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Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

Shirley (1849)

by Charlotte Brontë

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,549322,364 (3.68)1 / 162
  1. 10
    Miss Miles: or, A Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 Years Ago by Mary Taylor (CurrerBell)
    CurrerBell: Miss Miles, published in 1890 and centered on "Brontë country" in Yorkshire in the 1830s, was authored by Mary Taylor, who along with Ellen Nussey was one of Charlotte Brontë's two best friends from boarding-school days. It addresses the "women's issue" with particular emphasis on Taylor's belief that women had a moral obligation to be self-supporting and not to rely on men. Taylor's "Radical Dissenter" response to the "Tory Anglicanism" of Shirley.… (more)
  2. 10
    Adam Bede by George Eliot (gypsysmom)
  3. 10
    Sybil, or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli (MissWoodhouse1816)

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
I think this is the only Charlotte Bronte I hadn't read years ago. A book of its time. Quite frustrating at points with all the talking around relationships as opposed to actually straight up discussion of them. Love quadrangle. Labour aspects reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell. Shirley herself was irritating and didn't appear until about a third of the way through which bothered me more than it should. Had no trouble getting through more than 600 pages so clearly my review is a bit harsh! ( )
  aine.fin | Feb 20, 2015 |
Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte. Published first in 1849 under the name Currer Bell, I picked up the 2006 version by Penguin Classics and later realized it was yellowed on the shelf for a reason: it is no longer in print. Not that my version is special, it’s just not available in its exact version. I couldn’t even find a photo for you.

I read this book as part of a rabbit trail begun at Jane Eyre. After this, I will still be reading and reviewing Charlotte’s Villette and The Professor, Anne’s Agnes Grey, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell. Really hoping this last book will cover much of the whole family that intrigues me so, but either way, it looks to be a promising biography.

Shirley is such a nice surprise, because most of us have never heard of it. It’s not Emma or Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but all arts and genres must have their hidden gems. Only so few of even the most wonderful writing (or other arts) get the publicity (and even the longevity) that make up the “tomes” or the “common household names.” I was also a little surprised, because even when I have found a book that I love, I have rarely followed the author to other equally lovable books (with the exception of Amy Tan and a few others). With Charlotte Bronte, so far, so good. Jane Eyre is not a favorite of mine, but it is quite good. Shirley is, in my opinion, at least as enjoyable, maybe even more so. I would think, at the least, that all those Victorian romance fans would want to try this out.

It has it’s flaws, not least of which is the Victorian longwindedness. I also found the obvious rabbit trails with minor characters who Bronte modeled after real people, most distracting and weakening. It took quite a time to warm up, too, and the story lacks some of the complexity of other books of its time. But I did enjoy the more playful tone, the characters (although the men could have been drawn out better), and the general plot (except for mere circumstance concluding our story). I strongly recommend that you don’t read about the story ahead of time. In the first sentence of the back copy I read, it revealed the main plot twist to me, which happens at something like two-thirds of the way in. I enjoy being talked to across the centuries by Charlotte Bronte, even if the main points are a bit obvious (to us now. Perhaps they weren’t, then). It is possible this whole book was just a way to hide the boring pill of social exposition. In that case, still fun.

But why name it Shirley? The book is more about Caroline than Shirley, and the love-square is–obviously–four-sided. It might have been a way to draw attention to the masculine qualities and strengths of one of the main characters. I understand that Shirley was exclusively a man’s name, at the time. However, there’s nothing farcical about the way the more feminine, domestic, reclusive Caroline is portrayed. In fact, she’s also bursting (but restrained) with her own “modern” ideas and plans. Furthermore, the book begins on a complete tangent, which–several chapters in–it abandons for happier characters. Shirley doesn’t enter until much later.

You have to compare Shirley with Jane Eyre, of course. But in many aspects, the two are so dissimilar they could have been written by different people. Except for the women in society thing, the stifled feminine strength bit, most things are both obviously and subtly different. To begin with, Eyre is famously first person, with a very close and intimate storytelling voice. Shirley is not only third person, but has a strong omniscient narration and bits and pieces of being lifted from the story for insight or comment. Eyre, too, is also a pretty dark book, both in tone and content. Even though Shirley is about feminist and industrial struggles, it is exceedingly lighter. It would make a fine Ang Lee film, if only a few more complications arose.

Over all, the book dragged on a little and lingered often off the point, but that’s normal for the time period. It is an enjoyable read, especially as the reader progresses. I wouldn’t hand it to a fan of science fiction as an introduction into Victorian classics, but for those weathered in the genre, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t run out and grab a copy, immediately.


There are no film adaptations of this movie. Correction: there was one done nearly one hundred years ago in silent film, but I don’t fancy trying to find that. BBC did a radio series as recently as last year.


“He could walk miles on the most varying April day, and never see the beautiful dallying of earth and heaven; never mark when a sunbeam kissed the hill-tops, making them smile clear in the green light, or when a shower wept over them, hiding their crests with the low-hanging, disheveled tresses of a cloud” (p19).

“So the unemployed underwent their destiny–ate the bread and drank the waters of affliction. Misery generates hate” (p30).

“It seems to me, reader, that you cannot always cut out men to fit their profession, and that you ought not to curse them because that profession sometimes hangs on them ungracefully” (p36).

“He said public patience was a camel, on whose back the last atom that could be borne had already been laid…” (52).

“Your heart is a lyre, Robert; but the lot of your life has not been a minstrel to sweep it” (p87).

“If her admirers only told her that she was an angel, she would let them treat her like an idiot” (p113).

“It is the boast of some of them that they can keep a stone in their pocket seven years, turn it at the end of that time, keep it seven years longer, and hurl it, and hit their mark at last” (p119).

“‘Enough is as good as a feast, is it not, Mr. Sykes?” (p127).

“Invention may be all right, but I know it isn’t right for poor folks to starve” (p133).

“For the sigh of the south wind, came the sob of the mournful east” (p168).

“Every path trod by human feet terminates in one bourne–the grave: the little chink in the surface of this great globe–the furrow where the mighty husbandman with the scythe deposits the seed he has shaken from the ripe stem; and there it falls, decays, and thence it springs again, when the world has rolled round a few times more” (p169).

“Sincerity is never ludicrous; it is always respectable” (p176).

“He is simply a man who is rather liberal than good-natured, rather brilliant than genial, rather scrupulously equitable that truly just–if you can understand such superfine distinctions” (p203).

“I tell you when they are good, they are the lords of creation,–they are the sons of God” (p206).

“The man would be half a poet, if he were not wholly a maniac; and perhaps a prophet, if he were not a profligate” (p225).

“…a herd of whales rushing through the livid and liquid thunder down from the frozen zone” (p232).

“Lina, you will haunt me” (p241).

“Men, I believe, fancy women’s minds something like those of children. Now, that is a mistake” (p333).

“‘Cool! Must I listen cooly to downright nonsense–to dangerous nonsense?” (p348).

“Oh, child! you have only lived the pleasant morning time of life: the hot, weary noon, the sad evening, the sunless night, are yet to come for you!” (p359).

“God surely did not create us, and cause us to live, with the sole end of wishing always to die. I believe, in my heart, we were intended to prize life and enjoy it, so long as we retain it” (p369).

“Of course, I should often be influenced by my feelings: they were given me to that end” (p380).

“…as her ideas returned slowly, each folding its weak wings on the mind’s sad shore, like birds exhausted” (p397).

“Oh, child! the human heart can suffer. It can hold more tears than the ocean holds waters” (p406).

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, but, once let slip, never returns again” (p445).

“I approve nothing Utopian. Look Life in its iron face” (p462).

“Robert! this is a queer world, and men are made of the queerest dregs that Chaos churned up in her ferment” (p507).

“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” (p521).

“He did not yet know how many commenced life-romances are doomed never to get beyond the first–or, at most, the second chapter” (p551).

  DevonTF | Jan 6, 2015 |
This is an odd book. It's sort of two books stitched together, only the join shows really badly. Initially it seems as if it is going to be one of those novels that portrays the life of the working poor, the struggles they had to survive and the impact of the march of progress (introduction of mill machinery etc) has on their life. And it heads down hat route for a reasonable time, then suddenly does a dramatic right turn and becomes a middle class romance. Very odd.
Shirley herself doesn't appear until we're at volume 2, the first third is solidly in historical state of the nation territory. Once Shirley makes her appearance, with her fortune, to boot, it takes a somewhat different turn. She is viewed by a number of men as their meal ticket, only she has ideas about who she will wed herself. That all shakes out in the final third, by which time the poor suffering mill workers and the noble poor have vanished into the background, never to be seen again.
It has its moments, but it certainly doesn't hang together well as a whole. ( )
  Helenliz | Dec 27, 2014 |
People hate to be reminded of ills they are unable or unwilling to remedy. Such reminder, in forcing on them a sense of their own incapacity, or a more painful sense of an obligation to make some unpleasant effort, troubles their ease and shakes their self-complacency. Old maids, like the houseless and unemployed poor, should not ask for a place and an occupation in the world; the demand disturbs the happy and rich...

Shirley may be a disappointment to readers expecting a romance of the same caliber as Jane Eyre. The titular character doesn't appear until well into the novel, and she never fully wrests the position of protagonist from Caroline Helstone. Bronte resorts to the device of a journal to reveal one character's innermost thoughts since that person is without a natural confidante among the other characters.

Shirley holds more interest as a social novel addressing issues of social, economic, and gender equity. The depression of 1811-1812 provides the backdrop for the action. It pits textile mill operator Robert Moore and others of his station against desperate unemployed mill workers. Both orphan Caroline Helstone, a dependent of her clergyman uncle, and heiress Shirley Keeldar are reluctant to accept the roles assigned to them as single women of marriageable age. Shirley's inheritance allows her to openly defy society's expectations, while Caroline's lack of options as her uncle's dependent is at least a partial cause of her mental and physical depression. Recommended particularly for readers with an interest in women's history/women's rights or 19th century English social history. ( )
  cbl_tn | Dec 7, 2014 |
Set during the Napoleonic wars, Shirley is partially a story of economics and industrialization. It's also partially a love story. Religion also plays a part in the novel. There is a reason it has stood the test of time. The characters are very strong, and one can truly get a feel for the era in which the novel is set. ( )
  thornton37814 | Nov 10, 2014 |
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Brontë, Charlotteprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Phipps, HowardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.
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Shirley: "Pantheress"!
A woman in a man's world
Boldly makes her way

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439866, Paperback)

Set during the Napoleonic wars at a time of national economic struggles, Shirley is an unsentimental yet passionate depiction of conflict among classes, sexes, and generations. Struggling manufacturer Robert Moore considers marriage to the wealthy and independent Shirley Keeldar, yet his heart lies with his cousin Caroline. Shirley, meanwhile, is in love with Robert’s brother, an impoverished tutor. As industrial unrest builds to a potentially fatal pitch, can the four be reconciled?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:36 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Set in Yorkshire during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, this novel articulates the social realities of economic hardship, the Luddite riots, dissatisfaction with the government and an inadequate Church.

» see all 8 descriptions

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Average: (3.68)
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1.5 1
2 27
2.5 10
3 86
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4 141
4.5 13
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3 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141439866, 0141199539

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