Jane Eyre lost her parents early because of typhus and now lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed. Her life is harsh. Mrs. Reed isn’t her aunt by blood, but only a widow of her mother’s brother and she is of the lowest opinion about the girl’s parents. Jane’s mother came from the wealthy family but married a priest who didn’t have a penny in his pockets and Mrs. Reed considers this foolish. Jane is told that she doesn’t have any relatives from the paternal side worth talking about.
Jane lives with Mrs. Reed and her children, John, Eliza and Georgiana. The deceased Mr. Reed was the only person who was ever kind to her in this family - everyone else, even the servants, constantly remind the little orphan that she lives here only out of their great mercy. The only servant who treats her relatively well or at least as a child who has her needs is Reeds’ nursemaid, Bessie Lee. Despite having a short temper, she sings Jane songs and tells stories before the little girl goes to sleep.
Though there are no reasons, the Reeds think of her as of little lying spoiled brat. But talking about spoiled children, Mrs. Reed’s children just enjoy the possibility to harass Jane and treat her badly without the slightest risk of being punished. Jane is always one to blame for anything they do.
One day Jane is fed up with this treatment and another quarrel grows into a fight with John. Jane is locked up in the Red Room as a punishment. This is the room where Mr. Reed died. Terrified to see his ghost the poor girl loses consciousness and later wakes up with a fever caused by that fear.
Mrs. Reed has no desire to care for a sick child that isn’t hers but she still calls for the apothecary named Mr. Lloyd to examine Jane. Mr. Lloyd sees how much Jane is mistreated and offers to send her to school out of sheer compassion, hoping that school conditions will be better. Mrs. Reed quickly agrees glad to finally get rid of her niece.
This school becomes a new home to Jane for many years. It is called Lowood and it’s definitely not the best place on earth. In fact, this is almost an orphanage. But due to the fact that Jane didn’t have a sweet life before to compare, so she accepts Lowood as it is. The girls in the school wear identical dresses and hairstyles, almost everything is done only after a command, the food is scant and the teachers are rude and ignorant. The pupils of Lowood are dull, always frightened and embittered.
Jane’s troubles start from the very beginning. Mrs. Reed sent a letter to the school director, Mr. Brocklehurst in which she describes Jane’s personality (in her distorted vision). So, when during a school inspection Jane accidentally breaks the director’s slate, she is violently scolded and accused to be a liar in front of everyone. It is a horrible experience and later Jane is comforted by her two only friends - Helen Burns, a pupil who usually takes punishments stoically and apathetically, and a more active and compassionate teacher, Miss Temple, who, after hearing Jane’s point of view, writes a letter to Mr. Lloyd and where he confirms Jane’s words, and insists on Jane’s clearance as public as was her accusation.
The conditions in school become worse and worse and soon the epidemic of typhus outbursts in Lowood. Many pupils get sick and Helen dies of untreated “consumption” in Jane’s arms. This is the last straw and Mr. Brocklehurst governing is questioned by the benefactors who gave the money to school. Finally, it is revealed that he took most of the money for himself, leaving to pupils the pathetic amount. The director is publicly discredited and the benefactors appoint a committee to build a new school building and divide the money. The conditions in Lowood soon become better.
Jane spends eight years in Lowood: six as a pupil and two as a teacher. Miss Temple got married and quitted teaching and Jane, aged eighteen, soon decides to leave too. She wants to become a governess, writes an advertisement to the newspaper and soon receives a proposition from Alice Fairfax, a housekeeper in Thornfield Hall. According to this proposition Jane shall teach a French girl, Adele. Jane agrees.
Mrs. Fairfax appears to be a kind elderly lady. She explains to Jane her duties and shows her Adele, a lively and joyful but somewhat capricious child who the owner of the estate, Mr. Rochester, cares for. Jane stays in Thornfield Hall.
One night going to the town Jane meets a horseman. While passing near her the horse slips and the rider falls on the ground. Jane kindly helps him to get back to the horse, and later in the morning she learns that the rider was Edward Rochester, the owner of Thornfield Hall and her master. Initially Mr. Rochester behaves strangely and emotionally, mocking her and accusing Jane of bewitching his horse, but she manages to stand up for his stern manners. Jane and Mr. Rochester start to spend more time together growing a deep mutual sympathy, who each of them hides behind either cool politeness or good-natured mockery.
The life in Thornfield Hall was much better than everything Jane knew before. But still, behind the luxury there are lots of secrets and some of them seem to be rather dark. Jane sometimes hears a mysterious laughter and once she have to rescue Mr. Rochester, accidentally caught in fire. Mrs. Fairfax explains this by misdeeds of Grace Poole, another of Thornfield servants.
Jane learns that Adele is possibly a daughter of Mr. Rochester and his mistress, a French opera singer. The woman abandoned Adele sending her to Thornfield and Edward, though unsure that it was he who fathered the girl, took her to his home and raised her.
Despite their feelings, Mr. Rochester soon arranges a ball where he is clearly favouring a beautiful, intelligent but utterly shallow Miss Blanche. After the ball, he even says that he has intentions to marry Miss Blanche. While Jane is thinking where she would go after this marriage, Edward taunts her saying that he will miss her after the marriage. This is too much for Jane and she, who is usually so reserved, angrily reveals her feeling to him. That is the reaction Mr. Rochester planned to achieve and after getting a proof that Jane does love him, he makes her a proposal. Jane agrees, though she is skeptical about this kind of “feelings test”.
Later, while preparing to the wedding, Jane receives a letter from her aunt, Mrs. Reed. The aunt writes that her son committed suicide and she herself is about to die. Jane goes to her trying to reconcile with her and cares of her until Mrs. Reed death. Mrs. Reed confesses to her for hiding from Jane the existence of her uncle, Mr. John Eyre, a kind and wealthy man who offered Mrs. Reed to take Jane and raise her. But Mrs. Reed didn’t want Jane to have a decent life so she said to him that Jane died in Lowood. Jane helps her cousins with the funeral and returns to Thornfield.
Finally, when Jane and Edward are ready to get married, a man, who visited Thornfield before, stands up. He says that he is Mr. Mason and he is the brother of Mr. Rochester’s wife. So the marriage oaths can’t be given because Mr. Rochester is still married. Edward doesn’t object. He tells Jane that he was in a very difficult situation in his youth. His father left everything to his older brother but, not wishing to leave the youngest son on the streets, he married him off with the rich bride from the West India. Edward’s father didn’t tell him that his new wife is mentally ill, and very soon she completely lost her humanity, behaving rather as an angry animal. Mr. Rochester had no choice than to hide her in a secret room, appointing the maid - Grace Poole - to look after her. But due to Grace getting drunk, his mad wife eventually slipped away from her prison. It was her laughter Jane heard and she was the malicious “ghost” that haunted her in the Thornwood. Rochester begs Jane to stay with him, to come to France and live with him as his wife, though they can’t get married. But Jane is adamant. She leaves Thornwood next morning, taking her scarce possessions and goes just anywhere, as far from her broken heart as she can. She has to starve and sleep in the moor, she even tries to sell her clothes for food but unsuccessfully. Finally, Jane falls unconscious near the door of a house.
The house belongs to a local priest named St. John Rivers and his two sisters, Diana and Mary. They all are kind and educated people, they nurse Jane back to health and befriend her (especially women, the priest stays aloof). St. John even finds for her a job in the local school. But Jane, though thankful, invents herself a fictitious surname and prefers not to talk about her past.
St. John is the exact opposite of Rochester, a tall and handsome fair-haired man, his eyes shining with faith and determination. Rosamond Oliver, the beautiful daughter of his rich neighbor, is madly in love with him, but St. John rejects these feelings for being too earthly, sinful and unworthy of his true destiny - to bring the light of Christianity to the Indian heathens. He wants to go to India as a missionary, but he searches for faithful companion for all his life. Jane, in his opinion, fits this role perfectly, so he coldly makes her a proposal. Jane, from her side, is ready to go to India (actually, she doesn’t care where to go if it’s far enough from Thornfield), but she still loves Mr. Rochester and doesn’t want to marry without any feelings. Because of this, Jane rejects the proposal, offering to travel as brother and sister instead. But for the priest this idea is unacceptable.
Jane is happy to teach children in the school and is contempt with her new life but one day St. John comes home and tells her the story about Mr. John Eyre, who was their uncle and died recently, leaving twenty thousand pounds to his other niece, Jane Eyre. They finally talk about Jane’s past and understand that they are cousins. John Eyre didn’t believe Jane’s aunt and tried to find Jane for all his life, knowing that she is alive. As the sole heiress, Jane divides all the money equally between her and her three newfound cousins.
No matter how happy she is amongst her new family and pupils, Jane still misses Edward Rochester. Once she sees a dream where he called her, asking to come. Jane decides to visit Thornfield one last time - but she finds only burned ruins there. Jane rushes to the innkeeper asking him what happened and he says that the mad wife of Mr. Rochester finally escaped and burned the whole mansion to ashes. Rochester tried to save her but failed and was crushed by a collapsed roof, losing his hand and sight. Now the former owner of Thornfield lives in a smaller house nearby. Jane goes there to find Edward.
He didn’t forget her and thought of her as much as she thought of him. Although Edward is now ashamed of his looks and inability, Jane manages to convince him that for her it doesn’t matter. She becomes his hands and eyes and soon they do get married. Two years after the vision begins to return to Edward and is clear enough to see the face of his firstborn child.
Diana and Mary, Jane’s cousins, are also happily married and only St. Johns leaves the country alone to bring the light of faith to the heathens as he always wished.