Jane Eyre

Social, political and cultural context

Historical surveys of the period in which Charlotte Brontë was writing

Asa Briggs The Age of Improvement. London: Longman 1959
Eric Hobsbawm The Age of Capital, 1848-1975. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1975
F. M. L. Thompson The Rise of Respectable Society. A Social History of Victorian Britain. 1830-1900. London: Fontana, 1988

General surveys of various aspects of the literary and intellectual history of the period

Philip Davis The Victorians. The Oxford English Literary History 1830-1880. Volume 8. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002
Jerome H. Buckley The Victorian Temper: a Study in Literary Culture. London: Cass, 1966
Robin Gilmour The Victorian Period. The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1830-1890. London: Longman, 1993
William F. Houghton The Victorian Frame of Mind 1830-1870. London: Yale University Press, 1957
Michael Wheeler English Fiction of the Victorian Period. 1830-1890. London: Longman, 1985

General discussion of the world of Victorian publishing

John Sutherland Victorian Novelists and Publishers. London: Athlone Press, 1976

Classics of the new feminist literary history of the 1970s and 1980s

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984
Elaine Showalter A Literature of their Own. Princeton University Press, 1977

Three useful studies relating to a central motif in the novel

Peter Coveney The Image of Childhood. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967
David Grylls Guardians and Angels. Parents and Children in Nineteenth-Century Literature. London: Faber & Faber, 1978
James Walvin A Child's World. A Social History of English Childhood 1880-1914. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982

Works by Charlotte Brontë and her sisters

Currently available annotated editions of the novel

Ed. Stevie Davies Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Classics, 2006
Ed. Richard J. Dunn Jane Eyre. London: W. W. Norton, 2000
Ed. Sally Minogue Jane Eyre. Ware: Wordsworth Classics, 1992
Ed. Sally Shuttleworth Jane Eyre. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 2000

A useful selection of Charlotte Brontë's published letters

Ed. Margaret Smith The Selected Letters of Charlotte Brontë. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007

Other completed novels by the Brontë sisters

Charlotte Brontë Shirley, 1850
  Villette, 1853
Anne Brontë Agnes Grey, 1847
  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848
Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights, 1847

All are widely available in good editions in such paperback series as Everyman, Penguin Classics, Oxford World Classics and Wordsworth Classics.

All three sisters wrote poetry and there are several paperback selections in print.

General guides to the Brontës

Heather Glen (ed) The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002  
Patricia Ingham Authors in Context: the Brontës. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 2006 A useful and wide-ranging book, which makes an excellent starting-point for study


Juliet Barker The Brontës. London: Phoenix, 2001 An exhaustive (1000+ pages) study which demolishes many myths and includes some interesting new material
Elizabeth Gaskell, Ed. Elisabeth Jay The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Penguin, 1998 First published in 1857; has many shortcomings as a biography but it was written by someone who actually met Charlotte Brontë
Lyndall Gordon Charlotte Brontë: a Passionate Life. London: Vintage, 1995 A sympathetic and interesting biography

Critical works on Charlotte Brontë

Penny Boumelha Charlotte Brontë. East Sussex: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990 General discussion with a particular emphasis on gender issues
Wendy Craik The Brontë Novels. London: Methuen, 1968 An excellent and helpful introductory study
Terry Eagleton Myths of Power. A Marxist Study of the Brontës. London: Macmillan, 1975 Pioneering Marxist reading of the sisters' novels
Inga-Stina Ewbank Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters as Early-Victorian Female Novelists. London: Edward Arnold, 1966 A very sound contextual examination
Heather Glen Charlotte Brontë: The Imagination in History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004 An excellent study placing Charlotte Brontë's work in the context of early Victorian writing and culture
Elizabeth Imlay Charlotte Brontë and the Mysteries of Love: Myth and Allegory in Jane Eyre. East Sussex: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989 Detailed exploration of the novel's use of imagery
R. B. Martin The Accents of Persuasion: Charlotte Brontë's Novels. London: Faber & Faber, 1966 A thorough general exploration concentrating on narrative style
Lucasta Miller The Brontë Myth. London: Vintage, 2002 An entertaining and perceptive history of the development of the sisters' reception and reputation
Sally Shuttleworth Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1996 Includes a discussion of phrenology
Marianne Thormahlen The Brontës and Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999  Full-length studies of crucial dimensions of the sisters' lives and works
  The Brontës and Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007
Kathleen Tillotson Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954 Pioneering decade study that reads Jane Eyre alongside other novels from these years
Raymond Williams The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence. London: Chatto & Windus, 1970  Classic general account of the novel in its 1840s context

Criticism of Jane Eyre

Most of the books listed in the previous section have chapters or sections on Jane Eyre easily found from the contents page or the index. Good starting-points for exploring the variety of critical approaches to the novel are:

Heather Glen (ed) Jane Eyre (New Casebooks). London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997
Elsie B. Michie (ed) Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
Beth Newman (ed) Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford: St Martin's, 1996

As well as their useful booklists, these guides include a survey of the history of the critical reaction to the novel since it was published.


[Note: Remember that websites – including this one – are secondary resources like any other. It is important to check the source of the site and to find out about the author(s). Also, remember that any material you draw from the site should be clearly referenced in essays or project work.]


  • A good general site for Victorian literature, with specialised information on a variety of contextual topics as well as individual authors.


  • This is the site for the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brontë Society and contains some useful information.

Jane Eyre on film and television

Jane Eyre has proved popular with makers of both feature films and television adaptations. It offers some strong characters, changes of scene, hints of the supernatural, opportunities for dramatising suffering and pathos and has at its centre an intense, brooding love story. BBC Television seems to screen a new version about once every 10-15 years! All the versions listed here are currently available on DVD.

Adaptations 1944-2006

Jane Eyre Directed by Robert Stevenson. 1944 This version lays emphasis on the novel's Gothic elements; Rochester is played by one of the greatest of film actors, Orson Welles; very good at catching the mood of the novel
Jane Eyre Directed by Delbert Mann. 1970 Quite faithful to the novel, but a very polite version; George C. Scott, an American, seems out of place as Rochester
Jane Eyre BBC Television. 1973 Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston play the leads: quite solid and moving
Jane Eyre BBC Television. 1983 Made a star of Timothy Dalton as Rochester, but generally rather dull
Jane Eyre Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. 1995 A faithful adaptation that takes few chances. However, there's an extremely strong central performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and while William Hurt is rather subdued as Rochester, there is excellent support from a strong cast of English actors
Jane Eyre 1997 Reduces the novel to the length of a feature film, so inevitably much is left out; the leads are played by Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds
Jane Eyre BBC Television. 2006 Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens: attracted a lot of favourable attention when it was first screened

Working with adaptations

The obvious question to ask about any adaptation is:

  • How faithful is this version to the original?
    • Although it is interesting and sometimes amusing to identify what is omitted or changed, there are other, more challenging, questions to be asked. Some, for instance, concern the history and structure of the film and television industries:
  • Why was this version of the novel made at this time? In what ways might it be speaking to contemporary concerns?
  • Who were its likely viewers?
  • What were the motives of the studio or television company and the director?
  • What significance is there in the casting of the various roles?

Perhaps the most important questions relate to the way in which the story is interpreted, and here the answers to that original question about fidelity to the original can be reformulated as new questions:

  • Why might the director have omitted some parts of the plot (including some characters)?
  • Are there any ‘new' characters or incidents? Why are they in this version?
  • How is the story interpreted? Where does the emphasis lie?
  • How are the characters presented? Are they shown as more, or less, sympathetic than in the novel?
    • Why?
  • What might the director's interpretation tell us about contemporary attitudes towards the issues raised by the novel?
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