The novel Jane Eyre appeared under the title, Jane Eyre, an Autobiography. The story of her life is, as such, narrated by Jane Eyre herself. There are in the main five movements of which the plot is composed and they all converge on the central point of interest, that is fulfilment of the destiny of Jane Eyre.
Chapter 1-4: Jane’s early life at Gateshead Hall
Jane Eyre is the orphan daughter of the sister of Mr. Reed of Gateshead Hall. After the death of her parents, her uncle Mr. Reed adopted her and she came to live at Gateshead Hall. Her uncle treated her very kindly, and we are told that he was more indulgent to her than to his own children. This naturally irritated Mrs. Reed, who might have disposed her off, if Mr. Reed on his death-bed had not exacted a promise from her that she would treat Jane as her own daughter. But Jane’s life became very miserable after the death of her uncle. Mrs. Reed hated her; she hated her intelligence and her outspoken manner. Moreover Jane is not a beautiful child, whereas Mrs. Reed’s daughters, Eliza and Georgiana, and Georgiana in particular, are very beautiful. Mrs. Reed showers love and affection on her own children, and treats ten year old Jane as an outcast. This spoils her children, makes them haughty and encourages them to ill-treat Jane. John, the haughty spoiled son of Mrs. Reed is particularly cruel to her. Except for the kindly interest that Bessie the nurse takes in her, it is a sad and cheerless life that Jane leads at Gateshead Hall. This life makes her more and more defiant and aggressive.
One day as she was looking into Bewick’s History of British Birds, a picture-story-book. John called her and as she came up to him from her seat behind the window curtain, he struck her a blow. When he was about to repeat the blow, Jane “sensible of …. pungent sufferings’ hit back. Mrs. Reed arrived at the scene, and instead of punishing the guilty son, ordered Jane to be locked in the red-room. Jane had an inexplicable horror of this room, for here Mr. Reed had died. Superstitious, afraid and desperate Jane became hysterical and screamed. She was taken out by Bessie, only to be locked in again by Mrs. Reed in spite of her ‘frantic anguish and wild sobs’. Wrecked by despair, she fell into a swoon.
She came to her senses in the nursery with Mr. Lloyd, the local apothecary, sitting by her side. Mr. Lloyd was a kindly man; he closely questioned her and realized that maltreatment meted out by Mrs. Reed might kill the child and, therefore, recommended to Mrs. Reed that Jane should be sent to some boarding school.
Three months passed but nothing seemed to have been decided about Jane. One day Mr. Brocklehurst, the supervisor of the Lowood School came to Gateshead Hall and Jane was presented to him with the introduction that she was a wicked and deceitful girl. When he left, Mrs. Reed asked Jane to leave the room. But all the lies told about her were ‘raw and stinging in her mind. She burst out, accused her aunt of being a cruel, deceitful woman, and told her that her daughters were wicked and not she. Her aunt was stunned by Jane’s passionate and righteous indignation. Eventually Jane was sent to the Lowood School on a raw, winter morning. No one accompanied the child.
Thus closed the first chapter of the unhappy life of Jane, the orphan girl.
Chapter 5-10: Jane’s Schooling at Lowood
The Lowood School was a charity-institution for orphan girls. The pupils were sent there to be trained in Christian ways and to render them “hardy, patient, self – denying”. In actual practice the orphan girls were treated in a cruel manner and kept on starvation diet. The school routine was harsh and unimaginative. Mr. Brocklehurst took an especial delight in making worse their already hard and miserable lot. Death and disease were common.
Jane made efforts to adjust herself to this rigorous life as best as she could. For all the isolation of her present life, she was glad to have left the life at Gateshead far behind her. Here she found a godsend companion in Helen Burns, a consumptive girl of great character and intellect who had a heart pure as gold and boundless faith in God and goodness. Miss Temple, the superintendent of the school was another kind and gentle lady, whose very presence made Jane’s stay at Lowood tolerable. As Jane says “I would not have changed Lowood with all its privations, for Gateshead and its daily luxuries”
The spring came. ‘Lowood shook loose its tresses; it became all green, all flowery…’ but typhus epidemic broke out. Semi-starvation and neglected colds had predisposed most of the girls to infection. The school routine was suspended, and those who continued well were allowed to ramble over beautiful woodlands. While disease became an ‘inhabitant’ and death, ‘a frequent visitor’ of Lowood, Jane spent most of her time out on the hills. One day she returned from one of her rambles to learn from Dr. Bates that Helen was ‘very poorly indeed’. At night she slipped out of her room and went to Miss Temple’s room where Helen was lying waiting for death. Jane had a feeling that she ‘must see Helen’. She entered Helen’s bed and nestled close by her. Helen put her arm affectionately on her. Next day Jane was found sleeping in this very posture by the side of Helen who was dead.
The number of deaths at Lowood roused the conscience of the public and efforts were successfully made, during Jane’s stay there for eight years, to run the school on a human basis and shift the building to a healthier site. After completing her studies, Jane became a teacher in that school. When Miss Temple married and went away … ‘I was no longer the same: with her was gone every feeling, even association that had made Lowood in some degree a home to me’. She resigned her job. This marked the end of the second phase of her life and signaled the beginning of an altogether new course, sad as well as happy.
Chapter 11-21: Jane’s goes as governess to Thornfield, meets and falls in love with Rochester
She had applied for employment as private governess at Thornfield Hall, and on receiving a note from Mrs. Fairfax that she had been accepted and could start her work there, she left Lowood. At Thornfield Mrs. Fairfax was the housekeeper, and the little girl to be taken care of by the Governess, was a ward of the master of the Hall, Mr. Rochester. Jane first met Mr. Rochester in unusual circumstances. After three months of her stay at Thornfield Hall, she one day went out to post a letter for Mrs. Fairfax. On the way she saw a man and horse go down. She helped the man, who was evidently injured in the leg, to remount the horse, although on more than one occasion he had asked her to go away. On returning to Thornfield, she discovered that the injured man was Mr. Rochester himself.
This was the beginning of the love between Mr. Rochester and Jane. Mr. Rochester was a man of few words and kept his distance from the members of the household. He usually remained away from Thornfield, visiting friends in the neighbourhood or going to the continent. Next day Mr. Rochester called Jane in the evening, and in the interesting conversation that followed he gathered information about Jane and was clearly impressed by her paintings. Jane on the other hand, gathered all her information about Mr. Rochester in bits from Mrs. Fairfax. He had inherited the property after the death of his elder brother. He had led a gay life on the continent. It was Mrs. Fairfax who told Jane that the laughter she had heard on certain occasions in the house was of Mrs. Grace Poole whom she had employed to help her in sewing.
Strange enough, a change had begun to come on Mr. Rochester. He liked to talk more often to Jane and shared, every now and then, confidences with her. He told her one evening how he had led a disreputable life on the continent and the little girl (Adele) was in reality the daughter of a French mistress of his. Jane was puzzled at his informality but felt happy in being his confidant. She could not go to sleep that night and at about two o’clock heard movements in the room of Mr. Rochester. She found the air thick with smoke and as she got up to find out the cause of this, she saw Mr. Rochester’s bed in flames. She saved his life by waking him up. At that time, the old familiar laughter was heard again. Mr. Rochester went up presumably to silence Grace Poole. On his return, he made her promise not to talk about the accident to anyone.
Jane was nervous but tongue-tied. Mrs. Fairfax could not throw much light on the incident, although she knew about it. She, however, told Jane that a young pretty girl, Blanche Ingram was likely to get married to Mr. Rochester. This seemed to be true because a few days later, a big party arrived at the Hall including Miss Ingram. Feasting, singing and dancing went on for a number of days. Jane had been specially asked by Mr. Rochester to be present at the parties. She felt that she was happy to be in the company of Mr. Rochester but that she did not think very much of Miss Ingram, as a woman. In other words, she was beginning to fall in love with the master, and hence was jealous of beautiful Blanche Ingram.
One evening, a sensational thing happened. An old gypsy-woman came there and insisted on telling them their fortunes in the privacy of a separate room. When Jane went in she was surprised to find that the fortune-teller knew intimate details about her life, past and present. Actually, the fortune teller was Mr. Rochester himself in the guise of a gipsy woman. He had decided to declare his love to Jane in this unusual fashion. She was confused but gratified.
In that very room, Jane told Mr. Rochester that one Mr. Mason had come in the evening to stay with him. On hearing this, Mr. Rochester turned gray. “The smile on his lips froze; … a spasm caught his breath.” For the second time, Mr. Rochester leaned on Jane for support. He promised to tell her all in good time, and in the meantime asked her to fetch him a glass of water and call Mr. Mason in.
That night she heard a terrifying scream .. ‘a shrilly sound that went from end to end’. She went out. Mr. Rochester took her to the upper room to stay with Mr. Mason, who was bleeding profusely and lying unconscious, while he himself went for the surgeon. Jane, as usual, was requested by Mr. Rochester not to ask any questions or to talk about the incident to anyone.
Some days later Jane left for Gateshead to be with her dying aunt. Mr. Rochester was very unwilling to let her go and elicited a promise from her to return. On her death-bed, Mrs. Reed told Jane that she had wronged her by telling her uncle, John Eyre of Madeira, who wanted to leave her his property, that Jane was dead. Jane Eyre freely forgave her aunt and stayed at Gateshead long after the funeral and then took final leave of her cousins whom she never again met in her life.
Before she had left for Gateshead, Mr. Rochester had told her in as many words that he intended to marry Blanche Ingram. In fact, it was only a ruse played by Mr. Rochester to make Jane jealous and inflame her love for him. When she returns, Mr. Rochester in one of the most powerful and beautiful scenes, openly avows his love for Jane and pleads with her to accept him as her husband. Jane is overwhelmed and gives her consent. That night, however, the chestnut tree under which Mr. Rochester had proposed, is struck by lightning and half of it split away.
Chapter 22-27: Rochester betrays Jane’s trust, the marriage is called off
Soon. preparations for marriage were afoot. Adele was sent away to a boarding-school. The family jewels were brought from London. But on the night before marriage a fearful thing happened to Jane. A mad-looking woman entered her room and tore her bridal-veil. She fainted. In the morning, Rochester though expressing great relief that nothing had happened to his little Jane, assured her that the crazy thing had been done by Grace Poole. As they went to the church for the marriage-ceremony, there were Mr. Mason and a solicitor warning the priest not to proceed because Mr. Rochester was already married to Mr. Mason’s sister and that she was alive, though mad. The marriage was stopped and Jane returned to the house, broken in body and spirit. It was now clear that she had been deceived and that the mad wife of Mr. Rochester lived under the same roof and under the care of Grace Poole.
Chapter 28- 35: Jane leaves Thornfield and meets St. John Rivers
Mr. Rochester begged of Jane to be forgiven and told her that he could not live without her. She heard his entreaties in a dazed state of mind and quietly left the house that night to go away anywhere. She spent the first night in the open. She had no money with her, no clothes, and no place to go to. She wandered about for a few days without food and rest. One evening at last she fell down out of exhaustion at the door-step of a lonely house in the moor-land. It turned out to be the residence of St. John Rivers, a parson. She was rescued in time. His two sisters were staying with him at that time. They all helped her to recover and slowly friendship developed among the girls. Jane stayed there as Jane Elliot and took up work as a school teacher in the parish. Meanwhile, a letter was received by the Rivers informing them that their uncle at Madeira had died, leaving all his property to his niece, Jane Eyre. His solicitor had written to him (St. John Rivers) to find out where Jane was. St. John Rivers now told Jane that he knew who she was (he having noticed the name Jane had written on a paper in one of her thoughtless moments) and that they were all relations, cousins to one another. She came to know that she had inherited twenty thousand pounds. She insisted on the money being equally divided among them and kept only five thousand pounds for herself as her rightful share.
Jane had written a number of times to Mrs. Fairfax to get some news of Mr. Rochester but did not receive a single reply. She could not forget Mr. Rochester and longed to hear about him. St.
John had begun to learn Hindustani because he had decided to become a missionary. Jane used to learn lessons with him to make him happy. One day, he asked her to go with him to India and suggested that the only way in which she could do this was by marrying him. She told him that she could go with him as his sister and not as his wife. This did not suit his purpose and he began to rouse her conscience to the call of duty. She was on the verge of giving her promise to marry him when all of a sudden, she felt that she heard the voice of Mr. Rochester, crying for her help; she thought that she heard her name being shouted thrice. This decided everything both for her and him.
Chapter 36-38: Jane’s final reunion with Rochester
Jane Eyre left the house for Thornfield next morning. She arrived at an inn, called “The Rochester Arms”, after a journey of thirty-six hours. She learnt there that Thornfield Hall was in a state of ruin because it had been burnt down by the mad wife of Mr. Rochester. She had later killed herself by jumping down from the top of the building. Mr. Rochester had lost one of his arms and one of his eyes in the effort to save her. He was now living in an old manor house with the coachman and his wife.
Jane lost no time in going to the manor house to meet Mr. Rochester. She saw him helpless, sad and broken. She took water into his room and revealed her presence to him. The lovers met and were soon in each other’s arms. He told her how on a certain day he had shouted for her in utter pain and helplessness. Jane did not tell him that she had heard his anguished call.
They were married after a few days. Adele was brought back from the school. A son was born to them and after two years or so, he even recovered the use of one of the damaged eyes. When his son was put into his arms he thanked God, with a full heart, saying that he had tempered judgment with mercy.
As to St. John Rivers, he went to India. He remained unmarried and threw himself heart and soul into his work of saving souls for the love of God. Jane concludes the story of her life with characteristic humility, speaking her last words, not of her happiness, but in praise of St. John Rivers, calling him a high master spirit, “standing without fault before the throne of God”.