Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Complete Summary

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Complete Summary

Jane Eyre Summary


The account of Jane Eyre’s life, as narrated by herself, may conveniently be divided into the following parts:

(1) Jane Eyre at Gateshead-hall

(2) Jane Eyre at Lowood School

(3) Jane Eyre at Thornfield Hall

(4) Jane Eyre as a destitute wanderer in search of food and shelter

(5) Jane Eyre at Moor House (also called Marsh End)

(6) Jane Eyre’s search for Mr. Rochester, and her arrival at Thornfield Hall only to find the place in ruins

(7) Jane Eyre, happily settled at Ferndean


Ill-treated by the Reed Family

Jane Eyre was the daughter of a clergyman and had lost both her parents at an early age. She was ten years old when her maternal uncle brought the helpless orphan to his own house, called Gateshead-hall, to live with his family. The family consisted of Jane’s maternal uncle, John Reed, his wife Mrs. Reed, and their three children John, a lad of fourteen years, and Eliza and Georgiana, both younger than their brother John. There was a nurse or governess in the family by the name of Bessie, and there were a few maidservants and menservants also. Jane’s maternal uncle died soon afterwards, leaving Jane to the care of his wife. But Mrs. Reed was by nature a harsh and stern woman without any kindness in her heart. She began to hate Jane because she had previously been hating Jane’s mother (who was the sister of her husband). Mrs. Reed’s children too were not kindly disposed towards Jane. The boy John used to bully her most of the time and, on one occasion, he even administered a severe beating to her. Eliza and Georgiana were also contemptuous of Jane who was regarded by the whole family as a dependent. Once, when Jane had been beaten by John, she told him that he was a wicked and cruel boy and a slave-driver resembling a murderer. For adopting this defiant attitude towards John, Jane was confined to the Red Room under the orders of Mrs. Reed. The Red Room was the room where Jane’s uncle, Mr. Reed, had died; and it was therefore, a place where a young girl like Jane could not feel at ease. In fact, Jane fainted because of the fright which she experienced at this time.


Jane’s Friendship with Helen Burns at Lowood School

At the advice of the local apothecary, Mrs. Reed decided to get rid of Jane by sending her to a charity-school known as Lowood School which was not situated very far from Gateshead-hall. The director of Lowood School was a clergyman by the name of Brocklehurst who was now summoned by Mrs. Reed to take charge of the ten-year-old orphan girl. Brocklehurst himself was a very stern kind of man, even more cruel than Mrs. Reed, Jane was sent to Lowood School to study there. The superintendent of this school was Miss Maria Temple who taught geography and who was quite kindhearted. The school had, of course, other teachers who taught other subjects. There, Jane made the acquaintance of a girl whose name was Helen Burns and who told Jane many facts about the school. Helen told Jane about the teachers who included Miss Smith, Miss Scatcherd, and Madame Pierrot, a Frenchwoman who taught French. Jane found Helen Burns to be a gentle and affectionate kind of girl: but she was very surprised to find that Miss Scatcherd was treating Helen in a most heartless manner, accusing her of being a dirty person having no manners at all. Helen Burns made no protest against such ill-treatment because she was a deeply religious girl who had full faith in divine justice.

Humiliated and Disgraced by Mr. Brocklehurst

One day, in the course of a routine visit to the school, Mr. Brocklehurst humiliated and disgraced Jane by announcing that, according to the girl’s aunt (Mrs. Reed), Jane was a liar and a deceitful person, Jane felt deeply distressed by this false accusation but she was comforted by Helen Burns. Eventually Jane was cleared of all the charges because Miss Temple had written a letter to Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary, for some definite information about Jane Eyre: and the apothecary had written back to Miss Temple informing her that Jane did not suffer from any serious faults of character.

Several Girls, Including Helen Burns, Dead

On one occasion the students of Lowood School were overtaken by a great misfortune. There was an outbreak of typhus in the whole region, and many of the girls at the school fell ill, some of them only to die. Helen Burns died too but she did not die of typhus. She had been suffering from consumption for quite a long time, and it was consumption that killed her.

Jane’s Eight Years at Lowood School

Eight years passed. Jane Eyre had spent the first six years at this school as a student and then two years as a teacher there. In both these capacities, she had impressed all the teachers by her hard work, industry, and usefulness. Jane now wanted a change in her life and so she advertised in a newspaper her need of a suitable position. In response to this advertisement, Jane got a job as a governess to a little French girl by the name of Adele near the village of Thornfield which was situated not far from the large manufacturing town of Millcote, Jane now started her new life at a country mansion known as Thornfield Hall which belonged to a wealthy man.

A Visit to Jane by Bessie Lee

Before Jane left Lowood School, she had received a visit from Bessie, the nurse of the Reed family, Bessie had given her all the news about how the Reed family had been getting on. The boy John had proved to be a big disappointment to his mother because of his dissolute ways. Eliza had grown very tall, while Georgiana had become very stout but also very handsome. Georgiana had fallen in love with a young lord but, as her mother had opposed the match, she had tried to run away with him though the attempted elopement had been discovered by Eliza and been prevented. Jane had then asked Bessie what she (Bessie) thought of her (Jane). Bessie replied that Jane had never been beautiful to look at but that now, at the age of eighteen, she had become clever enough and looked genteel. Jane told her that she had learnt to play on the piano, to draw, and to paint and that she had even learnt the French language. Bessie had said that Jane was now quite a lady. Bessie had also told Jane that a relative of hers by the name of John Eyre had come to Gateshead-hall and had wanted to see her (Jane) but had felt disappointed to learn that Jane was no longer living there.


A Curious Laugh, Heard by Jane

At Thornfield Hall, Jane found herself quite comfortable. The mansion was under the charge of a housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, who was a widow, about forty years old. Adele, though somewhat undisciplined, could easily be managed by Jane who had already worked as a teacher handling a large number of students at Lowood School. Mrs. Fairfax told Jane that the owner of this house was one, Mr. Rochester, who had come into the possession of this property as a consequence of the death of his elder brother who had died without making a will. One day when Jane was taken to the top storey of the house by Mrs. Fairfax to enjoy the natural scenery around the house, Jane heard a curious laugh. Jane could not understand from whom the laugh had come; but Mrs. Fairfax told her that one of the servants, most probably one by the name of Grace Poole, might have laughed. Later, Jane saw Grace Poole who seemed to be a good woman between thirty and forty.

Jane’s Expectations of a Smooth Life at Thornfield Hall

As Jane became better acquainted with the inmates of Thornfield Hall, she felt that she would most probably be able to lead a smooth kind of life there. Sometimes she would climb to the roof of the house to look at the natural scenery which was indeed fascinating: and on certain occasions she also heard that curious laugh which had now become a kind of mystery to Jane.

Jane’s Encounter with a Horseman

One day, while sitting on a stile to rest a little in the course of her long walk to the town of Hay to post a letter, Jane encountered a horseman who was accompanied by a dog. It so happened that the horse slipped on the ice-covered pathway, and both the horse and its rider fell to the ground. Jane offered to help the stranger to get up and, though he said that he did not need any help, she did lend him some support to enable him to mount his horse. The man had sprained an ankle. The man did not tell Jane who he was, and Jane did not ask him about his identity.

The Arrival of Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall

On her return to Thornfield Hall from the town of Hay, Jane saw the same dog, which had the name of Pilot, lying on the floor in the house. On asking one of the maids whose dog it was, Jane was told that the dog belonged to Mr. Rochester, the owner of Thornfield Hall, who had arrived about an hour ago. Mr. Rochester had come to his mansion without giving any prior information to his housekeeper who now told Jane that it was something normal for Mr. Rochester to remain absent from Thornfield Hall for long periods of time and then to return suddenly, without any prior notice to her. Adele was very happy to meet Mr. Rochester because she hoped to receive many presents from him on his return to the house after a long time.

A Growing Familiarity Between Jane and Mr. Rochester

At first Mr.Rochester seemed to Jane to be a very reserved kind of man; but, as days passed, he began to talk to Jane in a familiar manner. He asked her all sorts of questions about her past life, and she told him all the harsh and unpleasant facts of her childhood and girlhood. As already pointed out Jane was eighteen years old at this time. Jane found that Mr. Rochester was not the kind of man who paid compliments to women just to please them. In fact, he was a man who frankly pointed out to women the faults from which they seemed to suffer. He told Jane that he was ahead of her by a century so far as life’s experiences were concerned. But Jane was by no means over-respectful to Mr. Rochester. She said that, merely because of his greater are and greater experience of life, he did not have the right to give her commands though she did recognize his right to give her orders relating to her duties as a governess because, after all, he was paying her a salary. Mr. Rochester said that he himself was not a faultless man. In fact, he described himself as a stale commonplace sinner” who had led a dissolute life. Jane found that Mr. Rochester’s remarks were somewhat enigmatical, but told him that she was certainly not afraid of him.

Mr. Rochester’s Account of His Past Life to Jane

One afternoon Mr. Rochester told Jane who Adele really was. He said that Adele was not his daughter but only a helpless girl whom he had taken under his protection out of a feeling of pity. Adele, he said, was the illegitimate daughter of a Frenchwoman, an opera dancer, who had lived as his mistress for a considerable time but who had proved unfaithful to him and had, therefore, been discarded by him.

Mr. Rochester’s Bed-Curtains, Set on Fire

On one occasion in the middle of the night, Jane heard a noise and, feeling alarmed, she got up to find out the cause of it. Emerging from her bedroom she saw smoke coming from Mr. Rochester’s bed-room. She rushed into Mr. Rochester’s bed-room and found the bed-curtains on fire. As she found some water nearby, she was able to extinguish the fire. She then woke up Mr. Rochester who was still asleep and who was now informed by her that somebody had set fire to his bed-curtains. The cause of this fire greatly puzzled Jane; but Mr. Rochester seemed to understand how the fire had started. Jane wondered if Grace Poole was the woman to have set fire to Mr. Rochester’s bed-curtains.

Jane Eyre, Deeply in Love with Mr. Rochester

The very next morning Mr. Rochester left Thornfield Hall to join a group of friends who wanted to make merry at a place not very far off. Mrs. Fairfax told Jane that Mr. Rochester’s friends included several lords and ladies and that one of the ladies, namely Miss Blanche Ingram, was exceptionally beautiful, Mrs. Fairfax also said that Mr. Rochester might even be thinking of marrying that lady. By this time, Jane had herself fallen deeply in love with Mr. Rochester despite the difference of age between them. Jane was now nearing twenty while Mr. Rochester was nearing forty. And yet Jane found that she was deeply in love with Mr. Rochester, and now felt very unhappy during his absence from Thornfield Hall. The idea that he might want to marry Miss Blanche Ingram was a torture to her.

Jane’s Obsessive Love for Mr. Rochester

When Mr. Rochester did return to Thornfield Hall, he did not come alone. He brought all his friends, including the ladies, with him and made very elaborate arrangements for their stay with him for about a fortnight, and also devised various forms of entertainment for them. Jane found that Mr. Rochester was, after all, not a man without a sense of humour and that he could be jovial, besides being extremely hospitable to his guests. But the doubt that Mr. Rochester might be wanting to marry Miss Blanche Ingram had already begun to make Jane think of leaving Thornfield Hall and finding another job, though she could not stop loving Mr. Rochester. Mr. Rochester was by no means a handsome man just as Jane herself was by no means a pretty woman. But to Jane’s eyes, Mr. Rochester presented a most attractive, almost fascinating, appearance; and all her thoughts, apart from her duties as a governess, were centred round him.

The Arrival of a Man Named Mason

One day a stranger arrived at Thomfield Hall to meet Mr. Rochester who was not at home and who had gone out to return late in the night. When Mr. Rochester did return and was told about the presence in the house of a man by the name of Mason, Mr. Rochester showed some signs of unease and discomfort. In fact, he even told Jane that he was feeling scared because Mason’s visit might mean some kind of misfortune for him. Anyhow, Mr. Rochester received Mason in a friendly manner, and then escorted him into a room on the ground floor where Mason could spend the night.

Mason, Attacked and Badly Wounded by a Woman

During that night another strange incident occurred. For some unknown reason, Mason, leaving his room on the ground floor, had climbed up to the third storey to meet a woman who dwelt there and who was under the charge of Grace Poole. That woman had pounced upon Mason, and had not only scratched his face and caused him some injuries with a knife, but had also bitten him hard on his shoulder. The tumult created by this incident awakened everybody in the house, including the guests who were staying there. However, Mr. Rochester was able to calm the fears of his guests; and he himself then began to attend to Mason’s wounds. A little later, Mr. Rochester went away in great haste to bring the surgeon, Mr. Carton, to dress Mason’s wounds. Mr. Carton then took Mason with him to his own house so that he could rest there and then leave for his home in Madeira (in the West Indies) where he had been living all his life. Later when Jane asked Mr. Rochester about who Mason was and why he had been attacked and wounded, Mr. Rochester just put her off.

The Death of Mrs. Reed of Gateshead-hall

Around this time a message came to Jane from Gateshead-hall asking her to go and meet her aunt Mrs. Reed who was dying. Jane took Mr. Rochester’s permission for the purpose and went to Gateshead-hall where Mrs. Reed told her that she had always hated Jane and Jane’s mother, and that even now she sought no reconciliation with her (Jane). Mrs. Reed then explained that she had called Jane only to reveal to her a secret. The secret was that Jane’s uncle, John Eyre, had once written a letter to her informing her that he wanted Jane to join him in Madeira where he would bequeath all his property to her (Jane) because he had never married and had no child of his own. Mrs. Reed said that she had kept this letter a secret because she did not want that Jane should come to know of the happy news that one day she would become a rich woman. Mrs. Reed died that night, without feeling the least repentant over her past ill-treatment of an orphan girl.

Jane’s Acceptance of Mr. Rochester’s Proposal of Marriage

On her return to Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester told her that he was going to get married (to Blanche Ingram), but he said so only to tease Jane hecause immediately afterwards he said that he wanted to marry her (Jane Eyre) and not Blanche Ingram. Jane Eyre, being deeply in love with Mr. Rochester in spite of the big difference between their ages, accepted the proposal and experienced an ecstatic pleasure in doing so.

The Marriage Ceremony, Abandoned After a Shocking Disclosure

When the ceremony of marriage between Mr. Rochester and Jane was in progress at the local church, a London solicitor by the name of Mr. Briggs interrupted the ceremony, saying that Mr. Rochester would be committing bigamy by marrying Jane Eyre because he was already a married man, with his wife living in his own house, namely Thornfield Hall, Jane felt shocked and dismayed by this revelation because Mr. Rochester did not deny the accusation made against him by Mr. Brians who was accompanied by Mr. Mason whom Jane Eyre had already seen on the occasion of his unexpected visit to Thornfield Hall to meet Mr. Rochester. Mr. Mason declared in the church that he was the brother of Mr. Rochester’s wife whose name was Bertha. Mr. Rochester now took the clergyman, Mr. Briggs, Mr. Mason, and, of course, Jane Eyre to his house and showed them his wife Bertha who, he said, was a mad woman and whom he was maintaining in his house and keeping her under the care of a maidservant, Grace Poole, in a room on the top storey of his house. However, the fact of his wife’s madness did not alter the fact that, by marrying another woman, namely Jane Eyre, he would be committing an illegal act, namely bigamy.

Jane’s Refusal to Live with Mr. Rochester as His Mistress

Jane now found herself in a strange situation. Mr. Rochester suggested that they should quit Thornfield Hall and live together at another house which he owned. But Jane’s conscience did not permit her to live with Mr. Rochester as his mistress, and she told him candidly that she would have to leave him. Mr. Rochester then narrated to her the whole story of his past life including his several liaisons with women of all kinds and the fact that he had been lured into marrying a mad woman by his own kinsfolk. However, Jane found it impossible to agree to his suggestion that she should live with him as his companion and mistress


Jane’s Departure from Thornfield Hall and Her Sufferings

On the following day, Jane left Thornfield Hall, with no destination in her mind. She just started walking along a road which she had often seen but along which she had never travelled. She did not have any money at all in her pocket, and she did not know where she was going. She walked on till she began to feel weary and hungry. She asked for food at a farm-house but was given a pot of porridge which was actually meant for the pigs. She resumed her journey in a state of near-exhaustion and near-starvation till she arrived at another farm-house where she was rebuffed by the maidservant but admitted into the house and fed by the owner of the house, St. John Rivers, who was a clergyman and a missionary and who lived in that house with his two sisters, Diana and Mary. Subsequently Jane was asked to stay on there for some time, and then to start working as a teacher at a school which St. John was going to establish for the poor girls of the village of Morton. Jane agreed, and soon started working as a teacher at that school. She moved from the residence of the Rivers family to the village of Morton where she was provided with suitable lodgings. Diana and Mary also left the house, which was known as “Moor House” to pursue their own careers, and St. John himself shifted to the parsonage at Morton. Thus the old farm-house called “Moor House” was abandoned. A rich and beautiful woman, Miss Rosamond Oliver, was in love with St. John Rivers and wanted to marry him. But St. John Rivers did not find it a practical proposition to marry that woman because he wanted to go to India and work there as a missionary; and a fashionable and sophisticated woman like Rosamond would not fit the role of a missionary’s wife.


Some Happy Developments

St. John Rivers now proposed marriage to Jane Eyre because he felt that she was the right person to accompany him to India as his wife. Jane was still in love with Mr. Rochester, and so she declined this proposal. And then some good news came for Jane. Her uncle, John Eyre, who had been living in Madeira (in the West Indies), had died and had left a legacy of twenty thousand pounds for Jane Eyre. Another happy development, which now occurred, was the discovery that St. John, Diana, and Mary were Jane’s own cousins. Jane felt extremely happy at these developments; and she told St. John that she was not an ungrateful person and that she would distribute the amount of twenty thousand pounds equally among all four of them (including herself).

Jane’s Final Refusal to Marry St. John Rivers

St. John continued to persist in his proposal that Jane Eyre should marry him and go with him to India to help him in doing his missionary work. St. John’s persistence was so intense that Jane found herself on the verge of succumbing to the pressure. Just then it seemed to Jane that somebody was calling out to her, and saying: “Jane ! Jane ! Jane !” It was clearly the voice of Mr. Rochester, and the voice had come to Jane from her own heart. She immediately changed her mind about St. John Rivers, and took a firm decision to search for Mr. Rochester whose present whereabouts were not known to her at all. So she finally declined St. John’s proposal.

Thornfield Hall, Burnt Down by a Fire Set to it by Bertha

Jane now travelled all the way to Thornfield Hall to look for Mr. Rochester, but she was amazed and bewildered to find Thornfield Hall in a state of complete ruin as if it had been engulfed by a fire. Her inquiries revealed that the house had been set on fire one night by Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha, and that Mr. Rochester, in his attempt to rescue the mad mischief-maker from the flames, had himself been blinded. Bertha had, in her state of madness, leapt down to the ground from the top storey of the house and been killed. Mr. Rochester had failed to save Bertha and had himself lost his eyesight and an arm. He was now blind and a cripple. Jane also learnt that Mr. Rochester was now living in a manor house near the village of Ferndean.


Jane, Married to Rochester

Jane next travelled to Ferndean and, after a few words with the maidservant, approached Mr. Rochester. All her suppressed passion for Mr. Rochester now rose to the surface of her heart and, when she spoke to him, he first felt agitated and then elated. His pleasure at Jane’s arrival at his house could not be described, and thus were the lovers united, Jane soon got married to Mr. Rochester, and they embarked upon their conjugal life in a state of extreme happiness. After a time Mr. Rochester even recovered, though partially, his eyesight through a bit of surgery performed by a specialist

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