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Shirley (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 26, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

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.

About the Author

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855), English writer noted for her novel Jane Eyre (1847), sister of Anne Bronte and Emily Bronte. The three sisters are almost as famous for their short, tragic lives as for their novels. The collection of poems, Poems By Currer, Ellis And Acton Bell (1846), which Charlotte wrote with her sisters, sold only two copies. Her novel The Professor never found a publisher during her lifetime. Undeterred by this rejection, Charlotte began Jane Eyre, which appeared in 1847 and became an immediate success. Jane Eyre was followed by Shirley (1848) and Vilette (1853).

Lucasta Miller read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She is the author of The Brontë Myth and writes for The Guardian.

Jessica Cox is a research student and postgraduate tutorial assistant in the Department of English at the University of Wales Swansea. Her research interests include the sensation fiction of the 1860s, the feminist movement of the nineteenth century and the Victorians in the twentieth century.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141439866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141439860
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An incredibly good book. It is full of Charlotte's wisdom -- She must have been a quiet and shy person in person, but in her writing she did not hesitate to state her opinions. Which she expressed very strongly with the classic English politeness.

I this on the kindle I just got (did not want one, told everybody that, had one anyway for my birthday, and I absolutely love it!). First experience with the kindle, and I like its ability to easily look up words and jump to Google and Wikipedia. Plus its highlighting feature. Very nice machine! The first time I read Shirley was a few years ago, and I kept many pages of notes.

Anyway, it can take a long time to get through Shirley and that is perfectly OK. Like all Bronte books, it is worth taking slow so you can absorb it. Critics have been hard on this novel, often comparing it unfavorably with Jane Eyre. All I can say is that if Shirley is read with an open mind, it is well worth the effort. Would be good to study the Luddites a bit, first, to understand the historical context.
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