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Chapter Summaries of "Jane Eyre," the Feminist Classic by Charlotte Bronte

written by: Laura Wise • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Charlotte Bronte captured readers' hearts and inspired controversy with her heroine Jane Eyre, a woman who overcomes an abusive and deprived childhood, ordinary looks and poor prospects to marry into the nobility. This feminist classic addresses issues of women's rights, gender roles and society.

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    Chapters 1-4: Jane's Childhood at Gateshead

    Chapter 1: "Jane Eyre" opens with weather as gloomy as Jane’s existence: with “clouds so somber, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was out of the question." This weather suits the 10 year old Jane, who is a small, pale, unhappy child. While her cousins Eliza, John and Georgiana Reed lounge around her aunt, Jane is excluded from the family group. She instead hides in a window seat with a favorite book. Her peace is disturbed when John Reed enters the room to bully her while his sisters egg him on. He hits Jane and throws a book at her, drawing blood. Jane fights back and is punished by being locked up in the manor’s red-room.

    Chapter 2: The red-room is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Mr. Reed. He was Jane’s mother’s brother, and took Jane in when her parents died. On his deathbed, he extracted a promise from his wife to keep and raise Jane, and this is why Jane is such an object of resentment and abuse in the Reed household.

    Alone in the red-room, Jane’s anger slowly subsides. As night falls, she becomes afraid. She imagines she sees a ghost-light flit across the wall, and starts screaming and crying, begging to be let out. Her aunt refuses to release her, and Jane faints.

    Chapter 3: When Jane wakes, she is being attended to by the doctor. The doctor discerns that Jane is not sick; she is unhappy. He asks her whether she would like to go away to school, and Jane says yes.

    Chapter 4: Bolstered by the hope of going to school, Jane recovers from her illness. One day, a man comes to see her. His name is Mr. Brocklehurst, and he owns the strictly religious Lowood Institution for charity-children. The first thing he does when he meets Jane is interrogate her in a series of questions that mirror and parody the catechism. Jane’s unorthodox answers do not please him, and to Jane’s fury he gives her a book of morality tales for children. However, he agrees to take her on at Lowood.

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    Chapters 5-9: Jane's Life at Lowood

    Chapter 5: Jane journeys to Lowood. The first night, she is too nervous to eat. The next morning starts the grueling routine of life at Lowood: morning classes, then an hour of readings from the Bible, then breakfast and a hymn. The porridge is burnt and inedible, and by lunchtime Jane, who has not eaten for over two days, is weak with hunger. The motherly figure of Miss Temple, the superintendent, orders lunch for the girls out of her own pocket. During lunch, Jane meets Helen Burns, who will become her best friend.

    Chapter 6: Jane starts classes. Helen has classes at the more advanced table with Miss Scatcherd, who dislikes her for no reason. Miss Scatcherd constantly reprimands Helen for things like standing wrong and not cleaning her nails. This culminates in a public lashing. Jane is horrified, but Helen does not cry. Helen’s lack of reaction only infuriates Miss Scatcherd further, but Jane admires Helen’s courage. That evening, Jane talks to Helen about her punishment, and Helen explains her fatalistic philosophies about life and religion.

    Chapter 7: Life at Lowood is harsh and demanding. The food is inadequate, the girls’ winter clothes are not warm enough, and the older girls bully food and blankets away from the younger ones. The background to all this is the religious hypocrisy of Mr. Brocklehurst, treasurer of Lowood, who deprives the pupils but keeps luxuries for himself and his family. One day, Mr. Brocklehurst visits the school and spots Jane when she drops her slate. He tells the whole school that she is a liar and an agent of the Devil, forbids anyone to talk to her, and makes her stand on a stool for a half hour.

    Chapter 8: Jane cries while the rest of the school eats supper. Helen comes to comfort her, telling her that Mr. Brocklehurst is hated at Lowood and his punishment only made the girls sympathetic to Jane. In stark contrast to Brocklehurst’s hypocrisy, Helen uses her religious sincerity to console Jane. Then Miss Temple enters the room and invites Helen and Jane to have tea with her. Miss Temple asks Helen how her cough is, confirming earlier hints that Helen has consumption (tuberculosis).

    Chapter 9: From this point on, Jane’s life at Lowood improves. Spring comes, relieving the harsh winter weather and allowing the girls to go outside. Jane takes pleasure in exploring nature and playing in the woods. True to its name, however, “Lowood" lies in a low, marshy dell that breeds disease. Over half the school falls ill with typhus, and some die. Helen Burns is also sick, but not with typhus. She is dying of consumption. By the time Jane goes to see her, she is on her deathbed, ready to meet the “universal Parent." Jane stays the night in her room, and when she wakes up, Helen lies dead beside her.

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    Chapters 10-14: Governess at Thornfield Hall

    Chapter 10: Eight years have passed, and chapter 10 picks up when Jane decides to leave Lowood and apply for a position as a governess. She places an ad in the paper and receives a response from “Mrs. Fairfax, Thornfield."

    Chapter 11: Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall to meet Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper. Mr. Rochester, the master of Thornfield, is absent on business. Jane’s student, a little French girl named Adele, is his ward. While Mrs. Fairfax is giving Jane a tour of Thornfield, they hear an eerie laugh. Mrs. Fairfax attributes the sound to the servant Grace Poole.

    Chapter 12: The months pass. Jane is pleased with her job, but sometimes feels restless and unsatisfied. She continues to hear the strange laugh of Grace. Taking a walk on the road one day, Jane steps aside to let a rider pass. When he falls and sprains his ankle, Jane offers assistance despite his rudeness. She helps him to his horse and he rides away. When Jane returns to Thornfield, she learns that the man she helped on the road was Mr. Rochester.

    Chapter 13: Jane meets Mr. Rochester formally the next day. He is around forty, and while his face and form have character, he is not handsome. Neither is he polite; rather, he is sarcastic and gruff. His rough appearance and manners put Jane at ease, because she is not used to politeness and thinks herself too plain to have anything in common with a handsome man. He interrogates Jane about her life and looks at her portfolio of drawings.

    Chapter 14: In another few days, Jane and Adele have another meeting with Rochester. He gives Adele a present and talks to Jane while his ward is distracted. Jane is confused by his blunt questions at first, but is soon debating with him like an equal. Rochester talks about remorse and redemption, though he refuses to tell Jane exactly what he is referring to. He also mentions Adele’s mother and speaks of Adele as an “it," a responsibility he is burdened with.

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    Chapters 15-19: Feelings for Her "Master"

    Chapter 15: Rochester explains Adele’s origins. He had an affair with a Frenchwoman named Celine Varens, who gave birth to Adele. One night, Rochester caught Celine with a young, handsome soldier, both of them criticizing his ugliness and proclaiming their love for each other. Rochester left Celine, but returned after she died to find and raise Adele. He does not believe Adele is his daughter and feels nothing for her. Jane pities Adele as a fellow orphan. She also feels friendship for Rochester, encouraged by his informal manner and confidence.

    That night, Jane hears the laugh of Grace outside her door, along with gurgling and moaning. Alarmed, she goes into the hall and runs into a cloud of smoke. She follows the smoke to Rochester’s room, where he lies sleeping in a burning bed. Jane grabs the ewer and puts out the fire. Rochester wakes and orders her to sit in his room while he investigates. He returns to say he has found it all out, but refuses to tell Jane anything. He is reluctant to let Jane leave his room and seems to be in the grip of strong emotion.

    Chapter 16: Jane is astonished and alarmed to see Grace still employed at Thornfield the next day. She also feels stirrings of affection for Rochester, remembering his looks and words the other night. She spends the whole day in anticipation of meeting him, but he has left Thornfield again to visit friends — friends that include a pair of beautiful sisters. Jane crushes jealousy by telling herself she is deluded. To punish herself, she draws a plain picture of herself and then a portrait of a beautiful woman to compare to if she ever thinks of Rochester romantically again.

    Chapter 17: Rochester returns to Thornfield with the friends he has been visiting. One of the women, Blanche Ingram, is a favorite with Rochester. Blanche delights in playing off her companions’ ignorance to make herself look intelligent; tells Rochester governesses are too expensive; tells stories about how she and her siblings used to torment their governesses; and is scornful and unpleasant despite her beauty and accomplishments. Jane is upset that Rochester would consider marrying such a woman.

    Chapter 18: The guests amuse themselves by playing charades, in which Rochester and Blanche stage a marriage. It is obvious to Jane that Rochester does not love Blanche, and will only marry her for money. As she is contemplating this one night, a carriage arrives and a man named Mr. Mason enters, introducing himself as an old friend of Rochester’s from Jamaica. Jane is surprised to hear Rochester had traveled to the Americas. Just then, another visitor arrives — an old gypsy woman who offers to read the fortunes of the young ladies.

    Chapter 19: Jane has her fortune told, though she is skeptical. The fortune teller says that Jane could easily obtain happiness if she chose. After the rest of the fortune telling, the gypsy woman reveals herself to be Mr. Rochester in disguise. Jane tells him that a man named Mason from the West Indies came to visit him. Rochester is staggered and must sit down, holding Jane’s hand.

    Please turn the page for summaries of "Jane Eyre" chapters 20-27.

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    Chapters 20-24: Changes for the Better

    Chapter 20: In the middle of the night, Jane hears a scream and the sound of struggling from the upper rooms. Then Mr. Mason calls out for Rochester’s help. Everyone runs out into the hall to see what the matter is. Rochester says that a servant had a nightmare and sends everyone to bed except for Jane, whom he asks to help him. They go up to the attics and Jane hears Grace’s laugh again.

    Rochester brings Jane to Mason, who has been stabbed. While Rochester rides for the doctor, Jane tends to the wounded man. When Rochester returns, he and Mason discuss the “she" who stabbed and bit Mason, drinking his blood. Jane speculates but does not comment or ask questions. Rochester rushes Mason out of the house and asks Jane to walk in the garden with him. He gives her a rose, talks to her of his hopes and fears, calls her “my little friend," and asks her to sit up with him the night before his wedding to Blanche. Jane is miserable and confused.

    Chapter 21: A week later, a messenger from Gateshead arrives at Thornfield with bad news. Jane's cousin John has killed himself, and her aunt lies dying. Jane leaves immediately for Gateshead. When she sees her aunt, she forgives her past wrongdoings. Mrs. Reed, however, still hates her. She gives Jane a letter dated three years ago. It is from Jane’s uncle Eyre, who came into money and wanted to adopt her. Mrs. Reed, resenting Jane, concealed the letter and wrote her uncle that Jane was dead. Later that night, Mrs. Reed dies.

    Chapter 22: Jane returns to Thornfield Hall, though she is afraid of what reception awaits her. As she is walking along the road to Thornfield, she meets Rochester. All her feelings for him are revived, and he seems glad to see her as well.

    Chapter 23: Jane is walking in the garden one night when she comes across Rochester smoking. They walk together while Rochester talks about his coming marriage to Blanche and the changes he will have to make — including sending Adele to school and Jane leaving Thornfield. He says he has found her a position in Ireland. Jane begins to cry, but Rochester seems oblivious. When he finally asks her why she is upset, she bursts out, “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?" and confesses she loves him. Rochester kisses her, proposes marriage, and explains that he only pretended affection for Blanche because he wanted to make Jane jealous to see if she loved him.

    Chapter 24: The next morning, Rochester greets Jane with a kiss and tells her that they will be married in a month. He lays out plans to deck her in jewels and fine clothes, to which Jane objects. She laughs at his plans to make her beautiful, then expresses the fear that his love will fade with time. Rochester assures her of his faithfulness, and Jane asks him to assure Mrs. Fairfax of his honorable intentions.

    Mrs. Fairfax approaches Jane about the marriage later, unable to believe it. She expresses her doubts about the difference in their station and age, and advises Jane to be on her guard. Jane leaves her and goes to town with Rochester and Adele, where they buy new clothes and Jane resists Rochester’s attempts to dress her up. She does not want him to make her into something she is not. Heeding Mrs. Fairfax’s advice, she keeps Rochester’s advances at bay with repartee.

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    Chapters 25-27: Changes for the Worse

    Chapter 25: It is the night before the wedding, and Jane is troubled. She tells Rochester of the three strange nightmares she had. The third was the most frightening: Jane dreamed that a woman with dark hair and a purplish, vampiric face came into her room and tore her bridal veil. When she woke up, the woman was gone — but the torn veil was still there. Rochester is horrified. He says it must have been the servant Grace Poole again, and comforts Jane with the prospect of their wedding day.

    Chapter 26: Jane and Rochester go to the church to be married. But when the priest asks whether there is any reason why they should not be joined in holy matrimony, someone objects. Mr. Mason and his lawyer step forward and provide legal evidence that Rochester is already married to Bertha Mason of Spanish Town, Jamaica. Rochester leads everyone to Thornfield to show them his wife. Bertha, who is insane, lives in an attic room with her nurse Grace Poole. Mason’s lawyer tells Jane that Mason heard of Jane’s marriage through her uncle Eyre in Madeira, but that her uncle was dying when they left him. Jane locks herself in her room.

    Chapter 27: Jane decides she must leave Thornfield, but Rochester wants her to live as his mistress. When Jane refuses, Rochester threatens rape. Jane starts to cry, and he repents, asking to explain himself. He says that he was the younger of two brothers, and his father was a greedy man who planned to give the estate to his older son but could not bear the thought of his younger son living poor. So he arranged a marriage with Bertha Mason, the daughter of a rich Creole family. After the marriage, the secret came out that madness ran in the Mason family. After several years of marriage, during which Bertha humiliated Rochester with her violent temper and unchaste behavior, she became insane as well. When his father and brother died, Rochester returned with her to England, keeping Bertha in the attic and paying nurses to look after her while he roamed Europe taking different mistresses.

    Rochester also tells Jane how he felt when he met her, and relates the story of his falling in love. Jane still refuses to be his mistress, and leaves the room. That night, she dreams her mother tells her to flee temptation. In the morning, Jane sets out from Thornfield alone.

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    Chapters 28-33: Moor House

    Chapter 28: After leaving Thornfield, Jane takes a carriage as far as her money allows. When she has to get out, she accidentally leaves her bag of food in the carriage. Jane wanders for several days and is forced to beg for food. Near death from hunger and exposure, she walks toward a light on the moor. The people in the house she finds there take her in.

    Chapter 29: As Jane recovers, she meets her benefactors, the Rivers family. There are two sisters, Mary and Diana, their brother the Rev. St. John, and a maid Hannah. The house is called Moor House, and Jane gives an alias and part of her story to its inhabitants. They agree to shelter her and help her find work. Jane thinks St. John very handsome, but cold and stern.

    Chapter 30: Jane and the sisters of Moor House soon become fast friends. As for St. John, he is reserved by nature and often away because of his parish duties. But when Jane hears him preach, she feels elevated and awed by his passion. He arranges for Jane to start a school for country girls once his sisters leave to become governesses. Three days before this, they receive a letter that their uncle is dead, but because of an old quarrel with their father has left them nothing.

    Chapter 31: Jane moves into her schoolteacher’s cottage and begins to teach, though she reflects with sorrow on the life she has lost. St. John visits, and this marks the beginning of a closer friendship between them. He confides in Jane that he intends to go to India to be a missionary. A beautiful young lady, Rosamond Oliver, approaches as they speak and greets them. Jane sees that St. John is in love with her, but he conceals his emotions.

    Chapter 32: Jane continues to teach, and Rosamond continues to visit her. Jane agrees to make her portrait. St. John sees it when he visits, and Jane advises him to marry Rosamond. He says that she is unfit to be a missionary’s wife, and when Jane urges him to give up missionary work, he claims that that goal is the only thing that can satisfy his ambition in a Christian way. As he is leaving, he catches sight of something on Jane’s sketch paper and exclaims — but when she asks, says it is nothing.

    Chapter 33: St. John returns the next day. Jane had signed her name on her drawing and St. John recognized it from a newspaper advertisement asking her whereabouts. He contacted the lawyer who advertised and learned the whole story of Jane’s childhood and her life at Thornfield, as well as the fact that Jane’s uncle in Madeira died and left her twenty thousand pounds. Jane is now an heiress. St. John also reveals that his full name is St. John Eyre Rivers, and his mother was Jane’s father’s sister. Jane is ecstatic to find her family and decides to divide up her inheritance. With five thousand pounds apiece, the cousins become financially independent.

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    Chapters 34-38: The Matter of Marriage

    Chapter 34: That Christmas, Jane returns to Moor House in high spirits. Rosamond is to marry someone other than St. John, but this does not seem to disturb him. St. John is out of sorts amidst the domestic merriment and idleness, and is more distant to Jane as a cousin than he was when they were only friends. He also asks her to learn Hindostanee.

    St. John takes Jane on a private walk outside and asks her to go to India with him as a fellow missionary. Not only that, he wants her to marry him. He argues that she has the qualities necessary to be a missionary's wife. Jane, after hearing his persuasions, thinks herself ready for missionary work but balks at marrying him. She offers to go as his cousin and sister; he says it would be improper. Jane scorns him and his offer of false love, angering St. John and causing a permanent break between them.

    Chapter 35: St. John is extremely cold towards Jane throughout the next week, and finally she attempts reconciliation. However, their natures are complete opposites and Jane only makes matters worse. He asks her again to go to India; she says she would go as his assistant but never as his wife. Once more that evening he asks her to accompany him, and Jane is about to agree when she hears Mr. Rochester’s disembodied voice calling her name.

    Chapter 36: The next morning, St. John leaves and Jane takes a coach to Thornfield Hall. To her horror, she finds it an abandoned and blackened ruin. She inquires about the disaster, and learns that Bertha set the mansion on fire in the middle of the night. Bertha died in the fire and Rochester was injured. He is now blind and missing a hand, and lives at his other home in Ferndean Manor.

    Chapter 37: Jane arrives at Ferndean and is reunited with Rochester. She tells him everything that happened since she left Thornfield. He is at first jealous of St. John, but Jane assures him that she did not love St. John nor he her. Rochester is worried about his blindness and crippled hand, but Jane swears that she loves and will marry him anyway.

    Chapter 38: “Reader, I married him," says Jane, and the last chapter of "Jane Eyre" relates the happy conclusion. Jane is now 10 years married, with several children. Rochester eventually regains some of his sight. Jane keeps a frequent correspondence with Mary and Diana, who both marry happily. St. John goes to India unmarried, and "Jane Eyre" ends as Jane receives a last letter from him in which he anticipates his death and eternal reward.

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    References

    Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Smith, Elder, and Co., 1847. Penguin Classics, 2006.

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