Study Questions and Notes for Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre--
Questions for Volume One (Find and mark passages to help explain your thoughts.) references are to the Penguin edition (Ed. Michael Mason. 2003.)

  1. Describe Jane's character as a child (up to chapter 10) and the conception of childhood presented in volume 1.
    (Comparisons to DC will inevitably surface.)  Consider other children besides Jane.
  1. Find references to social class.  How is this developed as an issue in the novel?
  1. Describe the relationship between Jane and Bessie.
  1. How is education presented as an issue?  What about the character of Mr. Brocklehurst?
  1. Two significant discussions occur between Helen Burns and Jane in chapters 6 and 9.  What do they discuss and what ideas are presented in these discussions?
  1. Find passages that comment on autobiography and writing.  How does the narrator view the relationship of past and present?
  1. Discuss Jane's life at Thornfield and relationship with Mr. Rochester.
  2. Interpret the discussion between Jane and Mr. Rochester in chapter 14.

    Notes (for Penguin edition of JE)

    1. Food as a moral register--when it's denied.  Jane frequently discusses her hunger (Chpts 5, 7, 8--meal with Miss Temple.)

    2. Helen's view of the world/religion (Chpts 6, 8--pg. 81, 9--pgs. 92-96)  Blake's notion of innocence and experience?

    3. Mr Rochester's background/ family (Chpt 11--pg.121, 13--pg.145) Violence/tension with father/brother??

    4. View of nature (Chpt 9--opening).  Romantic view of nature (Wordsworth/Coleridge--nature as guardian, nurse).  But also nature as the source of disease (Shelley--nature as indifferent, hostile, mysterious)

    5. The Victorian Governess--Starting about 1850, there is an increase in public schools for girls, and these schools provide teaching opportunities for women.  Public schools satisfied a desire by many middle-class families for better educational opportunities for girls. During the first half of the Victorian period, middle-class families often educated their daughters by hiring governesses or by sending them to private schools.

    As Jane Fairfax notes in Emma, the "governess trade" was paramount to slavery.  The pay was poor (see JE--note on pg 511, #2), and governesses taught "accomplishments" more than subjects we would now consider part of education (see JE Chpt 10--pgs.101, 11--pgs.118-19).  Governesses who did teach academic subjects often did not have formal training. Moreover, they were treated with contempt and as inferiors (class position).

    Charlotte Brontë, herself a governess, wrote (1839), "I can now see more clearly than I have ever done before that a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living and rational being, except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfill."

    6. Education Act of 1870:  Creates national system of elementary education (becomes free in 1891).  System of secondary education is created in 1902.  Working classes do not have to rely on private or Anglican/Nonconformist schools.  The Act also establishes school boards to oversee schools.  (Think of Jane's job as a school mistress.)
    From Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic (1979)

    Does Brontë's rebellious feminism--that "irreligious" dissatisfaction with the social order . . . compromise itself in this withdrawal?  Has Jane exorcised the rage of orphanhood only to retreat from the responsibilities her own principles implied? . . . In all her [Brontë's] books, writing . . . in a sort of trance, she was able to act out the passionate drive toward freedom which offended agents of the status quo, but in none was she able consciously to define the full meaning of achieved freedom--perhaps because no one of her contemporaries, not even a Wollstonecraft or a Mill, could adequately describe a society so drastically altered that the matured Jane and Rochester could really live in it.
             What Bronte could not logically define, however, she could embody in tenuous but suggestive imagery . . . ."

    From Elaine Showalter's A Literature of Their Own (1977)

    Can we imagine an ending to Jane Eyre in which Jane and Bertha leave Rochester and go off together?  Obviously such a conclusion would be unthinkable.  Such possibilities and such solutions are beyond the boundaries of the determined novel.  Jane's marriage to Rochester is essentially a union of equals, but in feminine fiction men and women become equals by submitting to mutual limitation, not by allowing each other mutual growth.