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

A Summary of the Novel

A brief summary of each chapter in the novel.

Important note: the chapters are not titled in the book (apart from the last). The grey subtitles have been added by me as a convenient reference.

Chapter 1 (I)

Gateshead Hall

Jane Eyre, a 10-year-old orphan, has been living with her Aunt Reed at Gateshead Hall. Both the aunt and her family are very hostile towards Jane; in particular, John Reed, the 14-year-old son, treats her very badly. One day the Reed children find Jane reading and John Reed throws a book at her. When she fights back, she is taken away by Mrs Reed and some servants.

Chapter 2 (II)

The Red-room

Jane is taken to the red-room, a little-used dark bedroom decorated in shades of red. It is the room where Mr Reed died and Jane finds it frightening. When it grows dark, she panics and tries to be let out of the room but she is forced back in. She collapses in a fit.

Chapter 3 (III)

Recovery

Concerned at her collapse, Jane is taken from the red-room to her own bed where she is checked over by an apothecary, Mr Lloyd. While the Reeds are out, he and Bessie, the kindest servant, console Jane. During their conversation, Mr Lloyd suggests that Jane might go away to school.

Chapter 4 (IV)

A visit from Mr Brocklehurst

Jane's retaliation against John Reed and her subsequent collapse cause the Reeds to keep their distance from her. Some months later, there is a visit from Mr Brocklehurst, the stern and religious proprietor of Lowood School. He interviews Jane and agrees to admit her to his school. After he leaves, Jane is left alone with Mrs Reed and she reveals her true feelings to the latter, upsetting her aunt.


Chapter 5 (V)

Lowood School

After a long and tiresome journey, Jane arrives at Lowood. The next day, she is introduced to the school's routine and its teachers, who vary in kindess and consideration. She makes her first friend among the pupils, Helen Burns, who possesses an unusual intellect and character, even when being harshly punished by one of the teachers.

Chapter 6 (VI)

Helen Burns

At lessons the next day, Jane observes Helen being mistreated by the same teacher although she has understood the lesson well. Later, Jane seeks out Helen and talks with her, learning both about the girl and the school. Helen shows herself to be both self-deprecating and mature in her views.

Chapter 7 (VII)

“This girl is – a liar”

In the first few months at Lowood, Jane finds the conditions harsh with insufficent food, inadequate clothing and tiresome lessons. When Mr Brocklehurst visits one day, he spots Jane and humilates her in front of the school, forcing her to stand on a stool. She is consoled by a smile from Helen Burns.

Chapter 8 (VIII)

Consolation

Eventually Jane descends from the stool. While alone and sad, she is approached by Helen who comforts her. Then the two girls are taken by Miss Temple, the kindly superintendent, to her room where the latter provides them with tea and cake. There Jane listens in amazement at Helen's mature conversations with Miss Temple.

Chapter 9 (IX)

Sickness in the spring

The winter becomes spring at Lowood where typhus breaks out. But Jane remains healthy and the disease brings beneficial changes with things such as meals. Helen falls ill, not from typhus but with tuberculosis, and Jane makes her way to Helen's bed as she lies dying. When she wakes in the morning, Helen is dead.

Chapter 10 (X)

“I desired liberty”

As the typhus passes, it brings an improvement in conditions at Lowood where the establishment moves to better premises and Brocklehurst is replaced by a more enlightened man. The years pass and, at the age of sixteen, Jane becomes a teacher at the school. But, after two years, she feels a desire to leave the school and start afresh. She advertises for a position as a governess and receives a reply from Thornfield Hall.


Chapter 11 (XI)

Thornfield Hall

Jane travels to Thornfield Hall where she meets Mrs Fairfax, a friendly elderly lady whom she assumes is the owner of the house. The next day, it is revealed that Mrs Fairfax is the housekeeper and the owner is Mr Rochester who is away from home. She is introduced to Adèle, the young girl that she is to be governess to and daughter of a French dancer. Jane begins her life as a governess and starts to learn about the inhabitants of Thornfield.

Chapter 12 (XII)

An ancounter at dusk

Over the next few months, Jane settles into her new life, getting to know Adèle and the servants. One day in January, after posting a letter in the nearest village, she encounters a man on horseback in a lane. The result is that the horse falls and the man sustains a minor injury. She helps him to his horse and he rides off but, on returning to Thornfield, Jane learns that he was Mr Rochester, the owner of the house.

Chapter 13 (XIII)

The master of Thornfield

The next evening, Jane joins Mr Rochester for tea where he finds out about her past life and her talents. Afterwards, he learns a little about him from Mrs Fairfax.

Chapter 14 (XIV)

An evening of conversation

After a few days, Mr Rochester sends for Jane and Adèle where he gives the latter some presents from his travels. Jane and Mr Rochester talk, learning a little about each other's characters.

Chapter 15 (XV)

Glimpses of the past

At a later date, Mr Rochester explains a little of his past, that Adèle is the daughter of a French opera-dancer that he once loved but who betrayed him. Jane begins to be attracted to him.

One night, Jane wakes to a strange laugh and notices smoke in the corridor. She finds a fire in Mr Rochester's room and manages to extinguish it and wake him.

Chapter 16 (XVI)

The mystery of Grace Poole

The next morning, Jane finds that the fire has been put down to an accident with a candle. Suspecting a servant, Grace Poole, of being responsible for the incident, Jane questions her and receives calm and slightly suspicious answers.

Later she hears that Mr Rochester has left to visit some friends ten miles away. One of them is a young woman called Blanche Ingram who, she believes, he intends to marry. Jane realises that the attraction that she was beginning to have towards Mr Rochester will never be requited.

Chapter 17 (XVII)

Society comes to Thornfield

Jane overhears some servants talking about Grace Poole and learns that she has a privileged position at the house with higher that normal wages.

In a few weeks, Mr Rochester returns to Thornfield with Blanche Ingram and his other high-society friends. He is very at ease with them and is clearly popular, especially comfortable with Blanche. His friends, however, are rather haughty, especially towards governesses.

Chapter 18 (XVIII)

Fun and games

Over the next few weeks, the group enjoy themselves with various games. Jane, watching them, realises that Blanche Ingram is not really the pleasant person she at first appears.

Later, when Mr Rochester is absent from Thornfield for a short time, a man called Mason with a slight foreign accent arrives. Then a gypsy woman appears and offers to read the party's fortunes. After interviewing some of the guests, the gypsy suggests that Jane meets her.

Chapter 19 (XIX)

The gypsy's reading

After the gypsy woman talks with Jane, 'she' reveals herself to be Mr Rochester in disguise. When Jane reveals that Mr Mason is there, Rochester is shocked but recovers and joins the party.

Chapter 20 (XX)

Screams in the night

Jane is awakened in the night by screams which rouse the whole building. Mr Rochester reassures the others that it was a servant's nightmare but, when they have left, he tells Jane to follow him. She finds that Mason has been attacked by someone. A surgeon is called and, before the house has risen, Mason is ushered out and onto a coach.

Chapter 21 (XXI)

Dark days at Gateshead

One day Jane receives a visit from Bessie, the servant from Gateshead. She brings news that John Reed has died after an adult life of debt and mixing with the wrong crowd. She also reports that her aunt is gravely ill and asked to see her, so Jane travels to Gateshead. She is met by Eliza and Georgiana who now treat Jane with more respect.

During the next weeks, she speaks with Mrs Reed, trying to be conciliatory but with little response. Her aunt reveals that, a few years before, she had received a letter from Jane's uncle in Madeira who had wished to adopt her. Mrs Reed had told the uncle that Jane had died and, a little later, the woman herself dies.

Chapter 22 (XXII)

Return to Thornfield

After a while, Jane returns to Thornfield. Mr Rochester's friends had by now left but there does not seem to be a great friendship between him and Blanche Ingram.

Chapter 23 (XXIII)

Midsummer confessions

One evening, Jane and Mr Rochester meet in the grounds. They talk together and Rochester finally admits that he loves Jane and proposes. She agrees to marry him.

Chapter 24 (XXIV)

The bride-to-be

The household prepares for the marriage with Jane and Rochester travelling into Millcote to buy her things for the wedding.

Chapter 25 (XXV)

A visitation in the night

In the days before the wedding, while Mr Rochester is away, Jane is woken in the night by a strange woman who puts the former's veil on her head before tearing it in two. On his return, Rochester tries to reassure Jane but with little success.

Chapter 26 (XXVI)

Mrs Edward Rochester

On the day of the wedding, Jane and Mr Rochester are in the middle of the ceremony when they are interrupted by a solicitor who reveals that Rochester is already married. The service is cancelled and he takes everyone to the room in Thornfield where his wife is looked after by Grace Poole. The woman has been mad for most of their married life and Jane realises that her hopes for the future are lost.

Chapter 27 (XXVII)

Answers and choices

After spending some time alone in her room, Jane emerges to meet Mr Rochester who tells her more of his past and the marriage. Although they both still love each other, Jane decides that she cannot stay any longer and, early in the morning, she flees Thornfield.


Chapter 28 (XXVIII)

Alone again

After travelling by coach for two days, Jane finds herself in a remote part of the country. She sleeps on the moors overnight and then enters the nearest village to look for food and employment with little success. The next day is equally disappointing and, towards evening, starving and weary, Jane crawls towards an isolated house. She knocks on the door but the servant there refuses to let her in. However, the man of the house returns at that moment and invites her inside.

Chapter 29 (XXIX)

The Rivers of Moor House

Jane gradually recovers and learns that the building, Moor House, is occupied by three siblings, St John, Diana and Mary Rivers. They are kind to Jane but St John, though handsome, seems rather cold and remote. She tells them much but keeps her history with Thornfield and Mr Rochester secret.

Chapter 30 (XXX)

A position is decided

A month goes by and Jane becomes good friends with the Rivers. However the sisters are soon to be leaving to become governesses and St John plans to become a missionary in India so Jane worries about her future. St John offers her the post of a teacher in a new girls' school that he is setting up and she enthusiastically accepts the position.

Chapter 31 (XXXI)

Miss Rosamond Oliver

The evening after the school had opened, Jane is visited in her garden by St John who enquires about her day. While they are talking, Rosamond Oliver appears and greets them. Although the pair are supposed to be in love, Jane notices that St John is rather cold towards her,

Chapter 32 (XXXII)

The passions of St John Rivers

Jane settles into her new life, enjoying her occupation and becoming popular with the local people. She also becomes close to Rosamond Oliver. One day St John brings Jane a new book of poetry and, as they talk, he once again seems ambiguous towards Rosamond.

Chapter 33 (XXXIII)

Revelations

The next day, St John returns to see Jane. He explains that he has discovered Jane's true identity and history at Thornfield after being contacted by a solicitor. He reveals that Jane's uncle had died and left her his fortune. He then also tells her that her father was brother to the Rivers' mother so that they are all cousins. Jane decides to split the fortune between the four of them.

Chapter 34 (XXXIV)

Propositions on the moors

Near to Christmas, Jane shuts up the school and Diana and Mary return from their jobs. During the next week, Jane learns that Rosamond Oliver has decided to marry another man while St John remains rather distant with Jane.

In the spring, St John takes a walk alone with Jane where he asks her to be his wife and travel with him to India. Jane is happy to go with him but not as his wife which would simply be a marriage of convenience. St John can not agree to this and his attitude to her becomes even colder.

Chapter 35 (XXXV)

A day of decisions

A few days later, Jane and St John are talking. He is still under the impression that Jane will marry him and journey to India, and again she has to refuse him. Later on, he asks her again to marry him and, as Jane is wavering, she appears to hear Mr Rochester's voice calling to her.


Chapter 36 (XXXVI)

The fate of Thornfield

The next day, Jane decides that she has to go to Thornfield to find out what has happened to Mr Rochester. She travels there but finds that Thornfield is a blackened ruin, destroyed for some time by fire. She enquires at an inn what had happened and is told that his wife had set fire to the house. She had died falling from the roof but, in an attempt to rescue people, Rochester had lost his sight and one hand. He now resides in his smaller home at Ferndean.

Chapter 37 (XXXVII)

Reconciliation

Jane hires a carriage to take her immediately to Ferndean. She finds that Mr Rochester lives there with just two servants and has retreated into himself. She greets Rochester who is delighted by her return and worries that she might leave him again. But Jane decides that she wants to marry him.

Chapter 38 (XXXVIII)

Conclusion

The final chapter is written ten years in the future. Jane and Rochester are happily married with a child, and his sight is beginning to return. Diana and Mary are married but regularly visit Ferndean. St John is in India, following his vocation, but Jane suspects that he will not live much longer. Yet he is content with his life.