Jane Eyre: Summary, Characters and Analysis

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  • 0:11 A Fictional Autobiography
  • 0:57 An Orphan's Exposition
  • 1:58 Life Outside Lowood
  • 3:39 Wedding Woes
  • 4:55 Life on the Heath
  • 6:26 Viewer, She Married Him
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Sjol
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, was first published in 1847 under Bronte's pseudonym, Currier Bell. It's about a girl named - not surprisingly - Jane Eyre, and it's a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story that follows Jane from childhood through motherhood. Many elements of Jane's life are similar to events in Charlotte Bronte's life. Because the work features a strong-willed and intelligent woman, it's often considered to be an early feminist text.

A Fictional Autobiography

If you know anything about Charlotte Bronte's life (and you might know a little bit about it if you watched my video about her), it might seem like Jane Eyre is a glamorized autobiography. When Charlotte Bronte's mother died, her aunt moved in to help her dad raise Charlotte and her siblings. When we meet Jane Eyre, we meet her as a young orphan living in the house of her very nasty aunt and her evil cousins; they're all named the Reeds. The story is in first person, so we get her descriptions of herself at that age, which is an interesting way to go about it. Whether Jane's poor treatment in the Reed household (which is called Gateshead, because people in 19th-century England loved to name their houses) is based on the way her aunt treated her, we don't really know, but it does seem to have certain parallels with her life.

An Orphan's Exposition

Eventually Jane Eyre is sent away to boarding school to this place called Lowood. Here, the nasty treatment continues; there's a horrible headmaster who has the awesome name Mr. Brocklehurst. He's a nasty guy, a jerk and a hypocrite, and almost certainly is modeled after the Reverend who ran the boarding school that Charlotte attended where all her siblings died of typhus. At Lowood, Jane makes a really good friend in a girl named Helen Burns. Helen is sweet and a good person, but, since this is a 19th-century novel, of course she has to die of a horrible disease (typhus in this case).

Jane is totally devastated at the loss of her friend, but the good thing that comes out of this is that the powers that be wise up and realize how horribly Brocklehurst has run the school - kids dying of typhus is not such a great thing - and he gets kicked out. He's replaced with much kinder people running the school. Jane spends several pleasant enough years there and even ends up being a teacher for a little while.

Life Outside Lowood

At a certain point, Jane gets curious about life outside Lowood because she's been there since she was very young, and she accepts a position as a governess at a large estate named Thornfield (remember all the naming of the houses in England). She is going to be a live-in tutor for a young French girl named Adele, who has no parents and a mysteriously absent guardian named Mr. Rochester.

Thornfield introduces characters Adele and Mr. Rochester
Jane Eyre Characters Adele and Mr. Rochester

Jane gets to Thornfield and befriends several of the other servants, who work really hard to keep the house totally ready for anyone to see it, because they're never sure when Rochester is going to be home. He kind of comes and goes on his own schedule.

I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear that when Mr. Rochester does turn up, he and Jane fall in love. It's not an immediate, love-at-first sight thing, but it happens over time, over a bunch of intense conversations about themselves where Jane is reserved and Mr. Rochester pushes her a bit. They don't really do all that much except talk, but there is one interesting thing that does happen over the course of this courtship. Jane is sleeping, and she's awakened by the smell of smoke and the sounds of something burning. She runs to go figure out what it is, and it turns out that it's coming from Rochester's bedroom, where it seems like someone has tried to burn him alive. He's very grateful that she basically saved his life, but the incident is pretty much dismissed as a drunken accident by a servant named Grace Poole. Jane, understandably, finds this a bit suspicious.

Wedding Woes

Instead of just telling Jane he loves her right away, Rochester toys with her for a little bit, making her think he's about to propose to this another woman, who is obviously awful. Jane is understandably upset. She arranges to get a governess position somewhere else, Rochester's like 'No, don't go!' and he proposes to her before she actually leaves.

Everything seems like it's going to be fine. They're getting ready for the wedding - happily ever after Jane and Rochester, woo hoo - until a mysterious man shows up to claim that Rochester already has a wife! And he uses that dramatic 'or forever hold your peace' part of the wedding to do it, when nobody ever says anything, but this guy says something. The man, whose name is Mr. Mason, says that Rochester is already married to his sister Bertha (not Rochester's sister, Mr. Mason's sister), which is kind of a scandal because that would be bigamy, being married to two people. It turns out Rochester and Bertha did get married, but Bertha has since gone insane, and Rochester now keeps her hidden up in the attic of his estate.

Mr. Rochester has been hiding away his insane wife, Bertha Mason
Jane Eyre Characters Mr. Rochester and Bertha Mason

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