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Shirley (Wordsworth Classics) Paperback – April 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

The Modern Library of the World's
Best Books

"When Charlotte Bronte removed her heroines from the home, she loosened the constrictions that bound a woman to her stove and cradle, and launched an inquiry into the nature of feminine experience that was to change the course of modern fiction."

--Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Charlotte Brontë was born at Thornton, Yorkshire, on April 21, 1816. Her father, Patrick Brontë, became curate for life of the moorland parish of Haworth, Yorkshire, in 1820, and her mother, Maria Brontë, died the following year, leaving behind five daughters and a son who were cared for in the parsonage by their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. The eldest daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, died in 1825 from tuberculosis contracted at the religious boarding school to which they (along with Charlotte and her younger sister Emily) had been sent. (All the Brontë children ultimately suffered from lung disease.)

Raised at home thereafter, Charlotte, Emily, their youngest sister, Anne, and brother, Branwell, lived in a fantasy world of their own making, drawing on their voracious reading of Byron, Scott, Shakespeare, The Arabian Nights, and gothic fiction, and writing elaborate poetic and dramatic cycles involving the histories of imaginary countries. Charlotte's early writings revolved around the kingdom of Angria, about which she wrote melodramatic tales of passion and revenge. She spent a year studying at Miss Wooler's school in Roe Head (later relocated to Dewsbury Moor), and went back there to teach from 1835 to 1838; subsequently she worked as a governess.

With Emily, Charlotte traveled in 1842 to study languages at a boarding school in Brussels; her close emotional attachment to her instructor, M. Heger, a married man, would later figure in her fiction. Charlotte and Emily went home after a year because of their aunt's death; Charlotte subsequently returned to Brussels for a year of teaching, 1843 to 1844. A joint collection of poems by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne--published pseudonymously as Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell--appeared in 1846. The three sisters had in the meantime each written a novel, of which Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were accepted in 1847 for publication the following year. Charlotte's first novel, The Professor, based on her experiences in Brussels, was rejected by a series of publishers (it finally appeared posthumously in 1857).

Jane Eyre was published under Charlotte's pseudonym, Currer Bell, in 1847 and achieved commercial and critical success; it had gone through four editions by the time of Charlotte's death. Jane Eyre won high praises; William Makepeace Thackeray (who later became a friend) declared himself "exceedingly moved and pleased," and George Henry Lewes applauded its "deep significant reality"; it was also criticized by some for the rebelliousness of its heroine and for what the Quarterly Review called "coarseness of language and laxity of tone."

During this period the Brontës underwent repeated tragedies. Branwell, despite his early promise, had been ravaged by the effects of drink and drugs, and when he found work as a tutor in the same household where Anne was a governess, his involvement with his employer's wife led to his dismissal; he died in September of 1848, followed three months later by Emily and the following year by Anne. Charlotte, the sole survivor, published two more novels, Shirley (1849), a novel of Yorkshire during the Napoleonic period, and Villette (1853), a further fictional exploration of her Brussels experiences. In 1850 she met the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, with whom she formed a close friendship; Gaskell later wrote the classic biography of her friend, The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857). Charlotte married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, in 1854, and died on March 31, 1855.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd; Reprint edition (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853260649
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853260643
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #385,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By mp on April 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Charlotte Brontë's 1849 novel "Shirley" really delivers on the already realized potential of her first novel, "Jane Eyre." Though the novel is named for the character Shirley Keeldar, the novel really has no one set protagonist - the duties are mostly shared in the relationship between the fiesty and wealthy Shirley, and the lovelorn Caroline Helstone. Set against a backdrop of social and economic unrest, as the swelling ranks of the unemployed react against increasing mechanization of mill production, "Shirley" takes in a broad range of national and international issues. Even when the personal and romantic narratives seem to dominate the novel, Brontë does an extraordinary job of keeping the questions of social discontent present to the reader.
"Shirley" opens on a view of Briarfield, a small mill community in Yorkshire, where the labourers are restless and hungry. The mill owners, Robert Moore and Hiram Yorke, are anxious with reports of murderous actions against mechanizing mill owners elsewhere, and suffering under governmentally restricted trade. The gentry are disaffected with the mill owners, and more concerned with England's continuing conflicts with Napoleon overseas. The main concerns of the novel revolve around all of these conflicts - conflicts of interest, conflicts between classes, and the wider conflicts of nations. Brontë's social vision seems to ask throughout the novel if any of the normal sorts of personal problems even matter in the face of the sufferings of the masses.
Briarfield's leading citizen is Reverend Helstone; he along with a motley mix of curates accurately represents the microcosmic problem that affects the macrocosm of England in the time of the novel, 1811-12.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Marks VINE VOICE on July 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
I loved this book, though admittedly it reads a bit like a rough draft with several stories which are not very well integrated. In the introduction, Bronte claims Shirley is anything but a romance, and indeed the first few chapters are so dry (focusing on the very minor and not very interesting characters of the vicars and other religious personnel) that one needs patience to continue reading.

Indeed this is understandable given that Charlotte's beloved sisters Anne and Emily and her beloved but wayward brother Branwell all died the year she wrote the first half of the novel, and she was shutting down emotionally and withdrawing from the world. Later when she wrote the last half, she was past the deepest stage of grief.

Bronte also doesn't introduce her heroine Shirley until 1/3 of the way through the novel, establishes considerable interest in the character of Robert Moore, and then has him disappear most of the second half of the novel, and introduces another major character, Robert's brother in the last portion of the book.

Finally, one sometimes has to strain to believe that individuals at this time really spoke as these characters spoke - especially the men when they on rare occasion pour out their hearts to other men in lengthy poetic prose. But often the prose of Bronte's dialogue is quite delicious and makes one wish that writers today had such a flair for such eloquent, emotionally expressive language.

The strong point of the novel: Charlotte Bronte excels in letting us into the mind and hearts of her two heroines, Caroline and Shirley, as well as in painting portraits of several of other characters, especially Robert Moore.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
While I loved this book, there were some things I didn't like, but none that mean it doesn't deserve five stars. This is my favourite Charlotte Bronte book. i believe there is too much focus on Jane Eyre, or perhaps even Villette. There are a few coincidences in this story, especially one, which I can't mention without giving away part of the story. However these are common in CB, Villette being overun with them, and Jane Eyre ending up on the doorstep of her long lost cousins. Shirley is more believable. Another comment it the long speeches the characters often make. Apart from these though, this is one of my most loved books. It has been neglected, I feel, by the fact that the first 50 pages are very difficult to read, after that though, the story becomes apparent, and it's worth it. Something strange is that the heroine of the title doesn't appear, and is not mentioned until page 200, although she fairly dominates the rest of the book. Perhaps 'Shirley and Caroline' would have been a more appropriate title
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
Despite Charlotte Bronte's disclaimer that the reader will find this book "a dinner of bitter herbs" it is nonetheless a must-read classic of 19th century litterature. Many themes combine in this book; the expansion of industrialism and the dissapearance of the English countryside; the place of women in society; feminine loyalty and friendship; the conflicts of love and work, evangelism and tradition. It is perhaps the most uneven and at the same time the most interesting of the Bronte books.
While it lacks the symmetrically designed shape of Jane Eyre or the clear-eyed study of obsession of Villette, it lets the imaginative reader glimpse the Bronte sisters themselves between the lines. The characters of Shirley and Caroline are based on Emily and Anne Bronte, both of whose deaths occurred during the writing of the novel. It is a tribute to sisterly love and a fantasy that lashes back at grief. Some may find the ending a romantic cop-out, but this cannot detract from the many good qualities of this fascinating novel
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