Study Guide

Jane Eyre Education

By Charlotte Brontë

Education

Volume 1, Chapter 1

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when, having brought her ironing-table to the nursery-hearth, she allowed us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs. Reed's lace frills, and crimped her night-cap borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from the old fairy tales and older ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland. (1.1.13)

Very early in her life, stories, tales, and narratives are some of the most positive things that Jane experiences. It’s unsurprising that she becomes a teacher and governess, given that hearing tales from her nursemaid was a special treat, and that these tales naturally segue into hearing parts of, and then reading, novels. (By the way, we definitely recommend Pamela.) Even at the very beginning of the novel, Jane is learning to be an astute "reader" of the pictures in Bewick’s British Birds, and to connect the text with the pictures to understand what’s going on.

Volume 1, Chapter 3

I scarcely knew what school was; Bessie sometimes spoke of it as a place where young ladies sat in the stocks, wore backboards, and were expected to be exceedingly genteel and precise; John Reed hated his school, and abused his master: but John Reed’s tastes were no rule for mine, and if Bessie’s accounts of school-discipline (gathered from the young ladies of a family where she had lived before coming to Gateshead) were somewhat appalling, her details of certain accomplishments attained by these same ladies were, I thought, equally attractive. She boasted of beautiful paintings of landscapes and flowers by them executed; of songs they could sing and pieces they could play, of purses they could net, of French books they could translate; till my spirit was moved to emulation as I listened. Besides, school would be a complete change: it implied a long journey, an entire separation from Gateshead, an entrance into a new life. (1.3.70)

Jane instinctively embraces the opportunity to go to school—it’s a way to get away from Gateshead, and the fact that people she hates dislike school probably means that she’ll enjoy it. It’s sort of an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" thing.

She’s also really interested in being "accomplished," in learning, and in being a talented, cultured person, which is more than we can say for any of the Reeds. From the beginning, then, Jane’s motives for getting an education are complex: she loves learning for its own sake, but it’s also a way out of a bad living situation and a way to distinguish herself from louts like John.

Volume 1, Chapter 8

They conversed of things I had never heard of; of nations and times past; of countries far away: of secrets of nature discovered or guessed at: they spoke of books: how many they had read! What stores of knowledge they possessed! Then they seemed so familiar with French names and French authors: but my amazement reached its climax when Miss Temple asked Helen if she sometimes snatched a moment to recall the Latin her father had taught her, and taking a book from a shelf, bade her read and construe a page of Virgil; and Helen obeyed, my organ of Veneration expanding at every sounding line. (1.8.52)

At this moment, Jane develops a love of knowledge and learning that has something to do with the sparkling conversation going on between Miss Temple and Helen Burns, but a lot more to do with the way that she idolizes the two of them. Just like a girl watching her idols today, Jane wants to be what they are—but instead of having fashion mavens like Tyra Banks for idols, she has a schoolteacher and a pious little girl. But the main impulse is the same—Jane basically hero-worships both of them and everything they do.

Thus relieved of a grievous load, I from that hour set to work afresh, resolved to pioneer my way through every difficulty: I toiled hard, and my success was proportionate to my efforts; my memory, not naturally tenacious, improved with practice; exercise sharpened my wits; in a few weeks I was promoted to a higher class; in less than two months I was allowed to commence French and drawing. I learned the first two tenses of the verb Être, and sketched my first cottage…on the same day. That night, on going to bed, I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide supper of hot roast potatoes, or white break and new milk, with which I was wont to amuse my inward cravings: I feasted instead on the spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark; all the work of my own hands… (1.8.59)

When Jane starts fantasizing about homework instead of food, we get a tiny bit nervous about her. Still, we’re glad that she’s found something to sustain her through the long, cold, hungry nights at Lowood.

I had meant to be so good, and to do so much at Lowood; to make so many friends, to earn respect, and win affection. Already I had made visible progress: that very morning I had reached the head of my class; Miss Miller had praised me warmly; Miss Temple had smiled approbation; she had promised to teach me drawing, and to let me learn French, if I continued to make similar improvement two months longer: and then I was well-received by my fellow-pupils; treated as an equal by those of my own age, and not molested by any: now, here I lay again crushed and trodden on; and could I ever rise more? (1.8.1)

From her first days at Lowood, Jane sees learning not only as something enjoyable (she thinks learning French is a special treat!) but as her way of rising in the world and earning friends and approval. Still, learning doesn’t make up for ethics, and Jane is very defensive about being slandered.

Volume 1, Chapter 10

I had had no communication by letter or message with the outer world: school-rules, school-duties, school-habits and notions, and voices, and faces, and phrases, and costumes, and preferences, and antipathies: such was what I knew of existence. And now I felt that it was not enough: I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon. I desired liberty… (1.10.9)

Some people get sick of things slowly and stuff builds up forever; other people wake up one day and need to change their whole lives. Obviously, Jane is the second type of person. It’s pretty amazing, though, that she realizes there’s more to life than studying—after all, education was her ticket out of Gateshead and her way of earning approval from her closest friends and teachers.

Where do you think Jane got the idea that education is only a part of her life, and not the whole of it? Why does she get sick of Lowood and long to get out in the world, besides simple wanderlust?

Bessie

"I dare say you are clever, though," continued Bessie, by way of solace. "What can you do? Can you play on the piano?"

"A little."

There was one in the room; Bessie went and opened it, and then asked me to sit down and give her a tune: I played a waltz or two and she was charmed.

"The Miss Reeds could not play as well!" she said exultingly. "I always said you would surpass them in learning." (1.10.66-69)

Bessie has always thought of Jane’s intellectual abilities as making up for, or even replacing, her (lack of) good looks. If Bessie were a high school teacher, she’d be the kind who totally believed that there are only two kinds of girls: the popular, pretty ones and the dorky, bookish ones, and never the twain shall meet.

We know that’s a pretty silly way to see the world—haven’t we learned from reality TV that anyone can be gorgeous with the right expensive makeover? And haven’t you learned from Shmoop that anyone can get smarter with the right tutor? It’s nice that Bessie’s so excited for Jane’s accomplishments, but the way she sees the world—pretty and smart are opposites—is going to make a lot of trouble for Jane down the line, when she has to keep herself dowdy in order to feel savvy.

Volume 1, Chapter 13
Mr. Edward Rochester

"Oh, don’t fall back on over-modesty! I have examined Adèle, and find you have taken great pains with her: she is not bright, she has no talents; yet in a short time she has made much improvement."

"Sir, you have given me my 'cadeau'; I am obliged to you: it is the meed teachers most covet; praise of their pupils' progress." (1.13.30-31)

This little moment where Rochester tells Jane she’s a good teacher is important, because Jane never tells us so herself. It’s one of the things she forgets to mention, or maybe leaves out—her modesty is getting in the way of telling her own story. It won’t be the last time that Jane can’t be trusted to depict herself accurately.

Volume 3, Chapter 4

I could talk a while when the evening commenced: but the first gush of vivacity and fluency gone, I was fain to sit on a stool at Diana’s feet, to rest my head on her knee, and listen alternately to her and Mary; while they sounded thoroughly the topic on which I had but touched. Diana offered to teach me German. I liked to learn of her: I saw the part of instructress pleased and suited her; that of scholar pleased and suited me no less. (3.4.4)

In her refuge at Moor House, Jane reverts to her Lowood days; Diana is a lot like Miss Temple and Helen Burns combined, a kind and intelligent teacher who also has strong religious beliefs. During this difficult moment, Jane becomes a student—and a child—all over again in order to recuperate after her traumatic experience with Rochester.

Volume 3, Chapter 5

This morning, the village school opened. I had twenty scholars. But three of the number can read: none write or cipher. Several knit, and a few sew a little. They speak with the broadest accent of the district. At present, they and I have a difficulty in understanding each other’s language. Some of them are unmannered, rough, intractable, as well as ignorant; but others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me. I must not forget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born. My duty will be to develop these germs: surely I shall find some happiness in discharging that office. (3.5.2)

Basically, this is the part where the new college grad with a degree in education (Jane) has turned down a gig at a high-class private school (tutoring Adèle) in order to do Teach for America (the village school). It’s her community service time, something way more difficult and way more low-to-the-ground than she was trained for, but she can feel good about it.