Jane Eyre is an orphan living with her wealthy aunt, Mrs Reed, and cousins, Eliza, John and Georgiana. She is bullied by her cousins, and disliked by her aunt who blames her every time the children argue. Jane is locked in the Red Room after a particularly bad fight, as a punishment for a crime she was innocent of. The room is supposed to be haunted and Jane is terrified. She suffers a breakdown, and is sent away to boarding school on the recommendation of a doctor.
At Lowood, a school for clergymans daughters, Jane makes friends with Helen Burns and the mistress, Miss Temple. Helen is deeply religious and gentle, and teaches Jane temperance and self-control. The conditions at the school are appalling, and Helen dies of consumption. This tragedy forces the school to reform and Jane stays on for a total of eight years, becoming a teacher after she has finished her education. But when Miss Temple leaves to get married Jane advertises for a new job.
Mrs Fairfax at Thornfield Hall offers Jane a well-paid job as governess and she quickly accepts. When she arrives she discovers that Mrs Fairfax is housekeeper to the master, Edward Fairfax Rochester, and that the little girl she is to look after, Adele Varens, is his ward. Jane settles in, but doesnt meet Rochester until some time later. Out on an errand, she meets him on his horse as he is riding towards Thornfield. It slips on ice and he asks for her help.
As they get to know each other Jane starts to feel attracted towards her master, and Rochester admires her intelligence and wit. She misses him when visiting her dying aunt and he attempts to make her jealous by pretending to be in love with a local heiress, Blanche Ingram. Their differences in age and position are eventually reconciled and Jane accepts Rochesters proposal of marriage. But at the wedding Mr Richard Mason announces that Rochester is already married to his sister, Bertha. It emerges that Mrs Rochester is mad, and kept locked in the attic of Thornfield. Rochester begs Jane to go abroad with him and be his mistress, but she tells him that she would be unable to live with herself if she did. She leaves before anyone has chance to stop her.
Wandering on the moors, Jane is on the verge of death when she is rescued by a clergyman, St John Rivers, and his sisters, Diana and Mary. As she recovers she makes friends with the family and begins work at the local school under the name of Jane Elliott. However, John discovers her true name and tells her that she is related to them and due to inherit a fortune from her uncle. She shares the money equally between them, hoping this will win their love. As time goes on it becomes clear that St John is cold and ambitious. He plans to become a missionary and asks Jane to be his wife and travel to India to help him. She tells him that she would be willing to assist, but she cannot marry him because he does not love her. He urges her to rethink, and as she is about to give way she hears Rochester call her name. She decides that she must find him again before consenting to anything else.
Jane reaches Thornfield to find that the house has been burnt to the ground. Further enquiry reveals that Mrs Rochester was the culprit. Thankfully Edward is alive, but in trying to save his wife, he was horrifically burnt. Jane sets out to find him and they are reunited. The novels conclusion describes their married life and what has since happened to Diana, Mary and St John Rivers.
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