The Context and Settings of the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
Jane Eyre was first published in 1847 and the novel is set in Northern England in the early decades on the nineteenth century.
At the time women were seen as second class citizens with few rights, opportunities or ways of supporting themselves. They were expected to marry as well as could be arranged and to obey their husbands. For middle class women such as Jane one of the only other options was to teach or become a governess, a route which offered them a small degree of independence and security outside of marriage.
The novel is set at a time of rigid moral codes whereby any woman who became a ‘mistress’ (as Rochester proposes when his existing marriage is revealed) would be shunned by society and considered ruined.
The early nineteenth century was a time of enormous poverty and social injustice for many in Britain and this is reflected in parts of the novel. The agricultural revolution and the growth of industry had resulted in an emergent wealthy middle class but had also sharpened the divide between the aristocracy and the working classes.
There was also a changing of attitudes to forms of insanity and madness. It began to be believed that madness could be partial rather than absolute and that those who were considered mad could be helped.
Settings in the novel
Charlotte Brontë uses the five main locations in the novel to illustrate Jane Eyre’s moral and spiritual journey as she moves from location to location, each setting corresponds with periods of Jane’s life.
Gateshead Hall –The Reed family’s home and the seat of Jane’s original unhappiness, rejection, sense of injustice and some of her deepest fears and darkest moments. It is her desire to escape the home of her Aunt and cousins that launches her into the wider world.
Lowood School – the school which Jane is sent and where she experiences further unhappiness, deprivation and injustice. However, she also discovers friendship and witnesses positive change and she begins to find ways to manage her emotions and to learn acceptance through Christian values such as forgiveness.
Thornfield Hall – Rochester’s manor house is where Jane’s moral journey reaches its predicament. She falls in love and then faces the horror of discovering Rochester’s marriage.
Marsh End/Moor House – the home of the Rivers family offers Jane sanctuary and a chance to reflect and rebuild her life. She discovers that she has family and wealth and can be her own person; she also chooses to refuse to marry someone she doesn’t truly love.
Ferndean Manor – Rochester’s rural retreat is the place where Jane finally settles and marries Rochester, finding real happiness and a sense of purpose in caring for a family of her own.