Starfish's Reviews > Shirley

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
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Aug 04, 09

bookshelves: victorian, romance
Read in August, 2009

The thing everyone says about Shirley is that it's not as good as Jane Eyre. That it's over-ambitious, weak in parts, overly moralistic. It is all that, but I still found a lot to like regardless.

Charlotte's trying to write a social novel, and while she pokes fun at reader's expecting a lesson, she is trying very hard to illustrate the dangers of the gulf between rich and poor. She never quite manages to pull it together though, as her characters are too extreme to ring true. They're all right for a novel, but as an illustration of a social evil, they leave a lot to be desired.

However, there are places where Charlotte's railery against the evils of the day really shine and that's in her treatment of the women problem -- she's vocal on the hardship's faced by unmarried women in finding an occupation and place for themselves in the world, outlining how dependency obliges women to suffocate much of themselves and how the few past-times allowed by propriety can fail to satisfy even a woman who lives within the conventional bounds of womanhood. Caroline Helstone lives according to the Victorian rulebook, and still she is faced with a life that is unhappy and unfulfilled -- at least at the start of the book. You can tell it's a part that was written from life.

For the rest, there were parts when I wanted to shake Charlotte and go 'what world are you living in?' Her children were the worst offenders. There was no difference in expression between two girls of ten and twelve and Charlotte's protagonists -- all were equally well-spoken and argued as volubly. Her characters spoke like narrative devices, and they came very close to breaking the 4th wall occasionally. On the whole, however, it's a really interesting book. I enjoyed it, though not as much as Jane Eyre or Villette (though given I love these books that is no surprise).

I suppose this means I have to read The Professor now.

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