Whether viewed as a richly woven tapestry of feminine imagination, as a tableau of romanticism in the Victorian era, or as an early treatise on women’s rights, Jane Eyre stands as a classic work of literature in the English-speaking world. As a romance, Jane Eyre extends the tradition of sentimental concern for common folk and harsh judgment of those who exploit them within an industrialized or class-stratified social order. Condescension and mean-spiritedness on the part of landed or wealthy aristocrats causes alienation between them and the lower-middle or peasant classes. Orphaned and relegated to the foster family of her deceased uncle, Jane is badly abused by Mrs. Reed, her foster aunt. Edward Rochester retains the arrogance of his social class until his blindness causes him to turn inward and to revitalize his humble sensibilities. The love Jane maintains for Rochester results in a virtuous union between the two, a testament to perseverance and perfectibility in the romanticist view of human nature.
In many ways an early feminist, Jane Eyre staunchly confronts a variety of constraints imposed on her freedom but frequently worries about the excess passion she allows in making her case. Her desire to maintain self-control conflicts with her unspoken sense of righteousness. Jane’s narration lends intensity to the story; her personality serves as both catalyst and prism, and it is through her singular point of view that most of the novel’s major issues are explored.