It’s embarrassing that I had not yet read this book until yesterday, and now seek to devour the rest of Charlotte Bronte’s work. An astonishingly good read, it has all the essential elements: terrific writing, well paced drama, a symphonic work. It follows the life of Jane from her ten year old self, orphaned and “cared” for by the widow of her uncle Reed, through to marriage. Her shelter in the Reed household was tenuous, always scolded for non-existent wrongdoings, tormented by the older son. She leaps at the chance to go away to a charity school, filled with girls who have no one else to care for them. A miserable winter is endured there, with meager food and cold halls, finally giving way to an epidemic of typhus which kills off a lot of the students and shines light on the poor conditions to result in improvements. Jane’s friend Helen dies in her arms of consumption, but Jane survives and finishes her time there, with two additional years as a teacher. When her friend Miss Temple leaves to be married, Jane realizes it’s time for her own departure, and advertises for a position as a governess. Thus she arrives as Thornfield Hall to tutor the ward of Mr. Rochester, mostly absent from the property. Jane settles into a quiet life with Adele (her pupil) and Mrs. Fairfax (the housekeeper).
Enjoying the moonlight on the road one night, Jane watches as a man rides by and his horse slips on the ice, causing the man to fall and sprain his ankle. Jane helps him up, finds out later he is Mr. Rochester. They begin to spend time together, Edward liking Jane’s frank words and clear mind. Someone attempts to burn Edward in bed at night, but Jane discovers the flames and douses him to save his life. As he is thanking her, his face betrays more emotions and Jane finds that she is in love with him, believes he is also in love. The next morning he’s immediately off to socialize with the local gentry for a few weeks, and then brings the party back to Thornfield. Jane mopes, believing he is to be married to the haughty Miss Ingram. A gypsy arrives to tell fortunes, planting the idea in Miss Ingram’s head that Rochester’s fortune isn’t as great as she thought, whispering the names of who the other girls’ beaus were in their ears, and demanding to see Jane before she departed. The gypsy is Rochester in disguise, attempting to wrest any information about how Jane feels about him. That night, another strange attack, this time on Mr. Mason, a guest newly arrived.
Rochester proposes to Jane shortly after she returns from caring for her dying aunt, who admits to telling her other uncle that Jane died in the fevers at school. On her wedding day, Mr. Mason shows up in the church to bar the ceremony, on the grounds that Rochester is already married to his sister, the insane woman locked in the attic at Thornfield Hall who has been causing all the attacks. Jane runs away to escape her feelings, nearly dies of hunger but is taken in by the Rivers sisters and brother. She sets up a local school and settles in for a year, then finds that her uncle has died and left her 20,000 pounds. She also discovers that the Rivers sisters and brother are her cousins, and she divides her inheritance into fourths. Musing on love, she inquires about news of Rochester, and hearing nothing decides to set out on her own. She finds Thornfield a charred ruin, Rochester blind and holed up in one of his smaller homes. His wife died in the fire, and Jane vows to stay with him always.