Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel Jane Eyre (1947) is often categorized as a bildungsroman: we see the titular protagonist age and mature through five locations (Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Moor House/Morton, and Ferndean). However, these literal journeys pose trials for Jane which she must overcome before returning triumphantly to Rochester’s side—just like the quest in a fairy tale.
A story filled with references to sprites, brownies, fairies, and elves, Brontë artfully alludes to fairytales throughout Jane Eyre and includes characters that are mirrors of those typically found in fairy tales.
Cinderella is perhaps the most obvious parallel with Jane Eyre. In the role of the Reed family, we get the characters of evil stepmother and stepsisters. Despite a deathbed promise, Jane is not treated as one of the Reed children. She is instead dressed plainly and excluded from lavish dinners at Gateshead. And it isn’t a stretch to read Miss Temple as a kind of fairy godmother: she provides a safe haven for Jane at Lowood, blessing her and providing a kind maternal presence. Ultimately, like Cinderella, Jane wins the heart of the ‘prince charming’ over the rival who has beauty, wealth, charm, and connections—Jane transforms from penniless orphan to wife of a wealthy man (Campbell).
Beauty and the Beast sets up a love story between a brave young Beauty and a monstrously ugly Beast, much like Jane and Rochester. Like Beauty, Jane is open about admitting Rochester is not classically good looking, which he finds refreshing in its honesty. However, like the Beast, Rochester can ignite love and compassion in his house guest through conversation as they get to know one another. He even gives Jane leave to visit her dying aunt, much like Beauty is given freedom to see her ailing father. Like the Beast, Rochester is ugly on the outside but by the conclusion of the novel (and under Jane/Beauty’s influence) is redeemable on the inside.
Bluebeard is specifically mentioned in Jane Eyre: “I lingered in the long passage to which this led, separating the front from the back rooms of the third story; narrow, low, and dim, with only one little window at the far end, and looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle” (Brontë 107). Here Brontë is describing the location of Bertha Mason’s room, but it is eerily like the fairy tale description of the room where Bluebeard is keeping his previous wives (not to mention an echo when Rochester admits to previous ‘wives’ in his tales about his lovers on the continent). However, becoming aware of these previous wives, Jane is able to free herself from being another mistress and thus avoids ending up in Bluebeard/Rochester’s closet.
Little Red Riding Hood follows a young girl as she is thrust into a dangerous world by herself. Similar to Jane’s departure from Gateshead, Jane is left to navigate school and subsequent employment by herself, only to be invited in by a (preying) wolf-like figure of Rochester—for he hides a secret too. He even goes so far as to disguise himself as an old woman, much like the wolf in the fairy tale, who tells fortunes. Scholar Paula Sulivan points out that Brontë’s novel specifically mentions “‘a certain little French storybook which Madam Pierrot had that day shown me’ (Notice the similarity between Perrault and Pierrot)” (64). In fact, Charles Perrault was the first to publish a version of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
And of course—spoiler alert—“reader, I married him” is a quintessential fairy tale ending where Jane provides a son to continue on the Rochester line through primogeniture and Rochester even regains some of his sight, a true magical miracle.