Why does Jane leave Rochester after the revelations about Bertha? Before you say, “because he’s married, and it’s the Victorian age,” you should know that the novelist George Eliot, among other readers, felt that Brontë had made a mistake here.* In Eliot’s words, “All self-sacrifice is good—but one would like it to be in a somewhat nobler cause than that of a diabolical law which chains a man soul and body to a putrefying carcase.” In other words, at least one reader found Rochester’s argument to Jane compelling. Why doesn’t Jane?
Dreams, premonitions, and visions are important throughout the novel—but Jane Eyre is generally thought of as a “realist” novel. What relationship between dreaming and reality does the novel posit? In thinking about dreams and visions you may also want to consider coincidence, the “pathetic fallacy”—as for example with the riven chestnut tree—and the “mysterious summons” that Jane hears.
Compare St. John and Rochester as suitors. What qualities in Jane appeals to each? Are they similar or different in their appeal to Jane?
Consider the names Jane uses or is called throughout the novel. What is the significance of names and naming in relation to identity?
Jane calls many different places “home” during the novel. Consider the progression of “homes” she inhabits, and their importance in her development.
Where does wealth come from in Jane Eyre? What is the relationship between the domestic life depicted in the novel and England’s larger imperialist ambitions? What does it mean to be English in the novel?
* As for the law, Victorian marriage law prohibited divorce when one party was of unsound mind; it also prohibited divorce in cases where adultery had once been tacitly allowed. That is, if Bertha cuckolded Rochester and he didn’t divorce her right away, he could not do so later, after subsequent episodes, even if she were sane. Some relevant cases: William Thackeray, to whom Brontë dedicated the novel, had a mad wife whom he could not divorce. (Brontë did not know this at the time she wrote the novel.) Also, George Henry Lewes, the companion of Marian Evans/George Eliot for most of her adult life, was married to a woman whom he could not divorce because he had allowed her adultery and even raised her children by another man. Thus Lewes and Evans “lived in sin,” unmarried but as if married, for over twenty years. Again, Brontë could not have known of this relationship, which began in 1854, well after her novel was published.