This timeless classic was written by Charlotte Bronte and published in 1847 under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. At this time in British society, women were not thought to be capable of writing literary works. However, Jane and two of her surviving sisters (as well as their brother) all were accomplished writers.
The story is presented as an “autobiography” of Jane Eyre. We learn of Jane’s harsh childhood as an orphan living in the home of an aunt by marriage, verbally and physically abused by the aunt and her cousins. Jane is sent off to a school for orphans where at first she and the other students endure much hardship, being half-starved and living in an unhealthy residence. After several students die of tuberculosis, new management improves the school’s living conditions. Jane perseveres and is able to obtain a well-rounded education. At the age of eighteen, she seeks employment as a governess. She obtains a position as instructor to the female ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy landowner who is often absent from home. When Mr. Rochester does return, there is an instant attraction between him and Jane. Their relationship develops and leads to a marriage proposal. However, a mysterious “presence” in the attic of the manor turns out to be Rochester’s current wife, a madwoman unable to be controlled and who has been hidden from society. The discovery made just before Jane and Rochester’s marriage convinces Jane that it is better for her to flee rather than remain as Rochester’s mistress.
Fleeing with no worldly possessions, Jane wanders the countryside starving and without shelter. She finally is taken in by the Reverend Saint John Rivers and his two sisters. Although Jane hides her identity to prevent being discovered by Rochester, she is found out when an Eyre cousin dies and leaves his money to Jane. It turns out that Saint John and his sisters also are Jane’s cousins. Jane shares her inheritance with them; Saint John plans to use his money to work as a missionary in India and proposes that Jane marry him and works with him in India too. However, since there is no love in this match, and Saint John is too controlling, Jane resists.
In a mystical occurrence, Jane hears Rochester calling her. She immediately returns to Thornfield where she discovers the manor destroyed by fire and learns of the death of Rochester’s wife while he tried to rescue her. He is blinded as a result. Jane goes to see him; they marry.
This is a novel of many themes, one being that of the inequality of opportunity for females in comparison to males, another is the inequality between the classes. It is a moral tale, with one example being Jane’s refusal to be with Rochester while he is married, and one of superstition and mysticism. All of the characters are well-developed. Above all, Jane Eyre is a strongly emotional work that captivates the reader from beginning to end.