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The archetypal Gothic romance novel by Charlotte Bronte.
Jane Eyre is an unloved orphan sent to a grueling boarding school, Lowood, by her foster aunt who dislikes her fiery wit and sharp tongue (and the fact that her husband appeared to love his sister, Jane's mother, more than his own family). She's put through the wringer several times over there and emerges as a solemnly quiet person, but is just as free-spirited inside as she was before she went in. It is this spirit that causes her to long for adventure and new pastures, and she accepts a job as the governess of a young girl named Adèle, who lives with Mrs. Fairfax and the little-seen Mr. Edward Rochester at Thornfield Hall.
But it is not until after a chance encounter with Mr. Rochester that Jane's curiosity is sparked. Mr. Rochester's bluntness and moodiness, rather than turning her off, make her even more intrigued about him, and it appears that her initial curiosity is growing into something more.
But there are also sinister shadows lurking at Thornfield Hall: in the middle of one night, after hearing spooky laughter, Jane finds that Mr. Rochester's bed curtains have been set on fire. She puts them out in time to save his life. Rochester claims that Grace Poole, a servant, was responsible, but the fact that he does not fire her suggests that there is more to the situation than he's letting Jane in on. He's also spending an awfully large amount of his time with Jane.
Then Mr. Rochester leaves Thornfield for several weeks, returning with a flock of rich gentlemen and women, and walking together with the comely but snobbish Blanche Ingram. Jane is distressed at the sight of Rochester with Ingram, mainly because she knows that he does not truly love the rich socialite. But it turns out that Mr. Rochester never intended to marry Ingram: he staged his courtship only to make Jane jealous and admit her feelings for him. He proposes to Jane, who readily accepts. But the shadows at Thornfield Hall are not going to let her win her love that easily, as Jane is about to find out on her wedding day.
It should go without saying that Jane Eyre has numerous film adaptations. There was also a critically acclaimed musical adaptation in 2000 with songs by Paul Gordon. It even was the inspiration behind Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and an external prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea, was written by Jean Rhys that focused on the primary "antagonist's" descent into madness. There is also an external sequel, Jane Rochester, by Kimberly A. Bennett. Rochester, by J. L. Niemann, is erotica from Mr. Rochester's POV. Jane, by April Lindner, sets the story in the modern day and asks: "What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?" Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn, is a science fiction retelling of the story which features "Jenna" (Jane) as a clone commissioned and then abandoned by Mrs. Reed.
Reader, I Used These Tropes:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Both main characters are supposed to be unattractive, but most adaptations don't even make a stab at Hollywood Homely. It could be justified depending on your reading of the original story. Rochester might be considered more ugly than he is because he's old, while Jane might be overly critical of her own appearance.
- Alpha Bitch: Blanche Ingram.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Jane has one of these moments when Rochester is supposedly about to ship her off to Ireland.
- Anti-Hero: Rochester
- Arranged Marriage: Rochester and Bertha the Madwoman.
- As the Good Book Says...: The novel positively groans under the weight of its Biblical allusions.
- The Atoner: Mr. Rochester.
- Babies Ever After
- Big Fancy House: Gateshead. Thornfield Hall as well, along with shades of Old Dark House.
- Bilingual Dialogue: Adèle often speaks in (untranslated) French, to which Jane responds in English. Diana & Mary Rivers discuss an untranslated line of German (from Schiller's "Die Räuber", a "Sturm und Drang" play). So, while Brontë keeps the melodrama plausible, the characters read more melodramatic stuff (in multiple languages).
- Boarding School of Horrors: Lowood, at first
- Break the Haughty: Rochester is crippled and blind by the novel's end. An example of a Byronic Hero having to be humbled and broken before he can let the Love of a Good Woman redeem him.
- Byronic Hero: Mr.Rochester is a classic example
- Calling the Old Man Out: Calling the old aunt out.
- The Caretaker: What Grace Poole turns out to secretly be for Bertha, Mr. Rochester's living but crazy wife. Additionally, Jane herself becomes this for Mr. Rochester, who lost a hand, an eye, and the sight in the other eye for years
- Changeling Fantasy: Jane's orphaned family treated her cruelly, but much later on, a blood relative bequeaths her in his will a small fortune of 20,000 pounds. She splits it up among her new-found relatives (her cousins St. John, Mary and Diana), so she ends up with 5,000 pounds, which is worth about 500,000 pounds now, or $1 million.
- Cinderella Circumstances
- Creature of Habit: The adult Eliza Reed.
- Coming of Age Story
- Contrived Coincidence: She just happened to collapse from exhaustion on the doorstep of her long-lost cousins.
- Curtains Match the Window: Believe or not! In a gothic English novel, no less! Rochester describes Jane as having "hazel eyes and hazel hair." She informs the audience that she, in fact, has green eyes and dark blonde hair.
- Dead Little Sister: Or Dead Best Friend, in the case of Helen. (Helen's modeled very deliberately on Charlotte Brontë older sister Maria, who died at the Brontë's own version of Lowood.)
- Deus Ex Machina: Just when it looks as if Jane will break under St. John's tenacious pressure to marry him, she calls to God for guidance and God apparently transports Mr. Rochester's voice across England right to Jane's ear, whence she decides Rochester is the man she is meant to be with.
- Earlier, when Rochester asks her to shack up with him even though he's still legally married to Bertha, Jane has a dream where she hears a message from either the spirit of her dead mom, or the Moon Goddess herself:
My daughter, flee temptation!
- Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Rochester deliberately provokes Jane into this: constantly gushing about his upcoming marriage to this woman who is not suited to him, and he knows it and Jane knows it, but Jane has no power to speak up because she's a governess, and in no way equal to Rochester's apparent intended. Jane takes this to awesome levels.
- Divided for Publication: It takes the Victorian three-volume novel format where the story was split into three sections. In the 19th century, the business model was to use the first volume to get people interested in the second and third parts, and thus extract more money per story.
- Drama Bomb: Jane and Mr. Rochester's wedding, take one.
- External Retcon / Start of Darkness: Wide Sargasso Sea
- Fat Bastard: John Reed is fed FAR too much by his mother. It's also virtually impossible to find him sympathetic.
- Foil: Several. Most notably, St. John for Rochester.
- Bertha Mason for Jane.
- St. John, Diana, and Mary Rivers for John, Georgiana, and Eliza Reed.
- French Jerk: Adèle's biological mother
- Have a Gay Old Time
- The Hedonist: Georgiana Reed.
- I Am What I Am: From Jane, after walking away from her best (and only) friend in the world: "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself."
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Jane is so desperate for love and affection that she tells Helen Burns she'd happily let herself be kicked in the chest by a horse if it meant Helen and the Headmistress would care for her. Helen then shushes Jane and tells her to put more faith in God than in human companions.
- I Should Write a Book About This: Not actually said, but the book's subtitle is "An Autobiography." Jane addresses the reader several times.
- Incurable Cough of Death: What Helen Burns dies of.
- Otherwise known as tuberculosis (or consumption in Victorian times), a particularly gruesome way to die in pre-antibiotic days, as your lungs slowly fill with fluid and you literally drown.
- In the Blood: Bertha's insanity is implied to run in the family.
- Insane Equals Violent: Bertha, oh so much.
- Jesus Saves: The culmination of Mr. Rochester's redemption is that he prays to God once more, with sincerity and humility.
- Karmic Death:
- Also John Reed and Mrs. Reed.
- Kick the Dog: The Hon. Miss Blanche Ingram, in addition to all her snubs against Jane, truly puts herself on the despicable list by the spiteful and mocking way she treats Adèle, Mr. Rochester's ward.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Because Blanche is after money and position and because she is extremely rude to Jane, Rochester's callous treatment of Blanche's hopes for marriage at the age of twenty-five are not lingered on long.
- Kissing Cousins: St. John proposes to his first cousin Jane that they get married and become missionaries in India. At the time, marriage between first cousins was not considered incestuous. John is handsome, but neither he nor Jane find each other desirable in the least.
- Laughing Mad: Bertha.
- Loved I Not Honor More: Jane refusing to be Mr. Rochester's mistress if she can't become his wife.
- Love Redeems: Subverted. Rochester thinks that loving Jane will make up for the minor matter of the inconvenient wife in the attic. As he quickly finds out, it doesn't.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Jane, We are your cousins! Who knew?
- Inverted with Rochester and Adèle, since he's stuck with her but doesn't acknowledge paternity (and Jane can't see any resemblance).
- Madwoman in the Attic: Formerly named Bertha in The Attic.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Rochester doubts, with good reason, whether Adèle is his child.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Rochester seems to see Jane as this, constantly calling her a pixie, sprite, etcetera, but her actions and personality are pretty much the exact opposite.
- Actually his image of her is closer to The Fair Folk, but just wild, not evil.
- Manipulative Bastard: Rochester, who has a tendency to play with the emotions of the women around him.
- He plays an elaborate game with Jane so she believes he is going to marry Blanche Ingram, dresses up as a gypsy woman to draw secrets out of her, and goes so far as to pretend to find her a position in Ireland so she will break down and confess love for him first. This despite the fact that Jane is much more vulnerable than he is in terms of social standing and such a confession could come at the risk of her current position and any future prospects.
- He cajoles and even bullies Jane into accepting his stories about Grace Poole, so she will not find out about the wife he's keeping in the attic, making her doubt the stability of her own mind and the reliability of her senses. Her reason keeps her resolute, because these stories make no sense.
- Even keeping in mind that Blanche is no innocent, his behavior towards her is still questionable at best, using her and her hopes of a good marriage as a tool. Rochester never mentions anything she did that requires that sort of retribution other than being proud. Also she is twenty-five and needs to be pursuing someone who will actually have her if she's going to be married at all. The fact that Blanche resembles his wife only makes this more suspect.
- To top it all off, by luring Jane into marrying him while his wife is still alive, he is effectively tricking her as badly as he was tricked by Bertha's family.
- Maximum Fun Chamber: The Red Room at the Reeds' estate is the bedroom where Mr. Reed died. Jane gets locked in there for "misbehaving," and she passes out out of sheer terror. Even though she thinks of Mr. Reed's spirit as kindly disposed, she's too afraid of ghosts to want him around.
- May-December Romance: Jane is 18, Rochester is 20 years older than she.
- Meaningful Name: The name Eyre is very likely a reference to a medieval legal term. An 'eyre' was the name of a circuit traveled by an itinerant justice, or the circuit court he presided over. Certainly Jane acts as a judge in the case of her aunt, and Mr. Rochester.
- Blanche is dull and bland, or thought of as such by Jane. In addition, Blanche, a name which literally means white, is dark-haired and brown-skinned. As it turns out, she greatly resembles Rochester's wife Bertha.
- Missing Mom: Céline Varens, Adèle's mother.
- The Missionary: St. John aspires to be this. Jane doesn't.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mr. Brocklehurst, based on William Carus Wilson. Carus Wilson ran Cowan Bridge, the inspiration for Lowood.
- The descriptions were so perfect that Charlotte was pleased to report she'd overheard people talking about Jane Eyre as having "Mr. Wilson" and "the Clergy Daughters School."
- One-Gender School: Lowood Academy - all girl, "charity" (meaning everything is funded by donations) boarding school.
- Operation: Jealousy: Rochester's "engagement" with Blanche. (Although it could be said that it was a real attempt at marriage that was broken up only when Mason arrived from the West Indies, and Rochester lied when telling Jane it was an attempt to make her jealous.)
- Jane later returns the favor by telling Rochester all about St. John, and telling Rochester that they shall be together... as friends. As a patient and nursemaid.
- Orphan's Ordeal: Jane.
- Parental Abandonment: Jane's parents are both dead before the beginning of the book.
- Parental Substitute: Bessie is the closest to a mother Jane has ever known.
- Even if Rochester is not Adèle's biological father, she still sees him as a father.
- Perspective Flip: Wide Sargasso Sea sort of qualifies. Parts 1 and 3 are narrated by Bertha. Part 2 is narrated by an unnamed Englishman. Reading the two together is a pretty awesome experience.
- Primal Stance: Rochester's first wife, described as "it" when Jane lays eyes on her.
- Pyromaniac: Mr. Rochester's first wife She tries to light Mr. Rochester's room on fire and later burns down all of Thornfield Hall, resulting in her own death and enabling Jane to marry Mr. Rochester.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Miss Temple at Lowood School.
- Regency England: Jane Eyre is meant to be the fictional memoir of a woman looking back at her youth; the main action is set in about 1810. In addition to the mention of Walter Scott's 1808 novel Marmion as a recently published book and the frequent mentions of politics more appropriate to Georgian than Victorian times, Jane's travels lead her to a coach house in an Expy of Leeds where a portrait of the Prince Regent is displayed prominently. Not only had the Prince Regent (or King George IV) been dead for almost twenty years by 1847, the coach houses had been closed for over fifteen years. Had Jane Eyre been set any time after 1835 or so, Jane would have taken a train, and the station would have held a portrait of Queen Victoria.
- Rescue Romance: Mr. Rochester falls in love with Jane after she saves him from the fire.
- Rich Bitch: Miss Blanche Ingram, if you please. Aside from the obvious problems of her personality seen on the page, her lack of luck in marriage hints that she's not terribly popular. She is rich, beautiful, and accomplished, and yet has somehow been out in society for seven years and still isn't married?
- Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Jane and Helen
- Second Love: True for Rochester, as long as you don't think about Blanche. Or Céline.
- Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Jane goes so far as to lampshade the absurdity of the phrase, declaring to the reader that no one ever really pipes up. Little does she know...
- Spirited Young Lady: Jane sometimes looks like a proper schoolgirl or governess, but she's got a sharp tongue.
- The Spock: Eliza Reed, by the the time we come back to her. Better that than what her sister became...
- Spoiled Brat: All of the young Reeds, really, but John Reed takes the cake.
- Suddenly-Suitable Suitor: Before Jane can marry Mr. Rochester, she has to inherit twenty thousand pounds from her uncle (which, even after she splits it up, makes her financially independent). Of course, Rochester himself has to lose his Big Fancy House, his living-but-insane wife, his eyesight, and a hand. Now they can get married!
- Throwing Off the Disability: Rochester is blinded by the fire that his wife set in Thornfield - one eye is knocked out entirely, but the other one improves over time. His severed hand never grows back, though.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Helen Burns, Jane's best friend at school. Also an Ill Girl with an oh-so-romantic case of consumption (tuberculosis).
- Unexpected Inheritance
- Unexplained Recovery: Rochester is blinded in the fire, but somehow recovers part of his sight (with a doctor's help) once Jane comes back to him over the course of 12 years. Though to be fair, it's implied to have healed gradually.
- The Unfavorite: Jane in her childhood at Gateshead. Mr. Rochester also claims to have suffered this, his father showing a clear preference for his older brother.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Jane's entire childhood with the Reeds carries this trope in spades. Jane is not doted on because, in addition to being a friendless dependent, she is neither pretty nor does she act like a child "should," that is to say, in a cute fashion.