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Shirley (Wordsworth Classics) Paperback – April 1, 1998
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
"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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book a bit verbose at times but full of penetrating brilliance. The female characters are so believable you see inside their minds emotion characterPublished 1 month ago by Carmen Violeta Sosa
Written in the old style,much like Dicken. Some people might find it difficult to get through, but if you are patient and stick with it, all in all it is a pretty good read.Published 4 months ago by Bruce F. Goldsmith
For those who really love literature for the flowy words and drawn out points or even poetry, they will probably like C. Bronte's tangents in this book. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Smiles
I have just started reading the Bronte sisters' works and am really enjoying them, good stories, well written and a great look into the era in which they were written.Published 5 months ago by Evelyn M. Dumont
One of my favorite authors. This book gets a "proto-feminist" label, and that topic alone adds a lot of depth to this read, a depth only increased by the contentiousness... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Pacal
My favorite book is Jane Eyre! It's beautifully written.Published 6 months ago by Sherry C Champagne