Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I first remember hearing the story of Jane Eyre of Charlotte Bronte when my mother read it to me when I was very young. I also remember the thrill of reading it myself when I was a teenager. That was all a long time ago but when I saw Jane Eyre on my book shelf, recently I became quite excited about reading it again.
The author, Charlotte Bronte was born in 1816 in Thornton, just west of Bradford, in Yorkshire, England. She was the third of the six children of Maria and Patrick Bronte. Her father was an Irish clergyman. In 1820, the family moved to Haworth where her father had been appointed curate at St Michael and All Angels Church. Her mother died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily and Anne plus a son, Branwell. She asked her sister to be take care of the children.However, in August 1824 Patrick Brontë sent Charlotte, Emily, Maria and Elizabeth to the Clergy Daughters’ School in Lancashire. Charlotte maintained that the school’s poor conditions permanently affected her health and physical development, and hastened the deaths of her sisters Maria and Elizabeth. They both died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Charlotte used the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.
The story is about Jane Eyre, an orphan, raised by her cruel aunt. One day, as punishment for fighting with her cousin John Reed, Jane’s aunt imprisons her in the red-room, the room in which Jane’s Uncle Reed died. While locked in, Jane, believes that she sees her uncle’s ghost, screams and faints. She wakes to find herself in the care of the apothecary Mr. Lloyd, who suggests to Mrs. Reed that Jane be sent away to school. Mrs. Reed concurs. But, once at the Lowood School, Jane finds that her life is far from idyllic. The school’s headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst is a cruel, hypocritical, and abusive man.
Brocklehurst preaches a doctrine of poverty and privation to his students while using the school’s funds to provide an opulent lifestyle for his own family. At Lowood, Jane befriends a young girl named Helen Burns, whose strong, martyrlike attitude toward the school’s miseries is both helpful and displeasing to Jane. A typhus epidemic sweeps Lowood, and Helen dies of consumption. This also results in the departure of Mr. Brocklehurst by attracting attention to the conditions at Lowood.
A group of more sympathetic gentlemen takes Brocklehurst’s place, Jane’s life improves dramatically. She spends eight more years at Lowood, six as a student and two as a teacher. After this, Jane yearns for new experiences. She accepts a governess position at a manor called Thornfield, where she teaches a lively French girl named Adèle. The distinguished housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax presides over the estate and Jane’s employer at Thornfield is a dark, impassioned man named Mr Rochester, with whom Jane finds herself falling secretly in love.
She saves Rochester from a fire one night, which he claims was started by a drunken servant named Grace Poole but Grace Poole continues to work at Thornfield so Jane concludes that she has not been told the entire story. Jane sinks into despondency when Rochester brings home a beautiful woman named Blanche Ingram and Jane is surprised when Rochester proposes to Jane. She accepts but when the wedding day arrives, a voice cries out that Rochester already has a wife a woman named Bertha Mason. Mr. Mason, her brother says that Rochester married when he was a young man in Jamaica, is still alive. Rochester explains that Bertha has gone mad. He takes the wedding party back to Thornfield, where they witness the insane Bertha scurrying around on all fours and growling like an animal. Rochester keeps Bertha hidden on the third story of Thornfield and pays Grace Poole to keep his wife under control. Bertha was the real cause of the fire earlier in the story. Knowing that it is impossible for her to be with Rochester, Jane flees Thornfield. Penniless and hungry, Jane is forced to sleep outdoors and beg for food. At last, three siblings who live in a manor alternatively called Marsh End and Moor House take her in.
Their names are Mary, Diana, and St. John Rivers, and Jane quickly becomes friends with them. St. John is a clergyman, and he finds Jane a job teaching at a charity school in Morton. He surprises her one day by declaring that her uncle, John Eyre, has died and left her a large fortune:£20,000. When Jane asks how he learned this news, he declares that her uncle was also his uncle: Jane and the Riverses are cousins. Jane decides to share her inheritance equally with her three newfound relatives and St. John decides to travel to India as a missionary.
He urges Jane to go with him, as his wife. Jane refuses to marry her cousin as she does not love him. St. John pressures her to reconsider, and she nearly gives in. However, she realizes that she cannot abandon Rochester and immediately hurries back to Thornfield.She finds it has been burned to the ground by Bertha Mason, who lost her life in the fire. Rochester saved the servants but lost his eyesight and one of his hands. Jane travels on to Rochester’s new residence, Ferndean, where he lives with two servants. .
At Ferndean, Rochester and Jane rebuild their relationship and soon marry. At the end of her story, Jane writes that she has been married for ten blissful years and that she and Rochester enjoy perfect equality in their life together. She says that after two years of blindness, Rochester regained sight in one eye and was able to behold their first son at his birth.
Upon re-reading this old favourite, I remembered why I had so enjoyed it. The triumph over adversity, the conquering true love and the respect of equals in marriage. Who could ask for more? I always loved this story. If you read it before, do so again. You will find all sorts of twists and turns that you have forgotten. If you have not read it yet, treat yourself: do so.