Synopses & Reviews
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.
The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama in the drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with her darlings about her (for the time neither quarrelling nor crying) looked perfectly happy. Me, she had dispensed from joining the group; saying, 'She regretted to be under the necessity of keeping me at a distance; but that until she heard from Bessie, and could discover by her own observation that I was endeavouring in good earnest to acquire a more sociable and childlike disposition, a more attractive and sprightly manner,—something lighter, franker, more natural as it were—she really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy, little children.'
'What does Bessie say I have done?' I asked.
'Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners: besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent.'
A small breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room. I slipped in there. It contained a book-case: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.
Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.
I returned to my book—Bewick's History of British Birds: the letter-press thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of 'the solitary rocks and promontories' by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape—
'Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.'
From the eBook edition.
The literary masterpiece, introduced by contemporary novelist-of-manners Diana Johnson, is a quintessential love story where a bright, lonely, and steadfast young woman finds mystery, sorrow, and true love with the inimitable Mr. Rochester.
Introduction by Diane Johnson
Commentary by G. K. Chesterton, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Rigby, George Saintsbury, and Anthony Trollope
Initially published under the pseudonym Currer Bell in 1847, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre erupted onto the English literary scene, immediately winning the devotion of many of the world’s most renowned writers, including William Makepeace Thackeray, who declared it a work “of great genius.” Widely regarded as a revolutionary novel, Brontë’s masterpiece introduced the world to a radical new type of heroine, one whose defiant virtue and moral courage departed sharply from the more acquiescent and malleable female characters of the day. Passionate, dramatic, and surprisingly modern, Jane Eyre endures as one of the world’s most beloved novels.
Includes a Modern Library Reading Group Guide
About the Author
Charlotte Bronte was born at Thornton, Yorkshire, on April 21, 1816. Her father, Patrick Bronte, became curate for life of the moorland parish of Haworth, Yorkshire, in 1820, and her mother, Maria Bronte, died the following year, leaving behind five daughters and a son who were cared for in the parsonage by their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. The eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825 from tuberculosis contracted at the religious boarding school to which they (along with Charlotte and her younger sister Emily) had been sent. (All the Bronte children ultimately suffered from lung disease.)
Raised at home thereafter, Charlotte, Emily, their youngest sister, Anne, and brother, Branwell, lived in a fantasy world of their own making, drawing on their voracious reading of Byron, Scott, Shakespeare, The Arabian Nights, and gothic fiction, and writing elaborate poetic and dramatic cycles involving the histories of imaginary countries. Charlotte's early writings revolved around the kingdom of Angria, about which she wrote melodramatic tales of passion and revenge. She spent a year studying at Miss Wooler's school in Roe Head (later relocated to Dewsbury Moor), and went back there to teach from 1835 to 1838; subsequently she worked as a governess.
With Emily, Charlotte traveled in 1842 to study languages at a boarding school in Brussels; her close emotional attachment to her instructor, M. Heger, a married man, would later figure in her fiction. Charlotte and Emily went home after a year because of their aunt's death; Charlotte subsequently returned to Brussels for a year of teaching, 1843 to 1844. A joint collection of poems by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—published pseudonymously as Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell—appeared in 1846. The three sisters had in the meantime each written a novel, of which Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were accepted in 1847 for publication the following year. Charlotte's first novel, The Professor, based on her experiences in Brussels, was rejected by a series of publishers (it finally appeared posthumously in 1857).
Jane Eyre was published under Charlotte's pseudonym, Currer Bell, in 1847 and achieved commercial and critical success; it had gone through four editions by the time of Charlotte's death. Jane Eyre won high praises; William Makepeace Thackeray (who later became a friend) declared himself 'exceedingly moved and pleased,' and George Henry Lewes applauded its 'deep significant reality'; it was also criticized by some for the rebelliousness of its heroine and for what the Quarterly Review called 'coarseness of language and laxity of tone.'
During this period the Brontes underwent repeated tragedies. Branwell, despite his early promise, had been ravaged by the effects of drink and drugs, and when he found work as a tutor in the same household where Anne was a governess, his involvement with his employer's wife led to his dismissal; he died in September of 1848, followed three months later by Emily and the following year by Anne. Charlotte, the sole survivor, published two more novels, Shirley (1849), a novel of Yorkshire during the Napoleonic period, and Villette (1853), a further fictional exploration of her Brussels experiences. In 1850 she met the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, with whom she formed a close friendship; Gaskell later wrote the classic biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857). Charlotte married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, in 1854, and died on March 31, 1855.
Reading Group Guide
1. In Jane Eyre, nothing can better show a man's moral worth than the way in which he treats the women in his life. How is Rochester's character reflected in the way he treats Jane, Adele, Bertha Mason, and Miss Ingram, and in his reported treatment of Celine Varens? How is St. John's character reflected in the way he treats Jane, Miss Oliver, and Diana and Mary? Why does this serve as such a good gauge of a man's morality and worth? What other relationships serve similar functions in the novel?
2. Throughout the novel, questions of identity are raised. From her identity as an orphan and stranger in the hostile environment of Gateshead Hall to that of a ward of the church at Lowood; from her being a possible wife of Rochester, then of St. John, to being the cousin of Diana and Mary, Jane is constantly in transition. Trace these changes in identity and how they affect Jane's view of herself and the world around her. Describe the final discovery of her identity that becomes apparent in the last chapter of the novel and the events that made that discovery possible.
3. Throughout the novel, Charlotte Brontë uses biblical quotes and religious references. From the church-supported school she attended that was run by Mr. Brocklehurst to the offer of marriage she receives from St. John, she is surrounded by aspects of Christianity. How does this influence her throughout her development? How do her views of God and Christianity change from her days as a young girl to the end of the novel? How is religion depicted in the novel, positively or negatively?
4. Many readers of Jane Eyre feel that the story is composed of two distinct parts, different in tone and purpose. The first part (chapters 1-11) concerns her childhood at Gateshead and her life at Lowood; the second part is the remainder of the story. Is creating such a division justified? Is there a genuine difference of tone and purpose between the two sections as they have been described? Some critics and readers have suggested that the first part of Jane Eyre is more arresting because it is more directly autobiographical. Do you find this to be true?
5. Upon publication, great speculation arose concerning the identity of the author of Jane Eyre, known only by the pen name Currer Bell. Questions as to the sex of the author were raised, and many critics said that they believed it to be the work of a man. One critic of her time said, "A book more unfeminine, both in its excellence and defects, it would be hard to find in the annals of female authorship. Throughout there is masculine power, breadth and shrewdness, combined with masculine hardness, coarseness, and freedom of expression." Another critic of the day, Elizabeth Rigby, said that if it was the product of a female pen, then it was the writing of a woman "unsexed." Why was there such importance placed on the sex of the author and why was it questioned so readily? What does it mean that people believed it to be the product of a man rather than of a woman?
6. Scenes of madness and insanity are among the most important plot devices in Jane Eyre. From the vision Jane sees when locked in the bedroom at Gateshead to her hearing the "goblin laughter" she attributes to Grace Poole, to the insanity and wretchedness of Bertha Mason, madness is of central importance to the plot and direction of the story. Give examples of madness in the text, and show how they affect the reader's understanding of the character experiencing the madness and how these examples affect the reader's understanding of the characters witnessing it.
7. There is probably no single line in the whole of Jane Eyre that has, in itself, attracted as much critical attention as the first line of the last chapter: "Reader, I married him." Why is the phrasing of this line so important? How would the sense be different-for the sentence and for the novel as a whole-if the line read, "Reader, we were married"?