A Comparative Study of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre

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Abstract in English……………………..…………….…………….……………….ⅱ

Abstract in Chinese………………………….……………………..……………….ⅲ

I. Introduction…………………………………………………………………………1

1.1 The Significance of The Study.…………….…………………………………….1

1.2 Organization of the Thesis……………….……..……..…………………………2

1.3 Historical Background………………….…….………..…………………………2

1.4 Introduction to Jane Eyre…….………..………………………………………..3

1.5 Introduction to Charlotte Brontte.……….….…………………………….…….6

Ⅱ. Comparison of Life Experiences between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte……………………………………………………….…….……8

2.1 Their Childhood………….…….……………………….………………………8

2.2 Their School Life…………………………………………..…………………9

2.2.1 Lowood School V.S. Clergy Daughters’ School…………………….…9

2.2.2 Lowood School V.S. Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding


2.3 Their Career Life………….……………………..……………………………11

2.3.1 Teaching and Tutoring……………………….…..………….……………11

2.3.2 Running School and Writing………….…………………….……………12

2.4 Their Marriage……….…………………………………………………….…13

2.4.1 Charlotte’s Early Attitude towards Love and Marriage………….………13

2.4.2 Charlotte’s Affection for Mr. Constantin Heger V.S. Jane’s Affection

for Mr.Rochester……………….…………………………………………..13 Similarities……………………………………………………………13 Differences………….…………………………………………………15

2.5 Their Family Life: Gateshead, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and The

Manor-house of Ferndean V.S. Haworth Parsona…………..…………………16

2.5.1 Similarities…………………………………………………..……………16

2.5.2 Differences……………………………………………………….………..17

Ⅲ. Analysis of The Results of The Comparisons………………….…….……..17

3.1 A Summary of The Comparison on Life Experiences between Jane Eyre and

Charlotte Bronte…………………………………………………………..…..17

3.2 Analysis of The Results of The Comparisons…………………..……………18

3.2.1 The Need for Literature Creative Work……………….…………………18

3.2.2 The Result of Charlotte’s Psychological Compensation….………….19

Ⅳ.Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………….20

Works Cited: ……………………………………………………………………….21


First of all, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor, Associate Professor Huang Shixiang, who are busy but have done a great favor to my thesis. From the information-collecting to the revision of my thesis, I have benefited greatly from her patience, encouragement and excellent guidance. What’s more, I am deeply moved by her serious attitude towards academic work.

Secondly, I would like to express my thanks to Lecturer Huang Shan and Lecturer Feng Jia, who has given me their valuable suggestions.

Finally, my thanks also go to my classmates and friends who have helped and encouraged me a lot when I wrote my thesis.





A Comparative Study of Charlotte Bronte & Jane Eyre College of Foreign Studies, Guangxi Normal University

200712500116 Jiang Jianghai

Supervisor: Associate Professor Huang Shixiang

[Abstract] The paper makes a comparative study of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, the protagonist in Charlotte’s autobiographical novel Jane Eyre, on their life experiences, with the method of comparative studying and documentary. And based on the comparative study, the paper tries to explain why Charlotte Bronte declared that Jane Eyre was not herself. By comparing Charlotte Bronte with Jane Eyre, I find that there is a lot resemblance between them in their life experiences. They all underwent miserable childhoods and hard school-days, worked as governesses for a short time to make a living, experienced a love full of trouble. Although they developed a loneliness and inferiority complex, they had strong personalities and self-esteem, and pursued freedom and equality for women through their life. However, a lot of the similar experiences were exaggerated in Jane Eyre. Compared with Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre’s suffers was more bitter; yet her fate is luckier. And there were noticeable differences between the results of the two’s love. Analyzing the similarities and differences between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre we can find that Jane Eyre was not Charlotte Bronte herself in Charlotte’s real life but in her ideal life.

[Key words] Charlotte Bronte; Jane Eyre; comparison


广西师范大学 外国语学院 200712500116 蒋江海



【关键词】夏洛蒂•勃朗特; 简•爱; 比较

1.1 The Significance of the Study

Charlotte Bronte is one of the most famous female writers in Victorian Age, and her autobiographical novel Jane Eyre is one of the most popular classics in the world literature since it was published in 1847. Jane Eyre draws attentions of readers from a variety of classes throughout the world. Queen Victory, one of them, wrote in her diary:

August 2. We read in Jane Eyre, which proved so interesting that we went on till quite late. It was the part in which comes the moment of her finding Rochester again, blind, and with the loss of a hand!

November 23. Finished Jane Eyre, which is really a wonderful book, very peculiar in parts, but so powerfully and admirably written such a fine tone in it, such fine religious feeling, and such beautiful writings. Mr. Rochester’s character a very remarkable one, and Jane Eyre’s herself a beautiful one. The end is very touching, when Jane Eyre returns to him and finds him blind, with one hand gone from injuries during the fire in his house, which was caused by his mad wife. (Alexandrina Victoria, 1858)

We can see from Queen Victory’s diary that Jane Eyre wins great popularity and naturally readers are glad to write reviews on this novel and make comments about Charlotte. Today, there are hundreds of Bronte associations and thousands of individual critics that do research on Charlotte Bronte and her novels. Among those research subjects, some are on the characteristics, believes, and values of the protagonist Jane Eyre or the novel’s background and influence on the society of its time; some are on the author Charlotte Bronte’s religion believes, feminism attitudes, and her influence on Victorian novels. But there are only a few researches on the relationships between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre, and these researches are mainly on the similarities of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. For example, London Times puts it “You feel you are looking into the heart of Bronte herself”; Li Xiaoyan (2008) points out that “It is generally considered that Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte’s poetic life portrayal”; and Li Meiju (2009) says “Jane Eyre is the image of Charlotte Bronte’s own experiences. The characters Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte are almost mirrors of each other.”

As Jane Eyre is an autobiographical novel, there are lots of resemblances and similar experiences between the protagonist Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre and the author Charlotte Bronte: thus, many readers take it for granted that Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte herself.

However, Charlotte Bronte declared that Jane Eyre was not herself:

I will prove to you that you are wrong; I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours, but she is not myself, any further than that. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 280)

So, there is a need to explore the relationship between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre. And Luckily, Charlotte Bronte left many letters and her close friend Elizabeth Gaskell, who is also a famous novelist, wrote The Life of Charlotte Bronte, a biography of Charlotte Bronte. That, together with other researches on Charlotte Bronte, provides plenty of materials for making a comparative study of the great authoress and the protagonist in Jane Eyre.

Organization of the Thesis
Part Ⅰmakes an introduction to Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte, through which an overview of the two can be acknowledged.

Part Ⅱ makes comparisons of the life experiences between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte.

Part Ⅲ explains why there are differences between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre and why Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte herself in Charlotte Bronte’s ideal life.

Part Ⅳ draws a conclusion of the thesis, summarizing the analysis the findings and suggestions again, and then points out some shortages of this thesis.

1.3 Historical Background

The early years of the Victorian Age was a time of rapid economic development. England developed into a rich, advanced industrial country; however, there were many social problems, for instance the sharpest contrast between the rich and the poor and rigid social hierarchy. In this period, women were still regarded as second-class hierarchy. However, some outstanding women appeared, such as famous women writers Bronte sisters. They were great English realists of the time. They created pictures of bourgeois civilization, showing the misery and suffering of the common people. Although capitalist has appeared, old convention and prejudice remained dominant. At this time, women were employed as cheap labor and were forced to do very hard jobs, and they did not get the vote until 1918. So in the late period of Victorian Age, a feminist movement started fighting for women’s equality and freedom, and for their educational and employment opportunities. Petitions to parliament advocating women’s suffrage were introduced as early as in the 1840.

1.4 Introduction to Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, both of whose parents died of typhus, is an orphan. Her aunt Sarah Reed adopted her because it’s the dying wish of Jane Eyre’s uncle. But Jane’s aunt doesn’t like her and treats her badly, just like a servant. She and her three children, especially her son John Reed, are abusive to Jane, physically and emotionally, which makes the little Jane often stay alone and develop a rebellious character. One day because of Jane’s resistance against John Reed’s insult and beating, she is locked in the red-room by Mrs. Reed. As her uncle died in the red-room, Jane is terribly terrified by his ghost. After this the Reed family cannot tolerate Jane anymore. Mrs. Reed sends Jane to Lowood School for girls with the accusation that she is deceitful.

Lowood School is a charity school run by the hypocritical and self-righteous Mr. Brocklehurst. The conditions in Lowood School are extremely terrible and the study and work ethic is very harsh. During an inspection, Jane accidentally breaks her slate, and Mr. Brocklehurst says she is a liar and humiliates her before the whole pupils and teachers. Jane gets some comforts from her newly-met friend and later her best friend, Helen Burns, who often helps Jane to endure personal injustice and believe in God, though Jane doesn’t quite agree with her. And Miss Temple, a caring teacher, also helps to ease Jane’s pain. She helps Jane to make a self-defense and writes to Mr. Lloyd whose reply agrees with Jane’s. Finally, Jane is publicly cleared of Mr. Brocklehurst’s accusations.

Because of long time of suffering from cold rooms, poor meals, and thin clothing, many students fall ill and die when a typhus epidemic strikes Lowood School. Jane’s best friend Helen dies of consumption in her arms. During the epidemic Mr. Brocklehurst’s neglect and dishonesty are discovered, and new management takes over. A new building is built and conditions at the school are improved dramatically. In the new school, under newly caring teachers, Jane lives and learns happily for six years and then teaches there for 2 years. When Jane is eighteen, she leaves Lowood for her mentor Miss Temple marries and leaves Lowood and for she wants a change for herself.

She posts an advertisement on a newspaper for her services as a private turor, and receives an offer from Alice Fairfax, the house-keeper of Thornfield Hall. She takes the position and becomes the governess of Adele Varens, a young French girl. One day she comes across a horseman in trouble and helps him. She later finds that this man is Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield house. Adele, whose mother discards her to Mr. Rochester’s care, is his ward, and she could be his daughter. As time goes by, Mr. Rochester and Jane get on well with each other and enjoy being together. Mr. Rochester plays a trick on Jane by pretending to marry the beautiful Blanche Ingram he invites to Thornfield but it finally turns out to be a trick on Ingram: her plan of marrying Mr. Rochester fails. For the next days, their relationship goes better, and they find they have fallen in love with each other.

However, odd things frequently happen at the house: Jane often hears strange laughters; one night she rescues Mr. Rochester from a mysterious fire in his bedroom; and another night she helps Mr. Rochester bind up and secretly send away a guest named Mr. Mason, who is attacked. Although Mr. Rochester blames all these odd things on an oddball servant, Grace Poole, Jane is somewhat suspicious of it.

Jane leaves Thornfield to care for her dying aunt Mrs. Reed. She gives Jane a letter from Jane’s uncle, John. Soon after, her aunt dies, and Jane returns to Thornfield.

After returning to Thornfield, Jane consents Mr. Rochester’s love for Jane and his proposes. As she prepares for her wedding, odd things happen again: a strange, horrible woman sneaks into her room one night and tears her wedding veil into two. Rochester attributes the incident to Grace Poole again. During the small wedding ceremony, a lawyer declares that Mr. Rochester cannot marry because he is married to Mr. Mason’s sister, which is confirmed by Mr. Mason. Mr. Rochester reluctantly admits it, but explains his wife is crazy and that he was tricked into marrying her. She is locked in Thornfield under the care of Grace Poole. She escaped and did all the previous mysterious events at Thornfield when Grace got drunk. Mr. Rochester pleads with Jane to go with him to the south of France, and live as husband and wife, even though they cannot be married. But Jane refuses to be his mistress because it goes against her principles. Although being deeply falling in love with Mr. Rochester, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.

Jane travels through a strange region with little money for three days, during which time she begs, sleeps in the wild, and even nearly starves to death. Exhausted, the ill Jane faints in front of the door of Moor House, the home of Diana, Mary and St. John Rivers. The Rivers save her. In the Moor House, all the Rivers treat Jane as kindly as if she is one member of the family. Jane quickly regains her health. St. John finds her a teaching position at a nearby charity school. The Rivers sisters leave for governess jobs and St. John becomes closer with Jane. A letter from Jane’s uncle’s lawyer states that her uncle John has died and left her 20,000 pounds. The letter also reveals that the Rivers are her cousins. Overjoyed by finding her family, Jane insists on sharing the money equally with her cousins.

St. John plans to go to India as a missionary, and he wants Jane accompany him as his wife. Jane refuses him because she feels no love affection for him, and inside her heart, she still loves Mr. Rochester. She feels the call from Mr. Rochester, so she soon leaves to seek for him.

Jane finds Thornfield burnt into ruins. The fire setter, Mr. Rochester’s wife, committed suicide by jumping from the roof in the fire. Mr. Rochester lost one hand and his eyesight when he was trying to rescue his wife and the servants. Jane reunites with him at Ferndean. She assures him of her love and promises that she is always willing to stay with him. They get married, bring back Adele, and have a baby. Mr. Rochester eventually regains sight in one eye.

1.5 Introduction to Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816. Her father was Patrick Bronte and her mother was Maria Branwell. She had two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, a younger brother, Branwell, and two younger sisters, Emily and Anne. Her father was acutely not very like the children and he thought too many children was a big burden to his weak wife, thus the little Brontes were confined in the parsonage and became pretty quiet. In 1820, her family moved to Haworth, a small and isolated village, because her father was appointed curate there. A few months later, her mother died of cancer. Charlotte’s aunt Elizabeth Branwell came to take care of the six children’s daily life, though she was not quite used to the often wet, cold weather in Haworth. During this period, their father taught them the basic knowledge of literature and arts.

Charlotte’s father was not rich and his energy was limited if he wants to train his children all by himself, so he sent Charlotte, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, to the Clergy Daughters’ School, a non-profit school, at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. The fund the school could raise is limited, so the conditions in the school were poor. What’s worse, the cook, who was careless, dirty, and wasteful, often made bad food. In the spring of 1825, Charlotte’s sisters Maria and Elizabeth fell ill when a low fever broke out in the school. Their father took the four sisters back home for their conditions soon worsened, but that didn’t help: Maria and Elizabeth died in June 1825.

Feeling sorry for his daughters’ death, Mr. Bronte trained all the kids at home since the autumn of 1825, and Charlotte’s aunt also did some teaching work. About this time, Mr. Bronte employed a faithful servant, Tabby, who works for thirty years. During this period, Charlotte acted as “the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters”. They began to write stories and poems, which brought them a lot of fun and laid a good foundation for their future literary success.

When Charlotte was 15, she continued her formal education at Roe Head School of Miss Margaret Wooler, Mirfield where she met her lifelong friends Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. Although things were a little awkward to Charlotte at the beginning of her two-year study, she worked hard and made great progress and achievements with the help of the considerate Miss Wooler. Charlotte left the school and went home to teach her sisters from 1833 to 1835. Later, she returned to Roe Head School as a teacher from 1835 to 1838.

In order to help support the family’s finance, in 1839, Charlotte took a position as a governess to a wealthy Yorkshire manufacturer family. But the new mode of life pressed painful restraint upon her: the kids didn’t listen to her; her employer discriminated against governess; she often felt lonely. Therefor her temporary engagement in this uncongenial family ended in the July of this year. Early in March, 1841, Charlotte obtained her second and last situation as a governess. This time the situation was much better. But Charlotte still found that her personality was not suitable for tutoring.

So, Charlotte had the thought of keeping a school, which means, she and her sisters could live together, and maintain themselves. About this time, Miss Wooler was thinking of relinquishing her school at Dewsbury Moor and offered it to the Bronte. Charlotte also received the start-up capital from her aunt.

In 1842, in order to get themselves qualified, Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels and studied in a boarding school run by Constantin Heger and his wife. There, they made great progress. In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music there. They left Brussels for home because their aunt died in October 1842. In January 1843, Charlotte returned to the boarding school as an English teacher. During this period Charlotte found herself in deep love with Constantin, yet hopeless: Constantin was married. Finally, Charlotte made a difficult decision and left Brussels. Charlotte’s experiences in Brussels had a significant impact on her literary works.

In the spring of 1844, Charlotte started her school. However, in the next 8 months, no students came to her school. Her plan had not succeeded.

In May 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne published a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Although only two copies were sold, the sisters continued writing for publication and began their first novels. Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were accepted by the publisher, but Charlotte’s The Professor was curtly rejected. But soon Charlotte began to write Jane Eyre with courage. Jane Eyre was accepted, and printed and published by October 16th, 1847.

However, the enormous success of Jane Eyre couldn’t drive off the great grief Charlotte suffered: in less than a year, Branwell, Emily and Anne died one another. Charlotte converted sorrow into strength: she continued and finished Shirley in 1849. In 1853, she completed Villette.

In May 1850, Charlotte visited London, where she began to move in a more exalted social circle, and met some famous writers. In June 1854, in the face of opposition from her father, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, whom Charlotte never thought of marrying. She became pregnant and enjoyed a happy life. However, also during this period, her health declined rapidly. She died on 31 March 1855, at the young age of 38.

II. Comparison of Life Experiences between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte

2.1 Their Childhood

Both Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte suffer sadness and misfortune in their childhood. Jane Eyre at Gateshead is an orphan adopted by her aunt, who and whose children look down on her and treat her extremely bad. As to Charlotte at Haworth Parsonage, her father doesn’t like the children very much.

He was not naturally fond of children, and felt their frequent appearance on the scene as a drag both on his wife’s strength, and as an interruption to the comfort of the household. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 51)

Besides, Charlotte’s mother dies when she is very young. And her aunt who came to take care of them is very strict:

“The children respected her, and had that sort of affection for her which is generated by esteem; but I do not think they ever freely loved her.”(Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 51)

But, on the whole, Charlotte’s childhood is much better than that of Jane’s. She is not an orphan; she is never looked down; she has her sisters and brother as her companions; she receives basic education from her father and aunt.

2.2 Their School Life

2.2.1 Lowood School V.S. Clergy Daughters’ School

There are a lot of similar or even same experiences between Jane’s life in Lowood School and Charlotte’s life in Clergy Daughters’ School. They both undergo terrible school conditions: harsh study and work ethic, bad and insufficient food, awful accommodation conditions. Their schools are both stricken by epidemics. Although, there is a kind and considerate Miss Temple in both Jane and Charlotte’s school, poor conditions hasten the death of Charlotte’s two elder sisters, and take away the life of Helen, Jane’s best friend, anyway.

Even though the conditions in both schools are bad, Charlotte’s life in Clergy Daughters’ School is relatively better compared with Jane’s.

First, Charlotte goes to Clergy Daughters’ School with no accusation while Jane is sent to Lowood School with the accusation that she is deceitful and is publicly humiliated.

Second, William Carus Wilson, the kind and benevolent manager of Clergy Daughters’ School is far better than the Lowood School’s hypocritical and self-righteous Mr. Brocklehurst. Mr. Wilson, of whose life, the working of Clergy Daughters’ School is for many years the great object and interest, says:”Withdrawal, from declining health, of an eye, which, at all events, has loved to watch over the schools with an honest and anxious interest.” And even Gaskell “cannot help feeling sorry” for the censure brought up against Mr. Wilson. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 54)

Third, poor conditions only hasten the death of Charlotte’s sisters, who have tuberculosis, but directly take away Jane’s best friend Helen’s life.

2.2.2 Lowood School V.S. Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School

In Lowood, after the epidemic, Mr. Brocklehurst’s neglect and dishonesty are discovered, and new management takes over, which improves the conditions at Lowood dramatically. Then the situation is more like that in Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School: Jane flourishes under her newly considerate teachers, and after six years, becomes a teacher herself. She also builds a lifelong relationship with her teacher and friend Miss Temple. “I availed myself fully of the advantages offered me. In time I rose to be the first girl of the class; then I was invested with the office of teacher” Miss Temple “had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and latterly, companion” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996: 123)

Charlotte also enjoys her life and does a good job at Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School. Just like Miss Temple at Lowood School, Miss Wooler at Roe Head School “was a lady of remarkable intelligence and of delicate tender sympathy.” Her “kind motherly nature” “made the establishment more like a private family than a school.”(Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 86, 87) And Mr. Constantin Heger at Brussels Boarding School, a “kindly, wise, good, and religious man”, “perceived that with their unusual characters, and extraordinary talents, a different mode must be adopted from that in which he generally taught French to English girls.” And “when Charlotte had made further progress, M. Héger took up a more advanced plan, that of synthetical teaching.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996:199, 209)

Charlotte studies hard both at Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School and naturally made great achievements. “They wanted learning. They came for learning. They would learn.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 194) As shown in the following:

She was an indefatigable student: constantly reading and learning; with a strong conviction of the necessity and value of education, very unusual in a girl of fifteen. She never lost a moment of time, and seemed almost to grudge the necessary leisure for relaxation and play-hours. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 91)

Because of the excellent work Charlotte does both at Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School, she, like Jane, also holds a position as a teacher in school later.

But, there is one point that should be noticed that the academic standards in Lowood School, which may be equally high to Roe Head School, lag behind Brussels Boarding School. Thus, Charlotte receives a better education compared with Jane.

So, Lowood School is actually an integration of Clergy Daughters’ School, Roe Head School and Brussels Boarding School. Generally speaking, Jane’s former life at Lowood is more difficult than Charlotte’s life at Clergy Daughters’ School; her later life at Lowood is as happy and productive as Charlotte’s life at Roe Head School, but Charlotte is better trained at Brussels Boarding School.

2.3 Their Career Life

Women in the early Victorian Age are at the bottom of society. To women from upper class, working is not their option. While to women in the lower class, they can only work on farms, shops, inns, factories or work as servants. To women, like Jane and Charlotte, between the two extremes, there are few work options: “they can only teach in schools, or work as a governess.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 59)

2.3.1 Teaching and Tutoring

Both Jane and Charlotte first choose to be a teacher in the schools where they are trained, and then they work as a governess. But, Jane is more satisfied to be a teacher and a governess than Charlotte.

First, it can be found in the reasons why they leave their post as a teacher. Jane leaves Lowood because she wants to have a change for her life and experience the world outside rather than that she hates teaching.

“The world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.”(Charlotte Bronte, 1996:125)

While Charlotte leaves Roe Head School because the salary is too low, and she cannot bear the sedentary and monotonous nature of the teaching life, which may causes her nervous disturbance.

Second, Jane quite loves and enjoys the teacher position that St. John find her. She passes a lot pleasant time with her students, and the local people are very respectful to her. “I felt I became a favorite in the neighborhood. Whenever I went out, I heard on all sides cordial salutations, and was welcomed with friendly smiles.” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996:556) While Charlotte often feels depressed when she teaches English at Brussels Boarding School. The conduct of her pupils is often impertinent and mutinous in the highest degree. Mrs. Gaskell describes Charlotte’s situation as this:

It must have been a depressing thought to her at this period, that her joyous, healthy, obtuse pupils, were so little answerable to the powers she could bring to bear upon them. (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 226)

Third, Jane is more delightful as a governess than Charlotte for the situation in Jane’s employer’s family is much better. In Thornfield Hall, the housekeeper Alice Fairfax treats Jane as her daughter; the student Adele Varens loves and respects Jane; and Mr. Rochester, the employer, falls in love with her. Charlotte’s first position as a governess pressed painful restraint upon her: the kids didn’t listen to her; her employer discriminated against governess; she often felt lonely. Although her second and last situation as a governess is much better, she found that her personality was not suitable for tutoring.

2.3.2 Running School and Writing

Since teaching and tutoring suit Jane well, Jane doesn’t have any other career plans. But for Charlotte, both of her careers as a teacher and a governess are not successful, thus she has to find another way of earning money. She prepares well for running a school, but her plan fails because no students came. She has for long thought about making writing as her career, and she writes to Robert Southey, asking for his opinion of her poems. But Robert replies: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.” “This ‘stringent’ letter made her put aside, for a time, all idea of literary enterprise.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996:138, 142)

After all, Charlotte loves literature. She continues her literary creation. After the ill-success of her poems, she tries writing novels. Although her first novel The Professor is rejected, her second novel Jane Eyre wins enormous success. She finally makes literature her career.

Generally speaking, Jane’s career life is much smoother and relatively plainer while Charlotte met more setbacks before she succeeds in her career.

2.4 Their Marriage

2.4.1 Charlotte’s Early Attitude towards Love and Marriage

Charlotte meets her first proposal of marriage from a curate in early 1839, but she puts it on one side. And a few months later she meets a second proposal from another curate, Mr. Bruce, but she once again refuses the proposal. When she rejects the first proposal she writes in a letter:

“Yet I had not, and could not have, that intense attachment which would make me willing to die for him; and if ever I marry, it must be in that light of adoration that I will regard my husband. Ten to one I shall never have the chance again” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 149)

When she rejects the second proposal she writes “I am certainly doomed to be an old maid. Never mind. I made up my mind to that fate ever since I was twelve years old.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 159) In her letter on June 2nd, 1840, she writes “I am tolerably well convinced that I shall never marry at all.” It is obvious that before Charlotte meets Mr. Constantin Heger, she is pessimistic about marriage and in her life scheme there is no matrimony. While Jane meets no proposal till she meets Mr. Rochester.

2.4.2 Charlotte’s Affection for Mr. Constantin Heger V.S. Jane’s Affection for Mr. Rochester Similarities

When Charlotte studies in Brussels Boarding School she meets Mr. Heger, the person to whom she would die for. When Jane works in Thornfield she also finds her fall in love with Mr. Rochester. There are a lot of similarities in the two affections.

Both of their loves are not love at first sight. Charlotte gradually develops affection for the kindly, wise Mr. Constantin for he gives much help and comfort in her study and in daily life. Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester because Jane is a good listener and can understand him well, and they can communicate with each other’s soul.

There are two main barriers in both of their love. One is the rigid social hierarchy in Victorian Age. Both Charlotte and Jane are poor, obscure, plain, and little while both of their lovers, Mr. Heger and Mr. Rochester, are mature, wealthy and respectable. What’s more, either in the teacher-student relationship and master-servent relationship, Charlotte and Jane are both in an inferior position. In Victorian Age, there is rigid social hierarchy, which makes it very hard for Charlotte and Jane to pursue their love. Another is the moral norm in that time. Mr. Heger and Mr. Rochester have already had a wife, which is the biggest obstacle. And none of them can cross it: for moral reason Mr. Heger cannot respond to Charlotte’s strong affection for him, and Jane doesn’t want to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress. For this reason, Charlotte and Jane have to leave the one they love.

Charlotte and Jane miss their lovers very much after they left their lovers. From the four existing letters that Charlotte writes to Mr. Heger after she left Brussels Boarding School we can see what deep feelings Charlotte’s towards Mr. Heger and how much she misses him. She practices French every day in case she forgets French when she sees Mr. Heger again, and she associates the language with Heger “As I pronounce the French words it seems to me as if I were chatting with you.” One year later her thoughts of love deepen:

Day and night I find neither rest nor peace – I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to all kinds of reproaches – all I know – is that I cannot that I will not resign myself to the total loss of my master’s friendship – I would rather undergo the greatest bodily pains than have my heart constantly lacerated by searing regrets.” (Harold Orel, 1997: 66)

Even two years later, receiving no reply from Mr. Heger, Charlotte still cannot forget him:

“When one has suffered that kind of anxiety for one year or two, one is ready to do anything to find peace once more. I have done everything; I have thought occupations; I have denied myself absolutely the pleasure of speaking about you – even to Emily; but I have conquered neither my regrets nor my impatience.” (Harold Orel, 1997: 67, 68)

When Jane newly settles at Moor House she thinks about which would be better: to leave her lover or to be his mistress. She feels cold and dismayed when a messenger from Thornfield Hall tells her no news about Mr. Rochester. She doesn’t forget Mr. Rochester when her life at Moor House becomes better and better:

“Perhaps you think I had forgotten Mr. Rochester, reader, amidst these changes of place and fortune. Not for a moment. His idea was still with me… The craving to know what had become of him followed me everywhere.” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996: 617)

When St. John asks Jane to be his wife she strongly refuses and at the very time she feels the call from Mr. Rochester. Can’t suffer the torment of Acacia anymore, Jane leaves Moor House to seek for him. Differences

The most significant difference is that Charlotte knows from the very beginning that Mr. Heger has a wife but she cannot help falling in love with him while Jane doesn’t know that Mr. Rochester has a wife and when it is identified at her wedding ceremony she left Mr. Rochester right away without hesitation.

One obvious difference is that Charlotte receives cold response from Mr. Heger while Jane and Mr. Rochester love each other very much. After Charlotte left Brussels Boarding School she writes several letters to Mr. Heger. Although she waits, pleads, or even begs for his reply, she receives no reply: “I have not begged you write to me soon…but I wish it”, “I am depending on soon having your news.” “’I have nothing for you from Monsieur Heger,’ says she, ‘neither letter nor message.’” “…day by day I await a letter…day by day disappointment comes to filing me back into overwhelming sorrow.” (Harold Orel, 1997: 64, 65, 66, 69)

The results of Charlotte and Jane’s love are different. Having not received any response from Mr. Heger for a long time, Charlottle chooses to forget him, puts all her energy into her literature career. On June 29th, 1854, 11 years after Charlotte left Mr. Heger, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, who loves her silently for years. Although Jane also meets a man, Parson St. John, who wants to marry her, she refuses his proposal. Only when Mr Rochester’s wife died, and Jane returns to Mr. Rochester with her big fortune and deep feeling finally.

In summary, both Charlotte and Jane’s love could resolve the social hierarchy related problems, but the moral problem still right stands there. Compared with Jane’s happy marriage, Charlotte’s affection for Mr. Heger is a bitter unrequited love.

2.5 Their Family Life: Gateshead, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, and the Manor-house of Ferndean V.S. Haworth Parsonage

2.5.1 Similarities

Charlotte’s mother died when she was very young. To some extent, in Haworth Parsonage, her father is not up to standard, and her aunt cannot play the role of a good mother, which makes young Charlotte value her sisters and long for a complete and harmonious family. When she is young she usually writes diary with her sisters and even exchanges each other’s diary every four years. When they grow up they often share their thoughts on literature:

“The sisters retained the old habit…of putting away their work at nine o’clock, and beginning their study, pacing up and down the sitting room. At this time, they talked over the stories they were engaged upon, and described their plots.”(Elizabeth Gaskell, 1996: 280)

When Charlotte’s dear sisters and brothers dies in succession, Charlotte’s longing for a family enhances. Although she tries to diverse all her energy into writing, she cannot resist the longing. She finally marries Mr. Nicholls and forms a family.

The orphan Jane is excluded from the Reed family at Gateshead, where she first has the longing for a family. When Jane’s teacher and friend Miss Temple marries and leaves her, Jane’s longing deepens. At Thornfield Hall, being regarded as her mother by Adele Varens and courted by Mr. Rochester, Jane is only one step away from having a family. At Moor House, Jane finds her relatives and quite enjoys being with them:

“The more I knew of the inmates of Moor House, the better I liked them.” “I liked to read what they liked to read: what they enjoyed, delighted me; what they approved, I reverenced.” “Indoors we agreed equally well…Thought fitted thought; opinion met opinion: we coincided, in short, perfectly.” (Charlotte Bronte, 1996: 540, 541)

At the manor-house of Ferndean, Jane, together with Mr. Rochester, forms a family and later has a baby.

2.5.2 Differences

Charlotte’s way of keeping and seeking for a family doesn’t have a happy ending: her mother, two elder sisters die when she was young; her brother brings tremendous pains to the whole family; her aunt, brother, and two younger sisters die when she grows up. And she herself only enjoys nine months of family life with Mr. Nicholls, dies with her unborn baby. Compared with Charlotte’s way of losing family members, Jane, on the contrary, finds relatives. And at the manor-house of Ferndean Jane enjoys her happy family life for a long time.

III. Analysis of the Results of the Comparisons

3.1 A Summary of the Comparison on Life Experiences between Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte

Both Jane and Charlotte experience a bitter childhood, but Jane’s childhood is more miserable than that of Charlotte.

When they go to school, both of the schools’ conditions at first are very bad, but Jane’s situation in Lowood School is much worse than Charlotte’s in Clergy Daughters’ School. When conditions in Lowood School are greatly improved, Jane’s later life at Lowood is as happy and productive as Charlotte’s life at Roe Head School, but Charlotte is better trained at Brussels Boarding School

Due to the rigid social hierarchy in Victorian Age, both Jane and Charlotte have few choices when choosing a career. Jane is more satisfied to be a teacher and a governess than Charlotte, and her career life is much smoother and relatively plainer. Compared with Jane, Charlotte met more setbacks in carrying out her ambitious career plans, but she wins greater success.

Both Jane and Charlotte meet many similar barriers in their marriages such as rigid social hierarchy and moral problems, because of which Charlotte’s love for Mr. Heger finally turns out to be a bitter unrequited love. But Jane is unbelievably lucky. All the barriers in her love are swept away, and she finally marries her beloved Mr. Rochester.

Although there is some likeness in their family life, e.g. Jane’s life at the Moor House is much alike Charlotte’s life with her two younger sisters and they both long for a family, there’s big difference. Charlotte continuously loses her family members while Jane gradually finds more relatives. And Jane enjoys much longer happy family life with Mr. Rochester than Charlotte with Mr. Nicholls.

3.2 Analysis of the Results of the Comparisons

In the comparison of the similarities and differences we can see that almost everything in Jane Eyre has its original in Charlotte’s life but there are also some distinct differences. So, Jane cannot be Charlotte, or at least they are not identical. Because Jane Eyre is an autobiographical novel, there sure are many similarities, so the analysis mainly focuses on the differences. Then, why there are differences between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre?

3.2.1 The Need for Literature Creative Work

First, Jane Eyre is an autobiographical novel, not Charlotte’s autobiography. Writing a novel needn’t to be as seriously as writing an autobiography. For example the conditions in Lowood School in Jane Eyre are much worse than its original, Clergy Daughters’ School.

Second, in order to make a novel more readable, the character more distinctive, and the theme more striking, etc. miracles are often used. Because of this in Jane Eyre, a poor, obscure, plain, and little woman marries a wealthy mature man; a pathetic orphan finds nice relatives; a poor governess gets a large inheritance.

3.2.2 The Result of Charlotte’s Psychological Compensation

Literature is the aspiration of the author. Albert Mordell puts it this way:

His present and past, pleasurable and painful have gone into the making of it, and it records his secret aspirations and most intimate feelings; it is the outcropping of his struggles and disappointments. It is the outlet of his emotions, freely flowing forth even though he has sought to stem. (1966: 293)

Jane Eyre is an autobiographical novel, and the original of Jane is Charlotte, so Charlotte not only puts many of her experiences but also her feelings, desires into it. And when Charlotte faces with problems that she cannot handle she gets comfort by compensating Jane for Jane’s inability.

Charlotte could not change her obscure, plain, and little physical appearance so she makes compensation for Jane’s physical appearance by giving her a large amount of knowledge and a noble personality, which helps Jane win Mr. Rochester’s respect and love.

Charlotte could not stand the discrimination and great pressure when she works as a governess so she makes compensation for Jane by letting her teach the well-behaved Adele Varens at the stress-free and harmonious Thornfield Hall.

During the time when Charlotte writes Jane Eyre, her brother brings great pains to her family, which plus her miss of her died sisters and makes her compensate for Jane’s lonelyness by finding her congenial relatives at the harmonious Moor House.

Charlotte’s family is not rich, thus she has to do works that she doesn’t like to support the family. So Charlotte makes compensation for Jane’s poverty by offering her a large sum of inheritance, which relieves Jane’s worry about making a living. What’s more important is that the inheritance helps Jane cross the rigid social hierarchy barrier and get equal economic status to Mr. Rochester.

Charlotte could never get over the moral barrier throughout her affection for Mr. Heger that he has already had a wife. So when Jane is in the same difficult situation, Charlotte compensates Jane again. She clears the barrier by letting Mr. Rochester’s mad and crazy wife burn to death. At last, lovers become family dependants.

From the above analysis we know that almost everything in Jane Eyre has its origin in Charlotte’s life, and the main differences between Charlotte and Jane’s lives, to a large extent, are the results of Charlotte’s psychological compensation. Due to the restrictions of the time, Charlotte could not realize some of her goals in life, but she could experience the very life she hopes through the identity of Jane Eyre. So, in this sense Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte herself in Charlotte Bronte’s ideal life.


The paper makes a comparative study of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre based on the comparison between Charlotte and Jane’s life experiences, and The Life of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre are the main sources. The comparison is made from five parts: the childhood, the school life, the career life, the marriages, and the family life. Through the comparison it can be found that almost everything in Jane Eyre has its origin in Charlotte’s life, and there are a lot of similarities between Charlotte and Jane’s life experiences. But at the same time some distinct differences are also found: Jane’s situation in Lowood School is much worse than Charlotte’s in Clergy Daughters’ School; Jane’s career life is much smoother and relatively plainer; Jane is luckier in her marriages; Jane enjoys much longer happy family life than Charlotte. Then the psychology compensation theory is applied in analyzing the differences, and it shows that the main differences between Charlotte and Jane’s lives are mainly resulted from Charlotte’s psychological compensation, it also reveals that Charlotte’s ideal life is the one that Jane lives.

As the paper only studies the life experiences of Charlotte and Jane Eyre, the conclusion may not be applied to other situations. A study that includes the characteristics and values of Charlotte and Jane Eyre would be more comprehensive.

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