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Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

Shirley (1849)

by Charlotte Brontë

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,641342,264 (3.69)2 / 169
  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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English (32)  German (2)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Approaching “Shirley” for a second time, after first reading it six years previously, I realised that I remembered little about it yet seemed to think I’d enjoyed it. In retrospect, had I remembered more about it, I wouldn’t have returned for another read.

This surprised me, actually, as when I re-read Charlotte Brontë’s “Villette” and “The Professor” I appreciated them both more after a second reading.

Having checked some of the other Goodreads’ reviews of “Shirley” it seems to be a book that you either love or hate. I wouldn’t go as far as stating that I hate it. As the two-star rating suggests, I thought it was “okay”, but the good parts are hard to find in this mundane tome.

The elements that appeal to me are few. Seldom did I find myself engaged with what the author had to offer. I did like some of the characters, such as Caroline, the Moore brothers, Malone, young Martin, and Shirley herself, but none of these were of a classic or memorable mould.

One of the few interesting scenarios I liked was the part where young Martin Yorke comes to the fore. His interaction with Caroline was engaging. Can’t say too much more in case I reveal a spoiler, but this section adds a different slant to the novel for a short while.

Wish I could mention further positive points, as I am a fan of Charlotte and her sisters Emily and Anne, but of the seven novels produced between them, “Shirley” is the only one I’d never read again.

One of the main reasons I have such a low opinion of this book is owing to the third person narrator rambling on and on, boring me stupid with chapters like “Mr Yorke”, which is an elongated description about the man’s personality and appearance that could’ve been whittled down to a short paragraph.

I always hate it when authors write endless explanations of what a character is like, *telling* us all about them, when they could’ve served the reader far better by *showing* us what the character is like through dramatizing scenes. The amount of telling as opposed to showing is one of this novel’s let-downs.

Another negative aspect is the excessive amount of characters. Had Charlotte halved the amount of actors it would’ve made a positive difference.

A further let-down, albeit not too frequent but often enough to draw attention to, is unrealistic dialogue. This quote of Caroline addressing Martin at his father’s gate is a prime example:

> “But here we must part; we are at your father’s gate.”“Mauvaise tête vous-même; je ne fais que mon devoir; quant à vos lourdauds de paysans, je m’en moque!”
“En ravanche, mon garçon, nos lourdauds de paysans se moqueront de toi; sois en certain,” replied Yorke, speaking with nearly as pure a French accent as Gérard Moore.
“C’est bon! c’est bon! Et puisque cela m’est égal, que mes amis ne s’en inquiètent pas.”
“Tes amis! Où sont-ils, tes amis?”
“Je fais écho, où sont-ils? et je suis fort aise que l’écho seul y répond. Au diable les amis! Je me souviens encore du moment où mon père et mes oncles Gérard appellèrent autour d’eux leurs amis, et Dieu sait si les amis se sont empressés d’accourir à leur secours! Tenez, M. Yorke, ce mot, ami, m’irrite trop; ne m’en parlez plus.”
“Comme tu voudras.”He proceeded to recite the following. He gave it in French, but we must translate, on pain of being unintelligible to some readers.At length, however, a window opened, and a female voice called to him, —
“Eh, bien! Tu ne déjeûnes pas ce matin?”
The answer, and the rest of the conversation, was in French; but as this is an English book, I shall translate it into English.she bent her head et les effleura de ses lèvres. (I put that in French because the word effleurer is an exquisite word.) ( )
  PhilSyphe | May 5, 2016 |
How amazing for a female author to be able to write about a woman who is in charge of a business without being married. Charlotte Bronte is best known for Jane Eyre, a story of a woman who has to remain in a subservient role but the character Shirley, declares herself a man psychologically and declares she has no need to marry. Just like all the Jane Austen/Bronte sisters stories, the plot ends up dealing with loving someone below their social class. ( )
  CathyWacksman | Apr 24, 2016 |
Nothing like a 2100-mile road trip to give you the opportunity to listen to a really long book. After several previous starts and stops (from last year!) I finally managed to crack the back of this book. And I really did need hours driving alone to manage it, because my God there is a lot of bloat in this thing. Or not bloat, maybe, but there are at least three books in this book. There is the nominal plot, about the mill and the changing economic conditions of the region. There are the relationships between young women, young and old women, and women and men. And then there are the many, many didactic passages (entire chapters, even) by the omniscient narrator, on everything from gender to nature to politics to religion (established, pagan, you name it).

I thought I was getting a book on riots and social change and suddenly William Blake showed up. I am not a fan of William Blake. But then he would be elbowed aside by Mary Wollstonecraft. Which was better but still unbelievably didactic. And even worse, sometimes it was dialogue. No one speaks this way! No one ever spoke this way! Certainly not barely-educated Yorkshire maidens.

This feels like a book written by a very angry woman, but an angry woman who in the end is writing two romantic storylines with HEAs. The romantic parts undercut the gender parts for me, because as miserable as Caroline is, and as independent and strong-willed as Shirley is, they are both shaped so thoroughly by their love for specific men. I couldn't help but think that Caroline would have been fine if Robert had just had a bit more economic success from the outset and been able to act on his love for her. I'm not sure what Shirley's point was supposed to be, as a character. She's rich and independent and apparently highly motivated to be a good landowner, but then she'll stop for pages and pages, falling into a trance and thinking about Adam and Eve, or just Eve. And then three-quarters of the way through the book we find out that she too is pining for a man.

It strikes me that this is the kind of story that makes people disdain the romance genre. The strength and complexity of the young female characters is completely undercut by their unfulfilled passions for their beloved objects. And the spinster women are rendered in such a way as to make me think that Bronte thinks their lives have been wasted. So what if society thinks ugly, good-works-directed women are to be pitied? A lot them them didn't pity themselves (including in this book). Isn't that what matters? I'm not putting this well, but something about the way women's work was portrayed bothered me a lot.

Of course that era stifled and constrained women, and that's worth getting angry about. But those constraints don't make Miss Ainsley and Miss Hall (or even Hortense) pitiable to me. I felt the book elided that distinction.

I'm complaining a lot, but I'm not at all sorry I'm reading/listening to it. Bentinck's narration is excellent, and there are some wonderful passages and scenes. Once I adjusted to the idea that I was reading a manuscript as much as a finished book, I found the digressions and meanderings easier to take (although the devoir section just about finished me off). It does reinforce my belief that a reader falls into either the Austen or Bronte camp. Not that you can't like both, but if you do, you like them for very different things. Reading Shirley is like reading Sense and Sensibility with Sense removed and Sensibility doubled.

I think this is officially the longest audiobook I've completed.

I did enjoy it, especially after the excellent conversation about the Brontes at my blog. This is still not an author I'm going to connect with emotionally or intuitively, I don't think, but I value the insight into a personality and writing that is so different from mine.

In the end, there wasn't really much about riots or social change. The last third of the book seemed to concern itself primarily with the two romantic storylines, which was fine. Shirley's romantic arc was both more interesting and more unsettling. Robert Moore became more sympathetic to the concerns of displaced rural people, but it happened almost entirely offstage. Still, it was good to see an integration of relationship issues and larger social issues.

The book is a big, unwieldy mess of a read, but more people should read it. It's worth it. ( )
  Sunita_p | Mar 6, 2016 |
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 |
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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.
Shirley was Charlotte Bronte's watershed. (Introduction)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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4 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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