Jain's Reviews > Shirley

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
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Dec 27, 09

bookshelves: british-literature, fiction, 2009-reads, european, female-author
Read in December, 2009

What a painfully dull book! It starts out great; the opening line is an exemplar of wit and style, and while Bronte can't sustain that note for long, she follows it up with a number of excellent, funny, insightful scenes about small town life.

After a few tantalizing chapters of that and of the developing feud between a local mill-owner and a band of Luddites, however, Bronte settles the focus of her novel on several of her blandest characters and on their predictable--and often depressing--love lives. There's a lot of self-indulgent soliloquizing on the part of both Bronte and her characters, as well as semi-frequent and distasteful displays of antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism.

The interactions of men and women are similarly painful. Shirley's a self-consciously feminist book, but the relationships between the male and female protagonists are frankly disgusting. Men contemplate how they could never be interested in women who were their equals, but only in women (or girls, really) whom they could mold as they like; one female character declares that she could only be satisfied with a man who was her "master." Actually, one of the few pleasures I managed to derive from the later chapters was mentally casting the main characters in a BDSM scenario; the dialogue supported it remarkably well.
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