Genre: A hybrid of three genres: the Gothic novel (utilizes the mysterious, the supernatural, the horrific, the romantic); the romance novel (emphasizes love and passion, represents the notion of lovers destined for each other); and the Bildungsroman (narrates the story of a character’s internal development as he or she undergoes a succession of encounters with the external world) Time and place written: 1847, London
Date of first publication: 1847
Protagonist: Jane Eyre
Antagonist: Jane meets with a series of forces that threaten her liberty, integrity, and happiness. Characters embodying these forces are: Aunt Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester (in that he urges Jane to ignore her conscience and surrender to passion), and St. John Rivers (in his urging of the opposite extreme). The three men also represent the notion of an oppressive patriarchy. Blanche Ingram, who initially stands in the way of Jane’s relations with Rochester, also embodies the notion of a rigid class system—another force keeping Jane from fulfilling her hopes. Setting (time): Early decades of the nineteenth century.
Setting (place): The novel is structured around five separate locations, all supposedly in northern England: the Reed family’s home at Gateshead, the wretched Lowood School, Rochester’s manor house Thornfield, the Rivers family’s home at Moor House, and Rochester’s rural retreat at Ferndean. Tone: Jane Eyre’s tone is both Gothic and romantic, often conjuring an atmosphere of mystery, secrecy, or even horror. Despite these Gothic elements, Jane’s personality is friendly and the tone is also affectionate and confessional. Her unflagging spirit and opinionated nature further infuse the book with high energy and add a philosophical and political flavor. Context
Charlotte Brontë was born in Yorkshire, England on April 21, 1816. Because Charlotte’s mother died when Charlotte was five years old, Charlotte’s aunt, a devout Methodist, helped her brother-in-law raise his children. Autobiographical elements are recognizable throughout Jane Eyre. Jane’s experience at Lowood School, where her dearest friend dies of tuberculosis, recalls the death of Charlotte’s sisters at Cowan Bridge. The hypocritical religious fervor of the headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, is based in part on that of the Reverend Carus Wilson, the Evangelical minister who ran Cowan Bridge. Charlotte took revenge upon the school that treated her so poorly by using it as the basis for the fictional Lowood. Jane’s friend Helen Burns’s tragic death from tuberculosis recalls the deaths of two of Charlotte’s sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, who succumbed to the same disease during their time at Cowan Bridge. Additionally, John Reed’s decline into alcoholism and dissolution is most likely modeled upon the life of Charlotte Brontë’s brother Branwell, who slid into opium and alcohol addictions in the years preceding his death. Finally, like Charlotte, Jane becomes a governess—a neutral vantage point from which to observe and describe the oppressive social ideas and practices of nineteenth-century Victorian society. The plot of Jane Eyre follows the form of a Bildungsroman, which is a novel that tells the story of a child’s maturation and focuses on the emotions and experiences that accompany and incite his or her growth to adulthood. In Jane Eyre, there are five distinct stages of development, each linked to a particular place: Jane’s childhood at Gateshead, her education at the Lowood School, her time as Adèle’s governess at Thornfield, her time with the Rivers family at Morton and at Marsh End (also called Moor House), and her reunion with and marriage to Rochester at Ferndean. From these experiences, Jane becomes the mature woman who narrates the novel retrospectively. But the Bildungsroman plot of Jane Eyre, and the book’s element of social criticism, are filtered through a third literary tradition—that of the Gothic horror story. Like the Bildungsroman, the...