Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1999

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Penguin 1996 edition.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.   

Overall Impression: This is a fine work which maintains interest and mystery.


Begins with Jane as a 10 y/o orphan [c. 1812]--her parents died of typhus, he a poor clergyman. She is living at Gateshead and is being reluctantly raised by Jane's mother's brother's widow, Mrs. Sarah Reed. She and her children Eliza, John (14), and Georgiana treat Jane cruelly and spitefully, leaving her feel wretched. As punishment, Jane is locked up in the red-room where her uncle Mr. Reed had died--she is terrified and has a fit. Bessie and the apothecary console Jane and he recommends that she be placed in a school.

Jane lives in isolation. Mr. Brocklehurst arrives and agrees to take Jane into his charity school for orphans, Lowood Institution. Mrs. Reed tells him that Jane is deceitful. Later, Jane confronts her on her own deceit and cruelty and Mrs. Reed backs down.

Jane travels by herself in a carriage 50 miles to the school. The food is poor. She meets and is befriended by the angelic Helen Burns. 

It is so cold that the wash water freezes in the basins. Helen is whipped for a minor infraction and submits cheerfully. The children are underfed and underclothed and over-sermonized. Mr. Brocklehurst arrives and imposes austerity. He makes an example out of Jane, whom he calls a liar and an agent of the Evil One. Later, Jane is comforted and exonerated by Miss Temple, the French teacher, and she begins to study French. Typhus sweeps through the school, killing many students. Jane befriends Mary Ann Wilson. Helen dies of consumption.

At 18 [c. 1820], Jane is now a teacher at Lowood. Miss Temple marries and leaves. Jane wants to move on and runs an ad. Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield responds to the ad. Bessie comes to see Jane and informs her that Jane's uncle Mr. [John] Eyre of Madeira had come to see her at Mrs. Reed's 7 years earlier.

Jane arrives in October at the village of Milcote, 6 miles from Thornfield, being brought by servant John. She meets Mrs. Fairfax, a widow and manager of the household, along with her new pupil, Adèle Varens, an orphan who was born on the Continent and speaks primarily French. Jane hears strange sounds, which Mrs. Fairfax attributes to the servant Grace Poole.

In January, Jane walks to Hay to mail a letter and encounters a man [Mr. Edward/Edouard Fairfax de Rochester], who is on horseback but falls off at the moment of their meeting. His dog Pilot is with him. She assists him but receives no introduction. 

Back at the manor, he rudely interviews Jane, hears her play the piano and inspects her water colors. Later, Mrs. Fairfax tells her that he has been master at Thornfield only 9 years since his elder brother Rowland died, and implies that there were some harsh conditions imposed on him by the father and brother.

Mr. R. calls Jane in for more conversation. She is blunt and not cowed by him, plain in her statements, not comprehending the enigmatic man. He says he was thrust on the wrong tack at 21 and is a sinner--she encourages him to repent. 

Mr. R tells of his affair with the opera singer Céline Varens? She bore Adele, who may be his daughter (he is not certain), but she betrayed him for another man. During the night, [Bertha] sets Rochester's bed on fire and Jane saves his life. Grace Poole is blamed. They are warming to each other. 

Next morning, Jane is puzzled to find a self-composed Grace Poole. Rochester has left for Leas, home of the Eshton's, where he will see the lovely Miss Blanche Ingram. 

With R gone, J struggles with her rising feelings for him. She suspects there is a secret about Grace Poole. R arrives with guests including Blanche. Jane brings in Adele but stays in the shadows. Blanche disparages governesses, plays the piano while R sings. R insists that Jane be present each evening.

Blanche plays charades with R including a pantomime of marriage. J ponders her growing feelings for R and believes Blanche to be superficial, unkind, unworthy of him. He does not love her. Mr. Mason arrives from the West Indies, an unwelcome guest to R. A "gypsy" fortune teller arrives and insists on telling the fortunes to Blanche (which is unfavorable) and then to the skeptical Jane. The "gypsy" alludes to Jane's loneliness, quizzes her about her feelings, and gives an enigmatic fortune, then reveals himself to be Rochester! 

In the middle of the night, the full moon shines and a cry rings out. Mason has been stabbed and bitten and is bleeding. R glosses over this, and has Jane help him. She knows his explanation is a fabrication. A surgeon attends the wounded man and is then quickly whisked away. R speaks obliquely to J about a past error, years of voluntary banishment, the joy he receives [from her], an impediment of custom... but then shifts mood and talks of Blanche.

J is called to return to Mrs. Reed, who has had a stroke after son John's suicide, and is dying. Bessie and Robert greet her and the daughters are civil. Mrs. Reed tells her of a letter 3 years ago from John Eyre of Madeira in which he wanted to adopt Jane and make her his heir. She, out of continued spite, wrote him that Jane had died--she asks for and receives Jane's forgiveness for this act. Jane stays on there until she dies.

Jane returns to Thornfield, and is surprised at the lack of wedding preparations and R's attentions to her. 

On a fine summer night, J announces to R that she must take another position because he will be marrying. Instead, he asks her to marry him. She is incredulous but is quickly won over. He asks God's pardon, but a tree is later struck by lightning. 

R wants to drape J in jewels but she insists on a plainer appearance in keeping with her character. He had courted Miss Ingraham to make her jealous. Mrs. Fairfax is gloomy at the news of the engagement and keeps away from her.

On the day before the wedding, J dreams of the ruin of Thornfield. A strange dark woman came to her bedroom and tore her wedding veil to shreds. R ducks explaining for now, says he will do so later, and advises her to sleep with Adele behind locked doors. 

R is impatient for the wedding. But when it commences, Richard Mason and his solicitor interrupt the wedding to reveal Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason, a Creole, 15 years ago. Jane's uncle John is dying but had sent word to stop the marriage. Jane resigns herself that she must leave.

R explains to J his actions. He wants to take her away but she will not be his unlawful mistress if he is already married. Her refusal provokes him to anger. He relates that his father and brother arranged the marriage to Bertha, her mother's insanity (which had been concealed), Bertha's rapid descent into madness and intemperate and unchaste behavior, his resolve to conceal her existence. He took her back incognito to England, hired Grace Poole to care for her, wanders the Continent, has 2 mistresses, his appreciation for Jane. Jane will keep God's commandments and sneaks off in the night and takes a coach.

J is broke, wanders the moors [of Derbyshire], sleeps out on the heath, is refused work or assistance, tries to barter away her gloves or handkerchief, and finally seeks help in the rain at St. John River's home--his maid refuses her but he arrives and takes her in.

She gradually recovers, chastises the servant for refusing her at her time of need, then becomes friends with her. St. John questions her--she withholds specifics and gives a false last name. 

J gets on well with his sisters Mary and Diane. St. John is gloomy, preaches Calvinistic doctrine. He offers J a position as schoolmistress of a village school, she accepts. He is restless. An uncle [John Eyre] dies, but they do not inherit the money. The sisters leave to become governesses, she begins teaching in Morton. 

J contemplates her meager surroundings and coarse students, wonders if she did the right thing leaving R. St. John arrives, alludes to his struggle to overcome his urges, says he will be leaving for the east to be a missionary. Miss Rosamond Oliver comes by, flirts, and invites St. John to come over. He is uncomfortable with her and declines.

J is well accepted by the villagers. Rosamond drops by frequently to encounter St. John. J probes his conflicted feelings for Rosamond, concludes he should marry her. He loves her but knows she would not be a good missionary's wife. 

He leaves but returns soon after. He had noticed Jane's monogram and J confesses her true identity. He reveals they are cousins: Jane's mother (Jane Reed) was St. John River's father' sister. [Also, St. John's mother had children John Eyre of Madeira and Jane's father.] The uncle John has left his 20,000 to her. J resolves to live at Moor House, the old family home which was going to be abandoned, and to share her inheritance with St. John and her cousins.

St. John disapproves of Jane's enjoyment of simple worldly pleasures. He has no appreciation for the improvements she makes to the house. Mary and Diane return. Miss Rosamond is to be married. St. John wants J to learn Hindustani. He is leaving in 6 weeks and asks her to marry him to help with his missionary work, though he conveys no love to her. J agrees to go but not to marry him. He is cool, austere, disapproving to her.

J is tortured by his icy behavior. She wants to find out what happened to Rochester. She is on the verge of deciding to marry St. John when she hears Rochester's voice cry out, but from where? She cries "I am coming" and breaks from St. John ("it was my time to assume ascendancy.")

J returns to Thornfield Hall to find it burned down the previous autumn. The innkeeper tells her that Bertha set the fire, R tried to save her, she jumped to her death from the roof, he was badly injured (lost an eye and a hand and has been blinded), now is living at Ferndean.

She goes to Ferndean--it is buried in a woods, neglected. She is joyously reunited with R. She readily agrees to marry him. He tells her how he turned in desperation to God and how he cried out one night to her--the night she heard him, and he had heard her reply.

"Reader, I married him." They experience great bliss. J puts Adele in a nicer school. R recovers fair sight in the eye remaining. They have at least one child, a son. After 10 years, Mary and Diana have married and St. John is dying, unmarried, still dedicated to his missionary work.