Jane Eyre

The first classic novel I profoundly connected with when I was young was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I was a high school junior then, still 16 years old, and I absolutely loved it. So much so, in fact, that I watched and rewatched the 2006 BBC series adaptation and forced my younger sister to watch it with me! (Luckily, she also enjoyed it.) Now I’m double that age and rereading Jane Eyre for the first time. Does it still impact me the same way? Is it still as good? The short answer is an emphatic Yes! And I certainly won’t wait nearly so long for my next rereading of it!

For a couple years, I’ve been wanting to revisit Jane Eyre and read some of its many retellings and reimaginings. I dub this month JANEUARY in honor of this beloved character, and this rereading is the perfect way to kick things off.


Jane Eyre was orphaned as a baby and brought up in her aunt’s household with neither love nor happiness. After spending eight years in a boarding school for poor girls, eighteen-year-old Jane embarks on a new life, securing employment as a governess at Thornfield Hall. She’s there to teach young Adèle, the ward of Thornfield’s owner, Mr. Rochester. When Jane finally meets Mr. Rochester, she sees that he’s a brooding and mercurial man, but he quickly develops a particular affection for her. While an unlikely romance develops between Jane and Mr. Rochester, there are also secrets lurking in the corridors, a danger that occasionally comes out at night and puts Thornfield’s inhabitants in danger. When the secrets are finally exposed, Jane must decide how to choose the right path for her heart and her own morals.


I still remember the way it felt when I first read Jane Eyre as a shy sixteen-year-old. Though I’d always been a bookworm, this was the first classic novel that really struck me. I loved it, and maybe related to Jane in some ways, and I’ve always held onto that fondness. Now I’m 32 and have just revisited it for the first time since high school. This time, to get a slightly different experience, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of Jane Eyre performed by Thandiwe Newton.

Although 16 years was enough time for me to forget some details, during my rereading of Jane Eyre, everything came rushing back. Even some of the dialogue and descriptions were familiar. As much as I enjoyed and identified with the book as a teenager, I still find it just as compelling as before. It affects me just as deeply, but my slightly matured outlook on life has also lent a new perspective to some aspects of the book, too.

As a child, Jane is passionate and righteous, two qualities that are summarily stamped out by the adults in her life. She receives little affection, and grows into a subdued and pragmatic woman. Even so, her inner passions run deep. When she arrives at Thornfield to work as a governess, she is calm and practical… and yet the hall’s master, Mr. Rochester, inspires deeper feelings. He seems to reciprocate those feelings, too, given the extra attention he often gives her. But surely he’s just a talkative man who likes that Jane’s a great listener? He’s her boss and rich; she’s a poor, obscure nobody. How could they possibly see a future together?

For me, the biggest draw of Jane Eyre is the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester. They seem so opposite on their surfaces, and yet they’re actually well-matched in spirit. He’s changeable, eccentric, excitable, and he’s much older than Jane. And yet, deep down, Jane has a similar intellect, romanticism, and joie de vivre as he does. There are problems in their relationship, not least of all the uneven power dynamics, life experience, and personal agency. The bigger problem relates to the great gothic mystery of the novel. But despite all the obstacles and genuine issues, this is a couple I can’t help but root for.

Of course, Jane Eyre is also known as a wonderful gothic mystery, and the question of who lurks the halls at night adds a sense of unease. Is it a ghost, or something more corporal and sinister? The depiction of Bertha is rather problematic by today’s standards—hence the many retellings that give her a voice—but I do love the eerie sense her mystery provides. (Also worth noting: Mr. Rochester’s decision to keep her at Thornfield Hall versus sending her to an asylum was likely the kindest option he could have chosen at the time. Don’t judge too harshly based on today’s circumstances! For me, his biggest transgression isn’t in keeping her at home, it’s his secrets, withholding of pertinent information, and needless tricks.)

The section where Jane leaves and finds a new community was supremely boring to me as a teenager. Admittedly, it’s still not my favorite, but I can appreciate it more now. It’s an important time for Jane as she comes into her own, becomes more confident, and ultimately finds her voice. Some elements are too coincidental or saccharine, and I don’t like St. John’s character much, but it all makes the novel’s ending that much stronger.

There are so many thought-provoking themes in Jane Eyre, and so many threads to expand on. Not everything works well by today’s standards, but at its core, this is a novel of a strong woman making her own way in life. She follows her heart and her head, and she never compromises her morals. It’s a feminist tale that aims to equalize Jane and Mr. Rochester before giving them a happily ever after. (Though Mr. Rochester’s outcome is undeservedly severe!) It’s an enduring novel that has earned its continuous place in readers’ hearts.

Final Thoughts

Jane Eyre is every bit as captivating and compelling now as it was when I first read it. This is still my favorite classic novel and one I plan to reread often.

I love the 2006 BBC series adaptation of it (which I also just rewatched), and am eager to read some retellings of Jane Eyre soon, too. I have several retellings on my shelves and several more I’m planning to buy. First I’ll read Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. There are also some gothic and thriller options that look intriguing. But the reimagining I’m most looking forward to is a contemporary romance called Jane & Edward by Melodie Edwards; unless I get an ARC of it soon, I’ll be picking it when it publishes on March 21st and reading it immediately thereafter. Stay tuned for more of my JANEUARY readathon and my reviews of Jane Eyre retellings!

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Audiobook NarratorThandiwe Newton
GenreClassic; Gothic; Romance; Mystery
Length526 pages; 19 hours
Format I ReadAudiobook
Original Publication Date1847

Official Summary

A gothic masterpiece of tempestuous passions and dark secrets, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is edited with an introduction and notes by Stevie Davis in Penguin Classics.

Charlotte Brontë tells the story of orphaned Jane Eyre, who grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, enduring loneliness and cruelty. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane’s natural independence and spirit – which prove necessary when she finds employment as a governess to the young ward of Byronic, brooding Mr Rochester. As her feelings for Rochester develop, Jane gradually uncovers Thornfield Hall’s terrible secret, forcing her to make a choice. Should she stay with Rochester and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions – even if it means leaving the man she loves? A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre dazzled readers with its passionate depiction of a woman’s search for equality and freedom.

About the Author

Charlotte Brontë. Evert A. Duyckinck, 1873. Courtesy of the University of Texas.
Charlotte Brontë. Evert A. Duyckinck, 1873. Courtesy of the University of Texas.

Charlotte Brontë was an English novelist, the eldest out of the three famous Brontë sisters whose novels have become standards of English literature. See also Emily Brontë and Anne Brontë.

Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, the third of six children, to Patrick Brontë (formerly “Patrick Brunty”), an Irish Anglican clergyman, and his wife, Maria Branwell. In April 1820 the family moved a few miles to Haworth, a remote town on the Yorkshire moors, where Patrick had been appointed Perpetual Curate. This is where the Brontë children would spend most of their lives. Maria Branwell Brontë died from what was thought to be cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to the care of her spinster sister Elizabeth Branwell, who moved to Yorkshire to help the family.

In August 1824 Charlotte, along with her sisters Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, was sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire, a new school for the daughters of poor clergyman (which she would describe as Lowood School in Jane Eyre). The school was a horrific experience for the girls and conditions were appalling. They were regularly deprived of food, beaten by teachers and humiliated for the slightest error. The school was unheated and the pupils slept two to a bed for warmth. Seven pupils died in a typhus epidemic that swept the school and all four of the Brontë girls became very ill – Maria and Elizabeth dying of tuberculosis in 1825. Her experiences at the school deeply affected Brontë – her health never recovered and she immortalised the cruel and brutal treatment in her novel, Jane Eyre. Following the tragedy, their father withdrew his daughters from the school.

At home in Haworth Parsonage, Charlotte and the other surviving children — Branwell, Emily, and Anne — continued their ad-hoc education. In 1826 her father returned home with a box of toy soldiers for Branwell. They would prove the catalyst for the sisters’ extraordinary creative development as they immediately set to creating lives and characters for the soldiers, inventing a world for them which the siblings called ‘Angria’. The siblings became addicted to writing, creating stories, poetry and plays. Brontë later said that the reason for this burst of creativity was that:

‘We were wholly dependent on ourselves and each other, on books and study, for the enjoyments and occupations of life. The highest stimulus, as well as the liveliest pleasure we had known from childhood upwards, lay in attempts at literary composition.’

After her father began to suffer from a lung disorder, Charlotte was again sent to school to complete her education at Roe Head school in Mirfield from 1831 to 1832, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. During this period (1833), she wrote her novella The Green Dwarf under the name of Wellesley. The school was extremely small with only ten pupils meaning the top floor was completely unused and believed to be supposedly haunted by the ghost of a young lady dressed in silk. This story fascinated Brontë and inspired the figure of Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Brontë left the school after a few years, however she swiftly returned in 1835 to take up a position as a teacher, and used her wages to pay for Emily and Anne to be taught at the school. Teaching did not appeal to Brontë and in 1838 she left Roe Head to become a governess to the Sidgewick family — partly from a sense of adventure and a desire to see the world, and partly from financial necessity.

Charlotte became pregnant soon after her wedding, but her health declined rapidly and, according to biographer Elizabeth Gaskell, she was attacked by “sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness.” She died, with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855. 

Versions of Jane Eyre on My Shelf

Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre - Penguin Classics
Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre - B&N Classics
Brontës - Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

More Books by Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë - Shirley
Charlotte Brontë - Villette
Charlotte Brontë - The Professor

Retellings of Jane Eyre

Jane & Edward

A few months ago, I reread my favorite classic novel, Jane Eyre. It’s as perfect as I’d remembered, and I wanted to then explore some…

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Mr. Rochester

For nearly six years, I’ve been holding onto Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker. This novel is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—my favorite classic…

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The Wife Upstairs

This month has been all about Jane Eyre and retellings of it! Following my reread of the classic and a retelling called Mr. Rochester, my…

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5 thoughts on “Jane Eyre

Add yours

  1. Loved Jane Eyre too, but you are right about the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester – quite problematic. I know we are supposed to root for them, but I feel she would have been better off alone 😀



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