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Posted on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : noon

Jane Eyre: Classics book group explores themes in this lovely story

By Melissa LR Handa

On Thursday, Sept. 24th, the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group met to discuss Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”. Although on the surface, it does not seem like there would be much to discuss about this lovely story, AACBG went there and had a brilliant conversation.

Jane Eyre Book Cover.jpg

Book Cover for the Penguin Classics edition of "Jane Eyre"


“Jane Eyre” is the story of plain, orphaned Jane. Her circumstances are not great, but she has a certain zeal, a special fire, an amazing strength of character that helps her make an interesting and satisfying life for herself. Rejected by her aunt and cousins as a young child, she was sent off to Lowood, a boarding school for the underprivileged. Conditions were so bad, that the girls could not wash- the cold air inside turning the water reserved for this purpose to ice. Many of Jane’s classmates died of consumption and other diseases.

After several years of schooling and a couple teaching, Jane decides to look for employment as a governess. She takes a position at Thornfield manner, under the peculiar Mr. Rochester. The story continues on to describe Jane’s longing for Rochester and their courtship. One crazy turn after another complicates their affair and makes for great plot development. For me, this story was enjoyable from start to finish. It is simply a must-read!

Some Thoughts

“Jane Eyre” explores the Victorian class structure, gender relations (and, to some extent, feminism), competing modes of Christianity and religiosity, and also in a more subtle way, nature vs. nurture. Jane is of an ambiguous social location, she is educated and cultured like the nobility, but poor and servile like the lower castes. We meet many characters from the upper strata of society like Mr. Rochester, the Reeds, the Ingrams and such. We also meet many underprivileged characters like Jane’s fellows at Lowood, her pupils and other servants. Jane shares characteristics with both classes, but doesn’t truly belong in either.

Jane also approaches three competing models of Christianity: the hypocrisy and condemnation of Mr. Brocklehurst, the passive acceptance of fate by Helen Burns and the zealous faith of cold St. John. Jane rejects each model of Christianity, choosing a faith that is more simple and forgiving and with which it is easier for her to live and practice. The nature-nurture argument was explored when the group wondered whether Jane was the way she was because of something innate in her character or because she needed to be that way in order to cope with her harsh upbringing.


1. Was Jane’s character formed by her harsh upbringing or was that strength of character there with her from the start? 2. What does the color red mean in this story (for example, the red room, the red hair of Grace Pool, the red flames of the fire, and so on)? 3. How do dreams and psychic intuition play a part in this story? Could the story have happened without these mystic influences? 4. When Jane and Rochester’s wedding is interrupted and the truth about Mr. Rochester’s past is revealed- did you feel more sympathy for Jane or Rochester? 5. Could Mr. Rochester have married a woman of his class given his sordid past, or was it Jane or perpetual bachelorhood? 6. What would have happened to Jane if she had agreed to become a missionary’s wife in India? 7. Did Rochester need to become maimed in order for his relationship with Jane to work in the end? 8. Will Jane and Rochester live happily ever after? What will thier life be like? 9. Discuss the different film adaptions of "Jane Eyre." Which one is the best? Why have there been so many?

Melissa LR Handa is the founder and organizer for Ann Arbor Classics Book Group, feel free to send an email requesting more information about the club or to join


Melissa LR Handa

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 11:48 a.m.

I tried not to divulge too much of the plot, since this novel is truly a joy to read and discover for the first time. I didn't want to give anything away!