Jane's story is one of the quiet triumph of virtue and the power of the human heart over circumstance. Orphaned as a baby, young Jane Eyre was sent to live with her paternal Uncle Reed and his wife, at Gateshead Hall. Though her Uncle promised to raise Jane as one of his own, he soon died as well, and Jane was raised by her resentful Aunt. Preferring to spend her time among her own spoiled brood - Georgiana, John Jr and Eliza - Aunt Reed banished Jane to the indifferent care of servants, and was harsh and unforgiving of the child otherwise.
At the age of ten, Jane was locked overnight in the room in which her uncle had died, and went through a nervous fit. This was the first of a series of "supernatural" encounters that occur in Jane's story. Upon recovering, her aunt was urged to send the child to school by the family doctor, and the family's minister, the Reverend Mr. Brocklehurst, agreed to send Jane to Lowood Asylum, a charitable institute. Thus Jane escaped one prison only to find herself in another.
Lowood Asylum proved to be a trial for Jane, who, though she eventually found friends and a sound education, also encountered a character inquisition, and the chronic hunger and low-quality food and daily goods that were the lot of charity-pupils. She survived a typhoid plague at the school, which brought attention to the students' standard of living. Following the plague, the school was reformed along more lenient lines, and became "in its time, a truly useful institution". Jane remained at Lowood for another eight years, six as a pupil, and a further two as pupil-teacher. During that time, she developed her natural artistic talent, but remained, in her mind, as plain and poor as ever.
Wishing to improve her lot - to be "granted a new servitude" since she cannot be her own mistress - Jane advertises for a post as a governess. She is taken on by Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper of Thornfield, a lonely, rambling estate where she will be governess to Adele, the ward of the frequently absent owner of Thornfield, Mr Rochester.
Jane and Mr. Rochester meet in one of the most famous first encounters in literature. They embark upon an unusually equal relationship, verbally sparring and teasing one another, and occasionally professing their wholehearted support of one another in more serious or critical moments. Jane realizes she has fallen in love but suspects that Mr. Rochester could not possibly love such a plain foundling as she. She assumes Mr. Rochester to be courting the beautiful Blanche Ingram and the most attractive of the ladies who come to stay for a hunting-party.
But on Midsummer's Eve, as her pent-up feelings of love and despair explode, he reveals that she is the woman he wishes to marry. Jane's happiness is almost complete but for a sense of disbelief, which is borne out at the altar, when a stranger arrives to declare Mr. Rochester married already. It transpires that Mr. Rochester's living wife is a dangerously violent lunatic, kept and cared for in the attic.
Jane, distraught by this and Mr. Rochester's desire to have her for his mistress in any event, runs away from Thornfield Manor, taking nothing with her. Thus begins the third act of her life. Taken in by the kindly, learned strangers Diana, Mary and St. John Rivers, she determines to repay them in any way she can. St. John sets her up as the teacher of a new school, where she acquits herself well, becoming a respected figure about town. It later transpires that Jane is second-cousin to the siblings on her father's side: their fathers were cousins. (This is considered by some as the second supernatural event, and by others as a plot contrivance.) As such, Jane realizes a decent fortune as the sole heir of her uncle, which she shares with her new cousins.
St. John surprises Jane with an offer of marriage, and a demand that she travel to India with him as his wife and co-missionary. She, having run outside to think, experiences the second supernatural event of her life, hearing the voice of Mr. Rochester calling her name, and her own involuntary response that she is coming to him.
Jane, inspired, returns to Thornfield to find it burned down in a fire started by Mr. Rochester's wife, who perished in the flames. Mr. Rochester himself is now blind and missing one hand, and is being cared for by a pair of elderly servants. Jane goes in to see him, and though it takes some time, convinces him that she is there to stay, if he will have her. At story's end, they are married, with a small son, and Mr. Rochester's sight beginning to return.