the plot: raised first by unkind relatives and later relegated to a hellish boarding school, the orphan jane learns to rely on her own inner strength,the plot: raised first by unkind relatives and later relegated to a hellish boarding school, the orphan jane learns to rely on her own inner strength, moral convictions, and religious faith. she takes a job as a governess for the ward of the reclusive edward rochester, only to fall in love with him (view spoiler)[and accept his marriage proposal. on the day of their marriage, jane discovers that rochester is already married, to a madwoman whom he can't divorce. she leaves him, ends up in the house of her long-lost cousins, and discovers that an uncle has left her money, but before her domineering, missionary-in-training cousin, st. john rivers, can whisk her off to india to be his helpmeet, jane senses that rochester needs her and goes back to him. she discovers that rochester's wife set the house on fire, and that he was gravely wounded in a failed attempt to save her life. rochester acknowledges his guilt in trying to force jane into a bigamous marriage, and the two eventually marry (hide spoiler)].
the good: primarily, what's remarkable about jane eyre is the character of jane herself--a steely, self-assured young woman who takes charge of her own life. despite a soul-killing experience as a teaching drudge at her boarding school, jane's spirit is never broken. when her situation at the school becomes unpleasant, she make the decision to change her life and acts upon it with courage and decisiveness--no mean feat for a 18 year old girl with no money or friends in 19th century england. she holds her own against rochester's passive-aggressive mind games until the guy actually offers her a substantial emotional commitment, and she refuses to allow him to change her or compromise her sense of right and wrong. the only person who comes close to dominating jane is her terrifying cousin st. john, who all but stalks her in her own house as he tries to convince her to throw her life away in the service of god (and of himself), but jane manages to shake him off as well, and as the book ends she is the mistress of her own life.
even more intriguing is the fact that throughout her perils of pauline, jane remains believably and lovably human. she's steely, but not hardened; moral, but not preachy; religious, but not a proselytizer . for all her superhuman accomplishments, jane has unmistakable feet of clay, and nowhere is this more apparent than in her obvious sexual attraction to rochester. although it's never spelled out, there's a prominent undercurrent of desire in each of their shared scenes, which gives both the characters and the relationship an added dimension that's all-too-often missing from 19th century romances. unlike too many other brontë heroines, jane isn't ruled by her desire, but the fact of its existence arguably makes her triumph over it a greater moral accomplishment than anything we see from austen's heroines, for whom sexuality is a non-issue.
the bad: in a room of one's own, virginia woolf wrote of jane eyre that "it is clear that anger was tampering with the integrity of charlotte brontë the novelist. she left her story, to which her entire devotion was due, to attend to some personal grievance." woolf is referring here to a scene in which brontë allowed her own anger at being shut away from the world take over jane's thoughts, but to my mind the same sort of score-settling is obvious in the novel's first segment, the monstrous lowood school. charlotte herself spent several years at such a school and watched her two older sisters, maria and elizabeth, succumb to illness due to the poor conditions there. as a result of her still-simmering anger at this mistreatment, the lowood section is disproportionately long, and features some of the most obvious moralizing in the book.
but the lowood section does end, and if it (and the rather absurd deus ex machina that is Jane stumbling, in the middle of a cold and rainy night, on a house that happens to contain her long-lost cousins who have just been informed of the fact that Jane has inherited a fortune) were the novel's only flaws, it would still have a very near claim on perfection, but where jane eyre fails is in its fundamental perception of itself as a romance. the book offers a bleak vision of what an intelligent, strong-willed woman can look forward to when she goes searching for a mate. if she's lucky, she can avoid the fate of being shackled to her intellectual superior, who will bully and belittle her, use her for his own purposes with no regard for her identity or personhood. but, out of the frying pan and into the fire! for, as brontë tells us, the intelligent woman who avoids this fate has only one other option: to be tied down to a needy, selfish, intellectual inferior, and spend her life as his savior, his mother, and his nurse. there's no question that rochester undergoes a change over the course of the novel--from a man whose every early conversation with jane revolved around how she might help and save him, he learns to think of the needs of others, and he has the scars to prove it--but not enough to make the notion of someone as remarkable as jane wasting herself on a person whom she will soon outstrip in every regard at all palatable. to put it simply, jane eyre is about as romantic as carrie.