Irony in Jane Eyre

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, is one of English literature's most iconic love stories. Bronte masterfully uses irony to tell a story in which the world is not always as it appears, and things don't always turn out as expected.

Isn't It Ironic?

What happens when that prime piece of technology you've finally saved enough to buy goes on sale for half price the day after you bought it? Or when the dream guy or girl you've been pining for for ages turns out to be the worst date you've had in your life? If something like this has ever happened to you, you've felt the sting of irony. Irony turns Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre from a simple story of an impoverished governess in love with a rich bad boy, Mr. Rochester, into a chilling Gothic mystery. Jane Eyre is a novel of twists and turns, sinister secrets, and life-altering surprises.

Charlotte Bronte
Bronte

The Good Girl and the Bad Boy

Perhaps the most significant ironic element is the love between Jane and Rochester itself. Jane is a paragon of virtue, the ideal model of a nineteenth century British woman. Jane is moral, upstanding, and driven by a powerful sense of right and wrong. Mr. Rochester is the opposite of Jane. He takes one mistress after another and doesn't much care who knows it. He spends his life drinking and carousing across Europe.

Even so, there is something in Rochester that makes Jane's heart sing. Nothing captures a virtuous woman like a man in need of saving and a soul in need of redemption. Rochester's heart softens for Jane. She's no great beauty--not a beauty at all, in fact. She has no money, no family, and no name. She is, ironically, the last woman a man with breeding and fortune should want to marry, and yet she's the first that Rochester wants. After all, he's seen all the society girls you can imagine, and he wants none of them.

Jane and Rochester together
Jane

Too Many Brides, Not Enough Grooms

Perhaps the only thing more unexpected than the good girl and the bad boy falling in love is discovering that somebody else got to him first. The secret that has turned Rochester bitter is that he has a wife: Bertha Mason. Bertha's and Rochester's marriage was more of a business arrangement than it was a love match. Rochester had a family name and no money. Bertha had money and no name. Sounds like a perfect union, right? Wrong. The couple's marriage quickly disintegrates, and Bertha falls into mental illness.

By the time Jane arrives on the scene as governess of Rochester's ward, Adele, Bertha Mason is stark raving mad, secretly locked in the attic of Rochester's estate, Thornfield Hall. Rochester himself describes the irony: the bride he wants, Jane, is cool, sedate, and rational. Bertha, the bride he has, is tempestuous, volatile, and wildly irrational. Even more ironic: Rochester's secret is revealed at the wedding altar, seconds before he and Jane take their vows. The virtuous and seemingly incorruptible Jane is seconds away from becoming not a wife, but an adulteress.

The death of Bertha Mason
Bertha

The No Longer Penniless Orphan

After the disastrous near-wedding, Jane leaves Mr. Rochester and strikes out on her own. She quickly finds herself lost and penniless, when, in her distracted state, she leaves her money and belongings in the carriage she hired to take her away from Thornfield. Jane wanders the English moors, until, nearly starved and frozen, she collapses at the doorstep of the Rivers siblings, Diana, Mary, and St. John. They take her in, nurse her back to health, and even find her a job as the headmistress of the village school.

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