Jane Eyre is, undeniably, a nineteenth century literary classic. Charlotte Brontë’s mentality and eloquence rival Jane Austen’s, but the serious content in Jane Eyre emphatically conveys the harsh realities of the Victorian era. Brontë’s heroine, Jane Eyre, has admirable qualities that develop her character into the strong, moral force of the story.
Orphaned at an early age, Jane is forced to live with her relatives, the Reeds. Jane is not only unloved by her aunt and cousins but also is physically and verbally abused by them without mercy. Her aunt’s deceit and lies result in Jane being removed from her aunt’s care and sent to Lowood School, a boarding school for girls. Through Jane’s first person narration, the reader is introduced to tolerant, forgiving Helen, Jane’s best friend, and kind schoolmistress Miss Temple. Mr. Brocklehurst, the proprietor of Lowood, can be counted on the list of Jane’s enemies. His strict rules for the school and his stiff Anglican preaching are matched in their severity by his own hypocritical behavior. A fitting example is the requirement that all students wear thin, modest clothing, which is sharply contradicted by a visit from Mr. Brocklehurst, his wife, and his daughters, all dressed in rich furs. When the typhoid strikes due to the girls’ poor diet and unsanitary conditions inflicted by the proprietor’s avarice, numerous deaths and an overall investigation temporarily free Jane Eyre from her life’s pattern of unhappiness by the dismissal of Mr. Brocklehurst and a general reinstatement of Lowood’s academic excellence.
Upon Jane’s adulthood, her teaching experience leads to the progression of the storyline to the next chapter in Jane’s history—her appointment as a governess at Thornfield Hall. Jane’s unexpected romance with her employer, Mr. Rochester, is frequently interrupted by a sinister secret that may destroy any chance of happiness for her. Jane’s childhood is described very vividly; the poverty levels of those times are accentuated by the rigid division of the classes and the despicable injustices orphans like Jane had to endure. Extremes in religion are displayed in various characters, e.g. Mr. Brocklehurst. However, Jane’s disgust at these extremities and hypocrisies by no means lessens her respect for God and morality. Her faith in her conscience, moral judgment, and God uphold her together with her intelligence and fortitude amid trials and sufferings.
Although the storyline is very good and the characters themselves are meticulously life-like, the author’s use of the English language is sometimes overdone and too complex. Mr. Rochester is a strange male character to be joined in a love story with a woman like Jane Eyre. Indeed, his temperament and ill manners indicate that he is an unpleasant, unsatisfactory love interest. His physical looks may be of no consequence, but his personal behavior and irrational actions only can convince any reader how unproportional Mr. Rochester’s character is to Jane’s. In fact, the flaws in their relationship throw the story out of balance.
Moreover, Mr. Rochester’s secret, which leads to his downfall, is reminiscent of a Gothic horror that is overly grotesque and exaggerated. While Mr. Rochester’s ambivalent fidelity to his secret is in some ways praiseworthy, common sense and safety for all the residents of Thornfield Hall counter his “charitable” deed for being an unjustified, dangerous action. St. John Rivers, a character who appears later in the story, is another example of a religious “fanatic.” His vocation to be a clergyman seems to be sincere, but his cold ambition and calculating manners are an extreme in themselves comparable to Mr. Rochester’s very passionate nature.
As powerfully realistic and tragic as Jane Eyre is, its wise and poignant moments are overshadowed by Mr. Rochester’s and Jane’s illogical love for each other, a theme which consumes the rest of the storyline. Nevertheless, Jane’s steadfast goodness prevails upon the reader’s good opinion throughout, for even when she is faced with a dilemma that can change her life, she would rather be a beggar than agree to be the mistress of the man she loves.