Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is an orphaned governess who develops romantic feelings for her employer, Mr. Rochester, a man ensconced in tragedy. Sent away to an orphanage as a child by her cruel aunt, Jane’s attachments in life have been few. At Lowood, she gains a friend whose perspectives enable Jane to reign in her anger and find beauty in the darkest situations. At nineteen, Jane contentedly finds her place at Thornfield Hall, amidst the friendship of the housekeeper and her little charge, Adele. The peace is disturbed, however, when Edward Rochester, the wealthy, woeful owner of the mansion returns. For Rochester, Jane’s kindness and naivety are a catharsis for his troubled mind, and her imagination a refreshment. Jane finally has a “full life,” until a piece of Rochester’s past shatters her dreams. Jane Eyre is one of the most tragically brilliant pieces of Gothic fiction ever written, at times satisfying everything and nothing in a whirlwind of passion and drama that will appeal to readers for all time.

Similar Recommended Readings:

Charlotte Bronte also wrote Villette, Shirley, and The Professor. Charlotte Bronte’s sister Emily, wrote a darker, and even more tragic piece of Gothic fiction: Wuthering Heights including the most wonderfully despicable character ever written. Their other sister, the less famous Anne, wrote the novels Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Fans of the Bronte sisters generally also enjoy the works of Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and the one most similar to Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is narrated by one of four sisters, a writer named Jo, who suffers many things in the process of growing up,  but somehow finds peace and answers after her great losses.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has main characters strikingly similar to Jane and Mr. Rochester, as well as a gorgeous mansion setting filled with tragic secrets, especially about the late Mrs. de Winter, who is said to haunt the halls of Manderly.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, which was recently made into a movie, is also a similarly themed story with a tragic romance at its center, and filled with enticing drama.

A modern author of similar books is Kate Morton, whose most similar novels are The Distant Hours, The House at Riverton, and The Forgotten Garden.

Themed Recipe:

Miss Temple offered Jane and her dear friend Helen Burns tea and a seed cake from her private dinner. These two women were probably the kindest and greatest positive female influences in Jane’s life, and this moment one which altered her character from becoming as bitter at the world’s injustice as Mr. Rochester, into someone who instead had learned to contain her passions and allow her logic and morality to guide her actions, as well as enable her to better aid and balance Rochester’s tempers and impulses. For this reason, I wanted to make a cardamom spice cupcake. However, as whole seeds are not generally a popularly preferred texture in cupcakes, I have chosen to use the spice already ground.

Also, at Christmas when Diana and Mary were to return to Moor House, Jane and Hannah were “devoted…to such a beating of eggs…grating of spices, [and] compounding of Christmas cakes…to have all things in an absolutely perfect state of readiness.” A customary English Christmas cake of that time consisted of various dried fruits (such as raisins, currants, and cherries), nuts (almonds), citrus juice, zest, and candied peels (from oranges and lemons) and various spices. To combine the concept of these two recipes, I created one that might be more appealing for the modern reader (and leaving out all the dried fruits most people aren’t fond of, though you can feel free to add some if you prefer).

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Orange Almond Cardamom Cupcakes with Cinnamon Brown Sugar Frosting and candied orange peel

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1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter softened to room temperature

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine the 2 cups of AP flour,  one combined cup of white and brown sugars (½ cup each), the baking soda, cardamom, and baking powder. In a stand mixer on low, beat two softened sticks of butter until smooth, then add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Slowly add one third of the dry ingredients to the butter/egg mixture, then add the tsp each of almond and pure vanilla extract. Add another third of the dry ingredients, and if you see them sticking to the side of the bowl, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour in the juice of the orange, mix to incorporate, then do the same with the last of the dry ingredients. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners, and fill each with batter two thirds full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with crumbs, not raw batter. Allow the individual cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack or cutting board before frosting them.

For the frosting:

7 tsp all-purpose flour

1 ¼ cups milk

1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups ( 2 ½ sticks) salted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed

1 tsp LorAnn orange baking emulsion (or half the amount of orange essential oil)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

In a small pan on medium heat, whisk flour into milk, stirring until thick. Remove the pan and let it cool to room temperature. Stir in 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract.

In the meantime, in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, whip 1 ½ cups of salted butter and 1 ½ cups of brown sugar until fluffy.

Add the milk/flour/vanilla mixture to the bowl, along with 1 tsp orange emulsion and 1 tsp cinnamon. Whip all ingredients together for about 5 minutes on medium-high to high until it looks like whipped cream. Pipe with a rose tip onto cupcakes, and garnish with candied orange peel, which can be made easily from the following recipe: http://www.glorioustreats.com/2015/11/candied-orange-peel.html
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Discussion Questions:

  1. Jane’s first friend at Lowood, Helen Burns, had a way, even when being punished, of thinking “of something beyond her punishment-beyond her situation: of something not round her nor before her.” How did this help her to overcome the hardships of her life? where was it her mind would wander to? Did Jane ever learn to observe this practise in helping her endure life’s obstacles?
  2. Helen also believed that “it is far better to to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you.” And “it is not violence that that best overcomes hate-nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.” How is this a completely different mentality than Jane had, and what reason did she give for believing this? Is that a common approach in our society? Would it be better if it were, or only in certain circumstances, and which?
  3. Helen Burns observed that, “by dying young, I shall escape great sufferings. I had not qualities or talents to make my way very well in the world: I should have been continually at fault.” Is this why some die young? Is it better for them to live, and experience the great sufferings of life, or to be spared them? How did Helen’s death impact Jane’s life, mentality, and behavior?
  4. Was Miss Temple’s leaving Lowood an equal or greater loss to Jane, than was Helen’s death? She said about it “From the day she left I was no longer the same: with her was gone every settled feeling, every association that had made Lowood in some degree a home to me.” Why would a teacher have such a profound impact on an orphaned girl, who was shown so little kindness in life by adults til her? How did that loss impact Jane’s behavior afterward? [Extra assignment:watch the newest film version answer: Why was Miss Temple, such a pivotal character in Jane Eyre’s life, completely removed from the film, as well as the above-mentioned speeches by Helen? How could those things have colored the film a little differently?]
  5. Jane noted, upon leaving Lowood for Thornfield, “It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, but adrift from every connection… The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it…” How did these feelings contribute to her level of attachment to her new pupil, her new coworkers, and especially to her employer? Are some of these feelings (pride, charm of adventure, and fear) part of what drives young adults and teens into certain actions, especially those who feel unconnected to a family or to society in general, and could one say that some criminals are born this way? What prevented Jane from going down such a path, though given the same opportunity again, much later, when she left Thornfield?
  6. When referencing how he first saw and met Jane, why did Mr. Rochester ask her “were you waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?” What people did he mean and why does he act and call her nicknames as if he believed she were one of the fey, and play along with her game, even though he is much older than she, and less likely to indulge in conversations about fantasy creatures? Do you imagine he ever did that with Adele? And if not, why so much with Jane?
  7. Three pictures that Jane drew were scrutinized by Mr. Rochester. What do you think inspired such imaginings, and why was he so transfixed by them? Which do you find the most intriguing, and would have liked to see? About her art, Jane admitted to Mr. Rochester that she was “tormented by the contrast between my idea and my handiwork: in each case I had imagined something which I was quite powerless to realise.” How could she have felt that way and yet create such extraordinary drawings?
  8. Mrs. Fairfax and even Jane excuse much of Rochester’s behavior, because of his great losses and struggles in life, even when they do not know what the particulars are. Yet he finds peace in Jane’s presence and personality. Why is this, when she is nearly as angry as he is, or is it for that reason? Why is it so hard for him to be at ease, that he must “resolve to be at ease, to dismiss what importunes, and to recall what pleases”? Is this wise advice for anyone going through trials?
  9. Jane believes “nothing free-born would submit to [insolence], even for a salary.” Is she correct, or merely ignorant of most people in the world? Would most people submit to a great many sufferings, if a salary, especially a large one, were recompensed? What does Rochester believe?
  10. Rochester tells Jane that he envies her “peace of mind, your clean conscience your unpolluted memory…a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure.” Why did he feel this way? Is this why he loves Jane’s company so much, and desires to have her present in the evenings to talk to him?
  11. Why did Jane’s aunt continue to hate her, even on her deathbed, when Jane was there offering forgiveness and assisting in taking care of her, when her own daughters were clueless about what to do? How could Jane forgiver her after everything that had happened because of her aunt’s hatred?
  12. Why did Rochester say Jane was his equal, his likeness, before he proposed, especially considering their differences in station, fortune, and experience, and he was 20 years older than her? Was it just something romantic to make her say yes, or were there parts of her personality that reminded him of his own? If so, which ones?
  13. How was the chestnut tree a metaphor for Jane and Rochester’s relationship? “The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed…as yet, however, they might be said to form one tree-a ruin, but an entire ruin.”
  14. Jane had a dream about Thornfield being “ a dreary ruin, the retreat of bats and owls,” which could be said to have been a premonition. Or it could also be a representation of her fears about her future, especially with Rochester. But what did the part about the child represent or forbode? “I still carried the unknown little child: I might not lay it down anywhere, however tired were my arms-however much its weight impeded my progress, I must retain it.”
  15. The doctors’ theory on what caused Rochester’s wife to go mad was that “her excesses had prematurely developed the germs of insanity.”What were her excesses, and how could those lead to her becoming mentally broken? Did there also have to be a history of madness running through her blood to ignite these triggers? If so, what type of mental disorders do you think she might have had? What could have been done to treat her in our time, or are there some now who still have to be locked up for their safety and others’? Was Rochester merciful in his treatment of her then, especially in comparison with what typically happened to “hysterical women” in his time?
  16. Why did Jane say that, “while he [Rochester] spoke [about her staying with him as his mistress] my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting  him”? What crime would it have been at that time for her to do so, against the laws of the country, against society, and against her own beliefs?
  17. Why did Jane also say to Rochester in the above scene that “Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour…” ? What laws and principles was her body resisting, and which ones her soul? What was her internal conflict and why?
    Can you think of other examples when people should follow laws and principles, though their bodies and souls rage against them? Is it good to have them at such times? Why?
  18. When speaking bluntly with St. John about his feelings for Miss Oliver, Jane admitted to surprising him. But she admitted that for her, “I felt at home in this sort of discourse. I could never rest in communication with strong…refined minds…til I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence…” What do you think John’s reaction to that was, as opposed to Rochester-did one find this aspect of her personality more appealing than the other did? Is this perhaps why she was able to bond so closely and quickly with Diana and Mary, and Miss Temple and Helen, and even why she never could with Miss Ingram, Miss Reed, or her own cousins, Georgiana and Eliza? Did that say more about Miss Ingram’s intellect, or Jane’s personality? What type of personality does this reveal Jane to have, that she would prefer deep, personal conversation to “small talk.” Are there other famous literary characters, or authors, who have proven to be like this? What makes some people so blunt and to the point, and despising small talk or socially conventional conversation? Is this a reason why many people identify with Jane Eyre’s character? Do you?
  19. St John does not understand Jane or her desires for a multitude of reasons (feel free to discuss those), one of which is that he “cannot at all imagine the craving I have for fraternal and sisterly love. I never had a home, I never had brothers or sisters…” Why does he not understand this about her, and why does she crave it so much when she has had homes at Gateshead, at Thornfield, and at Lowood, and sisters in Helen and others? How could you argue that none of those were her home? What difference is there between a blood sister and a chosen sister-can a chosen bond be stronger than a biological one? Why and how? Did she ever mention anything to Rochester about home?
  20. Is it possible that somehow Jane really did hear Mr. Rochester call out her name, especially considering the timeline was the same? If so, how did he know to call to her then, at the moment when she needed to be pulled away from the enticings and guilt trips of St. John? Was it possible that they were both forever linked in some way? How? Have you ever heard of any two people (regardless of the type of relationship) who shared an inexplicable bond or way of communication, or just knew something about the other in a moment of need? What bonds some people that way, and not others?