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Definition: Jane Eyre from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Novel (1847) by Charlotte Brontë. The orphan Jane becomes governess to the ward of Mr Rochester. Employer and governess fight a mutual fascination until Jane agrees to marriage. The revelation that Mr Rochester already has a wife, the mad Bertha, who is imprisoned in his attic, causes Jane's flight. She returns to marry Rochester after Bertha has killed herself by setting the house on fire. In this ever popular book, romantic themes derive distinction from Brontë's powerful intellect and imagination.

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Brontë, Charlotte Jane Eyre


Summary Article: Jane Eyre from The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

A novel by Charlotte Bronte, published in 1847.

An orphan living with her unpleasant aunt, Mrs Reed, and cousins, Jane is too independent-minded to fit in to the household. As pupil and then teacher at Lowood Asylum she suffers appalling physical conditions, palliated by the friendship of the gentle, long-suffering Helen Burns and Maria Temple, the mistress. Helen dies of consumption, but not before Jane has learned from her that self-control is the surest means of retaining self-respect in adversity. She leaves Lowood to become a governess at Thornfield Hall. Her pupil is Adele Varens, the ward of Edward Rochester. Soon she finds herself drawn to him and he, attracted by her wit and self-possession, finally asks her to become his wife. Their wedding is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Richard Mason, who reveals that Rochester is already married to his sister Bertha, a raving lunatic secretly confined at Thornfield Hall. Jane leaves the Hall and wanders, destitute, until she is finally taken in by a clergy-man, St John Rivers, and his sisters Diana and Mary. Though she has assumed the name of Jane Elliott, a slip discloses her true name and leads to the revelation that the Riverses are her cousins and she sole heir to a fortune which she joyfully shares with them. St John, dedicated but narrow-minded, proposes that Jane should accompany him as his wife in his mission to India. She is nearly brought to consent when a voice, recognizably Rochester's, calls to her out of the air. Resolved to discover his fate, she returns to Thornfield to find it a blackened ruin and the master maimed and blind - the result of his vain efforts to save his made wife from the flames. At last she can contract a marriage which includes spiritual equality, intellectual companionship and sexual passion.

Jane Eyre attracted immediate attention, but praise for its narrative force and the vivid way Jane's feelings are rendered was mixed with criticism. The merciless portrait of Lowood and its headmaster, Brocklehurst, offended Evangelicals. Above all, contemporaries were made uneasy by the book's morality: though Jane's actions observe the conventional code of female behaviour they still embody a powerful statement of woman's claim to independence.

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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