Aura's Reviews > Shirley

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
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's review
Mar 23, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: victorian
Recommended for: victorians
Read from August 23 to October 10, 2010

** spoiler alert ** 3,5 stars. i could not give it less.

Firstly, i did like the novel. i liked the romantic side of it (mostly the relationship between Robert Moore and Caroline Helstone), the irony regarding the three clergymen (Malone, Donne, Sweeting), the struggle which was about to end Caroline's life and youth, but in the same time the realistic aspects, the historical and political details etc.

Though Bronte misleads you in the first pages by claiming it to be 'as unromantic as Monday morning', when the wheel of reality starts whirling, the novel is romantic enough.

Caroline is the classic Bronte heroine. She faces difficult times and endures suffering by way of her faith in God and existence, and for the sake of those whom she loves. She identifies her duty and sticks to it no matter her frame of mind. However, she continues to analyse; to feel where things went wrong; to search their true meaning; to fight against her weaknesses; this is where Caroline begins to understand that the social system does not have a place for women; that women must accept the place they're are limitedly offered;

And Bronte approves of Caroline christian stoicism, this was her creed, after all. She mentions at the beginning of the story what would Caroline's behaviour and emotions be in a certain situation if she had enough sense. She leaves it for us to discover, and for Caroline to prove her worth.

Certainly Charlotte Bronte is brilliant evoking atmosphere. You can feel directly and simultaneosly the sun warming Caroline's cheeks while her heart is weaping. You can properly feel the moon sympathising with Caroline's despondent state, where all trace of youth have faded but whose true heart can still forbid Sarah to place a mouse-trap and still remember to place a cake on her desk for her nocturnal visitor.

It is also sort of striking the way Caroline and Robert suffer the fear of death and that creates some sort of inexpressable chain between them. His confusion concerning his life aims and his pretended infatuations for Shirley ('s station and money), Shirley's affection for HIS brother blend together exquisitely as an explanation of the apparent romantic turn. On the other hand, Caroline begins to consider serious points of life prematurely, which makes her Robert's superior in understanding life's subtleties.

The characters are authentic and complex. They need no refinement. The plot develops slowly enough to allow an overall perspective of the Yorkshire society, manners and conventions and eases your understanding of the web which connects almost at the middle of the novel all the characters presented until then. Politics and history are the framework of the story but their reality weighs in Bronte's eyes just as much as moral decay or spirit's platitude. This makes it more of a social and human novel (IMO) rather than a historical novel.

Because of the historical aspects it reminds me of 'North and South'. I remember reading its introduction where it was mentioned that Elizabeth Gaskell inspired herself at some points from a Charlotte Bronte's novel - and now i understand it' being 'Shirley' precisely - not only of names (Helstone, Margaret) but the relations between cloth-mill owners and the unemployed low class, the state of the country and of the economy.

The ending (or the second half of the novel) lacks brilliancy. After introducing Shirley, elucidating her relationship with Robert Moore, presenting the contrast between the two heroines, the rioters' attack, you would still expect riveting things to occur - more than what already happened. Well, we've come to the point. This is the flaw that deterred me from liking it completely. From that on there are pages full of romance, internal struggles concerning hearts vs. the social reality - i won't say they were unwell written or misplaced. But what is the point of continuing a most linear and clear confession? it's obvious it will end up in yielding and marriage and living happily ever after. Some would like to see more of Caroline and less of Shirley in the end - after all, i take Caroline for the real heroine; more of Robert's mind; some would like some war calamities; less of a conventional ending; a little passion?

Finally, the last paragraph of the novel seems to imply lots of things which i cannot pinpoint - the so-called subtle moral. But i have really enjoyed reading this novel though i do not give it 4 stars light-heartedly, but we must also consider Charlotte's life during the writing of this novel, being rumoured she gave the course of the story a happies turn after her sister's death. So, after reading this, even if I were not a fan of hers, i would still read this and be proud of myself and her writing at the same time.

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Reading Progress

09/17/2010 page 50
10/04/2010 page 150
24.0% "getting nicer and clearer"
10/04/2010 page 150
24.0% "well.. who's shirley"
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