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Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
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Shirley (1849)

by Charlotte Brontë

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English (26)  German (2)  All languages (28)
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...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 [b:A Room of One's Own|18521|A Room of One's Own|Virginia Woolf|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327883012s/18521.jpg|1315615] 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. ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
Well, for my 500th read book on goodreads, I decided to pick something that I'd been saving for a while, and I settled on Shirley, which was the last Charlotte Brontë novel I had left to read.

Shirley is full of my favorite Charlotte Brontë things, namely feminist social agitation and characters who step outside their expected gender roles. Shirley is obviously the best part of Shirley--she deserves a spot on the list of greatest characters of all time. Supposedly Charlotte told Elizabeth Gaskell that Shirley was what her sister Emily would have been "had she been placed in health and prosperity," but my unvetted personal opinion is that Shirley is what Jane Eyre would have been had she been placed in health and prosperity.

Shirley is not going to displace my current favorite Brontë novel (that would be hard to do), but it does seem like the novel that has the most of Charlotte in it, and for that reason alone it is worthy of being loved. Through the book there's also this undercurrent of desire to return to an earlier, happier time, which, when you think about how all the remaining Brontë siblings died while Shirley was being written, makes the book feel sadder than it appears on the surface. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Finished, finally. Towards the end I just never felt like picking it up and reading. Her writing is beautiful, but... "unromantic as a Monday morning" - my ass. It's twice as romantic as Jane Eyre, and slow as a result. ( )
  allisonneke | Dec 17, 2013 |
The first chapter of Shirley ("Levitical") hooked me. Nineteenth-century Church of England politics? Yes, please! But the rest of the novel doesn't quite deliver, on that or any other score. Brontë's prose is so pleasant to read that I stayed engaged and ultimately persevered with the book over the course of a few months, but I don't think I'd repeat the experience; I just didn't care about the characters quite enough. ( )
  LudieGrace | Dec 4, 2013 |
Charlotte Bronte wrote “Shirley” after the publication of “Jane Eyre.” It was written during an appalling period of bereavement when her brother Branwell, and her sisters Emily and Anne all died.
Some of the novel’s flaws may be connected to these events. Certainly it is not such a masterly work as its predecessor.

Set in her native Yorkshire during the later part of the Napoleonic wars its background is the Industrial Revolution. A combination of factors including the American Blockade of shipping and new machinery in factories is robbing workers of jobs while factory owners struggle to sell their goods.
One of these last is Belgian Robert Moore whose cousin Caroline Helstone is desperately in love with him, but he is consumed by the needs of his business, a hard man as local agitators find out.
Her friend Shirley also seems attracted to Robert, but appears to have strong feelings for his brother Louis as well.
The mixed fortunes of these four form the major part of the story, but it is peopled with distinctive (and not always pleasant) locals from Gentry to Clergy and working folk.
Bronte admits to having created a set of characters whom the reader may find unlikeable and indeed one struggles with many of them including Robert’s tactless sister Hortense and Caroline’s deeply unsympathetic uncle, the local Rector.

It seems odd that Shirley does not appear until a considerable way into the novel while the focus is on Caroline and her love for a largely unresponsive Robert Moore. She lives a lonely life with her indifferent uncle and while one sympathises with this her obsessive focus on Moore becomes tiresome in the extreme, so that it is a relief to meet Shirley Keeldar.
Aspects of her character are said to be based on Emily Bronte and the biographical element certainly adds piquancy to the novel. Margaret Lane in the introduction to this edition says that Charlotte Bronte told Mrs Gaskell ‘ that Shirley was her idea of what Emily might have been “had she been placed in health and prosperity.” There are moments when one can see this (to quote Lane again) ‘in the glance of her “clear, strong, she-eagle eye”, in her valour and stoicism, her passionate independence, in her carelessness, in the streak of masculinity in her nature…’
She is a much more vibrant character than Caroline and more complex, a successful businesswoman, a woman of lightning changes of mood, and yet somewhat in thrall to her tiresome relations. She has known Louis Moore for some time and struggles with her feelings for him. Ultimately their relationship becomes a fight for dominance and the outcome makes uncomfortable reading for a modern reader.

Men do not on the whole come out of the novel well, with the exception of Caroline’s friend, the humane Reverend Mr Hall.
Neither of the Moore brothers treats the women who love them well until a last act volte-face. This is particularly noticeable in the case of Robert who seems to have a personality change following serious injury which is a delightful turn of events for Caroline who at last gets the attention she had craved from him, but is distinctly puzzling to the reader.

In a novel somewhat preoccupied with ideas of death in which two leading characters nearly die, and we are told of the premature demise of another, Bronte seems to turn towards life at the end, a fact that we can read either as a positive outcome to a frequently dour novel or something of a betrayal of her characters who are wrenched into positions one would not have foreseen.
This is one of those interesting failures from a great writer, not always comfortable to read, but full of interest and frequently compelling.
  Maura49 | Nov 28, 2013 |
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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
(StevenTX)

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:43 -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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Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141439866, 0141199539

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