The Reader’s Guide to Charlotte Brontë ’ s “Jane Eyre”

Lowood School

Jane is sent away to this school when her aunt grows tired of her. Initially a harsh and unpleasant place, it later improves and Jane ends up as a teacher for two years.

Cowan Bridge School drawing
Cowan Bridge School in Lancashire

Inspirations

If there may be doubts about the inspirations for the other buildings, there is none about Lowood. The school is based upon Cowan Bridge School in Lancashire which Charlotte and her sisters attended as pupils. Fellow pupils recognised the school from Jane Eyre and also some of the teachers.

Chapter 5. "The garden was a wide inclosure, surrounded with walls so high as to exclude every glimpse of prospect; a covered veranda ran down one side, and broad walks bordered a middle space divided into scores of little beds: these beds were assigned as gardens for the pupils to cultivate, and each bed had an owner."

Location

Cowan Bridge is in Lancashire, close to Kirkby Lonsdale (the model for Lowton). It is about 40 miles (65 kilometres) from the Brontë's home in Haworth. Some of the building still stands and is shown below.

Cowan Bridge buildings
The remaining building of Cowan Bridge School today

Helen Burns

Helen Burns portrait
Colette Barker from the 19836 TV series

Jane's closest friend at Lowood, 14 years of age (compared to Jane's 10). An intelligent, pious girl who is persecuted by Miss Scatcherd but accepts the punishments willingly. She teaches Jane humility and kindness to her enemies. She dies of consumption (tuberculosis) within six months of Jane's arrival.

Helen Burns is based on Charlotte's eldest sister, Maria, who also died of consumption. "I need hardly say, that Helen Burns is as exact a transcript of Maria Brontë as Charlotte's wonderful power of reproducing character could give." (The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell 1857)

Chapter 5. The punishment seemed to me in a high degree ignominious, especially for so great a girl – she looked thirteen or upwards. I expected she would show signs of great distress and shame; but to my surprise she neither wept nor blushed: composed, though grave, she stood, the central mark of all eyes. "How can she bear it so quietly – so firmly?" I asked of myself. "Were I in her place, it seems to me I should wish the earth to open and swallow me up. She looks as if she were thinking of something beyond her punishment – beyond her situation: of something not round her nor before her. I have heard of day-dreams – is she in a day-dream now? Her eyes are fixed on the floor, but I am sure they do not see it – her sight seems turned in, gone down into her heart: she is looking at what she can remember, I believe; not at what is really present. I wonder what sort of a girl she is – whether good or naughty."

Chapter 6. and the teacher instantly and sharply inflicted on her neck a dozen strokes with the bunch of twigs. Not a tear rose to Burns' eye; and, while I paused from my sewing, because my fingers quivered at this spectacle with a sentiment of unavailing and impotent anger, not a feature of her pensive face altered its ordinary expression.

Chapter 6. "It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you; and besides, the Bible bids us return good for evil."

  "But then it seems disgraceful to be flogged, and to be sent to stand in the middle of a room full of people; and you are such a great girl: I am far younger than you, and I could not bear it."
  "Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear."

Chapter 8. Next morning, Miss Scatcherd wrote in conspicuous characters on a piece of pasteboard the word "Slattern", and bound it like a phylactery round Helen's large, mild, intelligent, and benign-looking forehead. She wore it till evening, patient, unresentful, regarding it as a deserved punishment.

Mr Brocklehurst

Mr Brocklehurst portrait
Robert James from the 1983 TV series

The manager and treasurer of Lowood School. He is mean and hypocritical with a cruel version of religion.

Chapter 4. I looked up at – a black pillar! – such, at least, appeared to me, at first sight, the straight, narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect on the rug: the grim face at the top was like a carved mask, placed above the shaft by way of capital.

Chapter 4. In uttering these words I looked up: he seemed to me a tall gentleman; but then I was very little; his features were large, and they and all the lines of his frame were equally harsh and prim.

Chapter 4. he placed me square and straight before him. What a face he had, now that it was almost on a level with mine! what a great nose! and what a mouth! and what large prominent teeth!

Chapter 13. "I disliked Mr Brocklehurst; and I was not alone in the feeling. He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling; he cut off our hair; and for economy's sake bought us bad needles and thread, with which we could hardly sew."

  "He starved us when he had the sole superintendence of the provision department, before the committee was appointed; and he bored us with long lectures once a week, and with evening readings from books of his own inditing, about sudden deaths and judgements, which made us afraid to go to bed."

Miss Maria Temple

Miss Temple portrait
Sally Osborne from the 1983 TV series

The kind-hearted superintendent of Lowood School. She becomes a close friend and mother-figure to Jane, and it is her marriage and departure which helps to encourage Jane to leave Lowood.

Chapter 5. Seen now, in broad daylight, she looked tall, fair, and shapely; brown eyes with a benignant light in their irids, and a fine pencilling of long lashes round, relieved the whiteness of her large front; on each of her temples her hair, of a very dark brown, was clustered in round curls, according to the fashion of those times, when neither smooth bands nor long ringlets were in vogue; her dress, also in the mode of the day, was of purple cloth, relieved by a sort of Spanish trimming of black velvet; a gold watch (watches were not so common then as now) shone at her girdle. Let the reader add, to complete the picture, refined features; a complexion, if pale, clear; and a stately air and carriage, and he will have, at least, as clearly as words can give it, a correct idea of the exterior of Miss Temple – Maria Temple

Chapter 6. "Miss Temple is full of goodness; it pains her to be severe to any one, even the worst in the school: she sees my errors, and tells me of them gently; and, if I do anything worthy of praise, she gives me my meed liberally. One strong proof of my wretchedly defective nature is, that even her expostulations, so mild, so rational, have not influence to cure me of my faults; and even her praise, though I value it most highly, cannot stimulate me to continued care and foresight."

Chapter 7. I can remember Miss Temple walking lightly and rapidly along our drooping line, her plaid cloak, which the frosty wind fluttered, gathered close about her, and encouraging us, by precept and example, to keep up our spirits, and march forward, as she said, "like stalwart soldiers." The other teachers, poor things, were generally themselves too much dejected to attempt the task of cheering others.

Chapter 10. Miss Temple, through all changes, had thus far continued superintendent of the seminary: to her instruction I owed the best part of my acquirements; her friendship and society had been my continual solace; she had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and, latterly, companion. At this period she married, removed with her husband (a clergyman, an excellent man, almost worthy of such a wife) to a distant county, and consequently was lost to me.

Miss Scatcherd

Miss Scatcherd portrait
Avril Clarke from the 1983 TV series

One of the teachers at Lowood, unpleasant and particularly cruel to Helen.

Chapter 5. "Silence!" ejaculated a voice; not that of Miss Miller, but one of the upper teachers, a little and dark personage, smartly dressed, but of somewhat morose aspect, who installed herself at the top of one table, while a more buxom lady presided at the other.

  the dark one not a little fierce

  "the little one with black hair is Miss Scatcherd; she teaches history and grammar, and hears the second class repetitions;"

  "Miss Scatcherd is hasty – you must take care not to offend her;"