Jane Eyre Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book "
name Jane Eyre
image
image caption 2003 Penguin Edition
author Charlotte Bronte
country England
language English language
genre(s) Romance
publisher Penguin
release date 1847
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 532
isbn
0142437204

Charlotte Bronte’s timeless classic follows the story of Jane Eyre, a young orphan raised in cruelty who becomes a governess to the child of a wealthy but elusive and poor-tempered man named Rochester.

Jane soon comes to love both Rochester’s daughter, Adele, and Rochester himself, however on her wedding day learns a terrible secret about her would-be husband’s former life. It turns out that Rochester cannot be married, as he already is married, to a woman named Bertha whom Rochester met in Jamaica as a young man and who is suffering from severe mental illness. Bertha is kept locked away in a hidden room in Thornfield but escapes each night and wanders the halls.

Jane, absolutely devastated by this turn of events, flees Thornfield, wandering the moors in her grief until she is rescued by St. John Rivers and his two sisters. Jane comes to be a welcome new member of their family, and takes up a position teaching at the local school. Eventually St. John, who is a clergymen about to embark on a missionary trip to India, asks Jane to accompany him. His intentions are not romantic, he is instead after a steady and constant companion and friend, and knows that Jane can be that for him. Jane declines his offer, however, as her heart still belongs to Rochester.

It is at this time that Jane also inherits money left to her by her uncle and becomes a wealthy woman. She also discovers that she is related to the Rivers, and they are her cousins. Jane returns to Thornfield and discovers the place gutted by a fire started by Bertha. Bertha is dead and Rochester is blind.

The two reconcile and marry. Rochester’s vision returns to him upon the birth of their first child.

Character Summaries

Jane Eyre

Jane is the protagonist of the novel. She is plain but has a strong inner beauty that entrances Rochester. She is smart and sensible, with a kind heart.

Edward Rochester

The owner of Thornfield and Jane's employer. Despite his gruff manner, he is actually a very loving person.

St. John Rivers

Jane's cousin, although she does not know that at first. He has dedicated his life to God and God's work, so much so that he won't even marry the woman he loves.

Mary and Diana Rivers

Jane's other two cousins. They are smart, kind-hearted women.

Helen Burns

Jane's childhood best friend. She is able to endure great suffering because of her strong Christian convictions.

Mrs. Reed

Jane's aunt. She treats Jane cruelly and despises her so much that she won't even make up with Jane before dying.

John Reed

Jane's cousin. He bullies her as a child.

Eliza and Georgiana Reed

Jane's cousins. They are spoiled girls who end up hating each other as adults.

Bessie Lee

One of the servants in the Reed household and the only one to treat Jane kindly as a child.

Blanche Ingram

The antithesis to everything Jane is. She wants to marry Rochester for his money. She is beautiful but vain and air-headed.

Adele Varens

Rochester's ward. He swears she is not his child but looks after her anyway. She is spoiled but intelligent and charming.

Mrs. Fairfax

The housekeeper at Thornfield. She is straight-laced but generally kind.

Bertha Mason

Rochester's first wife, who he was arranged to marry by his father so that the Rochester's could get Bertha's money. She is mad, and kept locked away in Thornfield.

Mr. Brocklehurst

The first director of Lowood school, where Jane is sent to as a child. His cruelty and negligence results in a typhus epidemic at the school that takes the lives of many girls.

Miss Temple

The only teacher kind to Jane at Lowood.

John Eyre

Jane's uncle who she finds out about later in the story. He leaves her a large sum of money.

Richard Mason

Bertha's brother. He comes to save Jane from marrying Rochester at the behest of her uncle, as Rochester is already married.

Mr. Briggs

The attorney of John Eyre who is also present at Jane's first attempted wedding to Rochester.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One

Jane Eyre is an orphan living with the Reed family. Mrs. Reed, her aunt, only looks after Jane begrudgingly. The treatment of her is cruel, both by Mrs. Reed and by her cousins, Georgiana, Eliza and John. John teases Jane mercilessly, to which Jane responds by physically attacking him. Despite John being the provoker, Jane is the one punished. She is locked in the “red room” – a room with entirely red walls and furnishings, and also the place where her Uncle Reed died.

Chapter Two

Jane tries to resist going to the red room and has to be dragged by two servants. Jane notices how gaunt she looks, and remembers how kind her Uncle Reed used to be. She believes that his ghost is in the room, come to get revenge on Mrs. Reed for disobeying his wishes and treating Jane poorly. This causes her to faint, after her cries for help are ignored by her aunt.

Chapter Three

Jane is looked after by the kindly apothecary Mr. Lloyd, and by Bessie, the maid. Mr. Lloyd tells Mrs. Reed that Jane should be sent to school, because he knows she is miserable here. Jane is excited at the prospects of leaving her torment at Gateshead.

Overhearing a conversation between Bessie and Mrs. Abbot, Jane learns that her mother was wealthy, but was written out of her father’s will upon marrying a poor clergyman for love. Both of Jane’s parents died after she was born because they contracted typhus after caring for the poor.

Chapter Four

The treatment of Jane at Gateshead gets worse and worse, but finally she is able to leave and go to the girl’s school Lowood. The director of the school, Mr. Brocklehurst, is a stern, no-nonsense man. Jane aggravates him by telling him that she is uninterested in psalms, and Mrs. Reed also tells him that Jane is a liar. He says he will tell all of Jane’s teachers this.

Jane angrily defends herself to her aunt, saying that now she is leaving she will never call upon her aunt ever again, and that the thought of her repulses Jane – to which Mrs. Reed seems to back down a bit at. Jane then leaves, and the only one who is sad about it is Bessie, who says that she liked Jane best.

Chapter Five

On a dark and gloomy day, Jane travels to Lowood alone. There she learns the routine of the school and meets some of the staff – the kindly superintendent Miss Temple, and the cruel teacher Miss Scatcherd. Everyone, however, must answer to Mr. Brocklehurst.

Jane becomes fast friends with Helen Burns, a sickly girl. She learns the nature of the school – it is a charity organisation, and effectively the Reeds have dumped her there as a way to get rid of her.

Chapter Six

Life at Lowood is not particularly pleasant for Jane. Often the mornings are too cold to wash, because the water is frozen. There is never enough food and always too much work, and Jane is cruelly treated by teachers. Jane learns that Helen is able to endure the awful conditions at the school because of her strong Christian endurance. Jane, however, does not agree with just lying down and taking it from your enemies – she fights back.

Chapter Seven

After a month, Mr. Brocklehurst returns to the school. Jane is worried that he will tell the teachers that she is a liar. She drops a slate in front of him, and as punishment, she has to stand on a stool for the whole rest of the day. He tells everyone that she is a liar and nobody is allowed to talk to her. Jane is utterly humiliated. Helen, however, comforts Jane by smiling at her whenever she passes.

Chapter Eight

Eventually Jane collapses to the floor, exhausted and embarrassed.  However, Helen says that her reputation is not ruined, as Jane had feared, and in fact most girls took pity on her. Jane talks to the kindly Miss Temple, disclosing information about her past and that she is not a liar. Miss Temple writes to Mr. Lloyd about what Jane has told her, and gives Helen and Jane some tea and cakes.

When Mr. Lloyd replies and confirms Jane’s story, Miss Temple exonerates Jane to everyone. Jane then settles down to her studies, becoming a fantastic artist and good at French.

Chapter Nine

In spring typhus ravages the school, but Jane does not contract it. She makes a new friend, Mary Anne Wilson, but inside her dearest friend Helen is dying of consumption. Jane sneaks into Helen’s room and lays with her in bed as she dies.

Chapter Ten

New staff are brought in to run the school and Mr. Brocklehurst is fired. It is determined that the cause of the typhus that killed so many of the girls was his poor running of the school. The school becomes much better and Jane becomes increasingly good at her studies. She works as a teacher at the school for two years, but then leaves the school after Miss Temple gets married. Jane accepts a governess position at Thornfield.

Chapter Eleven

Jane arrives at Thornfield late at night. She is taken into the house by Mrs. Fairfax, who at first Jane thinks is the owner of the home. Mrs. Fairfax tells her that she is just the housekeeper, and that the real owner, Mr. Rochester (a man who Mrs. Fairfax describes as both eccentric and prone to violent fits of temper) is frequently away travelling. Jane is to tutor Rochester’s ward, eight-year-old Adele.

As Mrs. Fairfax and Jane are talking, there is suddenly strange, loud laughter. Mrs. Fairfax blames it on the seamstress Grace, and tells her to be quiet.

Chapter Twelve

Time passes and Jane enjoys her stay at Thornfield. Whilst Adele is spoiled, she is also intelligent and charming. Despite being satisfied with her work, Jane is still restless and spends a lot of time walking.

On one such walk, Jane is met by a man riding a horse. When the horse slips and falls on the ice, the man is thrown from it and Jane helps him. It later turns out that this man is Rochester, and he blames Jane for startling his horse and making him fall.

Chapter Thirteen

Despite inviting Jane and Adele to take tea with him, Rochester is not a pleasant host. The one positive thing that comes out of the experience is that Rochester commends Jane on her talent as an artist.

Jane tells Mrs. Fairfax that she does not find Rochester very agreeable, but Mrs. Fairfax says that Rochester’s difficult past is to blame for his present abruptness. Rochester inherited Thornfield nine years ago upon the death of his brother, and Rochester was not regarded highly by his family.

Chapter Fourteen

Days pass and Jane and Rochester do not much meet again. One night he summons both her and Adele, though, and gives Adele a present she has wanted. Jane and Rochester chat rather pleasantly, until he asks her if she thinks he is handsome and she tells him no. Rochester orders Jane to keep talking to him despite her awkwardness, but he assures her that he does not view her as a servant.

Chapter Fifteen

Rochester fulfills his promise to Jane to tell her about Adele’s mother. She was a French singer named Celine that he had an affair with, but broke it off when he found out she was seeing another man at the same time.

Rochester has always denied that Adele is his daughter, but still took care of her after her mother abandoned her.

That night, Jane cannot sleep. She thinks about all that Rochester has told her. Then, she hears strange sounds like fingers brushing against the walls and laughter. When she goes out of her room to investigate she sees smoke coming from Rochester’s room. She bursts into the room to find that the curtains of the bed are on fire. Jane saves Rochester’s life, but he goes straight to the third floor of the house. He asks Jane if she has heard anything strange before and she says yes, she has heard Grace Poole laughing. Rochester confirms that it is Grace acting so strangely, and thanks Jane for rescuing him after making her promise to tell nobody about what happened that night.

Chapter Sixteen

The next day, there seems to be no consequences to Grace Poole for what she did to Rochester, which Jane finds incredibly odd. The official story is that Rochester just fell asleep with a candle burning too close to his bed.

Jane is upset to find out Rochester is leaving for a few days, as she realizes she has feelings for him. Jane knows that he will be spending time with Blanche Ingram, and tells herself off for comparing her lack of beauty to Blanche's.

Chapter Seventeen

When she learns that Rochester plans to leave for Europe for a year, Jane is upset. However, Rochester returns to Thornfield after a week away with a group of guests.

Jane finds it strange that nobody treats Grace Poole any differently, despite her apparently starting the fire in an attempt to kill her employer. She overhears that Grace is also paid a large amount of money as well, and realises that there is something more to the story than she realises.

When Rochester returns with his party, Jane is forced to spend time with them, much to her chagrin. Jane is treated by Blanche Ingram and her mother with cruelty, which makes her try to flee the party. She is stopped by Rochester, but he lets her go after she sees how upset she really is. Later, he calls Jane to the drawing room, nearly revealing his love for her.

Chapter Eighteen

Over the course of several days the guests partake in various activities like charades. Jane assumes that Rochester is going to marry Blanche, although she doesn’t think he loves her – it would be a marriage based on superficiality.

Two other mysterious guests arrive over the course of the week – a strange man called Mr. Mason who apparently knows Rochester, and a fortune teller, who reveals something to Blanche that leaves her dismayed.

Chapter Nineteen

Despite her reservations, Jane has her fortune read too. She is amazed at how much the old woman knows about her, and the woman tells Jane that her happiness is near. The woman also reveals that what was causing Blanche Ingram so much distress was the fact that fortune teller told her Rochester was not as rich as she had thought.

To Jane’s surprise, it turns out that the fortune teller is actually Rochester in disguise. Jane tells him off, and then tells him that Mr. Mason is here – something which seems to disturb Rochester.

Chapter Twenty

That night, Jane hears a strange cry for help. She goes to investigate but finds nothing. Rochester just assures everyone that it was a servant having a bad dream, but then comes to see Jane and asks her for her help, and if she is afraid of blood. Jane goes with him to the third story of the house and there they find Mr. Mason, who has been stabbed in the arm and is bleeding out.

Jane helps Mr. Mason, and Rochester goes to find a surgeon, after commanding them not to speak to each other. Mason’s wounds are tended to, and he leaves. Rochester then tells Jane a story about a man in a foreign land who commits some wrongdoings but then tries to make it right by living with a wife, but is unable to.

Jane says that this hypothetical man will only find redemption in God. Rochester wants assurance from Jane that marrying Blanche is the right thing to do, but leaves before she answers.

Chapter Twenty-One

Jane finds out that John, her cousin, is dead by suicide, and that her aunt is near death from a stroke herself. Jane sets aside her anger at her aunt and comes to Gateshead to look after her, but Mrs. Reed treats her niece cruelly even up to her dying breath. She had been withholding a letter from Jane’s uncle, who had wished to adopt Jane and bequeath his fortune to her. Jane tries to make it up with her aunt, but Mrs. Reed refuses and dies.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Jane stays with her cousins at Gateshead for a month. Whilst there, Jane receives a letter from Mrs. Fairfax, who tells her that Rochester’s guests are gone and Rochester has gone to get a new carriage, likely because he is going to marry Blanche. Jane is excited to see Rochester again, but also sad about his impending marriage and wondering what will happen to her.

As she is walking home, she meets Rochester. He tells her that she should look at the new carriage he has bought, and see if it will suit Mrs. Rochester. Jane says that she is glad to be back home with him.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Two weeks pass before Jane sees Rochester again, whereupon he invites her for a walk in the garden. He tells her that he will marry Blanche, and that she will have to go to Ireland, to another governess position.

Jane breaks down, sobbing, and tells Rochester of her love for him. To her surprise, he reciprocates and proposes to her. Initially thinking he is only teasing, he explains that he only told her he was going to marry Blanche to make her jealous. The two agree to marry each other and a terrible storm rolls in. Jane and Rochester run inside, where they share their first kiss. Mrs. Fairfax is surprised.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Mrs. Fairfax disapproves of the wedding, and Jane is dismayed. She has a strange feeling that the wedding will not even take place. Jane feels on unequal terms with Rochester because he is so rich and she poor, and she is uncomfortable when he tells her he will buy her jewels and lavish gowns. She writes to her uncle, hoping that he still wants to make her his heir so that she may inherit some riches and elevate her social position.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Rochester leaves Thornfield the night before the wedding, and Jane has a sleepless night. She tells him of the strange dreams she has been having, and that when she woke up from a particularly frightening one, she saw a strange figure in her room, who destroyed Jane’s veil.

Rochester dismisses Jane’s worries as nothing more than Grace Poole acting strange.

Chapter Twenty-Six

The day of the wedding comes, but it brings no happiness for Rochester or Jane. As the couple enter the church, one of the two strangers already in there protest against the wedding, as Rochester is already married.

It turns out that the strange man’s claims are correct, and Rochester is married to Bertha Mason, a woman he met fifteen years ago in Jamaica. The man opposing the wedding is Mr. Biggs, the solicitor of Richard Mason, Bertha’s brother and the man she stabbed in the arm.

Rochester eventually admits to having already got a wife, and Jane is distraught. Bertha is kept locked away on the third floor of the house, as she is mad. He takes the crowd back to Thornfield so that they may meet Bertha, who lives under the care of Grace Poole.

They all meet Bertha, who is running around her room like a wild animal, and then attempts to strange Rochester. It turns out that Jane’s uncle John knows Mason, and John asked Mason to go to England to save Jane from marrying Rochester.

Jane plunges into a deep depression at this most awful turn of events.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Jane leaves Thornfield. Before she does, she has one last conversation with Rochester. He apologises, and asks her to forgive him. Jane says nothing to him, but does internally forgive him. Upon feeling faint, Rochester carries her to the library and begs her to run away with him to France. Jane says no, that she will not live as his mistress whilst his legal wife lives. Rochester tries to explain his situation to her, and why he does not view Bertha as his wife.

When Rochester’s father died, he left all of his property to the eldest son. Rochester was sent to Jamaica in order to marry Bertha, a wealthy heiress. Rochester believed himself in love with Bertha even though they did not actually know each other well. It wasn’t until they were already married that Rochester found out that Bertha’s mother was mad and locked in an asylum, and Rochester’s marriage to Bertha was a trick devised by his father and brother so they could get Bertha’s money. Bertha quickly descended into madness and, eventually, Rochester’s father and brother died, leaving him with a lot of money and an estate, but also a mad wife who he didn’t love.

Rochester grew increasingly depressed and spent the next few years aimlessly travelling, desperate to find love. And, it wasn’t until he met Jane, that he finally found who he was looking for.

This conflicts Jane, as she doesn’t want to leave Rochester, knowing how much he cares for her and her for him, and also knows that nobody else has ever loved her. However, she ends up leaving, because she cannot stand the thought of being a wife to him if he is already married, and does not feel that it is right to stay.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Jane quickly runs out of money and ends up lost on the moors. Eventually she happens upon a house, and they offer her aid. The two young women of the house are named Diana and Mary, and their maid is named Hannah. When their brother, St. John, returns, they all have dinner together. Jane tells them her name is Jane Elliot.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Jane spends a few days recovering under the care of the Rivers siblings. She tells the family her real name and that she used to be a governess, as did the two sisters (most of their family fortune having been lost). St. John says that he will help Jane to find another job so she can support herself.

Chapter Thirty

Whilst Jane becomes quickly friends with Diana and Mary, she finds it difficult to connect with St. John. Diana and Mary return to their governess jobs, and Jane begins teaching at the local charity school. St. John tells Jane that he is restless, and assumes that she will become so too after working in the charity school. He is going overseas to work as a missionary. He also tells Jane about how their uncle, John, (the same one who encouraged Mr. Rivers into a bad business deal that cost him his own fortune) died leaving them nothing, instead bequeathing it all to someone unknown.

Chapter Thirty-One

Jane does not enjoy the work of teaching, much to her own disappointment. She lives in a small cottage provided to her by Rosamond Oliver, a local wealthy heiress. St. John confides in Jane that he understand how she feels – that is why he is setting off on his missionary work. Rosamond arrives and joins in the conversation, making it very clear to Jane that her and St. John love each other.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Over time Jane begins to enjoy her work more. She has bad dreams about Rochester. Jane wonders if St. John and Rosamond will ever marry, but St. John says that she is not what he is looking for in the wife of a missionary.

Chapter Thirty-Three

St. John comes to Jane one evening with a letter from Mr. Briggs. He tells Jane that he has heard of the story of Jane Eyre, an orphaned governess who worked at Thornfield Hall and then ran away before marrying Rochester. Jane is surprised, because she has been trying to hide her true identity as much as possible. The letter that St. John carries reveals that John Eyre has died, and has left his fortune to Jane. She is now a wealthy woman.

St. John also reveals that he is her cousin, and Jane is overjoyed to finally have family who love and care for her. She divides her fortune equally amongst herself and her cousins.

Chapter Thirty-Four

Christmas is spent in the company of her new family, and Jane is happy. St. John is not, though, and he tells her that Rosamond is engaged, and that he wants Jane to marry him and come with him to India. He believes that she will be a perfect missionary’s wife, and that even though they aren’t in love, that isn’t a problem.

This upsets Jane, who tells him that she will come with him, but she won’t marry him, because she doesn’t want to be married to someone she doesn’t love. St. John gets angry at this, and says that if she won’t marry him she is as good as denying God.

St. John keeps pressuring her, and Jane keeps refusing. Eventually he prays for her, and Jane is so overcome with the speech that she almost relinquishes to him. However, she suddenly hears the voice of Rochester calling her name.

Chapter Thirty-Six

Jane wonders about what hearing Rochester’s voice could mean. Despite St. John telling her not to, she goes to Rochester anyway. She is returning as Rochester’s equal – she has a social standing equal to him now.

When she goes to Thornfield she is surprised to find it burned to the ground. Bertha set the house ablaze and then jumped off the roof, killing herself instantly. Trying to save her, Rochester was blinded and lost a hand. He now lives deep in the forest with only John, Mary, two servants.

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Jane and Rochester are reconciled. He can hardly believe that she has come to him, although he does tell her that he had called out her name at night and thought he could almost hear her answering back. Jane doesn’t tell him about hearing his voice, but she does tell him all about what has happened to her, and that she still loves him. Rochester proposes to her again and they marry, now free to do so.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Jane and Rochester marry quietly. They enjoy a peaceful married life together, with Jane nursing Rochester until his vision starts to return. They have a child together, and upon the child’s birth Rochester’s vision is restored.

Diana and Mary live happy lives, as does Adele, and St. John goes to India.

 

Categories: Classics, Fiction