I have confession to make. I am a recent college graduate with an English degree, and I just read Jane Eyre for the first time. I know, I know. How could I have not read it before? Honestly, I don’t know because I really enjoyed it.
The following is a synopsis of the book and is taken from Goodreads:
Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead and subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.
With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.
I really enjoyed Jane’s character. She reminds me of Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Jane isn’t afraid to speak her mind and tell people exactly how she feels about them. For example, in Chapter 4, she tells her aunt she is “‘hard- hearted.'”
Jane is oppressed by society and without her aunt, she would have lived in poverty. John (Jane’s cousin) does not treat Jane with respect. Rather, he teases and torments her as a child. She doesn’t like the way he treats her and, one day, she strikes him back. Furious by her actions, Jane’s aunt locks her away in the red room. There, Jane believes she sees the ghost of her deceased uncle. After trying to control Jane as much as she could, her aunt decides to send her to Lowood School.
At Lowood, Jane meets a girl named Helen and they become fast friends. One day, Helen makes a mistake and is given a brutal punishment by the teacher. That night, Jane asks why Helen did not stand up for herself. Helen is extremely religious and abides by the rule of “turning the other check” and “love your enemies.” This shocks Jane. She feels that if the accident was not Helen’s fault, Helen should not have been punished, and she should have stood up for herself.
Jane spent 8 years at school. The first 6 were as a student and the last 2 as a teacher. After her good friend and former teacher, Miss Temple, gets married, Jane decides she needs a change in her life. So, she takes a job working as a governess at Thornfield Hall in Derbyshire. She oversees the education and upbringing of Adele. Her guardian, Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, is not at home for the first three months of Jane’s employment.
One day, Jane decides to go for a walk and explore the grounds. While on her walk, she encounters a man whose horse has fallen on the ice and, subsequently, thrown its rider. The rider, a man, orders Jane away. He claims he does not need any assistance. Jane, being a kind and helpful person, refuses to obey his command and assists him to a nearby log. After they rest for a while, Jane takes him to Thornfield Hall to recover. Little does she know, however, that the rider turns out to be Thornfield’s master, Mr. Rochester.
From the very beginning, Jane and Mr. Rochester have a very interesting relationship. They are both highly intelligent people. Mr. Rochester begins to grill Jane on her background and why she came to work as a governess for Adele. She gives him completely honest answers which intrigues him. He answers her, “Not one in three thousand school governesses would have answered me the way you just did.” Their relationship continues to grow from there.
Over the next few months, they continue talking to each other, and they enjoy each other’s company. They both challenge each other. He exudes passion and confidence while Jane is blunt and intelligent. These two complement each other. She also isn’t afraid to speak her mind towards Mr. Rochester which both pleases and amuses him. He is the same way with her.
Mr. Rochester announces that a group of people will be joining him at Thornfield Hall for a party. Among them will be Ms. Blanche Ingram. Everyone, even the servants, expect Mr. Rochester to marry Ms. Ingram. Jane realizes how much her feelings for Mr. Rochester gave grown over the past few months.
One rainy afternoon, some members of the party are all playing a card game in the drawing room, and Mr. Rochester is away on business. The butler comes in announcing that a gypsy wishes to read everyone their fortunes. After some protesting, the group decides to allow the woman entry into the room. The woman says she will set up in the next room and members of the party are to come in one-by-one. After observing everyone after having their fortune read, Jane decides she does not want to know hers. She rises to leave and return to Adele when the butler says the gypsy has requested to see Jane. Intrigued, Jane follows him into the next room.
The room is really dark and Jane cannot get a good view of the woman. However, the woman does seem familiar. The answers she gives Jane are most peculiar. Over time, Jane deduces that she knows the woman. She proclaims, “Mr. Rochester?” The “woman” is indeed Mr. Rochester pretending to be a gypsy. Jane berates Mr. Rochester for tricking her.
After Mr. Rochester comes out, sans disguise, the butler informs him that a Mr. Mason has arrived from the West Indies. Jane is the only one to notice Rochester’s peculiar reaction. Mr. Rochester invites Mr. Mason in and shows him to a bedroom. Over the next few weeks, Mr. Mason occasionally joins the party in the festivities.
Mr. Rochester declares that he is going to throw a birthday party for Ms. Ingram. Jane attends the party upon the master’s request. However, once she observes him and Ms. Ingram together, she quietly slips from the room unable to watch them any longer. Mr. Rochester, who notices her absence, goes after her to find out what is the matter. She makes the excuse she is tired and wishes to go to bed. He allows it.
That same night, Jane hears a blood-curdling scream coming from the third floor where a mysterious locked door is located. Many household members awaken to find out what is the matter. When Jane enters the hallway, she finds Mr. Rochester assuring everyone that it wasn’t anything to worry about and encourages them to go to bed. After they depart, he approaches Jane and asks her to come with him. He leads her up to the third story where they find Mr. Mason bleeding. Mr. Rochester tells Jane to stay with Mr. Mason while he goes to get a surgeon. Jane obeys, and Mr. Rochester locks in her the room with the patient.
Shortly after dawn, Mr. Rochester returns with the surgeon. He makes some excuse to Jane about what caused the accident and dismisses her from the room. Jane grows more curious of what could have caused that accident. They go for a walk in the garden. They discuss a hypothetical situation in which a man has been thrown into a horrible situation and asks Jane for advice. She replies that the man, who is obviously Mr. Rochester, should look to God for guidance. He then asks her if he should marry Ms. Ingram. He leaves before she can answer.
After a few months, the party disbands and the members go home. The hall grows quiet.
Jane receives a letter informing her that her aunt is very sick. She decides to go and visit. While there, her aunt tells her that Jane had another relative, a Mr. John Eyre. Mr. Eyre attempted to contact Jane’s aunt about living with him during her time at Lowood, but her aunt wrote back saying that Jane was dead. This was, of course, a lie. Jane assures her aunt that she has forgiven her. After her aunt passes away and Jane attends the funeral, she goes back to Thornfield Hall. Jane fully expects Mr. Rochester to propose to Ms. Ingram.
During this time period, women were expected to act a certain way and behave a certain way. However, Jane was the exception. She was not afraid to break the rules of convention, especially when it came to love.
Mr. Rochester and Jane take a walk in the garden. He informs Jane that he has made a decision to marry Blanche. He also tells Jane of a new position as governess in Ireland as Adele will be going to school. She remarks on distance of Ireland to Thornfield. Mr. Rochester says he feels they are connected by “a cord of communication.” Finally, Jane confesses that she loves Mr. Rochester and, unexpectedly, he asks Jane to be his wife. He only mentioned marrying Ms. Ingram to make Jane jealous. Happily, she accepts his proposal.
Preparations for the wedding are soon underway. However, the servants don’t look kindly upon the match. Jane becomes scared and feels unsettled. He tries to turn her into something she is not: beautiful. He wants her to wear jewels and fancy dresses.
On the eve of her wedding, the dress and veil arrive. The veil is a wedding gift from Mr. Rochester. While asleep, Jane hears a noise and wakes up to discover a grotesque figure in her bedroom. The figure takes Jane’s veil and rips in two. However, when she tells this to Mr. Rochester, he dismisses it as a dream. He then tells her he will tell her everything about Thornfield and its secrets when the have been married for “a year and a day.”
While they are at the church, a man comes up and says Jane and Mr. Rochester cannot marry. He tells everyone that Mr. Rochester already has a wife, his sister Bertha Mason. The man is reveled to be Mr. Mason. In fury, Mr. Rochester admits he already has a wife. Jane is shocked and hurt by this confession. Mr. Rochester takes the party back to the Hall where the unlocks a secret door covered by a tapestry. Inside are his wife and Mrs. Grace Poole, Bertha’s caretaker. Bertha is made out to be a mad lunatic and proceeds to fight Mr. Rochester. He easily overpowers her and tries to explain to Jane how he met Bertha. Both of their fathers contrived to make them man and wife many years ago to increase their fortunes.
She leaves the room with Mr. Mason and a second man, Mr. Briggs. Jane flees to her room and is distraught. She then prays to God about what to do. Coming to the only conclusion she can think of, she informs Mr. Rochester that she will leave Thornfield Hall. He becomes hysterical and begs her to stay. She replies she cannot stay and be his mistress; she would lose all self respect.
Jane sneaks out the next morning and walks for as long as she can. After spending all of her money on a ride to a faraway town, she is exhausted, starving, and penniless. She continues to walk until she falls to the ground. Looking up, she sees a light in a window and proceeds to the house. She knocks and begs for help. The old woman says no and slams the door in Jane’s face. Some time later, a man comes up behind Jane and offers assistance. He knocks on the door and leads her inside. The man is St. John and the other woman that live there are his sisters and his housekeeper. They let Jane stay the night and give her food in the morning. Slowly, they nurse her back to health. After spending some time with the family, St. John finds a job for Jane working as a school teacher. She happily accepts and moves into her own cottage. St. John is a minister working a local parish.
One night, she hears someone knocking at the door. When she opens it, she imagines it being Mr. Rochester coming to see her, and he starts to passionately kiss her. However, it turns out to be St. John. He reveals he knows her true identity, for she gave him a fake last name, and he tells her he saw her real name on painting she had signed. She confesses that she lied to protect her identity. He reveals to her that an uncle has died, a Mr. John Eyre. After some discussion, Jane and St. John discover that they are cousins as well has his sisters. Jane is overjoyed at her newfound family.
Over time, Jane and St. John grow quite close; they spend a lot of time together. Jane regards John as brother. However, his feelings for her have changed. One day, he asks Jane to go for a walk with him. He tells her that she would make a good missionary wife and proposes to her. Shocked, Jane declines. She still loves Mr. Rochester. However, St. John cannot be persuaded. He proposes again a few days later. While listening to his second proposal, she hears someone crying out, “Jane! Jane! Jane!”
Jane, knowing it is Mr. Rochester, proceeds back to Thornfield Hall. When she encounters the place however, she is shocked to find it has burnt to the ground. Seeking answers, Jane heads to the village. There, she meets a shopkeeper who informs her what happened.
Bertha started a fire and Mr. Rochester got all of the servants out to safety. When he goes to save his wife, she flings herself off the top of the building and dies. After that, Mr. Rochester is moved to a home where he is cared for because he lost his sight and his right hand in the accident. Jane hurries to his side. It takes some convincing, but finally Mr. Rochester believes that Jane has returned to him. He proposes again and she accepts. He regains his sight enough to see the birth of his first-born son.
One of the main themes of the book is family. Jane desperately wants to find a family that loves her. In the end, she finds what she is looking for.