Shirley, Paperback
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


With an Introduction and Notes by Sally Minogue The Shirley of the title is a woman of independent means; her friend Caroline is not.

Both struggle with what a woman's role is and can be.

Their male counterparts - Louis, the powerless tutor, and Robert, his cloth-manufacturing brother - also stand at odds to society's expectations.

The novel is set in a period of social and political ferment, featuring class disenfranchisement, the drama of Luddite machine-breaking, and the divisive effects of the Napoleonic Wars.

But Charlotte Brontes particular strength lies in exploring the hidden psychological drama of love, loss and the quest for identity.

Personal and public agitation are brought together against the dramatic backdrop of her native Yorkshire.

As always, Bronte challenges convention, exploring the limitations of social justice whilst telling not one but two love stories.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9781853260643


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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

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, where 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?"

Review by

decided to read only about 25 pages a day because it was not the kind of book that lent itself to reading on the bus or at work. Thus, it took me rather a long time to get through it but I think this was an appropriate way to read it. It's not a book you can skim or read quickly. Every sentence is weighty and every paragraph conveys a message. But the writing is not pedantic and the story is every bit as enthralling as any modern romance (probably even more so since the background is an important time in history).The time is the period of Napoleonic warfare and the location is Yorkshire which is suffering from an Act of Parliament that has cut off markets for the cloth made in Yorkshire textile mills. As a result, many people are out of work and they are rebellious. Robert Gerard Moore owns a textile mill and he is losing money. He wants to put in new machinery that will take over some of the hand work and this has made him a target for violence by the mob. But Robert is not an unfeeling man and he does try to help some of the people who formerly worked for him. His cousin, Caroline, is in love with him but when Robert quarrels with her guardian, Reverend Helstone, she is forbidden to see Moore. Meanwhile, Shirley Keeldar, a wealthy young woman who is Moore's landlady has taken up residence in the manor house. She lends Moore money to keep his mill running and soon they are often in each other's company. Even Caroline, who has become Shirley's bosom friend, can see that marriage between Shirley and Robert would be a good match. When Moore's mill is in danger from the mob Shirley and Caroline keep watch from a nearby hill. The rebels are dispersed but Moore sustains an injury and Caroline is almost prostrated by the fear he might die. Soon after Caroline herself becomes very ill but Moore knows nothing about it because he is off hunting the leaders of the attack on his mill. Shirley's governess, Mrs. Pryor, is very fond of Caroline and she moves to the manse to nurse her. Caroline continues to waste away until Mrs. Pryor reveals that she is Caroline's mother who separated from her father when Caroline was very young. "Mamma" felt that Caroline was better being raised by the Reverend who was her father's brother but Caroline got very little affection growing up in his house. Once she learns Mrs. Pryor's identity and understands that her mother truly loves her, Caroline starts to improve.Meanwhile, Shirley has been busy entertaining her cousins, the Sympsons, with whom she used to live. Mr. Sympson sees it as his duty to find a suitable husband for Shirley but Shirley spurns any of the proposed matches. Could it be she is waiting for Robert to return? Actually, it is Robert's brother, Louis, tutor to the young Sympson boy and formerly Shirley's tutor, who is the object of her desire.Although it takes a long time, Shirley and Louis do finally profess their love for each other which shocks Mr. Sympson but since they are both legal adults they can marry without his approval. As their wedding preparations advance, the statute that caused such hardship for the textile mills is repealed. Robert Gerard Moore can finally consider marriage and he immediately hastens to Caroline's side to propose to her. A double wedding ensues and, we presume, everyone lives happily ever after.Charlotte Bronte is adept at describing the characters in her novels, even the minor characters. One of the light moments in this book centres around the three young curates in the neighbourhood. Obviously Miss Bronte did not have a high opinion of some men of the cloth. They are protrayed as ineffectual at best and selfish and self-centred most of the times they appear. However, the more senior reverends come off better, especially Mr. Hall who is truly a Christian man.Some of the older women protrayed in the book do not fare very well either. Robert and Louis's sister, Hortense, is rather a queer duck although fond of Caroline in her own way. And Mrs. Yorke, another mill owner's wife, is abrasive and fond of telling everyone what they are doing wrong. It is no surprise that Hortense and Mrs. Yorke get on well together, commiserating with each other about the poor quality of servants.I sometimes wonder when I read these classics if people in love really were as restrained at that time as they are portrayed. Shirley and Louis nearly drove me to distraction dancing around the subject of love and marriage. And Caroline was too good to be true, being willing to see Robert and Shirley marry, even though she loved Robert so much she grew ill thinking he was marrying someone else.Having recently read Adam Bede by George Eliot which is set at the same time I couldn't help compare the two. I think I prefer Adam Bede to Shirley because the characters in that novel seemed more realistic. However, I liked this book and perhaps would have rated it even higher if I hadn't had Eliot's novel to compare to it.

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