusal, he insists they must be married if they are to go to India. Jane nearly succumbs to his proposal, but at the last minute, in another supernatural episode, she hears Rochester's voice calling her in the wind, and feels the need to respond to it.

Jane immediately travels to Thornfield Hall, only to find it destroyed by a fire and abandoned. She learns that Mr. Rochester lost a hand, an eye, and sight in the other eye as a result of an unsuccessful attempt to save Bertha from the flames, of which she was the cause. Upon acquiring the knowledge of his location, at a country manor called Ferndean, she sets off for it. She and Mr. Rochester reconcile and marry, for he has adopted love and religion. She writes from the perspective of ten years after their marriage, during which she gave birth to a son and Mr. Rochester gained part of his sight back. Jane's long quest to find love and a sense of belonging is finally fulfilled. The book ends with a look at the noble missionary death of St. John Rivers far away in India, most likely representing the righteousness of the path Jane did not take.


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.


See main article: Jane Eyre on Wikiquote


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

Silent film versions

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

Sound film versions

  • 1934: This film featured Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce. [1]
  • 1940: Rebecca (film), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based upon the novel of the same name which was influenced by Jane Eyre. [2]Joan Fontaine, who starred in this film, would also be cast in the 1944 version of Jane Eyre to reinforce the connection. [3]
  • 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.

Television versions

  • 1952: This was a live television production presented by "Westinghouse Studio One (Summer Theatre)" [4]
  • Adaptations appeared on British and American television in 1956, 1961, and 1963.
  • 1973: Jane Eyre, with Michael Jayston as Rochester and Sorcha Cusack as Jane.
  • 1983: Jane Eyre, with 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, with 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. [5], [6]
  • 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
  • 2002: Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn, a science fiction novel based upon Jane Eyre
  • 2006: The French Dancer's Bastard: The Story of Adele From Jane Eyre by Emma Tennant (forthcoming)
  • 2007: Thornfield Hall: Jane Eyre's Hidden Story by Emma Tennant (forthcoming)

The 2001 novel The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde revolves around the plot of Jane Eyre.

External links

  • Jane Eyre at The Victorian Web
  • Jane Eyre at the Brontë Parsonage Museum Website
  • BrontëBlog

The novel online

  • A page by page reproduction of the Penguin Classics version of Jane Eyre
  • A page by page reproduction of the Oxford World Classics version of Jane Eyre
  • Full text of Jane Eyre at Project Gutenberg
  • Jane Eyre - full text – Complete book in HTML, formatted for easy printing
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