Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This entry has been pieced together a bit at a time over the
course of a couple weeks so I hope it comes together in a coherent manner.  Here goes . . .
Jane Eyre was assigned reading for my High School Women's Literature class and I never got past Jane's days at Lowood.  When I went to BYU somehow it kept coming up and it seemed everyone loved it, so I decided to give it another try and forced my way past that beginning section. [I've noticed this is a common thing with the Bronte novels.  It seems there's often a bit at the beginning that either serves no purpose or what purpose it does serve could be summed up in a few paragraphs.  I've read 5 of the 7 that the sisters wrote and I think they all have that element.]  Anyway, I loved it and got a bit obsessed about the Bronte family.  I'm not the only one.
John had checked this out for me and while it is called The Bronte Sisters, it has more about Branwell than many accounts.  It's a young adult biography so it's a pretty quick read.
The online world gives us a chance to peep into others obsessions with the Brontes and their novels.
Here is a post murmuring about the new editions blatantly copying the Twilight covers.  Reader, I don't get the sameness.
She includes a link to Jane Eyre Illustrated with a variety of illustrations and cover art.  And here's a link to a blog devoted entirely to the Bronte Sisters.
Ask the primary kids.  I love to show pictures.  So here is the Bronte clan.
Patrick Bronte
Maria Branwell Bronte
Aunt Elizabeth Branwell
Charlotte's Husband, Arthur Nicholls Bell
Branwell Bronte
The four Bronte siblings.
As far as I know there are no pictures of the oldest two sisters, Maria and Elizabeth that died so young
Emily, Charlotte [Branwell-erased] and Anne in a portrait by Branwell
Haworth Parsonage [Charlotte in the distance they think]
Click here for a video about the Parsonage
Emily's portrait of her dog, Keeper
Charlotte's portrait of Anne's dog Flossy
More links!  Here is a link to the posts for Anne Bronte's novel, Agnes Grey.  The 1st book group selection to have an entry on this blog, 2 years ago this month.  Here is a snippet from that blog that applies to the Brontes, not just Anne and Agnes Grey.
For those of you wanting to read a bit more about Anne and her sisters' lives you can visit the sites listed here.
You can find some odd and cool things too.
Here is a pretend Bronte sisters power dolls ad that I cannot over sell:  

With so much to read and discover about Charlotte and her family and their writings it seems like maybe only a distraction to bring up the movies too, but there are a LOT of movies based on Jane Eyre.  As many of you know, I have a couple pet peeves about the movie adaptations.
One is that Rochester is never dark, wild and broody enough.  At best he comes across as a bit soft with fits of mania.
Some samples:

He's one of the better ones but did a WAY better job as Mr Markham in Anne's Tenent of Wildfell Hall (below)
I've long believed that Hugh Jackman is one of few actors who could properly pull off the range of emotions that Rochester displays without looking like a total nut.
He could even play opposite his Xmen costar Rogue who played young Jane (1996 version I think).

I still believe he'd be the best Rochester, but the most recent version chose another of the X-men to fill the role and he does a surprisingly good job.  So you get Magneto
instead of Wolverine,
but I was pleasantly surprised.

Also the FEEL of this movie, the slow-moving intensity of it does FEEL like the book.
[Spoiler alert]  My second pet peeve is that the climax of the book is when Jane is about to accept St John's proposal.  At first she's fairly appalled by the idea, but she begins to believe that he may be right and that perhaps it is God's will for her to marry him and be a missionary and she's just. about. to. say. 'yes' when she's saved by that voice calling her from across the moor.  EVERY movie (most recent one excepted, I think) butchers this, some leave it out entirely and it all makes for a much weaker story.  Weirdly I can't recall how they dealt with this in the newest one.  I just remember that they did a pretty good job with casting Rochester and Jane and the FEEL, again, I've never seen one that felt so much like reading the book.  I should watch it again, huh?
First I've got to finish re-reading the book.  Been too sick this last week to even read, much.  Watched like 20 episodes of the Cosby Show though.  Anywho . . .back to the book

Here are some discussion questions to think over (these are a selection from Penguin Classics and Random House and misc websites.)  You don't have to read them all, but I did narrow down a LOT.


  1. Throughout the novel, questions of identity are raised. From her identity as an orphan and stranger in the hostile environment of Gateshead Hall to that of a ward of the church at Lowood; from her being a possible wife of Rochester, then of St. John, to being the cousin of Diana and Mary, Jane is constantly in transition. Trace these changes in identity and how they affect Jane's view of herself and the world around her. Describe the final discovery of her identity that becomes apparent in the last chapter of the novel and the events that made that discovery possible.
  2. In what ways, and for what reasons, is Jane portrayed as an outsider?
  3. Brontë populates the novel with many female characters roughly the same age as Jane—Georgiana and Eliza Reed, Helen Burns, Blanche Ingram, Mary and Diana Rivers, and Rosamund Oliver. How do comparisons with these characters shape the reader's understanding of Jane's character?
  4. Is Jane’s ethical sense innate? Is she born knowing right from wrong, or does she learn the difference?
  5. Why does Rochester like to describe Jane as some kind of supernatural creature – an elf, a fairy, a sprite, etc.? Does she have an "elfin" feel to the reader, or is he just making fun of her?
  6. What would happen to the story if Jane were beautiful instead of plain? Would it matter?
  7. Though possessing an inner strength that sustains her during the most difficult times, Jane also relies on the love and support of those around her. How does her friendship with Helen Burns ease Jane's transition to Lowood and inspire her intellectual achievement? Is the depth of their relationship fully realized in the film? How does Mrs. Fairfax's welcome of Jane at Thornfield contrast with the treatment she receives at Gateshead? What role do Diana and Mary Rivers play in restoring Jane's will to live after she abandons her post at Thornfield? What does Jane mean when she tells St. John that, though she has always known herself, Mr. Rochester was the first to recognize her?


  1. What does St. John feel for Jane? Why does Jane end her story with his prayer?
  2. Jane asserts her equality to Rochester (p. 284), and St. John (p. 452). What does Jane mean by equality, and why is it so important to her?
  3. In Jane Eyre, nothing can better show a man's moral worth than the way in which he treats the women in his life. How is Rochester's character reflected in the way he treats Jane, Adele, Bertha Mason, and Miss Ingram, and in his reported treatment of Celine Varens? How is St. John's character reflected in the way he treats Jane, Miss Oliver, and Diana and Mary? Why does this serve as such a good gauge of a man's morality and worth? What other relationships serve similar functions in the novel?
  4. Throughout the novel, Charlotte Brontë uses biblical quotes and religious references. From the church-supported school she attended that was run by Mr. Brocklehurst to the offer of marriage she receives from St. John, she is surrounded by aspects of Christianity. How does this influence her throughout her development? How do her views of God and Christianity change from her days as a young girl to the end of the novel? How is religion depicted in the novel, positively or negatively?
  5. Some movie adaptations all but eliminate the chapters with St. John, or at least the romance with him.  Are they essential?


  1. When Jane hears Rochester's voice calling while he is miles away, she says the phenomenon "is the work of nature" (p. 467). What does she mean by this? What are we intended to conclude about the meaning of this experience?
  2. What is the balance of power between Jane and Rochester when they marry? Does this balance change from the beginning of the marriage to the time ten years later that Jane describes at the end of the novel (p. 500-501)?
  3. Consider Jane and Rochester's relationship: What do they have in common; How do they establish a relationship; Is their relationship plausible?
  4. If Jane and Rochester are "akin," then what is their "kind"? What do they actually share, and what made them similar in the first place?
  5. Many critics have faulted Brontë for blinding and crippling Rochester.  Why do you think she did it?
  6. Even though Rochester is often described as physically unattractive and bullying, and Jane, as plain, the romance between the two is one of the greatest in literary history.   Why?
  7. "Reader, I married him...": Does Jane Eyre have a happy ending?  What does the novel conclude with the death of St. John rather than with Jane's and Rochester's marriage?


  1. Upon publication, great speculation arose concerning the identity of the author of Jane Eyre, known only by the pen name Currer Bell. Questions as to the sex of the author were raised, and many critics said that they believed it to be the work of a man. One critic of her time said, "A book more unfeminine, both in its excellence and defects, it would be hard to find in the annals of female authorship. Throughout there is masculine power, breadth and shrewdness, combined with masculine hardness, coarseness, and freedom of expression." Another critic of the day, Elizabeth Rigby, said that if it was the product of a female pen, then it was the writing of a woman "unsexed." Why was there such importance placed on the sex of the author and why was it questioned so readily? What does it mean that people believed it to be the product of a man rather than of a woman?


  1. Does the reader feel sorry for Bertha Mason? Does Rochester treat her fairly? Does she seem as bad as he suggests?

1 comment:

  1. Fun read! I think the book covers are crazy! So many have nothing to do with the content of the book! And who can beat the Bronte sisters power dolls? That was hilarious! Of the movies, I own the 2006 BBC miniseries version and liked it. The new movie seemed so much like it in mood and look that I actually get confused on the two looking back. I thought Toby Stephens was great. If anyone wants to borrow it, you're welcome to it.

    In the end, the book is simply better than any production, however, because in order to make a film, they have to cut a lot of introspection and examination that is the moral heart of the story. Without the moral dilemmas, it's just gothic romance.