The section below includes a summary of the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
The novel opens early in the 19th Century and continues through five key stages of Jane Eyre’s life: Jane’s childhood at Gateshead Hall, where she is abused by her aunt and cousins; her education at Lowood School, where she makes friends but also suffers oppression; her time as a Governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her employer, Edward Fairfax Rochester; her time spent at Moore House, with her cold clergyman cousin, St. John Rivers and finally her reunion and marriage to her beloved Mr. Rochester.
Jane’s Early Childhood
At the start of the novel Jane is 10 years old and living with her maternal Uncle, Aunt and cousins (the Reed Family) at Gateshead Hall. Jane’s parents had died of typhus several years before the start of the novel. At Gateshead Hall, Jane’s Uncle Mr. Reed is the only member of the family who shows her any kindness. Jane’s Aunt Sarah Reed, abuses Jane and treats her as an unwanted burden; she discourages her children from associating with Jane. As a result Jane is lonely and isolated and as a result Jane becomes defensive against her cruel judgment. The family’s nursemaid, Bessie, is Jane’s only ally in the household. Excluded from the family Jane leads a miserable childhood.
As punishment for defending herself against her cousin John Reed, Jane is sent to the Red Room where her late Uncle had died, in the red room Jane faints from panic as she thinks she sees a ghost. She is subsequently attended by Mr. Lloyd an apothecary who shows Jane Kindness, Jane confides in him how unhappy she is at Gateshead Hall. He then recommends to Mrs. Reed that Jane be sent to school. Mrs. Reed readily accepts this as she wants rid of Jane. Mrs. Reed then enlists the aid of the harsh Mr. Brocklehurst, who is the director of Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls, to enroll Jane. Mrs. Reed cautions Mr. Brocklehurst that Jane has a tendency for deceit, which he interprets as her being a "liar". Before Jane leaves, however, she confronts Mrs. Reed and declares that she'll never call her "aunt" again. Jane also tells Mrs. Reed and her daughters, Georgiana and Eliza, that they are the ones who are deceitful, and that she will tell everyone at Lowood how cruelly the Reeds treated her. Mrs. Reed is hurt badly by these words, but does not have the courage or tenacity to show this.
Lowood School Years
At the Lowood Institution, a school for orphaned and poor girls, Jane soon finds that life is harsh; but she attempts to fit in and befriends an older girl, Helen Burns. During a class session, her new friend looks back at Jane and is caught, which earns her a lashing. Mr. Brocklehurst enters just prior to the lashing, then permits it to take place, Jane drops her slate which causes a loud crash and breaks it, thereby drawing attention to herself. She is then forced to stand on a stool with no food nor water and is called a "sinner". The other girls are told not to engage with her as she is a liar. Miss Temple, the caring superintendent, facilitates Jane's self-defence. Helen and Miss Temple are Jane's two main role models who positively guide her development, despite the harsh treatment she has received from many others.
Conditions at the school are appalling the 80 pupils are subjected to cold rooms, poor meals, and thin clothing. Many students fall ill when a typhus epidemic strikes; Helen dies of consumption in Jane's arms. When Mr. Brocklehurst's maltreatment of the students is discovered, several benefactors erect a new building and install a sympathetic management committee to moderate Mr. Brocklehurst's harsh rule. Conditions at the school then improve dramatically.
After eight years at Lowood, 6 as a student and 2 as a teacher Jane decides to leave to pursue a new life. Her friend Miss Temple also leaves the school after getting married.
Time at Thornfield Hall
Jane advertises her services as a governess. A housekeeper at Thornfield Hall, Alice Fairfax, replies to Jane's advertisement. Jane takes the position, teaching Adèle Varens, a young French girl.
One night, while Jane is walking to the nearby town she is passed by a horseman. The horse slips on ice and throws the rider. Despite the rider's surliness, Jane helps him get back onto his horse. Later, back at Thornfield, Jane learns that this man is Edward Fairfax Rochester, master of the house. Adèle was left in his care when her mother abandoned her. It is not immediately apparent whether Adèle is Rochester's daughter or not.
At Jane's first meeting with Mr. Rochester, he teases her, accusing her of bewitching his horse to make him fall. Jane is able to stand up to his initially arrogant manner, despite his strange behaviour. Mr. Rochester and Jane soon come to enjoy each other's company, and spend many evenings together.
Odd things start to happen at the house, such as a strange laugh being heard, a mysterious fire in Mr. Rochester's room (from which Jane saves Rochester by rousing him and throwing water on him and the fire), and an attack on a house-guest named Mr. Mason.
After Jane saves Mr. Rochester from the fire, he thanks her tenderly, and that night Jane feels strange emotions of her own towards him. The next day however he leaves unexpectedly for a distant party gathering, and several days later returns with the whole party, including the beautiful and talented Blanche Ingram. Jane starts to feel jealous when she sees that Blanche and Mr. Rochester favour each other, particularly because she also sees that Blanche is snobbish and heartless.
Jane then receives word that Mrs. Reed has suffered a stroke and is calling for her. Jane returns to Gateshead and remains there for a month to attend her dying aunt. Mrs. Reed confesses to Jane that she wronged her, bringing forth a letter from Jane's paternal uncle, Mr. John Eyre, in which he asks for her to live with him and be his heir. Mrs. Reed admits to telling Mr. Eyre that Jane had died of fever at Lowood. Soon afterward, Mrs. Reed dies, and Jane helps her cousins after the funeral before returning to Thornfield.
Back at Thornfield, Jane broods over Mr. Rochester's rumoured impending marriage to Blanche Ingram. However, one midsummer evening, Rochester baits Jane by saying how much he will miss her after getting married and how she will soon forget him. The normally self-controlled Jane reveals her feelings for him. Rochester then is sure that Jane is sincerely in love with him, and he proposes marriage. Jane is at first skeptical of his sincerity, before accepting his proposal. She then writes to her Uncle John, telling him of her happy news.
As she prepares for her wedding, Jane's forebodings arise when a strange woman sneaks into her room one night and rips her wedding veil in two. As with the previous mysterious events, Mr. Rochester attributes the incident to Grace Poole, one of his servants. During the wedding ceremony however, Mr. Mason and a lawyer declare that Mr. Rochester cannot marry because he is already married to Mr. Mason's sister, Bertha. Mr. Rochester admits this is true but explains that his father tricked him into the marriage for her money. Once they were united, he discovered that she was rapidly descending into congenital madness, and so he eventually locked her away in Thornfield, hiring Grace Poole as a nurse to look after her. When Grace gets drunk, Rochester's wife escapes and causes the strange happenings at Thornfield.
It turns out that Jane's uncle, Mr. John Eyre, is a friend of Mr. Mason's and was visited by him soon after Mr. Eyre received Jane's letter about her impending marriage. After the marriage ceremony is broken off, Mr. Rochester asks Jane to go with him to the south of France, and live with him as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. Jane is tempted, but must stay true to her Christian values and beliefs. Refusing to go against her principles, and despite her love for him, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.
Time at Moore House
Jane travels as far from Thornfield as she can using the little money she had previously saved. She accidentally leaves her bundle of possessions on the coach and is forced to sleep on the moor. She unsuccessfully attempts to trade her handkerchief and gloves for food. Exhausted and starving, she eventually makes her way to the home of Diana and Mary Rivers, but is turned away by the housekeeper. She collapses on the doorstep, preparing for her death. St. John Rivers, Diana and Mary's brother and a clergyman, rescues her. After she regains her health, St. John finds Jane a teaching position at a nearby village school. Jane becomes good friends with the sisters, but St. John remains aloof.
The sisters leave for governess jobs, and St. John becomes somewhat closer to Jane. St. John learns Jane's true identity and astounds her by telling her that her uncle, John Eyre, has died and left her his entire fortune of £20,000. When Jane questions him further, St. John reveals that John Eyre is also his and his sisters' uncle. They had once hoped for a share of the inheritance but were left virtually nothing. Jane, overjoyed by finding that she has living and friendly family members, insists on sharing the money equally with her cousins, and Diana and Mary come back to live at Moor House.
The Novels Ending
Thinking that the pious Jane will make a suitable missionary's wife, St. John asks her to marry him and to go with him to India, out of duty not out of love. Jane initially accepts going to India but rejects the marriage proposal, suggesting they travel as brother and sister. As soon as Jane's resolve against marriage to St. John begins to weaken, she mystically hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling her name.
Jane then returns to Thornfield Hall only to find it as blackened ruins. She learns that Mr. Rochester's wife set the house on fire and committed suicide by jumping from the roof. In his rescue attempts, Mr. Rochester lost a hand and his eyesight. Jane reunites with him, but he fears that she will be repulsed by his condition. "Am I hideous, Jane?", he asks. "Very, sir; you always were, you know", she replies. When Jane assures him of her love and tells him that she will never leave him, Mr. Rochester proposes again, and they are married. He eventually recovers sight enough to see their newborn son.