Charlotte Bronte and her novel "Jane Eyre": a review

Portrait of Charlotte Bronte painted by George Richmond.
Portrait of Charlotte Bronte painted by George Richmond. | Source
The Bronte parsonage museum, Haworth, in Yorkshire, England, open today to visitors.
The Bronte parsonage museum, Haworth, in Yorkshire, England, open today to visitors. | Source

1816 - 1855

Charlotte Bronte was the eldest of the three famed Bronte sisters that lived during the Victorian Era in England in the early 19th century.

All three women wrote definitive novels during their lifetimes, each with the message about women's role among men in Victorian times and the difficulties they faced in their working and personal relationships with them.

It is Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, that was a critical and acclaimed success at the time of publication in 1847. Critics exclaimed the style of the novel as new, combining naturalism with gothic melodrama.

Jane Eyre was a novel written from an intensely first-person female point of view, and this was the first time this had ever been done. Many have come to consider the novel to be ahead of its time because of the individualistic character of Jane and the open expression of her feelings and thoughts throughout the novel.

Bronte used Gothicism with Romanticism to create a distinctive Victorian novel. It logs the many obstacles both social and moral to Jane's and Rochester's love. Many of the settings come from Gothic fiction. Thornfield Manor, where Jane becomes the governess to Rochester's ward, Adele, is dark, mysterious, and secretive. There is the Byronic hero and master of Thornfield in Rochester's character. The novel also offers the character of Bertha, the madwoman locked away in the attic, and this is one of the main Gothic elements in the story and the center of Jane's inner conflict.

The character of Rochester is a dashing, brooding, moody Byronic hero. The Byronic hero was already common in early Victorian literature and was based on the Romantic hero type of character, and was named after the English Romantic poet Lord Byron. The Byronic hero was described as a man who has his faults and is proud, moody, cynical, with defiance and misery in his heart. He scorns society around him, suffers no fools, will not hesitate to seek revenge and yet at the same time he is capable of deep and strong affection. Charlotte Bronte wrote her character of Rochester in this vein. And strong-willed and outspoken Jane falls in love with such a man - Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield Manor.

Charlotte Bronte believed that to write a novel it was best for the author to write from some kind of experience. So she took her experiences of attending and working at boarding schools and as a governess for five years with nearby families and used these experiences in the novel which gave it universal appeal.

So from her experiences as a governess she knows the emotions and feelings that Jane would have working with an employer such as Edward Rochester, and was able to transfer those feelings to her character Jane.

The novel covers Jane's life from a child of about nine or ten, orphaned, and living with her deceased uncle's family, at Gateshead. They see Jane as an imposition and abuse, ignore and neglect Jane until she cries out one day that she wants to go to school. At that point she is sent to Lowood, a charitable institution, where she learns the Puritan values of a certain clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst, who runs the school.

Upon graduation, Jane seeks employement as a governess and is hired by a Mrs. Fairfax, housekeeper, at Thornton Manor, to teach the a small girl, Adele, the ward of the master, Edward Rochester. Here Jane works as a governess, while at the same time, falling in love with Rochester, some twenty years her senior.

Rochester also falls in love with Jane, though there are impediments to their future together, but he does propose marriage to her and she accepts. Jane, while standing on the altar, learns of Rochester's first living wife who is mad and has been locked in the attic at Thornton Manor for some time.

Agast, that Rochester would commit bigamy with her, Jane leaves Thornton Manor and walks miles and miles to look for other employement. During a rainstorm she collapes on the doorstep of St. John Rivers and his two sisters who take her in, nurse her to health and try to help her organize her future. St. John Rivers also proposes marriage to Jane, but it is a loveless, dispassionate marriage that he proposes. Jane refuses and returns to Thornton Manor.

When Jane arrives at Thornton Manor, she discovers that it has been destroyed by fire, Rochester has been disabled by the fire and his first wife has died in the fire. Jane finally can now marry Rochester.


Rochester proposes to Jane

Sketch from Jane Eyre.  St. John Rivers finds Jane collapsed on the doorstep of his house on the Moors.
Sketch from Jane Eyre. St. John Rivers finds Jane collapsed on the doorstep of his house on the Moors. | Source

Important themes in Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte looks at social class and social position of women through her main character, Jane, in her novel. The social class and social position of Jane is quite ambiguous. She is a penniless orphan, yet she is moderately educated and originally from a good family. Jane is educated, and well-mannered, but she is still a governess, a paid servant of low social standing and therefore relatively powerless in 19th century English Victorian society. Bronte is criticizing discrimination based on class, which I am sure she experienced as a real life governess.

Bronte also gives a description of a patriarchal society that Jane is up against. Jane attempts to assert her own identity within a male dominated society. The characters Brockhurst, Rochester, and Rivers are all men who try to keep Jane in a subordinate position and try to prevent her from expressing her own thoughts and feelings.

Brockhurst harasses and punishes Jane throughout her stay at Lowood and then expects her to want to stay on and teach there in adult life. Of course, Jane refuses. Rochester, although he truly loves Jane, sees himself as her master and orders her around and demands her time and attention. He goes so far as to try to marry her, committing bigamy, and thinking nothing of the outcome for Jane had the marriage ceremony been completed. And Rivers offers a loveless, dispassionate marriage to Jane, wanting her only as a helpmate for his missionary work in India and then is stunned when she refuses his offer.

Jane is strong and confident enough as a woman to escape Brocklhurst, reject Rivers and only marries Rochester in the end when she is sure they are marrying on equal terms.

Bronte also looks at love and passion between a man and a woman, but much differently than her sister Emily did in Wuthering Heights. Here there is a conflict between conscience and passion. Jane's quandry and inner conflict is whether to go with conscience or passion and how to find a balance between the two in life. Jane is an extremely passionate woman yet also dedicated to a close personal relationship with God. Through most of the novel, Jane is struggling between the two extremes.

Jane choses conscience over passion when she learns Rochester already has a wife, albeit a mad one locked in the attic of Thornfield Manor. Rochester begs her to run away with him and be his mistresss/ lover, but she refuses. No matter how swept up Jane is in her love for Rochester, at the moment of the wedding ceremony, which is where and when she finds out about Rochester's mad wife when the marriage is contested by Bertha's brother, Jane turns to her conscience for guidance and refuses Rochester.

Jane struggles to find a balance between conscience and passion when she learns that all passion she has been feeling at Thornfield Manor for Rochester and all conscience that she lived at Lowood are not good. There has to be a balance of the two in life, and Jane struggles to find a middle ground between her passionate side and her conscience. Jane will not allow herself to give up her moral and religious principles.

Another important theme that Charlotte Bronte examines in her novel is feminism. Jane is independent and confident and is able to make decisions for herself. All the men in her life try to exert some form of power and control over her life. We read and feel for Jane as she winds through the maze of men's power and direction over her.

Rochester tries to manipulate her feelings toward him and even though Jane is caught up in her love for him, elements of her true personality and conscience come through. When Jane accepts his proposal of marriage the first time, she asserts herself by telling Rochester she will continue to be governess to Adele and earn her keep. This represents Jane's drive to remain a somewhat independent woman. This was a radical and unheard of thought at the time.

Jane continues to exert her indpendence as a woman when she refuses Rivers dispassionate marriage proposal. She realizes that to be truly independent and free, she must find passionate love combined with conscience and so she returns to Thornfield Manor to find Rochester and discovers the manor has been destroyed by fire and Bertha has died in that fire.

Rochester can only be forgiven for his past sins after Jane refuses to be his mistress and leaves him. It is only the destruction of Thornfield Manor by fire that finally burns away the stain of his past sins and the loss of his left hand and his eyesight represent the price he must pay for his sins. Only now, can he be redeemed by Jane's love and their marriage on an equal basis.

Final scene from Jane Eyre

Bronte's later life

When Jane Eyre was published, sales of the novel were strong and it became a literary and commercial success. It was well received by the critics and Charlotte became the toast of London literary society. At the time, critics called it an influencial feminist novel because of its in-depth exploration of Jane, a strong female character with feelings. Her publisher persuaded Charlotte to visit London and she made friends there within literary circles. Such success did not come to Emily nor Anne, and it was not until far after their deaths that their novels also became critically acclaimed.

After Jane Eyre, Charlotte published several more novels;

  • Shirley published in 1849
  • Villette published in 1853
  • The Professor, actually written before Jane Eyre but published posthumously in 1857
  • Emma, actually unfinished. It was completed by Constance Savery and published posthumously in 1860.

Charlotte continued living and writing at Haworth, making short trips to London from time to time as she did not want to leave her aging father. In June of 1854, Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nichols, a curate who worked with her father, were married. She was the only Bronte sister to marry and they honeymooned in Ireland.

Charlotte became pregnant soon after the marriage, but her health declined rapidly. She died with her unborn child in March of 1855, from tuberculosis, which had taken all the Bronte children. She was only thirty-eight years old.

Photograph of Charlotte Bronte - 1854.
Photograph of Charlotte Bronte - 1854. | Source

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Comments 28 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Suzette, you are going to force me to like Bronte! :) Actually, I have read Jane Eyre, and did enjoy it. Wonderful profile and summary; we are on the same page with this one. :) Have a great weekend!


donnah75 profile image

donnah75 4 years ago from Upstate New York

Somehow I missed this novel over the years, but I recently watched the movie that is on Netflix. What a great story of a strong woman! I may pick the book up, since usually the book is better than the movie. Voted up and sharing.


mvillecat profile image

mvillecat 4 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

Great summary of the novel. One of my favorite stories. I have always loved the dark tales of the Bronte sisters. We name all of our animals after literary characters and one of the dogs, although a red Golden Retriever, was named Pilot. Voted up.


LupitaRonquillo profile image

LupitaRonquillo 4 years ago from Colorado

A very esteemed article on Jane Eyre and the author together! One of my favorite books, thanks for a great hub :]


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Yes, that's my goal Bill. To make you a Bronte reader! LOL I decided to do all three sisters, once I had done Emily. I recently read Agnes Grey and thought, why not? Actually, of the three, this one was the most difficult to write because there is so much that can be said about Jane Eyre. I tried to stick to the most important aspects that stood out for me. Thanks so much for reading and your continuing support!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

donnah: Yes, I, too have watched several adaptions of the book to film. The book is better, but the 1970 adaption with George C. Scott and Susannah York is my favorite film. I guess I love Scott as the moody, brooding Rochester. And York is so sweet yet intelligent as Jane. Sometimes it is so fun just to enter the 19th century world for a while when reading these novels. Thanks so much for your comments and for reading this.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

mvillecat: So glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and leave comments. I, too, love these dark tales of long ago. They are so interesting. Thanks for your insightful comments. Most appreciated!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

LupitaRonquillo: Thanks so much for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed this article. I have always enjoyed the character of Rochester - I love a Byronic hero! Thanks for stopping by to visit - most appreciated!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

A brilliant review on one of the great classics;thank you for sharing and enjoy your weekend.

Eddy.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Eddy: Thank you so much for reading this. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Your country has produced some real literary classics over the years. Thanks for your comments - most appreciated!


healingsword profile image

healingsword 4 years ago from California

Hi suzettenaples,

I enjoyed reading your very well-written analysis--Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite novels. You provided thoughtful background that gives the work new dimensions in my mind--one reason literary analysis is important :-). Bronte's work definitely pioneered feminist writing, and I appreciate your discussion of that, as well as of Jane's struggle between conscience and passion. Your words about Jane's choice of Rochester," She realizes that to be truly independent and free, she must find passionate love combined with conscience," mean a lot to me. It's very hard, but essential, to find that balance.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

healingsword: Thank you so much for your insightful comments. Yes, this was a groundbreaking novel for Victorian times. Jane is truly a strong woman (everywoman) and timeless. We can all learn from Jane which is one of the best reasons to read. I am so glad you enjoyed this article! Your visit and comments are most appreciated.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

suzette,

This is an awesome review of a great book which I recently read. I especially like the two videos. I plan on reading Wuthering Heights next. If it is close to being as good as Jane Eyre, I will be happy. Voted up and sharing and pinning.


Justsilvie 4 years ago

Beautiful Hub! One of my all time favorites and something I have to read every few year again. Also this book must hold the record for books made into films.

The Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester, Joan Fontaine as Jane, was my all time favorite movie version but BBC's 2006 version was also excellent... But I honestly think I loved them all.


LaThing profile image

LaThing 4 years ago from From a World Within, USA

Very inteeresting article. I love Jane Eyre..... This brings back memories of my teenage years, that's when I read it first and loved it. Your article is well written and very thorough. Thanks for the lovely read. Voting up and interesting.....


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Paul: Thank you so much for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think I read your article on the Brontes, which was excellent, and enjoyed it so. You will like Wuthering Heights - it is my personal favorite although I have enjoyed Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey. This video is also my favorite made of Jane Eyre. I love Scott and York's presentation of their characters. I love these dark, moody, and brooding novels.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Justsilvie: Thanks so much for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have to view the Orsen Wells and Jane Fontaine movie someday. That is the only one I haven't seen. I love the Scott / York version myself, but you are right - they are all good. Thanks for the visit.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

LaThing: Thanks so much for stopping by to read this. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I originally read it years ago also but decided to do some hubs on the Bronte sisters. I find them so interesting and I like their portrayal of women. I also love a good romance novel. LOL Thanks for the votes.


Beata Stasak profile image

Beata Stasak 4 years ago from Western Australia

a great analysis of a life and work of a great author, the unforgetable story of an unforgetable woman...thank you for sharing:)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Beata: Thank you and she was quite a woman for her time period. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece. Thanks for your visit - most appreciated!


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 4 years ago from Great Britain

You prove yourself to be an excellent writer here.

I enjoyed every perfect word from beginning to end.

Your undersanding and portrayal of women and their "place" back then is awesome.

Have voted up awesome and beautiful. I hope you donĀ“t mind I am also sharing it with my followers.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks, Dim. I am so glad you enjoyed this piece. Thanks so much for the votes and the share - much appreciated!


James-wolve profile image

James-wolve 2 years ago from Morocco

Excellent job as always.I like your writings.Great mind !


sharonchristy profile image

sharonchristy 2 years ago from India

Thank you for that beautiful hub, suzettenaples. Jane Eyre has also been one of my favourite novels. I simply loved your character analysis. I've also read Villete. It contains a very similar storyline, but is much more detailed and not so romantic. Bronte is almost always very personal and revealing and her deep sense of longing is something that everyone finds relatable. Thank you again. I think I will be reading Jane Eyre all over again now that I've read your hub. Voted up. Have a good day!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

James-wolve: Thank you so much for you kind comments. I am so pleased you have enjoyed reading this. I love all three of the Bronte sisters and their novels. I can't imagine that much writing talent in one family. Amazing!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

sharonchristy: I have read Jane Eyre several times and I never tire of the novel or the movie for that matter. I have the video of the movie made in the 1970s with Susannah York and George C. Scott. I love that version of the novel. I have never read Villete, but you have piqued my interest and will have to read that one. Thanks for the inspiration.


sharonchristy profile image

sharonchristy 2 years ago from India

I am so happy to know you are planning to read Villette. Perhaps, after you're done with the novel, you'd like to read this? I hope you don't read it before, because I did so when I was half-way through the novel and missed out on truly savouring an interesting part by knowing the result a little quicker. It does contain spoilers but if you read Villette, I am sure you'd enjoy it. Have a good day suzettenaples. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10547414/...


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

sharonchristy: Well, thank you so much for your suggestion and yes, I am now reading Villette. I am not far into the novel, but I find it as interesting as 'Jane Eyre.' I did read the Telegraph article and I found it so intriguing and thank you for the reference on that also. It only piqued my interest even more in the novel and I don't believe it has 'ruined' it for me. I hope you are enjoying your weekend and thanks again for bringing this novel to my attention to read.

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