Study Guide

Jane Eyre Volume 1, Chapter 1 Summary

By Charlotte Brontë

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Volume 1, Chapter 1

  • Jane Eyre begins with the adult Jane looking back at her life. She jumps into the story at a moment in her childhood when she’s ten years old.
  • On this particular day, Jane and her cousins John, Eliza, and Georgiana aren’t going to do something: they’re not going to take a walk, because it’s too wet. Jane is relieved; she hates walks, because it’s depressing to realize that she’s not as physically hardy as her cousins.
  • Jane’s cousins are "clustered round their mama" (1.1.3), but Jane’s not allowed to join them, because her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her nursemaid, Bessie, claim that she’s been naughty. Jane has no idea what she’s supposed to have done.
  • Jane goes into the breakfast room, climbs up into the window seat, pulls the red velvet curtains around her (apparently the Reeds are pretty rich), and reads Bewick’s History of British Birds, which is sort of like an illustrated field guide. She likes the pictures and the descriptions of icy landscapes—maybe this penchant for arctic places is supposed to tell us something about her?
  • Jane’s cousin, John Reed, goes looking for her and, with the help of his sister Eliza, finds her in the window seat. We can tell that he’s seriously bad news.
  • Jane tells us a little bit about John Reed: he’s fourteen, big, a greedy eater, pampered by his mom, doesn’t really like his family, and especially hates Jane. He is, basically, a big fat bully.
  • After a long pause, John smacks Jane really hard. He makes her show him which book she was reading, and then lords it over her that she’s dependent on his family and tells her she can’t read his books. Then he throws the book at her hard enough to knock her down, and she cuts her head on the door.
  • Jane jumps up and tells John off, calling him "wicked and cruel" and "like a murderer" or "like a slave driver" or "like the Roman emperors" (1.1.33). He grabs her and they start fighting. Jane’s not sure what she does, but she must hurt him somehow because she makes John holler.
  • Eliza and Georgiana go and get their mother, Mrs. Reed, and the nursemaid Bessie, like the little tattletales they are.
  • Jane’s blamed for the fight, and Mrs. Reed orders that she be locked in "the red room" …that doesn’t sound sinister or anything, right?

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