Jane Eyre Book Summary - Jane Eyre Book explained in key points
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Jane Eyre summary

Charlotte Brontë

A Victorian Heroine’s Struggle for Self-Realization

4.6 (18 ratings)
20 mins
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    Jane Eyre
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    A troubled childhood, an undaunted spirit

    When we first meet young Jane Eyre, the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s classic nineteenth-century novel, she is experiencing a rare moment of private pleasure. She’s curled up on a velvet window seat at Gateshead, the house owned by her Aunt Reed who took Jane in when she was orphaned. She has drawn the thick curtain around her, concealing herself from her aunt and cousins – who make little effort to hide the fact that they consider Jane a burden. And she is reading a book, Bewick’s Book of Birds, which she has found in the library. 

    This moment of reprieve and happiness is short-lived. John, Jane’s eldest cousin, rips back the curtain and discovers her. He scolds her for taking a book from their library, calls her an ungrateful “beggar,” and, when Jane doesn’t respond to his taunts, throws the volume at her head. Now, Jane fights back. Aunt Reed discovers Jane and John in the middle of this scrap, and lays the blame entirely on Jane.

    Her punishment? She will be locked overnight in the Red Room, a stately but rarely used bedroom. Jane’s uncle died in this room, and there is some speculation that it is haunted. In her state of distress, Jane believes she encounters her uncle’s ghost and pleads to be let out. Her pleas are ignored. She is discovered the next morning suffering from a fever that nearly kills her.

    Once Jane has recovered from her illness – and her ordeal in the Red Room – Aunt Reed sends her to a boarding school for orphaned girls, called Lowood. The school is a miserable place. There is rarely enough food and drink for the pupils, illness is widespread, and the cruel teachers, led by monstrous headmaster Mr. Brocklehurst, take delight in meting out abusive punishments to their students. Jane is singled out for punishment – once, Brocklehurst orders her to stand on a stool in front of her class while he tells them that she’s a liar who’s not to be trusted. She is left to stand on the stool all day. 

    But there is a bright spot at Lowood: Jane forms an intense friendship with her kind and beautiful classmate, Helen Burns. The pair bond over their love of literature, and Helen – who is universally good and understanding, even in the most trying circumstances – models compassion and forgiveness to her more impulsive, emotional friend. 

    Tragically, Helen comes down with a fatal case of consumption, leaving Jane lying next to her in her sick-bed, clutching her hands. As she is dying, Helen says, “I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead, you must be sure and not grieve: there is nothing to grieve about. We all must die one day.” In the wake of Helen’s death, Jane struggles to emulate Helen’s goodness and understanding – while she never becomes as angelic as Helen, her friend’s values guide her through the story.

    After Helen’s death, the school is taken over by kindlier trustees. Jane begins to thrive and even takes up a post teaching at the school after she graduates. But then, she receives a letter offering her the position as governess at Thornfield Manor. Jane knows nothing about Thornfield or its inhabitants – and the letter, written by Thornfield’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, contains few details. Nevertheless, Jane accepts.


    These opening scenarios are an unflinching portrayal of a deprived, loveless childhood. Aunt Reed and her children never accept Jane into their comfortable middle-class family, and they subject her to constant taunts about her unfortunate circumstances. At Lowood, Jane and her fellow pupils are the victims of harrowing cruelty, both physical and emotional. 

    It seems likely that the scenes at Lowood were partly inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s own experiences at Cowan Bridge, a school for daughters of the clergy that she attended along with her sisters. Conditions at Cowan Bridge were spartan – pupils washed in freezing water and ate burned porridge. Helen Burns may be inspired by Charlotte’s older sister Maria, who died – like Helen – of consumption, which she contracted at Cowan Bridge. She was just eleven when she died.

    Two defining features of Jane’s character are established early on in this story. Jane is consistently told by those around her that she is plain and unremarkable, yet she is also passionate and impulsive. She struggles to control her emotions, even in situations where it would be more prudent to conceal them – she can’t help responding angrily to the taunts of her cousins, or fuming at the cruelty of some of Lowood’s teachers. Her Aunt Reed describes her as a “picture of passion,” and Mr. Brocklehurst says she is “vicious.” 

    Throughout the novel, Jane will both struggle to control her passionate emotions and come to the realization that displays of passion and emotion aren’t necessarily bad – especially when they’re directed at situations of injustice.

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    What is Jane Eyre about?

    Jane Eyre (1874) is an intense, intimate portrait of a young woman’s search to find her place in Victorian society without compromising her passionate ideals. It follows her as she navigates life’s obstacles – and her developing love for the mysterious Edward Rochester.

    Who should read Jane Eyre?

    • Hopeless romantics who crave plot twists and turns
    • History lovers keen to get a window into life as a nineteenth-century governess
    • Fans of period dramas like Outlander and Bridgerton

    About the Author

    Charlotte Brontë, along with her sisters Emily and Anne, wrote novels celebrated for their suspenseful plots and romantic sense of atmosphere. As a female novelist in Victorian England, Brontë struggled to have her work taken seriously, and originally published her novels under the male pseudonym of Currer Bell. Now, her novels are recognized as works of genius.

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