This Day In Writing History
On October 6th, 1847, Jane Eyre, the legendary novel by Charlotte Bronte, was published in London, England. Since female writers were looked down on during the Victorian era, Bronte published Jane Eyre under the androgynous pseudonym Currer Bell. Narrated by its title character, the novel opens with Jane, a ten-year-old orphan girl, living with her uncle's family. Jane's uncle died shortly after adopting her, leaving her to be raised by her nasty, abusive aunt and equally odious cousins.
After her aunt once again locks Jane up in the room where her uncle died as punishment, she has a fit and a fainting spell. An apothecary treats her and recommends that she go to boarding school. So, Jane is enrolled at Lockwood School, which is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a hypocritical Christian clergyman who is both self-righteous and dishonest. He's also incredibly neglectful of his young charges. While Brocklehurst comes from a wealthy family and lives in comfort, he preaches to his students the Christian doctrine of growing closer to God through poverty and suffering.
Life at Lockwood School is grim for Jane Eyre. Thanks to the self-righteous Brocklehurst, she and the other students must make do with cold rooms, thin clothing, and lousy food. While Miss Temple is kind and fair, another teacher, Miss Satcherd, is a cruel tyrant. She singles out Jane's quiet classmate Helen Burns for abuse. Though Helen is a few years older than Jane, they become close friends. Jane admires Helen's courage in accepting Miss Satcherd's abuse with quiet dignity, turning the other cheek as Jesus said to do in the Bible. But Jane just can't bring herself to do the same.
A typhus epidemic sweeps through the school, and thanks to Brocklehurst's neglect, most of the students fall ill with the disease. Helen contracts tuberculosis and dies in Jane's arms. The health crisis exposes Brocklehurst's neglect and dishonesty. Though he still remains in charge due to his family's wealth and position, new people are brought in to share his duties as inspector and treasurer. As a result, the conditions at Lockwood School improve considerably.
The novel then jumps ahead eight years, and we find Jane Eyre, having taught at Lockwood for a couple of years, taking a better job as governess to Adele, the spoiled little daughter of Edward Rochester, owner of Thornfield Manor. Though Jane is twenty years younger, Rochester finds himself taken with her. Happy at first with her new job, Jane is soon troubled by mysterious occurrences, including strange laughter echoing through the hallways, a fire, and an attack on a guest.
When Jane, who had been keeping her feelings a secret for months, finally proclaims her love for Rochester, he proposes to her. Later, after a month of courtship, a strange and savage-looking woman sneaks into Jane's room and rips her wedding veil apart. Rochester blames the incident on one of his servants, Grace Poole, who is a drunkard. But at their wedding ceremony, Jane learns the truth. A man named Mason and a lawyer interrupt the ceremony and reveal that Edward Rochester is already married.
Rochester's wife, Bertha, is a violently insane madwoman whom he keeps confined in the attic. The servant Grace Poole is her keeper, but Bertha takes advantage of Grace's inebriation to escape from the attic and wreak havoc. Rochester hadn't known that madness ran rampant in Bertha's family before he married her. The wedding is canceled and Jane is heartbroken. Rochester asks her to move with him to the South of France where they will live as husband and wife, but she cannot bring herself to live with him in sin. So she leaves him, fleeing Thornfield Manor in the middle of the night.
When her money runs out, Jane sleeps outdoors and reluctantly turns to begging. One night, freezing and starving, she goes to a house to beg for help. The clergyman who lives there, St. John Eyre Rivers, turns out to be a cousin of Jane's. Rivers is a fanatical Calvinist clergyman. While he is charitable, honest, and forgiving, he's also proud, cold, and controlling. After Jane is nursed back to health, Rivers asks her to marry him and go with him to India, where he plans to do missionary work. Jane refuses to marry him because she knows that they really don't love each other. Rivers continues to pressure her and she finally agrees to marry him, but then she thinks she hears the voice of Edward Rochester calling her name. The next morning, she decides to go to Thornfield Manor to check on Rochester before she leaves with Rivers for India.
On her way to Thornfield, Jane learns from an innkeeper that Rochester's mad wife Bertha set the whole manor on fire, then committed suicide. Rochester saved the lives of all of his servants, but lost a hand and was blinded in the process. When Jane is reunited with him, he fears that she won't want a blind cripple and she fears that he won't want to marry again. But after they reveal their feelings to each other, Rochester proposes and Jane accepts without hesitation. After Jane gives birth to their first child, Rochester eventually regains sight in one eye and is able to see his son.
Jane Eyre is rightfully considered a masterpiece of 19th century English literature. Still popular today, the novel has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, and television.
Quote Of The Day
"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it." - Charlotte Bronte
Today's video features a clip from the famous 1944 feature film adaptation of Jane Eyre, starring Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester. Enjoy!