Dear Reader, welcome to our discussion of this classic and loved novel. Like Jane Austen’s novels Jane Eyre still has loyal fans and has survived the changes in thought and society in the 151 years since its publication. Readers still identify with Jane, Mr. Rochester, Mrs. Reed, Bertha, St. John Rivers and other characters and events in the tale.
Published in 1847 it is the oldest book in the online book discussion series.
Although gothic novels had been written before Jane Eyre it is considered one of the best examples and the basic outline of the story has become the plot for so many novels that they have been given a name, or genre: historical romances or gothic romances.
A Brief Biography
Charlotte Bronte was born in 1816 and grew up in the dramatic landscape of England’s Yorkshire area. Her father was a rector and her mother died when she was only 5 years old. The children of the family: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily (author of Wuthering Heights), Anne (author of two novels), and the only boy, Branwell became very close.
Their education was seriously influenced by their father’s wide-ranging collection of books which he encouraged his children to read. From an early age the children made up fantasy lives and worlds and were writing stories and poems. However, paralleling her real life, Charlotte and her sisters did attend a boarding school much like Lowood in the book. The harsh conditions there contributed to the childhood deaths of Maria and Elizabeth.
Charlotte and Anne worked as teachers and governesses but hated the separation from the family. Hoping to open their own school they studied in Brussels. Charlotte fell in love with the married head of the school who refused to respond to the open expressions of her feelings. The school idea failed and they had to return to working as teachers and governesses.
Supporting themselves by writing seemed one avenue by which they could stay together and be employed, so under their masculine pseudonyms they sent a first work, a book of poetry, to a publisher. It was a dismal failure but the immediate success of Jane Eyre was encouraging. Their years of childhood writing and reading and personal experiences became in their creative minds wonderful stories.
Charlotte also wrote Shirley, Villette and The Professor.
She died during her first pregnancy within two years of marriage.
Don’t know how to begin discussing the book? Here are some ideas:
● The book had a heroine who was not pretty and a hero who was not handsome and yet the book is considered romantic. This was unusual for its time and for the gothic romances of today. Why did it work?
● Why is the book still read? Are you one of the book’s fans? How many times have you read it?
● How is the first person narrative style an important way to tell the story of Jane’s life?
● Jane’s conscience will not allow her to remain with Rochester no matter how deeply she loves him after becoming aware of Bertha’s existence so why, when she hears him calling to her, does she return without hesitation?
● Readers developed, as they still do, affection for Jane. The 19th century reader would have wanted the best for her: to be a wife and mother. This was believed to be the only place where a British woman could attain true happiness and have clear and acceptable position in society. However Jane never expresses this as her goal but speaks instead of respect and love in a more general sense. Do you think the ending is so romantic that Bronte could
speak out about the role of women in that society?
● How is Jane Eyre different from the books that copied it? Why have so many books been written that a genre has been created?
● What are the examples of the supernatural and superstition in the novel; what do they contribute to the story?