What inspired Charlotte Bronte to write Jane Eyre? Who did she base her characters on? Was she writing about her own life experiences? What locations and local stories fired her imagination ? What links her famous novel to a visit to Derbyshire in 1845? These and other questions kept running through my mind when I recently discovered she visited Hathersage in Derbyshire just before writing Jane Eyre. I myself now live in the High Peak and only about 20 minutes drive from Hathersage.
As both a researcher and writer I was sure there was another story here. A quick search on google provided some clues….yet I needed more information. I decided to search for more and soon that search became a quest. I reasoned the first thing I had to do was read the book so I quickly downloaded it to my Kindle App from Amazon. I was not just going to read the story… I was going to research it too. So I made copious notes on relevant chapters. I made a note of each and every character as they were introduced and also their family relationships. I noted every place name and location and details of all buildings and homes and estates she wrote about. I made notes whenever the landscape and weather were described, even noting the flora and fauna. I was absolutely convinced that she was describing places in and around Hathersage and possibly Haworth too. I also analysed and recorded the plot and compared it to the very real life of Charlotte Bronte. The similarities were quite striking. I will now record the plot as I saw it…
Jane Eyre is an orphan who is sent to live with her Aunt Sarah Reed at Gateshead Hall. She is a relative not of Mrs Reed but Mr Reed her uncle who has been dead some nine years. Mrs Reed does not like Jane, nor do her children Eliza, Georgina and John. She learns both of her parents died of typhus and her father had been a poor clergyman. A visiting apothecary suggests Jane be sent off to school. In Chapter 4 Mr Brocklehurst arrives.He runs Lowood school at Brocklehust Hall where he is the treasurer and manager. In Chapter 5 Jane leaves by coach for the 50 mile journey to her new school. here she meets her teachers,four females and her favourite is Miss Temple. The next few chapters describe the harsh conditions at the school which is run on strict lines with a lot of hard work but little enough food. She makes a good friend in Helen Burns. In Chapter 9 a typhus outbreak hits the school and number of girls succumb to the diseease. This included Helen Burns who was buried in the Churchyard at Brocklebridge. In Chapter 10 the story changes and it is clearly explained that the previous chapters had charted the first 10 years of her life. The story now jumps eight years forward and we find Jane as a young woman of 18 years and now she is working as a teacher herself at Lowood and has done so for the last two years .Jane’s favourite teacher Miss Temple marries the Rev Mr Nasmyth and leaves Lowood. a village called Lowton is mentioned just a 2 mile walk from Lowood School. She decides it is time to leave and advertises her services as a governness. She soon finds new employment.
The next stage in the story begins at Chapter 11 with Jane arriving at Milcote from whence she is conveyed to her new employer at Thornfield Hall. She meets Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper and soon afterwards her new emplooyer Mr Rochester who has a young ward called Miss Adele Verans. Thornfield Hall and its surroundings are well described. The house is large and has attics and is a two mile walk away from the hamlet of Hay. Chapters 11 to 25 describe the goings on and local characters at Thornfield Hall. These include a very odd woman living in the attic. Jane slowly falls in love with Mr Rochester despite him being almost twice as old as her.In Chapter 20 a Mr Mason, a friend of Mr Rochester arrives and then leaves in mysterious circumstances. Eventually Mr Rochester proposes marriage to Jane and she accepts. In Chapter 26 the wedding takes place… and is then stopped when evidence is provided that Mr Rochester is already married … to the mad woman in the attic. He tries to persuade Jane to still travel to Europe with him but she knows she cannot.
Chapter 27 stars with the next part of the story and she leaves Thornfield Hall and Mr Rochester very early in the morning, leaving behind most of her possessions and money. She travels with a coachman to a North Midlands shire and is set down at a place called Whitcross where four roads meet. She has no money having used all she had to pay the coachman. She walks into a hamlet with a church with a spire. She enters the only shop asking for work but there is none. She spends the night sleeping on the surrounding moors. She finds a place called Moor House which is near the hamlet of Morton. She is then taken in by Mr St John Rivers who is a clergyman and his two sisters Diana and Mary who live at Moor House. Mr Rivers helps to set up Jane to be a teacher at the village school whose patron is Mr and Miss Oliver. The former is the owner of a needle factory. In Chapter 31 Jane moves into a small cottage in the village of Morton. In Chapter 33 Jane discovers her uncle Mr Eyre of Madeira is dead and she inherits a fortune. She discovers that St John, Diana and Mary Rivers are actually her cousins and she decides to share her fortune with all of them. In Chapter 34 Mary and Diana return to Moor House, new home to Jane to spend Christmas with her and Mr Rivers. St John Rivers proposes marriage to Jane and asks her to travel with him as he is about to leave the country to work as a missionary. Jane refuses him as he does not love her. She loves only one man and determines to seek him out.
In Chapter 36 she leaves Morton to travel to Thornfield Hall. She is shocked to find it burned to the ground and learns Mr Rochester now lives 30 miles away at a manor house called Ferndean. He is now blind and a cripple having tried to save his wife when she set fire to Thornfield Hall. Chapters 37 ad 38 conclude the story. Mr Rochester is now free to marry Jane and they all live happily ever after……..
The story reveals a lot of detail of places and place names – Milcote, Morton, Whitcross, Thornfield Hall, Moor House, Ferndean .Were these real or imagined? Were they in the West Riding of Yorkshire or Derbyshire? Could I find any or all of them? A lot of names were used, were these real names from real families? I realised more research was needed so the next step in my quest was to consult biographies and actual letters written by Charlotte Bronte……… and what I found there will be revealed in my next blog…….