Shirley

( 15 )

Overview

Following the tremendous popular success of Jane Eyre, which earned her lifelong notoriety as a moral revolutionary, Charlotte Bronte vowed to write a sweeping social chronicle that focused on "something real and unromantic as Monday morning." Set in the industrializing England of the Napoleonic wars and Luddite revolts of 1811-12, Shirley (1849) is the story of two contrasting heroines. One is the shy Caroline Helstone, who is trapped in the oppressive atmosphere of a Yorkshire rectory and whose bare life ...
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Shirley

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Overview

Following the tremendous popular success of Jane Eyre, which earned her lifelong notoriety as a moral revolutionary, Charlotte Bronte vowed to write a sweeping social chronicle that focused on "something real and unromantic as Monday morning." Set in the industrializing England of the Napoleonic wars and Luddite revolts of 1811-12, Shirley (1849) is the story of two contrasting heroines. One is the shy Caroline Helstone, who is trapped in the oppressive atmosphere of a Yorkshire rectory and whose bare life symbolizes the plight of single women in the nineteenth century. The other is the vivacious Shirley Keeldar, who inherits a local estate and whose wealth liberates her from convention. A work that combines social commentary with the more private preoccupations of Jane Eyre, Shirley demonstrates the full range of Bronte's literary talent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781853260643
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions, Limited
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Series: Wordsworth Collection
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,162,009
  • Product dimensions: 4.98 (w) x 7.79 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) is the author of Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, and The Professor (published posthumously).
Jessica Cox is a research student and postgraduate tutorial assistant in the Department of English at the University of Wales, Swansea.
Lucasta Miller is the author of The Brontë Myth and writes for the Guardian.
Heather Glen teaches at the University of Cambridge and is the editor of the Penguin Classics edition of Charlotte Brontë's The Professor.

Biography

Charlotte Brontë was born on April 21, 1816, in Thornton, Yorkshire, in the north of England, the third child of the Reverend Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë. In 1820 the family moved to neighboring Haworth, where Reverend Brontë was offered a lifetime curacy. The following year Mrs. Brontë died of cancer, and her sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moved in to help raise the six children. The four eldest sisters -- Charlotte, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth -- attended Cowan Bridge School, until Maria and Elizabeth contracted what was probably tuberculosis and died within months of each other, at which point Charlotte and Emily returned home. The four remaining siblings -- Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne -- played on the Yorkshire moors and dreamed up fanciful, fabled worlds, creating a constant stream of tales, such as the Young Men plays (1826) and Our Fellows (1827).

Reverend Brontë kept his children abreast of current events; among these were the 1829 parliamentary debates centering on the Catholic Question, in which the Duke of Wellington was a leading voice. Charlotte's awareness of politics filtered into her fictional creations, as in the siblings' saga The Islanders (1827), about an imaginary world peopled with the Brontë children's real-life heroes, in which Wellington plays a central role as Charlotte's chosen character.

Throughout her childhood, Charlotte had access to the circulating library at the nearby town of Keighley. She knew the Bible and read the works of Shakespeare, George Gordon, Lord Byron, and Sir Walter Scott, and she particularly admired William Wordsworth and Robert Southey. In 1831 and 1832, Charlotte attended Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head, and she returned there as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. After working for a couple of years as a governess, Charlotte, with her sister Emily, traveled to Brussels to study, with the goal of opening their own school, but this dream did not materialize once she returned to Haworth in 1844.

In 1846 the sisters published their collected poems under the pen names Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily), and Acton (Anne) Bell. That same year Charlotte finished her first novel, The Professor, but it was not accepted for publication.

However, she began work on Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847 and met with instant success. Though some critics saw impropriety in the core of the story -- the relationship between a middle-aged man and the young, naive governess who works for him -- most reviewers praised the novel, helping to ensure its popularity. One of Charlotte's literary heroes, William Makepeace Thackeray, wrote her a letter to express his enjoyment of the novel and to praise her writing style, as did the influential literary critic G. H. Lewes.

Following the deaths of Branwell and Emily Brontë in 1848 and Anne in 1849, Charlotte made trips to London, where she began to move in literary circles that included such luminaries as Thackeray, whom she met for the first time in 1849; his daughter described Brontë as "a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady." In 1850 she met the noted British writer Elizabeth Gaskell, with whom she formed a lasting friendship and who, at the request of Reverend Brontë, later became her biographer. Charlotte's novel Villette was published in 1853.

In 1854 Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, a curate at Haworth who worked with her father. Less than a year later, however, she fell seriously ill, perhaps with tuberculosis, and she died on March 31, 1855. At the time of her death, Charlotte Brontë was a celebrated author. The 1857 publication of her first novel, The Professor, and of Gaskell's biography of her life only heightened her renown.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Jane Eyre.

Good To Know

Sadly, Brontë died during her first pregnancy. While her death certificate lists the cause of death as "phthisis" (tuberculosis), there is a school of thought that believes she may have died from excessive vomiting caused by morning sickness.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 21, 1816
    2. Place of Birth:
      Thornton, Yorkshire, England
    1. Date of Death:
      March 31, 1855
    2. Place of Death:
      Haworth, West Yorkshire, England
    1. Education:
      Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire; Miss Wooler's School at Roe Head

Read an Excerpt

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. But not of late years are we about to speak; we are going back to the beginning of this century: late years--present years are dusty, sun-burnt, hot, arid; we will evade the noon, forget it in siesta, pass the mid-day in slumber, and dream of dawn.

If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken. Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry, and reverie? Do you expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama? Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool, and solid, lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto. It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting, perhaps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is resolved that the first dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic--ay, even an Anglo-Catholic--might eat on Good Friday in Passion Week: it shall be cold lentils and vinegar without oil; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.

Of late years, I say, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England; but in eighteen-hundred-eleven-twelve that affluent rain had not descended: curates were scarce then: there was no Pastoral Aid--no Additional Curates' Society to stretch a helping hand to worn-out old rectors andincumbents, and give them the wherewithal to pay a vigorous young colleague from Oxford or Cambridge. The present successors of the apostles, disciples of Dr. Pusey and tools of the Propaganda, were at that time being hatched under cradle-blankets, or undergoing regeneration by nursery-baptism in wash-hand-basins. You could not have guessed by looking at any one of them that the Italian-ironed double frills of its net-cap surrounded the brows of a pre-ordained, specially sanctified successor of St. Paul, St. Peter, or St. John; nor could you have foreseen in the folds of its long nightgown the white surplice in which it was hereafter cruelly to exercise the souls of its parishioners, and strangely to nonplus its old-fashioned vicar by flourishing aloft in a pulpit the shirt-like raiment which had never before waved higher than the reading-desk.

Yet even in those days of scarcity there were curates: the precious plant was rare, but it might be found. A certain favoured district in the West Riding of Yorkshire could boast three rods of Aaron blossoming within a circuit of twenty miles. You shall see them, reader. Step into this neat garden-house on the skirts of Whinbury, walk forward into the little parlour--there they are at dinner. Allow me to introduce them to you:--Mr. Donne, curate of Whinbury; Mr. Malone, curate of Briarfield; Mr. Sweeting, curate of Nunnely. These are Mr. Donne's lodgings, being the habitation of one John Gale, a small clothier. Mr. Donne has kindly invited his brethren to regale with him. You and I will join the party, see what is to be seen, and hear what is to be heard. At present, however, they are only eating; and while they eat we will talk aside.

These gentlemen are in the bloom of youth; they possess all the activity of that interesting age--an activity which their moping old vicars would fain turn into the channel of their pastoral duties, often expressing a wish to see it expended in a diligent superintendence of the schools, and in frequent visits to the sick of their respective parishes. But the youthful Levites feel this to be dull work; they prefer lavishing their energies on a course of proceeding, which, though to other eyes it appear more heavy with ennui, more cursed with monotony, than the toil of the weaver at his loom, seems to yield them an unfailing supply of enjoyment and occupation.

I allude to a rushing backwards and forwards, amongst themselves, to and from their respective lodgings: not a round--but a triangle of visits, which they keep up all the year through, in winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Season and weather make no difference; with unintelligible zeal they dare snow and hail, wind and rain, mire and dust, to go and dine, or drink tea, or sup with each other. What attracts them, it would be difficult to say. It is not friendship; for whenever they meet they quarrel. It is not religion; the thing is never named amongst them: theology they may discuss occasionally, but piety--never. It is not the love of eating and drinking: each might have as good a joint and pudding, tea as potent, and toast as succulent, at his own lodgings, as is served to him at his brother's. Mrs. Gale, Mrs. Hogg, and Mrs. Whipp--their respective landladies--affirm that "it is just for nought else but to give folk trouble." By "folk," the good ladies of course mean themselves; for indeed they are kept in a continual "fry" by this system of mutual invasion.

Mr. Donne and his guests, as I have said, are at dinner; Mrs. Gale waits on them, but a spark of the hot kitchen fire is in her eye. She considers that the privilege of inviting a friend to a meal occasionally, without additional charge (a privilege included in the terms on which she lets her lodgings), has been quite sufficiently exercised of late. The present week is yet but at Thursday, and on Monday, Mr. Malone, the curate of Briarfield, came to breakfast and stayed dinner; on Tuesday, Mr. Malone and Mr. Sweeting of Nunnely, came to tea, remained to supper, occupied the spare bed, and favoured her with their company to breakfast on Wednesday morning; now, on Thursday, they are both here at dinner, and she is almost certain they will stay all night. "C'en est trop," she would say, if she could speak French.

Mr. Sweeting is mincing the slice of roast-beef on his plate, and complaining that it is very tough; Mr. Donne says the beer is flat. Ay! that is the worst of it: if they would only be civil, Mrs. Gale wouldn't mind it so much; if they would only seem satisfied with what they get, she wouldn't care, but "these young parsons is so high and so scornful, they set everybody beneath their 'fit': they treat her with less than civility, just because she does not keep a servant, but does the work of the house herself, as her mother did afore her: then they are always speaking against Yorkshire ways and Yorkshire folk," and by that very token Mrs. Gale does not believe one of them to be a real gentleman, or come of gentle kin. "The old parsons is worth the whole lump of college lads; they know what belongs to good manners, and is kind to high and low."

"More bread!" cries Mr. Malone, in a tone which, though prolonged but to utter two syllables, proclaims him at once a native of the land of shamrocks and potatoes. Mrs. Gale hates Mr. Malone more than either of the other two; but she fears him also, for he is a tall, strongly-built personage, with real Irish legs and arms, and a face as genuinely national: not the Milesian face--not Daniel O'Connell's style, but the high-featured, North-American-Indian sort of visage, which belongs to a certain class of the Irish gentry, and has a petrified and proud look, better suited to the owner of an estate of slaves, than to the landlord of a free peasantry. Mr. Malone's father termed himself a gentleman: he was poor and in debt, and besottedly arrogant; and his son was like him.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Enchanting...

    Charming, lovely, and captivating is this story. Though it is Charlotte Bronte's lesser known of works, it is a beautifully woven tale just as enchanting as Jane Eyre, though perhaps less melodramatic. It is a bit hard to get into at first, but after the the second or third chapters the book begins to weave a magic web around your imagination, spellbinding it til 'the end'.
    Read it and you will not regret it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Personal Fave!

    I have to say that this is now my favorite Bronte tale. I picked up this novel for an independent study course I was taking in gender studies but after the first few chapters I couldn't put it down. The characters are full of life and depth and the plot itself is strategically tied to cultural events going on during this period in history. The romance is complicated and yet spellbinding and the barriers thrown up in front of the main characters are the typical social expectations and class lines which make you route for the tender-hearted as well as the stubborn/willful women of the day. It is a must read for any lover of classic literature and a must own for any true Bronte fan!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2014

    One of my favourite Bronte books. Just as good, if not as widely appealing or so quickly attractive as Jane Eyre.

    Shirley just gets better and better every time I read it. It isn't a first read book; it's one you keep coming back to, enjoying it more every time.

    Sometimes the plot seems to drag a little, and there are parts that I find not as interesting. But there is a wealth of delightful secondary characters, two widely different love stories, and just so much to revel in. There are many humorous parts, particularly those involving the curates.
    Shirley is brown, and grey, and black; but it's a golden brown, a soft misty grey, and a pure, firm, solid black, like its namesake.
    Just as good, if not as widely appealing or so quickly attractive, as Jane Eyre. Persevere, and you will be amply rewarded.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2011

    Highly recommended. A surprise from Charlotte Bronte's pen.

    I first decided to read this book simply because I read everything else Charlotte Bronte wrote. It has become my favorite of her books, though it seems to be the least known and neglected by most. It is about the goings on in and around the Yorkshire mills in 1811-12 in the context of the Napoleonic Wars and the relatively early days of the Luddite movement. The principal characters are diverse and, at least to me, most are more believable than those in Bronte's other books. I like that the author's voice is much quieter and is less pompous, preachy and opinionated than in all of Bronte's other books. For the most part, she lets her characters and their actions speak. There are also discussions about politics and the society. Another pleasant surprise is that it is much more feminist that any of Bronte's other books. Almost every female character, regardless of her position in society is a person in her own right, who also feels that she is a full-fledged member of the society: Caroline wants to be just as useful as the men; Shirley, even in her most docile state, is her own person; Hortense worships her brothers, but runs the household; William Ferren's wife stands with her man, not behind him; even the Old Maids, while letting men have the visibility, do not simply dissolve into the background. I find it refreshing, particularly considering that in Villete, Professor, or Jane Eyre women submit to their chosen Masters, which I found rather jarring. The feminism is there, without being shouted or preached about. It is also interesting to consider this book in connection with Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South". Considering the close friendship between the authors, the common elements are not surprising; but each story stands on its own merit; while the connections only add to the enjoyment of each.

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  • Posted April 1, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Love It! Underrated

    Read this because I was reading all of the Bronte sisters work and have loved it ever since. I find it is my favorite of Charlotte Bronte's books. It begins with a rant about politics and men but I found that it added to the story. If you like the political/economic issues from Gaskell's North and South then this will probably be a good match.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is a book aboud personality. I think it can develop new image of his author and recommend all your customers to buy it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007

    Meh

    I expected much better after Jane Eyre. The plot seemed repetitive. I went through the first two-thirds of the book, and figured I had read enough as the same events just kept reoccurring. Also, Shirley is supposed to stand as a polar opposite to display everything Caroline wishes she could be in a male dominated society, but the character just comes off as cocky. If anything, she only serves to make Caroline, a normally fasinating character, look downright pathetic. Pass this one up. It got poor reviews almost 200 years ago, and it should get them today.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2006

    Not to be overlooked!

    After reading Jane Eyre, I thought no book could top or compare. Then I read Villette, and proved myself wrong. After that, I highly doubted I could be three times blest with a great novel by Charlotte Bronte- boy, I was wrong! I can't understand why this book is so little talked of- I have even heard people comment that it was a mistake, and never should have been written. I for one, thought it was excellent, loved the characters, and now how a wonderful story to keep as a treasure in my mind, alongside those gleaming gems- Jane Eyre and Villette. Charlotte writes so well, and in such a unique manner, I cant help but be spell-bound by her words and descriptions. For every Bronte lover, and anyone who enjoys a long book, with many various memorable characters and scenes- an investment in time, but surely worth while. No pun intended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2003

    Excellent book!

    Title, bearing my name [ha ha] caught my eye. The summary of the story looked interesting and I was not disappointed. I love stories with headstrong heroines, Shirley's mannerisms and attitude were a delight to read of as the book takes place in the early 1800s where men still dominated society.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2001

    For every 'Jane Eyre' fan

    Almost as good as 'Jane Eyre' (let's face it, nothing is better), I enjoyed this book so much that I dragged out the reading as long as I could. If you hunger for more of Charlotte Bronte's excellent style of writing, any of her novels will do but I prefer this one because of the way she ties her very realistic storytelling in with the historical issues of her time. If you've ever longed to see a strong heroine who is natural and life-like, meet Shirley, who is practically treated as an equal to men. Caroline is the other, more typical heroine, being quiet and ladylike, but with a backbone and strong character that make it hard to favor either heroine over the other. The only bad part to this book is the same as the bad part of 'Jane Eyre'....when you finish the last word.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2010

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