Charlotte Brontë does not give any specific years in the novel but there are clues to the period when it is set. These clues and an estimated timeline are shown on this page.
The number under the date column is the relative year (with 1 being the start of the novel). The actual years are based on the publication of Marmion, (see below) but bear in mind that this is only an assumption and Charlotte's chronology may have been different.
|1789||c. Sept (year -10)||–||Jane is born|
|1793||20 Oct (year -6)||4||Rochester marries Bertha Mason||Fifteen years before Jane planned to marry Rochester|
|1799||November (year 1)||10||Beginning of the novel|
|1800||15 Jan (year 2)||10||Brocklehurst visits Jane at Gateshead|
|1800||19 Jan (year 2)||10||Jane arrives at Lowood|
|1800||February (year 2)||10||Brocklehurst visits Lowood||Three weeks after her arrival|
|1800||April (year 2)||10||Typhus breaks out at Lowood||"Ere May arrived"|
|1800||June (year 2)||10||Helen Burns dies||The beginning of June|
|1805||(Year 7)||16||Jane becomes a teacher at Lowood|
|1807||October (year 9)||18||Jane travels to Thornfield|
|1808||January (year 10)||18||Jane meets Mr Rochester|
|1808||Spring (year 10)||18||Blanche Ingram and her party come to Thornfield|
|1808||May (year 10)||18||Jane visits the dying Mrs Reed||Arrives at Gateshead on 1st May|
|1808||June (year 10)||18||Mr Rochester proposes to Jane||On Midsummer-eve|
|1808||Late July (year 10)||18||Jane and Rochester's planned wedding day||There was a month between proposal and the planned wedding|
|1808||Late July (year 10)||18||Jane flees from Thornfield||The morning after the cancelled wedding|
|1808||August (year 10)||18||Jane is taken into Moor House||Two days travelling and two wandering around Millcote|
|1808||c. Sept (year 10)||18||Thornfield is burned down||Two months after Jane ran away|
|1808||September (year 10)||18||Jane begins work at the school||A month passes since Jane's recovery|
|1808||5 Nov (year 10)||19||St John gives Jane a copy of Marmion|
|1809||May (year 11)||19||St John proposes to Jane|
|1809||1 June (year 11)||19||Jane leaves for Thornfield|
|1809||6 June (year 11)||19||Jane marries Mr Rochester||Two days travelling and then three days to the wedding|
|1811||(year 13)||21||Mr Rochester's sight begins to improve|
|1819||(year 21)||29||The last chapter of the novel is set at this date|
*As mentioned above, the year is based on publication date of Marmion.
Bold dates are specifically mentioned in the novel.
At the beginning of chapter 11 (when Jane is 18), it is noted that the George Inn in Millcote had prints of George III, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), and the death of Wolfe. George III reigned from 1760 to 1820, his son was born in 1762, and General Wolfe died in 1759. So that year cannot be any earlier than about 1780 (they are unlikely to have a picture of the Prince of Wales as a child). After 1820, the Prince would have been George IV but the prints may have been left up for a while before a new picture of George IV was purchased so it may have been a few years after 1820. The Marmion dating scheme places it in October 1807.
Later in chapter 11, Adèle states that she was brought over to Britain "in a great ship with a chimney that smoked". The first steam-powered boat was in 17831 but the first ship to cross the Channel was in 18222 which would place that year at least after 1822 whereas the timeline estimates it at about 1806 or 1807. On the other hand, there is no mention of railways (despite much travelling) which were booming from the mid-1830s onwards.3
Then, on November 5th in chapter 32 (when she would be aged 19), Jane is given a newly published book Marmion which appeared on 22 February, 1808. They are not in a big city so it is possible that the book did not reach Morton until the following year but it is reasonable to assume that this chapter is set in 1808. It seems unlikely that Charlotte would refer to a publication date without checking that it matched the novel's chronology.
It is also to be noted that the fashions mentioned in the novel are Regency rather than Victorian as noted by Luccia Gray on a blog post guest-luccia-gray-clothes-in-jane-eyres-time.
In chapter 31, Rosamond Oliver says "I have been so gay during my stay at S—. Last night, or rather this morning, I was dancing till two o'clock. The —th regiment are stationed there since the riots; …". B— is a large town, twenty miles from Morton/Moor House. If Morton is in the Peak District, it must be in the north or the midlands, such as Bradford or Birmingham. Out of riots that occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century, the most likely candidate seems to be the Luddite Riots of 1811–12 which occurred all over England but are particularly relevant to the midlands and north 4 (Rosamond's father owned a needle factory). This would set the date as about 3 years after my timeline estimate.
There is also strong evidence in a couple of asides that the story is set well before the time of writing (1847). In chapter 10, there is the line:
"(in those days, reader, this now narrow catalogue of accomplishments, would have been held tolerably comprehensive)."
Charlotte is here addressing her readers in 1847 but referring to an earlier date, presumably decades before when desired "accomplishments" (ie. skills such as music, mathematics, drawing, etc) would have been distinctly different.
And in chapter 32, when Jane is receiving her copy of Marmion, Charlotte writes:
"a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the fortunate public of those days – the golden age of modern literature. Alas! the readers of our era are less favoured. But courage! I will not pause either to accuse or repine. I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost…"
Clearly then the setting of the novel is a very different period to Charlotte from the contemporary (1847) day. Austen, Keats, Byron, Shelley and Scott were all publishing in the first decades of the nineteenth century which would have seemed a "golden age" to Charlotte.
Jane's birthday was probably around August/September. In chapter 29, she says "I am near nineteen," when the month is July or early August. In chapter 10, when she writes her advertisement (about 7 or 8 weeks before leaving in October), she says "as I was barely eighteen".
As well as Marmion, Charlotte mentions several other books and authors in the novel. Their dates are:
|Book||Author||Pub.||Chap||Year in timeline|
|History of British Birds||Thomas Bewick||1797/1804||1||1799|
|Henry, Earl of Moreland||Henry Brooke||1770||1||1799|
|History of Rome||Oliver Goldsmith||1772||1||1799|
|Gulliver's Travels||Jonathan Swift||1726||3||1799|
|The League of Rats||La Fontaine||1694||11||1807|
|Not stated||Schiller||Died 1805||34||1809|
As you can see, most of the books were published well before the date in the novel. The exception is Bewick's History of British Birds. While volume 1 was published early enough, volume 2 was published five years after the inferred novel date and the quotation is from volume 2. So to fit this book into the timeline, we would have to move it forward at least five years. But that would mean Marmion is described as "a new publication" five years after it was actually published. I suspect that it is more likely that Charlotte assumed that Bewick's volume 2 was published at the same time as volume 1.