Shirley (Penguin Classics) Info

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A passionate but unsentimental depiction of conflict between
classes, sexes and generations

Struggling manufacturer Robert
Moore has introduced labour saving machinery to his Yorkshire mill,
arousing a ferment of unemployment and discontent among his workers.
Robert considers marriage to the wealthy and independent Shirley Keeldar
to solve his financial woes, yet his heart lies with his cousin
Caroline, who, bored and desperate, lives as a dependent in her uncle's
home with no prospect of a career. Shirley, meanwhile, is in love with
Robert's brother, an impoverished tutor - a match opposed by her family.
As industrial unrest builds to a potentially fatal pitch, can the four
be reconciled? Set during the Napoleonic wars at a time of national
economic struggles, Shirley (1849) is an unsentimental, yet
passionate depiction of conflict between classes, sexes and
generations.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the
leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world.
With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global
bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and
disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative
texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and
contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by
award-winning translators.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Shirley (Penguin Classics):

3

Dec 15, 2016

In the fast changing industrializing England of 1811-12 from farming to factories, ( the beauty of the green land, clear waters and blue skies are being destroyed rapidly by dark ugly pollution ) people will have to adapt or starve, machines are taking over sounds familiar ? A bleak future for some, others to prosper but a hiccup occurs ...Napoleon's long ruinous maybe endless war of 15 years is devastating Yorkshire's trade, embargoes by both France and her arch enemy Britain in the north of In the fast changing industrializing England of 1811-12 from farming to factories, ( the beauty of the green land, clear waters and blue skies are being destroyed rapidly by dark ugly pollution ) people will have to adapt or starve, machines are taking over sounds familiar ? A bleak future for some, others to prosper but a hiccup occurs ...Napoleon's long ruinous maybe endless war of 15 years is devastating Yorkshire's trade, embargoes by both France and her arch enemy Britain in the north of the nation like the rest of the realm, cause havoc...Robert Moore a good looking half -English, his father and Belgian mother born in that country in fact, has fled the bloody conflict across the windy channel to apparent safety , scraping up a few coins left by their deceased respectable parents, building a wool mill there, he has an older plain good heart sister Hortense, living with him and a younger even more plainer but quite intelligent, poor brother Mr.Louis a tutor, to a faraway wealthy family . Mr.Robert Moore 30, is very ambitious some say ruthless man, firing many employees and replacing them with a machine, trouble follows as in much of the nation, angry rioters called the Luddites former mill workers have been wrecking the new detested machines, threatening to kill the owners...in his small village the foreigner Robert, almost bankrupt is hated and a constant uneasy feeling of menacing violence, permeates the area. The handsome Mr. Moore has female admirers, delicate lovely Caroline Helstone, raised by a stern but not unkind parson an uncle Rev. Matthewston Helstone, and a rich beauty an orphan rather proud Shirley Keeldar, she owns the property that the mill stands on, loans Mr. Moore money to survive the economic difficulties. His brother Louis, unexpectedly arrives in the village with the family he works for, relatives of Shirley's and an arrogant uncle of her's tries to marry the highly reluctant niece, to an appropriate financially secure gentleman, settle all his troubles the loose ends, the always responsible man has his duties to perform...but things are complicated, Caroline loves Robert he loves Shirley or her money, and the penniless Louis loves Shirley...a rectangle you can figure out yourself, how to resolved the confusing situation. Not Charlotte Bronte's best book, ( obviously Jane Eyre is ) but still an interesting peek into the early Nineteenth Century's Industrial Revolution, the turmoil and deadly effects that happens in society to the ordinary people who could never really fight back in the place it all began, not so merry England. ...more
5

May 08, 2013

...but I perceive that certain sets of human beings are very apt to maintain that other sets should give up their lives to them and their service, and then they requite them by praise: they call them devoted and virtuous. Is this enough? Is it to live? Is there not a terrible hollowness, mockery, want, craving, in that existence which is given to others, for want of something of your own to bestow it on? I suspect there is. Does virtue lie in abnegation of the self? I do not believe it. This ...but I perceive that certain sets of human beings are very apt to maintain that other sets should give up their lives to them and their service, and then they requite them by praise: they call them devoted and virtuous. Is this enough? Is it to live? Is there not a terrible hollowness, mockery, want, craving, in that existence which is given to others, for want of something of your own to bestow it on? I suspect there is. Does virtue lie in abnegation of the self? I do not believe it. This book is long, complicated, and polemical. It is full of numerous characters that are never proclaimed fully evil or utterly good, references that few modern readers would understand without the copious end notes, and bundles of plots weaving in and out of a myriad number of sociocultural subjects. The authors' views are as obvious in her text as the nose on your face; religion, politics, women's rights, you name it, she has something to say about it. Finally, what this all adds up to is not an adventure, nor a history, not even a treatise of various ideas on multifarious subject matters, but a romance, if that.

I loved it.

If history is both well written and well integrated into an intriguing yet formative fictional piece, I'll eat it up like cake. If characters and plots are sacrificed on the altar of theme and powerful insight, I'm all the happier. If my own personal views are presented in a form eloquent, intelligent, and explicit, better yet augmenting and honing my mind as my eye reads on, yes, I will cling to it in as biased a manner as I please. And, if it tickles my particular brand of humor, I will especially treasure it.

Will this book please everyone? No, far from it. The author is far too wrapped within her own thoughts and intentions within these pages, and not even my love blinds me to the emphatic disagreements I had with the book as a result. As these disagreements are few and far between the wonderfully long passages of masterful insight, I don't mind them much. What matters far more to me are many places of brilliance, the brightest of them being the ingenious way with which the author treats gaslighting, that all too common and insidious mechanism that dominates relations between women and men; as if the truth of defining action and reaction lay solely within the latter's power while the former is left to rot in silence. 'It is not,' she resumed, much excited, - 'It is not that I hate you; you are a good sort of man: perhaps you mean well in your way; but we cannot suit: we are ever at variance. You annoy me with small meddling, with petty tyranny; you exasperate my temper, and make and keep me passionate. As to your small maxims, your narrow rules, your little prejudices, aversions, dogmas, bundle them off: Mr Sympson - go, offer them a sacrifice to the deity you worship; I'll none of them: I wash my hands of the lot. I walk by another creed, light, faith, and hope, than you.' I'm not surprised Woolf decried Charlotte Brontë within her A Room of One's Own for letting too much anger and indictment creep into her writing. I myself wonder at Brontë's fervent declamations, often uttered by female characters who later on act in complete opposition to their previously stated thoughts and feelings. Seemingly, perhaps, as this sort of idealism rarely results in a happy ending, at least for most suspenders of disbelief. Seemingly, as what matters is that Brontë did indeed pen her insight on paper that later was successfully published. She did exhaust most of her cutting wit and fine tuned psychological scalpel on the matter of women from infant to old maid, but there are men and children, poor and rich, politic and politic that may not be likable but always are true. ‘I must read Shakespeare?'
'You must have his spirit before you; you must hear his voice with your mind's ear; you must take some of his soul into yours.'
'With a view to making me better; is it to operate like a sermon?'
'It is to stir you; to give you new sensations. It is to make you feel your life strongly, not only your virtues, but your vicious, perverse points.’ This book achieves exactly that. ...more
2

Jul 05, 2012

Shirley is Charlotte’s sophomore slump. Her Kill Uncle. Her You Shall Know Our Velocity. Her Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. And so on. I don’t care how cute Mr Rochester is, this novel is a deeply vexing mess. Firstly, there are several plotlines and not one has the urge to intersect. The rebelling miners plot launches the novel in tandem with the idle curates poor-versus-rich plot, then dribbles away with the introduction of the second plot: Caroline’s crush on Mr Moore. This plot is soon Shirley is Charlotte’s sophomore slump. Her Kill Uncle. Her You Shall Know Our Velocity. Her Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. And so on. I don’t care how cute Mr Rochester is, this novel is a deeply vexing mess. Firstly, there are several plotlines and not one has the urge to intersect. The rebelling miners plot launches the novel in tandem with the idle curates poor-versus-rich plot, then dribbles away with the introduction of the second plot: Caroline’s crush on Mr Moore. This plot is soon replaced by the late appearance of Shirley, the most interesting character in the novel, whose bland friendship with Caroline stems the flow of Shirley’s androgynous awesomeness. This too dribbles away with too many pastoral scenes, misplaced polemics, increasingly tedious extended dialogues and domestic trivialities. The novel feels aimless and incompetent without recourse to the tropes of a form (i.e. gothic romance tropes) like Charlotte used in Jane Eyre, so bumbles along at a grinding pace offering succour in all-too-infrequent scenes of tension or conflict between Shirley and others, which soon peter out into dreary ten-page dialogues or ruminations studded with biblical references. I managed up to 392pp, which is three-quarters—if any devotees of this book want to fill me in on the last quarter please do. Disappointing! Next one up: Vilette. ...more
4

Nov 03, 2012

Shirley, Charlotte Brontë
Shirley, A Tale is an 1849 social novel by the English novelist Charlotte Brontë. It was Brontë's second published novel after Jane Eyre (originally published under Brontë's pseudonym Currer Bell). The novel is set in Yorkshire in the period 1811–12, during the industrial depression resulting from the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The novel is set against a backdrop of the Luddite uprisings in the Yorkshire textile industry.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نوزدهم ماه می Shirley, Charlotte Brontë
Shirley, A Tale is an 1849 social novel by the English novelist Charlotte Brontë. It was Brontë's second published novel after Jane Eyre (originally published under Brontë's pseudonym Currer Bell). The novel is set in Yorkshire in the period 1811–12, during the industrial depression resulting from the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The novel is set against a backdrop of the Luddite uprisings in the Yorkshire textile industry.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز نوزدهم ماه می سال 2002 میلادی
عنوان: شرلی؛ نویسنده: شارلوت برونته؛ مترجم: فریده تیموری؛ تهران، اکباتان، 1363، در 854 ص؛ چاپ دیگر: تهران، سمیر، 1389؛ در 632 ص؛ شابک: 9789642200719؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان انگلیسی - سده 19 م
عنوان: شرلی، اثر شارلوت برونته، مترجم: مرضیه خسروی؛ تهران، روزگار، 1393؛ در 688 ص؛ شابک: 9789643745073؛
عنوان: شرلی، اثر شارلوت برونته، مترجم: رضا رضایی؛ تهران، نشر نی، 1393؛ در 847 ص؛ شابک: 9789641853930؛
رمان «شرلی»، اثری ست از: «شارلوت برونته»، که در سال 1849 میلادی منتشر شد. این رمان دومین اثر نثر «شارلوت برونته» است که پس از: «جین ایر» منتشر شده، رمان راوی افسردگی، و یاس صنعتی سال‌های 1811 و 1812 میلادی، در اروپاست، که از پیامدهای آن می‌توان به جنگ‌های ناپلئونی، به ویژه جنگ سال 1812 میلادی، اشاره کرد. طرح، و بازگویش این رمان، در روستایی در یورک‌شایر رخ می‌دهد. رمان بگونه‌ ای بازگو کننده ی شرایط نهان، و پشت پرده ی جنبش لادیسم است، جنبشی که در آن، کارگران به مخالفت با صنعتی شدن کارخانجات نساجی، و بالطبع مبارزه با آن پرداختند. شارلوت برونته، در شرایط روحی دشوار کار نوشتن این رمان را به پایان رساندند، چون ایشان در طی یک‌سال بگذشته: دو خواهر (امیلی، و «آن») و برادر خویش (براندول) را، به دلیل بیماری از دست داده بود. ا. شربیانی ...more
0

Aug 19, 2015

Shirley is a not-quite-comfortable hybrid of a romance and an anti-silver fork novel, the latter as assuredly as Thackeray’s trenchantly sarcastic Vanity Fair, which is set during the same period. It is among the first of the industrial novels that demonstrate the desperation of the poor during the beginning of the industrial revolution’s inexorably swift changes.

Bronte probably heard accounts from oldsters about troubles when the looms were being replaced by machines, and there was certainly Shirley is a not-quite-comfortable hybrid of a romance and an anti-silver fork novel, the latter as assuredly as Thackeray’s trenchantly sarcastic Vanity Fair, which is set during the same period. It is among the first of the industrial novels that demonstrate the desperation of the poor during the beginning of the industrial revolution’s inexorably swift changes.

Bronte probably heard accounts from oldsters about troubles when the looms were being replaced by machines, and there was certainly trouble enough during her own time—there is a mid-Victorian flavor, a particularly middle-class outlook on history as well as economics, that doesn’t always accord with Regency accounts of same. For example, Bronte’s insistence that uprisings were always led by wily, unscrupulous outsiders, and not by angry, desperate people themselves.

There is also a distinctly early Victorian veneration of Wellington, who in 1811 had a year to go before he attained the double promotion that made him into the hero who strode mightily through all the Bronte kids’ juvenilia antipodal to their various Byronic hero-villains. Alone out of all the Brontes’ published works, Wellington gets his veneration here, a year before his rise to national consciousness and popularity.

As for the hybrid nature of the novel, it is also a harbinger of what Trollope and others would soon do in delving into ecclesiastical matters. There are a lot of clergymen of all kinds in this novel, good, bad, and a mix, as there is a lot of church politicking at the village level. Perhaps this preponderance of clergy was prompted by Bronte’s reaction to the horrified reviews of Jane Eyre that so grieved her, with their condemnations of the book’s immorality.

Finally, then there is a sympathetic and protracted look into that most risible of figures, old maids—and at the same time, a pungent look at disastrous marriages, and the many reasons why they fail; though the early chapters feature men condemning women for rendering marriage hellish, the entire book breathes in answer from the female point of view.

On the first page, the unnamed narrator insists that the book is not a romance, which is only partly true. Robert Moore is certainly not much of a hero, especially to modern audiences as he tramples all over Caroline’s faithful love through most of the book, in favor of his mill. Louis Moore, the secondary hero, doesn’t even enter the novel until well past half-way, and then mostly we hear about him, with a few scenes on stage. But those few scenes are delicious with the wit demonstrated in Jane Eyre, and in both brothers, though we see the Bronte Mark I Byronic hero (none of them could resist), here they are corseted strictly within acceptable Victorian tropes.

There is a great deal of humor gleaming here and there, like Dr. Langweilig of the Moravian preachers (Langweilig = boring in German), and many wisecracking asides by the narrator.

Even Bronte's insistence that the novel isn't a romance is tongue in cheek. The tropes of early Victorian romance are definitely there—the near-deathbed scene with the rejected heroine pining away, the sudden and dramatic revelation of a long-lost mother, a gunshot wound that renders the hero helpless to be tenderly taken care of, while he remorsefully counts up his sins and arises determined to be a better man to his long-suffering heroine.

I think if one regards the novel as one of female agency built around female friendship, then the book’s disparate bits fall into place. Even those old maids gain agency when times are troubled by organizing social welfare to keep the desperately poor from starving. And there is a great deal about female education being crucial to success in life, whether as wives, mothers, managers of estates, or solitary women expected to live in service to others. (Bronte deals with that platitude with justified sarcasm in a laugh-out-loud bit of a scene.)

Nor does Bronte forget the servants, many of whom have speaking roles in this novel. Bronte acknowledges the unseen work of servants, for example in disparaging the fine oak drawing room in Shirley Keeldar’s manor for the grim labor it requires of servants, scrubbing with bees-wax laden cloths.

“Women read men more truly than men read women. I’ll prove that in a magazine paper some day when I have time, only it’ll never be inserted; it will be ‘declined with thanks’ and left for me at the publisher’s.”

At the time this was written, Shirley was a masculine name. The use of it for a heroine signified another strong-willed female (Jane Eyre having previously been published to resounding success), and in that the reader is not disappointed. But the story is less Shirley Keeldar’s than it is Caroline Helstone’s.

Some biographers feel that Shirley and Caroline are fictional depictions of Emily and Anne, who both died during Charlotte’s writing of the book. The eponymous Jane had come out of her in one white-hot session (which goes a way to explain the weird structure of the last quarter of the book), but this one took a protracted time to complete, as Charlotte dealt with, and then grieved over, these family deaths.

If Caroline and Shirley do represent Anne and Emily, these are vastly idealized depictions. From anything I’ve read, poor Emily was stump-silent in social situations, uncomprehending of much social interaction and unable to deal, much preferring to escape entirely and tramp isolated through the countryside, the wilder the better. The distortions peopling Wuthering Heights, whose wild passions threw the Victorian reading world into a tizzy, indicate a fierce inner world, and a strong will fueling it. I wonder if we glimpse a bit of the real Emily not so much in Shirley’s masterful handling of servants, clergy, gentlemen, and nobles alike, but in her partisanship for every old and ugly dog she met.

And in good, plain-spoken, unshakably honorable and moral, retiring and obedient little Caroline, we can see Anne in her silent struggles for faith—a struggle Charlotte would have recently seen in the poetry left behind in her dead sister’s papers.

Each sister was given the devoted Byronic hero lover that neither had in real life, and above all is lovingly depicted the ardent and loyal friendship that I suspect does mirror the real bond those sisters shared until the end. ...more
5

Jul 02, 2009

Charlotte Bronte's Shirley is one of the most beautiful, enriching, and satisfying novels that I've read this year. A novel borne from tragedy, Charlotte published Shirley in 1849; and while writing the novel, her brother Branwell died in 1848; followed shortly thereafter by the death of her sister Emily also in 1848; and then, horrifyingly, by her remaining sister, Anne, in 1849. In fact, it is believed that the characters of her two primary female protagonists in the novel, Caroline Helstone Charlotte Bronte's Shirley is one of the most beautiful, enriching, and satisfying novels that I've read this year. A novel borne from tragedy, Charlotte published Shirley in 1849; and while writing the novel, her brother Branwell died in 1848; followed shortly thereafter by the death of her sister Emily also in 1848; and then, horrifyingly, by her remaining sister, Anne, in 1849. In fact, it is believed that the characters of her two primary female protagonists in the novel, Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar are modeled after her sisters Anne and Emily, respectively. Shirley was Charlotte Bronte's second published novel, following Jane Eyre which was published in 1847.

Shirley is not the 'bildungsroman' of a Jane Eyre; nor is it the description of the unrequited feelings of a Lucy Snowe in Charlotte's novel, Villette. Shirley, in my opinion, is a 'romance' (and more than one) within a detailed and descriptive portrayal of Yorkshire society and culture in 1811 and 1812 near the end of the Napoleonic wars and during the period of the Luddite riots in portions of the newly industrialized United Kingdom. This novel is gritty, earthy, hardy and hearty, and fully representative of the Yorkshire men and women of the moor country of northern England.

While Shirley is full of the romance and passion of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte serves up her heroines and heroes in a much more realistic and prosaic fashion. Perhaps not so witty, or lyrical, as Austen's, Charlotte's characters are so well described as to be very full of life and passion that I began to palpably experience their fears, anxieties, joys, desires, and sadness. One quickly becomes taken up with the lives and feelings of young Caroline Helstone, her uncle, the Reverend Helstone; Miss Shirley Keeldar, and her mysterious older friend, Mrs. Pryor; the mill-owner, Robert Moore, his sister Hortense, and his older brother, the tutor, Louis Moore. We also meet a collection of somewhat roguish curates, a pair of matronly 'saints,' and some wonderful examples of the hard-working Yorkshire working class folk. This is an equal-opportunity' novel when it comes to characters.

As a reader, one might be inclined to feel that the novel starts slowly, and maybe it does; yet, it is necessary. Charlotte Bronte starts setting the scene by carefully and descriptively introducing her characters: the men and women of her imaginary Yorkshire County of Stillborough (or, 'Still'bro'), the clergy, the mill-owners and businessmen, the workers and their families, and the landed gentry all begin to take their proper place as the novel unfolds. After a chapter or two, the novel's plot begins to build, like a storm at sea, with periodic 'rogue waves' containing great drama and pathos combined with the 'lulls' of Ms. Bronte's beautiful descriptions of her character's interactions and experiences with the Yorkshire pastoral, i.e., Caroline's and Shirley's flower gardens; the dells, oak forests, and runs; and the ruins of the abbey in Nunnwood (a great name for a forest with a ruined abbey!). I loved and was intrigued with the novel's contrasting of the darkness or bleakness of the perceived impacts associated with the mechanization of the mills on the Yorkshire business and working class, and the emotional strength, tranquility and serenity gained by the characters in their frequent forays into the countryside and interludes with Nature.

The story is told through the use of different literary devices and voices too. Sometimes Charlotte Bronte uses the omniscient third-person narrator; sometimes the first-person introspective or reflective voice is used; and she even uses the journal entries and written word of her characters to tell the story. Knowledge about events and things said, or seen, are sometimes withheld or not shared with the reader. This tends to give the novel a sense of mystery and imparts a very realistic feel, and reflects how information was actually shared and acted upon by men and women during this period. So, in some sense, while Shirley can be perhaps construed as a novel about the different levels of society in a culture, it is clearly also about differences between the sexes, and the men and women living and loving in that same society and culture.

In the main, however, the novel really swings back and forth from the perspective of two of fiction's finest female protagonists -- the shy and sensitive Caroline Helstone; and her close friend, the bold and fearless Shirley Keeldar. We watch, with satisfaction, as Caroline becomes more confident and assertive, and as Shirley becomes more settled and less impetuous. The reader is treated to the experience of the growth of their sophisticated relationship and friendship with one another; and we begin to realize the real effect and meaning of their relationship and its impact upon those within their sphere of influence. Conflicts and misunderstandings are made right, and intentions and true feelings are made clear and acted upon.

The novel is really about change -- changes in the individuals, changes in relationships, changes in how men and women perceive themselves, and changes in the way of life in a community. It is also about linkages -- linkages of people via relationship and friendship, linkages of couples in love and marriage, even the re-establishment of a relationship long thought lost, and the linkage of the working class with new ways of manufacturing and production.

In conclusion though, this novel -- Shirley -- is about love. It is about the power of love, a steadfast love, and an unrepenting love. This is a powerful proto-feminist statement too; unrelenting in its patronage of the value of women in society and in the basic human relationship between a woman and a man. These are women you can admire and respect -- and love.

I loved this novel and rank it very high in the pantheon of all of the great books I have read. All I can say is, "Bravo, Ms. Bronte, Bravo!" ...more
2

Aug 14, 2015

As you can see from my rating, I was quite disappointed with this novel. However, it wasn't until about 2/3 into it that I realized that this book wasn't going to blow me away, and so I decided to read on till the end.
I admit that I had high expectations to this novel since Jane Eyre, a masterpiece by Charlotte Brontë, is amongst my favourites classics. Yet, it is peculiar how Shirley is so different from anything else I've read by Charlotte Brontë.
First of all, this novel comes with a very As you can see from my rating, I was quite disappointed with this novel. However, it wasn't until about 2/3 into it that I realized that this book wasn't going to blow me away, and so I decided to read on till the end.
I admit that I had high expectations to this novel since Jane Eyre, a masterpiece by Charlotte Brontë, is amongst my favourites classics. Yet, it is peculiar how Shirley is so different from anything else I've read by Charlotte Brontë.
First of all, this novel comes with a very overt narrator who keeps addressing the reader and makes sure to somewhat include the reader in the process of the storytelling. I'm not very fond of that kind of narrator, simply because it takes me out of the fictional illusion that I'm in and reminds me that this is just a story.
Second of all, I regret to say that the story behind this novel is very thin and dull. In the beginning, the narrator tells us that the exciting parts are going to be the middle and the end, but getting to those parts I was very much disappointed.
As stated earlier, I kept on reading because Charlotte Brontë is after all My favourite of the Brontë sisters, but this novel was certainly a disappointment. ...more
5

Mar 27, 2019

What an amazing surprise! Only time will tell, but this may be my new favorite classic, more beloved than Jane Eyre. I was so impressed with the cast of characters, the female friendships, the nature writing, the socio-political context, the depictions of depression and insomnia, and the ever presence of fantasy: fairies, goblins, specters, haunted locations and – heck yes – even mermaids. I am so looking forward to rereading this book and picking up all the little details I missed the first What an amazing surprise! Only time will tell, but this may be my new favorite classic, more beloved than Jane Eyre. I was so impressed with the cast of characters, the female friendships, the nature writing, the socio-political context, the depictions of depression and insomnia, and the ever presence of fantasy: fairies, goblins, specters, haunted locations and – heck yes – even mermaids. I am so looking forward to rereading this book and picking up all the little details I missed the first time. I cannot imagine ever running out of new things to ponder when reading Shirley. ...more
3

Oct 11, 2015


The Jew-basket, wow! This book was my introduction to the Jew-basket, and I eagerly await its appearance in other 19th-century British novels. No, it's not a basket full of tiny Jews. Nor is it a basket in which a Jew is lowered into a medieval well to be drowned. The Jew-basket is a basket into which the gentleladies of the neighborhood contribute their knit or sewn household crafts; the basket rests in their house for a month as pin cushions, napkins, baby socks, card-racks, and penis cozies
The Jew-basket, wow! This book was my introduction to the Jew-basket, and I eagerly await its appearance in other 19th-century British novels. No, it's not a basket full of tiny Jews. Nor is it a basket in which a Jew is lowered into a medieval well to be drowned. The Jew-basket is a basket into which the gentleladies of the neighborhood contribute their knit or sewn household crafts; the basket rests in their house for a month as pin cushions, napkins, baby socks, card-racks, and penis cozies are added to it, then it moves on to the next house. Once the basket is full of Etsy-style tchotchkes, a gentlelady takes it around to the houses of the neighborhood to sell its overpriced contents to menfolk, with the proceeds going to the conversion of the Jews.

(No Jews were harmed in the making of this novel. There are no actual Jews in the novel.) However, we can't say the same thing about governesses. Caroline Helstone, one of the novel's two heroines, imagines a future without love or marriage and therefore aspires to be a governess - anything to keep a bored, unchallenged mind busy. Her close friend old Mrs. Pryor, having formerly been a governess, warns her off it with a terrific and fascinating speech: "I was early given to understand that 'as I was not their equal,' so I could not expect 'to have their sympathy.' It was in no sort concealed from me that I was held a 'burden and a restraint in society.' The gentlemen, I found, regarded me as a 'tabooed woman,' to whom 'they were interdicted from granting the usual privileges of the sex,' and yet who 'annoyed them by frequently crossing their path.' The ladies too made it plain that they thought me 'a bore.' The servants, it was signified, 'detested me'; why, I could never clearly comprehend. My pupils, I was told, 'however much they might love me, and how deep soever the interest I might take in them, could not be my friends.' It was intimated that I must 'live alone, and never transgress the invisible but rigid line which established the difference between me and my employers.' My life in this house was sedentary, solitary, constrained, joyless, toilsome. The dreadful crushing of the animal spirits, the ever-prevailing sense of friendlessness and homelessness consequent on this state of things, began ere long to produce mortal effects on my constitution - I sickened. The lady of the house told me coolly I was the victim of 'wounded vanity.' She hinted, that if I did not make an effort to quell my 'ungodly discontent,' to cease 'murmuring against God's appointment,' and to cultivate the profound humility befitting my station, my mind would very likely 'go to pieces' on the rock that wrecked most of my sisterhood - morbid self-esteem - and that I should die an inmate of a lunatic asylum."

It's so great that we no longer have any jobs today so alienating.

The novel's flaws: it's too long, it starts out very slowly and tediously, the titular character isn't introduced until p. 154, so we really get to know the other heroine, Caroline, much better. There's a tedious plot twist involving Mrs. Pryor that we can see coming two miles away. The socio-historical aspects of the novel (the violent riots against the mill owner Robert Moore) are not well or convincingly integrated with the other plotlines. A major love interest doesn't show up until quite late. Small, unimportant characters are too dwelt-on. We are told, unnecessarily and melodramatically, that a particular child will be dead soon. It doesn't matter, because the child is not a main character and the death is not brought into the narrative. Much of the romance is saccharine. Mr. Sympson is fantastic, though. ...more
5

Mar 19, 2013

Maybe the less romantic novel by Charlotte, but her most mature work, an account of the changing times in the early XIXth century.
The story follows the lives of four main characters. Miss Helstone, a young woman with no prospects, niece of a Curate in Yorkshire, her serious cousin Mr. Moore, a businessman who struggles to earn his living, Miss Shirley, a spirited heiress of a great fortune and her tutor Mr. Moore's brother, Louis.
Being a Brontë's novel though, there's not one, but two romances Maybe the less romantic novel by Charlotte, but her most mature work, an account of the changing times in the early XIXth century.
The story follows the lives of four main characters. Miss Helstone, a young woman with no prospects, niece of a Curate in Yorkshire, her serious cousin Mr. Moore, a businessman who struggles to earn his living, Miss Shirley, a spirited heiress of a great fortune and her tutor Mr. Moore's brother, Louis.
Being a Brontë's novel though, there's not one, but two romances going on, presented in the most extravagant way and what makes the novel even more compelling is that its characters have flaws and make mistakes and learn their way along the way with the reader.
In the end, we find realistic characters who fight to find their position in the world, each in their own way, the story being
a faithful portrait of women searching for independence and men challenging the order of the old regime.
I think that Charlotte used Shirley and Miss Caroline Helstone to speak her mind in several subjects such as politics or religion and that these two characters, being both so different from each other, were what Charlotte Brontë would have liked to be in her real life. Miss Helsonte, pious, humble and full of patience and good sense, is able to win over her man's heart. Shirley, with her strong character and of independent means, who is bold enough to speak her mind about business and politics with men, manages to marry who she chooses (and I'm sure Charlotte would have liked to be able to do that!!).
I could also glimpse Elisabeth Gaskell's influence in this work, the subject of industrialisation reminded me of "North & South" and the story had many similarities about the peripheral characters and the problems they had to deal with.
All in all, a rewarding reading with great final chapters which close the novel with a bitter sweet taste.
Don't be mistaken though, this is no Jane Eyre, so don't expect accelerated pulse and breathtaking dialogues because you won't find them in here.

Some quotations:

"I will never be where you would not wish me to be, nor see nor hear what you wish unseen and unheard"

" 'Never! We will remember that with what measure we mete it shall be measured unto us, and so we will give no scorn, only affection'
' Which won't satisfy, I warn you of that. Something besides affection - something far stronger, sweeter, warmer - will be demanded one day. Is it there to give?' "

"Am I to die without you, or am I to live for you?" ...more
4

Mar 27, 2009

Compared with other novels by Charlotte Bronte, Shirley is the toughest one for me to read. Narrated through third person POV, it is not easy to get acquainted with the novel. Another reason is because there are too many characters to remember. However, it is still a distinguished novel from the Victorian era. It might not be as enjoyable as Jane Eyre yet it is rich in characterizations and theme.

The novel is set in Napoleon era, in a village where machinery just enters the society. As we often Compared with other novels by Charlotte Bronte, Shirley is the toughest one for me to read. Narrated through third person POV, it is not easy to get acquainted with the novel. Another reason is because there are too many characters to remember. However, it is still a distinguished novel from the Victorian era. It might not be as enjoyable as Jane Eyre yet it is rich in characterizations and theme.

The novel is set in Napoleon era, in a village where machinery just enters the society. As we often witness in history books, the invention of machines often caused new social order, or to be exact, social riot. This social setting enriches the theme of Shirley. in fact, it generates the plot, I must admit.

The characters in Shirley are not flawless but that makes them more humane. For instance, we might consider Robert Moore one of the heroes here, however he’s not your prince charming. He’s harsh, a bit cruel sometimes and opportunistic. You may not sympathize with him at the beginning, but as his character grows, you will understand why Caroline Helston adores him so much.

Even though Bronte never intended to create Shirley as a romance, we cannot misread the romance betwen Caroline who loves Robert who intends to marry Shirley Keeldar for the sake of money. Things get worse when Shirley’s uncle, her guardian, forces her to get married soon to someone superior than her. While actually Shirley falls in love with someone with no fortune! The romance is narrated well; the ending is quite predictable yet we’re not brought to it easily. For me, Charlotte Bronte’s romance is always engaging.

With Shirley, Charlotte Bronte proves that she is a master of storytelling.

And now, I want to re-read Jane Eyre!

...more
3

Nov 07, 2018

'I'll borrow of imagination what reality will not give me.'

Shirley was a somewhat momentous read for me, but for no other reason than that it was the last installment in the poignantly short Brontë ouvre I had left to go. And I’m disappointed to report that this wasn’t the grand finale I was hoping for: I respected this far more than could ever enjoy it.

The novel is, in essence, a rather dry social criticism set against the dramatic backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. The plot is an uninspired slog 'I'll borrow of imagination what reality will not give me.'

Shirley was a somewhat momentous read for me, but for no other reason than that it was the last installment in the poignantly short Brontë ouvre I had left to go. And I’m disappointed to report that this wasn’t the grand finale I was hoping for: I respected this far more than could ever enjoy it.

The novel is, in essence, a rather dry social criticism set against the dramatic backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. The plot is an uninspired slog scattered with the occasional engaging tidbit of action or compelling conversation, but it otherwise meanders aimlessly in the hope of encountering a social cause to evaluate… and inducing plenty of headaches whilst one waits 200 pages to meet the eponymous character. Shirley never seems to achieve anything - in fact, I wonder whether Charlotte had a clear plan at all. The direction of the narrative takes a sudden swerve towards the end of the novel and certain plot points unfurl that feel irrelevant and saccharine (although these tonal changes are attributed to the terrible losses Charlotte endured during the writing of the novel, so I’ll excuse her just this once). I do however appreciate the subtlety employed; there are only implicit references to the Luddite uprisings, but the entire novel is charged with an insidious tension, even if the moments of conflict are few and far between.

Shirley is stylistically very different to Charlotte’s other novels, simply because she utilises an unconventional self-conscious third person narration. Interestingly, I actually think it worked really well; the omniscient voice is entirely appropriate to the tone and focus of the novel, which is primarily a character study. I’m tempted to label Shirley as Charlotte’s most tender work; it is incredibly rich in characterisation and interaction… but also inevitably equally as rich in lengthy exposition frequently used to outline a person’s character.

The selling point of Shirley is most definitely the wonderful relationship between the two heroines, Shirley (no surprises there) and Caroline. Both are assertive and sassy female leads, albeit in contrasting ways: Shirley is a wealthy heiress and landlady, occupying a strata of society that would be incredibly unconventional for a woman whilst Caroline on the other hand is quietly dissatisfied with the repetition of her life and eloquently delineates her views to misogynistic members of her community. Both women retain their dignity and independence at all times whilst finding romance on entirely their own terms. Their friendship is so incredibly refreshing because they are so supportive of each other; they consistently build each other up, not tear each other down - as Austen’s heroines are wanton to do with their girl-on-girl hate/exploitation. (Take Elizabeth and Charlotte, for example, or Catherine and Eleanor. Case justified.) It’s gutting that Shirley doesn’t hold much more entertainment value - if it did, I have no doubt that this friendship would be iconic.

No one quite does a romance like Charlotte Brontë. I’ve yet to come across another author who can convey the anguish of unrequited love in such a poignant and honest way - and Shirley was no exception. I found the central romance moving in the couple’s clear though unexpressed devotion to one another, and the objects of that devotion were not unworthy of it. Other love interests however, particularly Louis, I would gladly dump down a well.

Other merits of Shirley include the (transient) warm and sometimes snarky humour, usually in the encounters between Shirley’s dog, Tartar, and the three hapless curates. Another pro is that Shirley isn’t quite as saturated with French as Charlotte is wanton to do - although why she felt she had to include her prerequisite French character, I will never understand.

Overall, mildly enjoyable, but nothing too special. My sentiment upon finishing the book was a complex cocktail of achievement and relief - and that says a lot. ...more
5

Jun 24, 2018

What an amazing book. Charlotte Bronte you have opened my eyes again as you did with Jane Eyre, but even more so.
The main female characters here are strong feisty women, each in their own way. Caroline, orphaned, sweet and quiet natured lives with her uncle the vicar of the parish who is firm and stern and from his back history not too keen on women, and Shirley, young, beautiful, single, rich and completely her own woman. She is the most feisty Victorian woman I've ever read and omy I loved What an amazing book. Charlotte Bronte you have opened my eyes again as you did with Jane Eyre, but even more so.
The main female characters here are strong feisty women, each in their own way. Caroline, orphaned, sweet and quiet natured lives with her uncle the vicar of the parish who is firm and stern and from his back history not too keen on women, and Shirley, young, beautiful, single, rich and completely her own woman. She is the most feisty Victorian woman I've ever read and omy I loved her rants.
The book has a lot of written Yorkshire dialect, for me it was great fun, being myself a Yorkshire lass, I could hear the accent as I read it. There is also quite a lot of French dialogue but fortunately unlike in my copy of Villette there are explanatory notes in the back of this one.
A favourite part for me was when one of the curates (there are 3 of them, the humorous relief!) a stuck up southern man who is at Shirleys home having tea in the garden when he begins being rude and offensive about the Yorkshire poor and working class people, Shirley gives him a huge telling off and promptly almost physically sees him off her property, I was cheering her on, nobody disses Yorkshire!!
The book for me was better than Jane Eyre, which I love.
This is Charlotte's foray into historical fiction, set in the early 1800s at the time of the Napoleonic war, the industrialisation of mills in England and the backlash it caused with the Ludite uprisings.
Change is a major theme here, not just social and political but families, nature and the fortunes of the people we meet.
Great book, I loved it. Sadly I have only 2 Bronte books left to read now but happily I've booked a break away in November for a couple of days to re visit Haworth where I've not been for 40 years !! Yayyy ! I'm going to visit the Brontes. :) ...more
0

Jul 31, 2011

This novel was mentioned in The Making of the English Working Class so I read it out of interest for the sociopolitical background (view spoiler)[ not the best cause admittedly, I've wondered wierdly through the world of books I'll admit (hide spoiler)] but didn't enjoy Bronte's treatment of it - sympathetic as she is with the factory owner, though I believe interestingly he is foreign born. Think this is set late in the Napoleonic wars so possibly a rather early industrial novel?

Recently saw a This novel was mentioned in The Making of the English Working Class so I read it out of interest for the sociopolitical background (view spoiler)[ not the best cause admittedly, I've wondered wierdly through the world of books I'll admit (hide spoiler)] but didn't enjoy Bronte's treatment of it - sympathetic as she is with the factory owner, though I believe interestingly he is foreign born. Think this is set late in the Napoleonic wars so possibly a rather early industrial novel?

Recently saw a television drama of the Bronte's lives, I misunderstood the artistic concept and so was disappointed when the final hour didn't feature one Bronte dying every fifteen minutes. Which as history relates they more or less did. The actress playing Anne Bronte radiated such an intense sweetness and love-ability that I resolved in my heart to read something that the Anne had written (view spoiler)[worse reason for reading books have I hope existed (hide spoiler)] while the actress playing Emily radiated an intense willingness to shove her fist under the nose (view spoiler)[ and then probably more sensitive places (hide spoiler)] of anyone so foolish as to irk her, which was also in its own way very impressive (view spoiler)[ and presumably ensured that she was paid on time and in full (hide spoiler)]. ...more
4

Aug 01, 2019

Oh, Charlotte. What am I to make of this book? The same author who penned the wonder that is Jane Eyre felt very different from the one who wrote out this societal-focused and small-town-political slog of a novel. Once this initial section was over the true focus of the novel was revealed (the one detailed in the synopsis) and this is when I began to enjoy the story. Everything beyond the first 100 pages was a joy to read, and full of the excellent character creation and formidable and fearsome Oh, Charlotte. What am I to make of this book? The same author who penned the wonder that is Jane Eyre felt very different from the one who wrote out this societal-focused and small-town-political slog of a novel. Once this initial section was over the true focus of the novel was revealed (the one detailed in the synopsis) and this is when I began to enjoy the story. Everything beyond the first 100 pages was a joy to read, and full of the excellent character creation and formidable and fearsome protagonists I know the Brontes for, but I almost quite the book entirely early on, for how little I found to like in the early portion of it and how confusing it was to initially navigate this novel. ...more
2

Jul 29, 2014

Meh. Meh meh meh meh. Meh. What a boring novel. Everything that made Jane Eyre such a masterpiece is completely missing from this novel. What was Charlotte thinking? I don't even think Brontë purists can find any pleasure in this novel. It's empty. It has no heart. The reason why I'm not giving this one-star is because I only give books that I hate one-star. I don't hate this novel, I'm just severely disappointed. People have told me not to get excited about The Professor either so I don't know Meh. Meh meh meh meh. Meh. What a boring novel. Everything that made Jane Eyre such a masterpiece is completely missing from this novel. What was Charlotte thinking? I don't even think Brontë purists can find any pleasure in this novel. It's empty. It has no heart. The reason why I'm not giving this one-star is because I only give books that I hate one-star. I don't hate this novel, I'm just severely disappointed. People have told me not to get excited about The Professor either so I don't know what to expect from it. Oh Charlotte. ...more
3

Dec 28, 2018

I appreciate the effort Charlotte Bronte put into this novel. I am glad she put the effort into the writing and publishing of it so others/more others could be exposed to the concerns discussed and described in the novel. Although the concerns have changed some, some remain in altered form.

Bronte seemed less sympathetic to, such as workers' rights. The workers of the mid-19th century were worried and hungry because their manufacuturing of consumer goods was being largely replaced by the I appreciate the effort Charlotte Bronte put into this novel. I am glad she put the effort into the writing and publishing of it so others/more others could be exposed to the concerns discussed and described in the novel. Although the concerns have changed some, some remain in altered form.

Bronte seemed less sympathetic to, such as workers' rights. The workers of the mid-19th century were worried and hungry because their manufacuturing of consumer goods was being largely replaced by the machines' manufacturing of consumer goods. Early 21st-century service workers are scared and hungry because many of their jobs are being sourced out to machines, from ATMs to computerized cashier stands.

Bronte, like many other educated women of her time, saw that the education was wasted. Not because it wasn't needed, but because it wasn't used. Shirley in the novel is a young woman of fortune who works as operations manager (our term, not hers) of her own estate. She maintains a business relationship with a cloth manufacturing business that operates on her land. Shirley helped mid 19th-century readers how to imagine more for themselves and their daughters.

But this was not enough for Bronte. She was educated more than most girls, went away to school for a short while, worked as governess for a short while, was always second to troubled brother, married later. She was frustrated. Social (and geographical) situations limited her. Bronte expressed her frustration through a lecture to her readers about midway through the novel. The big concerns she expressed were some/all of the same as described by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. We are still reading Wollstonecraft and Bronte, so women likely are still feeling left behind.

In Shirley, Charlotte Bronte reminds me that workers and women are requiring righteousness. I checkout at Walmart and wherever else at human/humane checkout points. What can I do about the women? I will seek answers that work for self. Oh yeah, I do service work at the YWCA. I could do more. ...more
4

Jul 26, 2018

Germs of feminism although much too explanatory for our time
But this is why Virginia woolf admires bronte so much I guess
The friendship of the two girls and the relationship between the women was very real and observant
3

Jan 30, 2013

Favorite tidbit while reading this book: Shirley was largely a male name until this book's publication, at which time more baby girls were given the name. Good job, Charlotte, you changed like... everything.

Shirley's father wanted a boy, didn't get one, so the next best thing was for him to name his new baby chick a boy's name. Which leads me then to wonder if Shirley (as a female character's name) is sort of meant to denote she was a tomboy, kind of like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. In any Favorite tidbit while reading this book: Shirley was largely a male name until this book's publication, at which time more baby girls were given the name. Good job, Charlotte, you changed like... everything.

Shirley's father wanted a boy, didn't get one, so the next best thing was for him to name his new baby chick a boy's name. Which leads me then to wonder if Shirley (as a female character's name) is sort of meant to denote she was a tomboy, kind of like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. In any case, Shirley wasn't so much a tomboy (I don't remember her climbing any trees) but she was most certainly far advanced in her thinking for the time period. We're talking 1811/1812, Napoleonic War and the War of 1812 times. Not only does the book deal heavily with the industrial revolution that came as a result of said wars, Shirley herself was what many would consider rather feminist. She wasn't so much a fan of the way women were treated, and it's likely that this was how Charlotte felt as well. (Remember she and her sisters had to publish under male pseudonyms in order for their books to receive any sort of attention.)

This book was more of a vehicle for Bronte to share her own thoughts on society, women, work, money, and whatever else. Shirley would go on these rants that after awhile made me wonder what she was ranting about to begin with because they tended to go on for a while. Though I do appreciate a good rant, sometimes in my literature I feel it can be a little preachy at times.

But Bronte covered a lot of important ground here, and I respect it for that. I wanted to like this more, but that's exactly how I felt when I read Jane Eyre as well. I'm beginning to think the Brontes aren't quite for me - I had issues with sis Emily's Wuthering Heights - right now I'd say that Anne's Tenant of Wildfell Hall was my favorite, and that certainly was not without fault. I just felt it was more of a solid read - even when it branched out into preachiness.

I hear Villette is another good one of Charlotte's, so I will read that before throwing in the towel.

Whatever. I should have written this review when I finished the book. ...more
5

Dec 02, 2010

It's not exactly a novel in the usual 19th century sense. It pretty much lacks plot, changes direction several times, loses track of characters, runs on way too long and is used as a platform for a platter-load of mini-essays. And the title character first appears on page 274.

So why 5 stars? Because it may be the most beautifully written work I've read. Every word is exactly chosen, exactly placed and adds to the cumulative effect of its sentence and paragraph. This may sound too precious or It's not exactly a novel in the usual 19th century sense. It pretty much lacks plot, changes direction several times, loses track of characters, runs on way too long and is used as a platform for a platter-load of mini-essays. And the title character first appears on page 274.

So why 5 stars? Because it may be the most beautifully written work I've read. Every word is exactly chosen, exactly placed and adds to the cumulative effect of its sentence and paragraph. This may sound too precious or contrived, but for me at least–not so. What little I've read of Jane Austen has tended to annoy me. She's arch, distanced from her characters and on some level doesn't like most of them. Bronte, by contrast, can lambast a character with withering sarcasm and skewering satire, then go on to show that she has an abiding fondness for their inner being.

Something I didn't know previously: "Shirley" was originally a man's name, which Bronte deliberately gave to an extremely strong female character. She was making a point here, and made it so successfully that the novel actually changed the gender of the name from that time.

Caroline is the heroine of the first 273 pages, and was probably intended to be the major character throughout, but Shirley, once introduced, took over. Robert, Caroline's idolized cousin and overburdened mill-owner, starts off rather unlikable but ends up ... well, until the last section he's pretty much ignored, shoved into the background. When he returns, the last 100 pages or so drag with a succession of gorgeously written but over-the-top romantic dialogues among Caroline, Robert, Shirley and Robert's brother. You could put it down at this point – you know how it's going to end.

Early social commentary - brilliant stuff, by the way; Bronte's little essays on society, class structure and war rank with anything out there - peters out, and what looks like exploding class struggle over the mill fizzles out like a damp fire cracker.

Yes, structurally it's a mess. But what a magnificent mess. ...more
5

Jan 30, 2013

The novel Shirley was a pleasant addition to my reading this winter. I love the British novel, but I especially love the one that is little-known to me and takes me by surprise. I must admit that after reading last year and being once again blown away (in spite of past readings) by Emily's Wuthering Heights, I had not felt emotionally ready to tackle another Bronte novel. So glad I did this time though, because it was exactly what I needed this winter.

Shirley is so different from Jane Eyre, an The novel Shirley was a pleasant addition to my reading this winter. I love the British novel, but I especially love the one that is little-known to me and takes me by surprise. I must admit that after reading last year and being once again blown away (in spite of past readings) by Emily's Wuthering Heights, I had not felt emotionally ready to tackle another Bronte novel. So glad I did this time though, because it was exactly what I needed this winter.

Shirley is so different from Jane Eyre, an eternal favorite of mine. (Jane Eyre was a novel I went to as a young girl to reassure myself that some people out there somewhere, sometime, WERE in love and it mattered, and the sacrifices mattered. Didn't we all need that in our 20's?) With Shirley, once again Charlotte Bronte's clear, amazing voice sounds out social conflict during the earlier time period of the Napoleonic wars in England. She describes the socio-economic conflict of skilled factory workers, factory owners, and the trade environment caused by the wars. Within this setting, she describes the people of a set of rural estates and focuses on two young women and their struggles to find their place in life.

In light of criticism out there that Bronte did not complete the job of portraying the social conflicts as they truly were or of making her women characters heroic enough, I must say that I disagree. I read the novel for what it did provide and found it very rich. The words of the main characters ring out very clearly in my mind what the inner workings of women's thoughts may have been at this early time. Bronte best speaks for women cloistered in some way- by strict upbringing, social rules, denial of occupation or skills, and by expectations -- and relates them in ways I very much still understand in the 21st century. I feel it would be hard to deny that the female characters felt themselves quite equal to the men they were matched with in this story. They suffered from their conflicts and emotions, but maintained their self-value. I think this is a message in the story that should not be overlooked.

I highly recommend this novel to be added to your Bronte collection. ...more
2

Aug 20, 2012

I did not like Shirley.

That could be my entire review. After reading a novel that was at least 200 pages too long, it probably should be. Because it is late and I am not feeling too charitable towards Charlotte Bronte I will make this brief.

There were many things I disliked about Shirley () but the one thing that I did like was the character of Shirley. Where Shirley was lively and engaging, the other characters were dull, overwrought and over described. I may be in the minority but I think it I did not like Shirley.

That could be my entire review. After reading a novel that was at least 200 pages too long, it probably should be. Because it is late and I am not feeling too charitable towards Charlotte Bronte I will make this brief.

There were many things I disliked about Shirley (★★) but the one thing that I did like was the character of Shirley. Where Shirley was lively and engaging, the other characters were dull, overwrought and over described. I may be in the minority but I think it is a huge problem if the eponymous character does not show up in your story until page 187. Once she did show up she gave everything a much needed jolt of life, including this reader. Honestly, I can’t believe I made it to page 187. I was very close many times to abandoning the book. I didn’t but I can’t say that I’m glad I didn’t.

After reading the brilliance of Anne Bronte’ masterpiece, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Shirley read like an author trying too hard. I should give Charlotte some slack since she lost her three siblings while writing Shirley (including Anne, *sniff*) but I cannot. Especially after learning that Charlotte repressed Anne’s work after she died. It infuriates me that Charlotte and Emily are well-know two hundred years later while Anne, who had much more to say and said it much better, was silenced. I admit I am biased against Charlotte because of it. I cannot help it.

Even if I did not have that prejudice I would not like Shirley. The language was pedantic, the characters annoying and the storyline meandered around searching for a social cause to champion. Unlike Bronte’s contemporary, Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote brilliant novels about industrialization and the subsequent social struggles, it seems obvious that Bronte had no real experience or knowledge of the lower classes, only what she read in the newspaper. Even without first hand knowledge a writer of Charlotte Bronte’s caliber (at least the caliber she thought she was) should have been able to make her point eloquently. If she had a social point to make, I missed it. Or maybe after slogging through 600 pages I didn’t care. ...more
5

Mar 06, 2018

One of the most stubborn myths surrounding the life of the Brontë sisters is that they spent their lives isolated and completely cut off from the outside world without having any particular contact with everything that happened in the UK of that time. Of course this myth is just that: a myth, and the best proof is this book . In this, Charlotte reveals that she had a perception of political and social reality, having even formed her own views on the issues that were at the time a matter of of One of the most stubborn myths surrounding the life of the Brontë sisters is that they spent their lives isolated and completely cut off from the outside world without having any particular contact with everything that happened in the UK of that time. Of course this myth is just that: a myth, and the best proof is this book . In this, Charlotte reveals that she had a perception of political and social reality, having even formed her own views on the issues that were at the time a matter of of public talk, opinions that did not necessarily coincide with those of the conservative faction she had supported. Interestingly, it is that it does that in a way so sharp and sarcastic, so detailed and complete that it shows us that she was a person particularly politically and socially conscious.

The book takes us to the north of England in 1811, at a time immersed in the financial crisis because of the hostilities that have disturbed trade and the still relatively new build industry. This crisis plunges a large part of the population into poverty and leads to the strengthening of the Luddites movement who believed that the evolution of technology is responsible for this situation and reacted by destroying the machines that replace the workers and deprive them of the opportunity for a decent job. Under these circumstances, an industrialist tries to maintain his own business and defend himself against the attacks, resulting in many enemies in the local community. He has good intentions, he is interested in the workers, but in these circumstances and with the competition lurking he can not do many things, with the workers, on the other hand, facing the pressure of survival. All of this gives the writer the opportunity to analyse the situation and to express her views on how society should work. Of course, she does not escape the usual conservative view of the era in which everyone had to know its position, he strictly judges those who are revolting and demand radical changes but turns her criticism also to the ruling classes believing that it is their duty to do whatever action is needed to help the poorest sections of society who live a particularly tough life and thus have peace. In other words, she accepted the established social ladder but was thinking that every part of society must do what it takes to have a balance, which is naturally implied by the Christian values, when of course they exist and are not betrayed by the hypocrites.

This is the one piece of the book, but there is another, a more sensitive, more feminine piece if you prefer. In this we watch a special young woman who also gives us the title of the novel. Shirley - not accidentally a male name at that time - is a woman smart, educated, dynamic, passionate about what she does, with strong opinions and beliefs, who zealously defends her independence and resists whomever wants to deprive her from it, she thinks herself almost equal to men and in general doing things that are inappropriate to representatives of the weaker sex. Nevertheless, she retains her femininity, her outer and inner beauty, while behind her hard shell she retains her romance and female tenderness and sensitivity that manifest more comfortable with her friend Caroline which she is exactly the opposite of her, shy, measured, living a limited life dependent on her male relatives. Are the two sides of the writer perhaps? What she wanted to be and what she really was? We can not know. But their opposition to the way they see reality, experiencing love and looking for their prospects certainly gives her the opportunity to talk more about the position of the woman.

So in the end we can say that the key of this story is balance. Balance of the male and female, balance between the social classes, in the differences of opinion and the balance of the social anxiety and the more everyday sensitivity in this book. The first one she does it very well, giving us a very clear picture of the society of the time, in the second she fortunately completely fails to create a book as unromantic as a Monday morning, as in the end the romance is over flowing but without deviate from the intelligent and sarcastic way she describes other situations. Generally, of course, there is no such emotional intensity as compared to her most recognisable book,Jane Eyre, but that does not mean that there are no moving moments. You see, when this book was written, the tragedy struck the Brontë family so it was rather impossible that this situation did not affect the structure of the story. The end, indeed, could be said to describe a form of cleansing that never happened in real life. For all of this, I think this is a masterful and particularly important book that also shows us the further maturation of Charlotte's talent and her growing self-confidence.

Ένας από τους πιο επίμονους μύθους γύρω από τη ζωή των αδελφών Brontë είναι ότι πέρασαν τις ζωές τους απομονωμένες και εντελώς αποκομμένες από τον έξω κόσμο, χωρίς να έχουν ιδιαίτερη επαφή με όλα όσα συνέβαιναν στη Βρετανία της εποχής. Φυσικά αυτός ο μύθος είναι αυτό ακριβώς: μύθος, και η καλύτερη απόδειξη είναι αυτό εδώ το βιβλίο. Σε αυτό η Charlotte φανερώνει ότι είχε αντίληψη της πολιτικής και κοινωνικής πραγματικότητας, έχοντας μάλιστα διαμορφώσει και τις δικές τις απόψεις για τα θέματα που απασχολούσαν τότε την κοινή γνώμη, απόψεις που δεν συνέπιπταν απαραίτητα με αυτές της συντηρητικής παράταξης που υποστήριζε. Το ενδιαφέρον, μάλιστα, είναι ότι το κάνει με έναν τρόπο τόσο αιχμηρό και σαρκαστικό, τόσο αναλυτικό και ολοκληρωμένο που μας δείχνει ότι ήταν μία προσωπικότητα ιδιαίτερα πολιτικά και κοινωνικά συνειδητοποιημένη.

Το βιβλίο μας μεταφέρει στη βόρεια Αγγλία του 1811, σε μία εποχή βυθισμένη στην οικονομική κρίση εξαιτίας των εχθροπραξιών που είχαν διαταράξει το εμπόριο και την ακόμα σχετικά νεοσύστατη βιομηχανία. Αυτή η κρίση βυθίζει μεγάλο μέρος του πληθυσμού στην ανέχεια και οδηγεί στην ενίσχυση του κινήματος των Λουδιτών που πιστεύουν ότι η εξέλιξη της τεχνολογίας είναι υπεύθυνη για αυτή την κατάσταση και αντιδρούν καταστρέφοντας τις μηχανές που αντικαθιστούν τους εργάτες και τους στερούν την ευκαιρία για μία αξιοπρεπή δουλειά. Μέσα σε αυτές τις συνθήκες ένας βιομήχανος προσπαθεί να διατηρήσει την επιχείρησή του και να αμυνθεί απέναντι στις επιθέσεις, με αποτέλεσμα να κάνει πολλούς εχθρούς στην τοπική κοινωνία. Ο ίδιος έχει καλές προθέσεις, ενδιαφέρεται για τους εργαζόμενους αλλά μέσα σε αυτές τις συνθήκες και με τον ανταγωνισμό να παραμονεύει δεν μπορεί να κάνει και πολλά πράγματα, με τους εργαζόμενους, από την άλλη, να αντιμετωπίζουν την πίεση της επιβίωσης. Όλα αυτά δίνουν στη συγγραφέα την ευκαιρία πέρα από την ανάλυση της κατάστασης να εκφράσει και τις απόψεις της για τον τρόπο που πρέπει να λειτουργεί η κοινωνία. Φυσικά η ίδια δεν ξεφεύγει από την συνηθισμένη συντηρητική άποψη της εποχής που ήθελε τον καθένα να γνωρίζει τη θέση του, κρίνει αυστηρά αυτούς που ξεσηκώνονται και ζητούν ριζοσπαστικές αλλαγές, στρέφει, όμως, την κριτική της και στις κυρίαρχες τάξεις θεωρώντας ότι είναι υποχρέωσή τους να κάνουν όποιες ενέργειες χρειάζονται για να βοηθήσουν τα πιο φτωχά στρώματα της κοινωνίας που ζούνε μία ιδιαίτερα σκληρή ζωή και έτσι να υπάρχει ειρήνη. Με άλλα λόγια δέχεται την καθιερωμένη κοινωνική διαστρωμάτωση αλλά θεωρεί ότι κάθε κομμάτι της κοινωνίας πρέπει να κάνει αυτό που πρέπει για να υπάρχει ισορροπία, κάτι που φυσικά επιβάλλεται και από τις χριστιανικές αξίες, όταν φυσικά υπάρχουν και δεν προδίδονται από τους υποκριτές.

Αυτό είναι το ένα κομμάτι του βιβλίου, υπάρχει, όμως, και ένα άλλο, ένα πιο ευαίσθητο, πιο θηλυκό κομμάτι αν προτιμάτε. Σε αυτό φτάνουμε σε μία ξεχωριστή νεαρή γυναίκα που μας δίνει και τον τίτλο του μυθιστορήματος. Η Shirley - όχι τυχαία ένα ανδρικό όνομα εκείνη την εποχή - είναι μία γυναίκα έξυπνη, μορφωμένη, δυναμική, παθιασμένη με ότι κάνει, με ισχυρότατες απόψεις και πεποιθήσεις, που φυλάει με ζήλο την ανεξαρτησία της και αντιστέκεται σε όποιον θέλει να της την στερήσει, θεωρεί τον εαυτό της σχεδόν ίσο με τους άντρες και γενικότερα κάνει πράγματα που δεν αρμόζουν σε εκπροσώπους του αδύνατου φύλλου. Παρ' όλα αυτά, όμως, διατηρεί τη θηλυκότητα της, την εξωτερική και εσωτερική ομορφιά της, την ώρα που πίσω από το σκληρό περίβλημα της διατηρεί τον ρομαντισμό της και την γυναικεία τρυφερότητα και ευαισθησία που την εκδηλώνει πιο άνετα απέναντι στη φίλη της την Caroline η οποία είναι το ακριβώς αντίθετο της, ντροπαλή, μετρημένη που ζει μία περιορισμένη ζωή εξαρτημένη από τους άντρες συγγενείς της. Οι δύο όψεις της συγγραφέως ίσως; Αυτό που ήθελε να είναι και αυτό που ήταν στην πραγματικότητα; Δεν μπορούμε να ξέρουμε. Αυτή η αντίθεση τους, όμως, στον τρόπο που βλέπουν την πραγματικότητα, βιώνουν τον έρωτα και αναζητούν τις προοπτικές τους σίγουρα της δίνει την αφορμή για να μιλήσει περισσότερο για τη θέση της γυναίκας.

Οπότε στο τέλος μπορούμε να πούμε ότι ζητούμενο σε αυτή την ιστορία είναι η ισορροπία. Ισορροπία του αρσενικού και του θηλυκού, η ισορροπία ανάμεσα στις κοινωνικές τάξεις, στις όποιες διαφορές απόψεων και ισορροπία φυσικά της κοινωνικής ανησυχίας και της πιο καθημερινής ευαισθησίας σε αυτό το βιβλίο. Το πρώτο το καταφέρνει πάρα πολύ καλά, δίνοντας μας μία πολύ καθαρή εικόνα της κοινωνίας της εποχής, στο δεύτερο ευτυχώς αποτυγχάνει πλήρως να δημιουργήσει ένα βιβλίο τόσο μη ρομαντικό όσο ένα δευτεριάτικο πρωινό καθώς προς το τέλος ειδικά ο ρομαντισμός ξεχειλίζει, χωρίς, όμως, να ξεφεύγει από τον έξυπνο και σαρκαστικό τρόπο που περιγράφονται οι άλλες καταστάσεις. Γενικά, βέβαια, δεν υπάρχει η συναισθηματική ένταση σε τόσο μεγάλο βαθμό σε σύγκριση με το πιο αναγνωρίσιμο βιβλίο της, την Jane Eyre, αυτό δεν σημαίνει, όμως, ότι δεν υπάρχουν συγκινητικές στιγμές. Βλέπετε, όταν γράφονταν αυτό το βιβλίο, η τραγωδία χτυπούσε την οικογένειά Brontë οπότε ήταν μάλλον αδύνατο αυτή η κατάσταση να μην επηρεάσει τη δομή της ιστορίας. Το τελείωμα, μάλιστα, θα μπορούσαμε να πούμε ότι περιγράφει μία μορφή κάθαρσης που στην πραγματική ζωή δεν συνέβη ποτέ. Για όλα αυτά θεωρώ ότι πρόκειται για ένα αριστουργηματικό και ιδιαίτερα σημαντικό βιβλίο που μας δείχνει επιπλέον και την περαιτέρω ωρίμανση του ταλέντου της Charlotte και την αυξανόμενη αυτοπεποίθηση της. ...more
5

Mar 19, 2016

Beautiful, wonderful and atmospheric as Charlotte Brontë always is.
5

Nov 27, 2019

This is an imperfect book that is not as good as Jane Eyre, especially because the titular character doesn't appear until about 200 pages in and it is unevenly paced. That said, when introduced Shirley is a wonderful and complex character and the conclusion gave me all the feelings so yeah 5 stars.

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