Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre in front of Lowood School's director Mr. Brocklehurst. Illustration by George Varian, 1902.

Jane Eyre is an English novel by Charlotte Brontë, first published in 1847. It is said to be one of the most famous and beloved novels in the English language. It has frequently been adapted for film, radio, television and theatre, and has inspired a number of rewritings and reinterpretations.

PlotEdit

The "autobiography" of an orphan who survives a harshly disciplined boarding school to become a governess and great romantic heroine, Jane Eyre's early chapters include descriptions of a girls' boarding school based on the harshly disciplined Cowan Bridge school of Charlotte's own childhood. The ten-year-old Jane is made to stand atop a "punishment stool" in public shame before the entire school, and the fourteen-year-old Helen Burns, one of literature's great minor characters, is publicly switched by a harsh teacher for not having cleaned her nails one morning.

The punishment of Helen BurnsEdit

The novel features one of the finest scenes of school corporal punishment in fiction, when Miss Scatcherd switches Helen Burns for her dirty fingernails. "Burns" is what Miss Scatcherd calls her, for at Lowood the girls are all called by their surnames, as boys are elsewhere, "you have never cleaned your nails this morning!" But Burns makes no answer, Jane Eyre's attention is distracted for a moment, and when Jane looks again she sees Burns returning from a small storeroom in which the books are kept, "carrying in her hand a bundle of twigs tied together at one end." Burns presents this "ominous tool" to her teacher "with a respectful curtesy" and then, quietly and without being told, unlooses her pinafore to receive from Miss Scatcherd a dozen strokes across the back of her neck. "Hardened girl!" Miss Scatcherd declares, "nothing can correct you of your slatternly habits: carry the rod away." But though Burns accepts her chastisement with Godly humility and Christian patience, she fails to learn from it, for soon afterward Miss Scatcherd, examining the dresser drawers in the dormitory, finds Burns' drawer in disorder and, the next morning, pastes a "SLATTERN" sign onto Burns' forehead and pins a half-dozen untidy items to Burns' shoulder for the day.

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