Set in early nineteenth-century England, Jane Eyre moves through various locations, all informed by autobiographical detail from Bronte’s life. As a child living in Mrs. Reed’s house, Gateshead Hall, Jane experiences overt class subordination. After her altercation with Mrs. Reed’s bully son, John, Jane is forcibly removed to an isolated room where she senses a presence, “a rushing of wings”; this ephemeral visitation recurs throughout the novel, each time signaling a major change in Jane’s life.
At Lowood school, more than six dozen girls ranging in age from nine to twenty years are constantly reminded that they are beholden to the charitable donors who pay partial costs for their schooling. The building is bleak, sparely furnished, and underheated, and the stern and spartan conditions severely test Jane’s resolve. Jane remains at Lowood as a teacher after completing her studies, but following the urging of a disembodied voice, she soon advertises for a governess position and is solicited by Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield. At Thornfield Manor, a gothic three-story mansion, Jane serves as governess to Adele Varens, a ward of Edward Rochester, owner of the estate.
After a year at Thornfield, Jane is summoned to Gateshead to attend to the dying Mrs. Reed, and it is against this backdrop that the tempestuous scene of Rochester’s marriage proposal and Jane’s acceptance is played.
Her wedding ceremony dramatically interrupted by a shocking revelation, Jane travels to Whitcross, located two days away from Thornfield in the moors of the north Midlands. Lacking food and money, Jane eats and sleeps in the heather until she is welcomed into Moor House, the rustic home of St. John Rivers, a sincere parson. She is offered employment by St. John as mistress of a new girls’ school and moves into a simple cottage, but a premonition of Rochester’s voice calling her back to Thornfield finally prompts her departure from Whitcross.
Upon returning to Thornfield, Jane finds only a fire-blackened shell, the site of her earlier happiness and security gutted by a fire set off by Rochester’s insane wife, now dead. Jane reunites with Rochester, now blind and living at Ferndean, an isolated manor house 30 miles distant. They marry, and the simple, virtuous life of Ferndean restores Rochester’s sight.