Mrs. Reed, Jane's Aunt and guardian, sends Jane to Lowood boarding school, a charitable academy run by the Evangelical minister, Mr. Brocklehurst. The harsh standards imposed by Mr. Brocklehurst made the academy vulnerable to an attack of typhus. Many of the pupils died. The horrified public took stronge action:

When the typhus fever had fulfilled its mission of devastation at Lowood, it gradually disappeared from thence; but not till its virulence and the number of its victims had drawn public attention on the school. Inquiry was made into the origin of the scourge, and by degrees various facts came out which excited public indignation in a high degree. The unhealthy nature of the site; the quantity and quality of the children's food; the brackish, fetid water used in its preparation; the pupils' wretched clothing and accommodation: all these things were discovered; and the discovery produced a result mortifying to Mr. Brocklehurst, but beneficial to the institution.

Several wealthy and benevolent individuals in the country subscribed largely for the erection of a more convenient building in a better situation; new regulations were made; improvements in diet and clothing introduced; the funds of the school were intrusted to the management of a committee . . . The school, thus improved, became in time a truly useful and noble institution" (p. 80).

his passage demonstrates both the frequent occurrence of typhus, cholera, typhoid and other such diseases during the Victorian Era, but also increased public interest in dealing with and preventing these scourges. The industrialization and urbanization of England had a tremendous and often detrimental effect on its inhabitants. Poor living conditions, sanitation and hygiene existed even for the wealthy, but especially among the impoverished who lived in tenements and slums — veritable breeding grounds for diseases. The poor had unhealthy diets and much of the food was contaminated. Hospitals, although populated with more doctors, spread contagion, frequently making the sick worse. Yet expectations had raised. Public opinion held that a healthy body helped to make a person a better member of society. Society placed a far greater emphasis on watching the health and sanitary conditions in institutions like Lowood. Greater money and energy went into medical care, more men studied medicine, and hospitals had more room for the sick. In general, the public interest in promoting general health increased, perhaps because such interest was so greatly needed.

Last modified May 1994