Tania's Reviews > Shirley

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
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's review
Aug 18, 11

I found that I had a difficult time getting into this novel. The first 200 pages (maybe a bit less) were absolute torture. The only thing that made me get through the beginning section was that I liked the characters of Caroline and Robert. This novel is as much, or more, Caroline's story as Shirley's, actually. I'm quite sure that if someone were to do an analysis of which character (Shirley/Caroline) had the most "air time" in the book, Caroline would come out on top. The book is about their relationship and how they impact each other's life. It's also a social history that gives the reader insight into the political upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars, and the economics of the time.

I couldn't get interested in the political/economic undertones of the book. My edition doesn't have a preface/introduction to give me the necessary background so that I could understand the issues presented. As the book is written, a certain degree of previous knowledge is assumed and required to really understand the historical context of the book. There are many secondary characters; it was hard to keep them all straight. A list of characters in the beginning, as is provided in Jane Austen's Emma, would've helped me. Also, I needed a glossary/footnotes to translate the French in the book.

The book seemed to slip back and forth between being about men, women, relationships, and the two main romances (won't give away which characters are involved in them) on the one hand, to being about the politics/economics/history on the other. The two issues aren't particularly merged successfully.

I did like the female characters. They were much more effectively drawn and multidimensional than the male ones. In fact, the male characters seemed really unimportant and secondary. The novel had a few surprising, upredictable twists I liked, too.

In summary, this is a good, not great book. If you like Bronte, I think you owe it to yourself to read it. Just bear in mind that it's not an easy read, and that the book has a very slow pace in sections.

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