This section discusses the main characters in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Jane is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. At the start of the novel Jane is 10 years old, the events of the novel track the next 10 years of her life and the final chapter of the novel is set a further ten years later so Jane is approximately 30 years old at the end of the novel.
Jane is a strong willed, plain looking daughter of a poor clergyman. Both of her parents die while she is still an infant. A cruel aunt rears her to age ten as an unwanted and inferior member of the family, she then sends her to a charity school, Lowood Orphan Asylum. Jane spends six years there as a student and two years as a teacher before accepting a position, at age eighteen, as the governess of the ward of Edward Rochester at his estate, Thornfield Hall. Jane is intelligent, well educated (thanks in part to her love of books), industrious, loyal, compassionate, religious and morally upright, with an independent spirit.
Edward Fairfax Rochester
Mr. Rochester is Jane’s employer at Thornfield Hall. He is gruff and sometimes an arrogant and moody employer. He falls in love with Jane, who is about half his age, and gains her assent to marry him even though he already has a wife (an insane woman whom he keeps in the attic of Thornfield Hall).
Mrs. Sarah Reed
Mrs. Reed is Jane's maternal aunt by marriage, who reluctantly adopted Jane in accordance with her late husband's wishes. Accordingly Mrs. Reed resents Jane as her late husband pitied her and often cared for her more than for his own children. Mrs. Reed's resentment leads her to abuse and neglect the girl. She lies to Mr. Brocklehurst about Jane's tendency to lie, preparing him to be severe with Jane when she arrives at Lowood School.
Young John Reed
The young John Reed is Jane’s 14 year old cousin (the son of John and Sarah Reed). He constantly bedevils Jane, reminding her that she is a lowly orphan who does not deserve to live in the Reed home. He is a cruel and mischievous boy. John eventually ruins himself as an adult by drinking and gambling, and is rumoured to have committed suicide.
Eliza Reed is Jane’s 13 year old cousin, Like her brother John and Sister Georgiana she is cruel to Jane. She is envious of her more attractive younger sister (Georgiana) and a slave to rigid routine, she self-righteously devotes herself to religion. She leaves for a nunnery near Lisle after her mother's death, determined to estrange herself from her sister.
Georgiana Reed is Jane’s 11 year old cousin. Like her older siblings John and Eliza she is also cruel to Jane. Georgiana is beautiful and indulged, she is insolent and spiteful. Her elder sister Eliza foils Georgiana's marriage to the wealthy Lord Edwin Vere, when the couple are about to elope. Georgiana eventually marries a, "wealthy worn-out man of fashion."
Bessie Lee, is the nursemaid at Gateshead. She often treats Jane kindly, telling her stories and singing her songs, but she has a quick temper. Later, she marries Robert Leaven with whom she has three children.
Mr. Brocklehurst is a clergyman, director, and treasurer of Lowood School, whose maltreatment of the pupils is eventually exposed. A religious traditionalist, he advocates for his charges the most harsh, plain, and disciplined possible lifestyle, but not, hypocritically, for himself and his own family.
Miss Maria Temple
Miss Temple is the kind superintendent of Lowood School, who treats the pupils with respect and compassion. She helps clear Jane of Mr. Brocklehurst's false accusation of deceit and cares for Helen in her last days. Eventually, she marries Reverend Naysmith.
Helen Burns is Jane's best friend at Lowood School. She refuses to hate those who abuse her, trusts in God, and prays for peace one day in heaven. She teaches Jane to trust Christianity and dies of consumption in Jane's arms. Helen’s death is similar to the death of Charlotte Bronte’s older sister Maria who also died of consumption at the age of 11.
Adele Varens is an excitable French child to whom Jane is a governess at Thornfield. Adele's mother was a dancer named Celine. She was Mr. Rochester's mistress and claimed that Adele was Mr. Rochester's daughter, though he refuses to believe it due to Celine's unfaithfulness and Adele's apparent lack of resemblance to him. Adele seems to believe that her mother is dead, Mr Rochester later tells Jane that Celine actually abandoned Adele and ran away to Italy with a musician or singer. Adele and Jane develop a strong liking for one another, and although Mr. Rochester places Adele in a strict school after Jane flees Thornfield, Jane visits Adele after her return and finds a better, less severe school for her. When Adele is old enough to leave school, Jane describes her as "a pleasing and obliging companion – docile, good-tempered and well-principled", and considers her kindness to Adele well repaid.
Blanche Ingram is a young socialite whom Mr. Rochester is planning to marry. Though possessed of great beauty and talent, she treats social inferiors, Jane in particular, with undisguised contempt. Mr. Rochester exposes her and her mother's mercenary motivations when he puts out a rumour that he is far less wealthy than they imagine.
Richard Mason arrives at Thornfield Hall from the West Indies and unsettles Mr. Rochester. He is the brother of Rochester's first wife, the woman in the attic, and still cares for his sister's well-being. During the wedding ceremony of Jane and Mr. Rochester, he exposes the bigamous nature of the marriage.
Bertha Mason is the first wife of Edward Rochester. After their wedding, her mental health began to deteriorate, and she is now violent and in a state of intense derangement, apparently unable to speak or go into society. Mr. Rochester, who insists that he was tricked into the marriage by a family who knew Bertha was likely to develop this condition, has kept Bertha locked in the attic at Thornfield for years. She is supervised and cared for by Grace Poole, whose drinking sometimes allows Bertha to escape. After Richard Mason puts an end to Jane and Mr. Rochester's wedding, Rochester finally introduces Jane to Bertha. Eventually, Bertha sets fire to Thornfield Hall and throws herself to her death from the roof. Bertha is viewed as Jane's "double": Jane is pious and just, while Bertha is savage and animalistic.
Diana and Mary Rivers
Diana and Mary Rivers are sisters who take Jane in when she is hungry and friendless, having left Thornfield Hall without making any arrangements for herself. Financially poor but intellectually curious, the sisters are deeply engrossed in reading the evening Jane appears at their door. Eventually, they are revealed to be Jane's cousins. They want Jane to marry their stern clergyman brother (St. John) so that he will stay in England rather than journey to India as a missionary.
St. John Eyre Rivers
St. John Rivers is a handsome, though severe and pious, clergyman who befriends Jane and turns out to be her cousin. St. John is thoroughly practical and suppresses all of his human passions and emotions, particularly his love for the beautiful and cheerful heiress Rosamond Oliver, in favour of good works. He wants Jane to marry him and serve as his assistant on his missionary journey to India.