In writing Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë drew influence from the Gothic literary tradition that had been growing in popularity for decades. Scholars generally consider Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto to be the first Gothic novel, followed by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Instead of looking for a uniform plot or structure, scholars group Gothic novels together based on the inclusion of tropes. These tropes include: the supernatural and uncanny, an unclear sense of time, questions of power, doubles, sexual perversion, and frightening or haunted spaces. The genre eventually gave birth to modern horror. While Jane Eyre maintains its roots in realistic fiction, Brontë draws heavily upon the Gothic tradition, particularly in the setting of Thornfield Hall and the character of Bertha Mason. Thornfield, while not literally haunted, hides the dark secret of mental illness and hidden marriage, and includes mysterious, haunted-house like occurrences. Scholars identify Bertha as a dark double of Jane, a physical manifestation of the dark, angry passion that we see young Jane express against the Reeds. Like Jane Eyre’s predecessors, the Gothic elements in the novel hint at terrifying corruption lurking within a seemingly moral society and anxiety about the main character’s place in the world.

Read more about the Gothic tradition with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.