Jane Eyre: Spoiler-Free Synopsis
Unhappy with her deceased uncle’s family, orphaned, ten-year-old Jane Eyre wants to be sent away to boarding school. At Lowood Institution, however, Jane finds more injustice and cruelty. Still, Jane loves reading and learning, so she eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood.
After her best friend — a fellow teacher — marries and leaves Lowood, Jane realizes that she is restless and vaguely unhappy. Longing for adventure of any kind, she applies for a position as a private governess. Hired to be a private governess to the orphaned Adele, Jane finds herself in the employ of the frequently absent Mr. Edward Rochester. When Edward Rochester returns and begins to pay Jane more and more attention, she begins to hope that she has at last found all the happiness.
But Edward Rochester has some dark secrets of his own. Secrets that could destroy Jane’s happiness forever.
Author Charlotte Brontë
The eldest of the famous Brontë sisters, all authors, Charlotte was educated at a boarding school and served as a governess. She disliked being a governess, stating that employers treated her almost like a slave. Charlotte experienced the early death of all her siblings: brother Branwell, and sisters Anne and Emily. Charlotte married in 1854, but died less than a year after her marriage, possibly from complications of her pregnancy.
Critical Reception of Jane Eyre
Considered primarily a coming-of-age story, wherein we learn of the protagonist’s protagonist’s journey from child to adult through many physical, emotional, or spiritual trials, Jane Eyre features a strong, independent, female protagonist. The full title when originally published was Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Brontë published it under the name of Currer Bell. Of her decision to publish under a gender-ambiguous pseudonym, Brontë wrote, in a later edition, that she and her sisters, Anne and Emily, “Averse to personal publicity” when they earlier published a volume of their collected poems,
we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called “feminine” — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.
The novel “revolutionized fiction” with its female or feminine sensibility. Some of the novel’s contemporaneous critics might have considered the novel to be “pre-eminently anti-Christian” or to be leading its readers astray by making them “too uncritically accepting of [Jane’s] worldview,” but Jane Eyre has become one of the recognized classics. Charlotte Brontë, with her intense portrayal of her protagonist Jane’s complete emotional and spiritual development, is now considered the “first historian of the private consciousness” while Jane Eyre has been called the “literary ancestor” of the famous, stream-of-consciousness novels by James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Jane Eyre has become a classic, not only because of its female perspective and its First Person point of view, but because the novel deals honestly and critically with social issues, especially those concerning women and children.
Free Public Domain Versions of Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre is available free online because it is in the public domain (the work was not originally copyrighted, the registered copyright has expired, or the author has been dead for more than 100 years; like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the book is considered to belong to the public). Since it is not possible to copyright a work already in the public domain, some publishers provide a short author BIO, an Introduction, or footnotes to the work; publishers can then copyright that particular edition of the public domain work.
Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks, WikiSoource, and the University of Adelaide (where you can search by author or title) are all dedicated to keeping public domain books completely free of charge and available to all readers: you can search these sites by author or title of the book.
You can read Jane Eyre online or download a copy from the following sites:
• Standard Ebooks provides a quality edited version with an artwork cover, available in ePub, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony editions. Detailed instructions for which version to download and how to put the book on your portable e-reader are included.
• WikiSource provides a 3-volume version of the 1847 first edition and the one-volume 1900 edition (both available 0nline, for any device), and Wikipedia’s Jane Eyre has some of the original illustrations as well as an synopsis of the plot.
• Amazon has an Amazon Classics ebook version (with a very brief, 2-paragraph biography of the author), but this public domain version is free only to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
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• Portrait of Charlotte Brontë, by J. H. Thompson, from Brontë Parsonage Museum. Photo @ Wikipedia
• 1847 (first edition) title page of Jane Eyre: An Autobiography with Brontë’s pseudonym “Currer Bell.” Published by Smith, Elder, & Co. Photo @ Wikipedia