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Shirley
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Bronte Sisters Collection > Shirley - SPOILERS

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Pink | 6556 comments This is the discussion thread for Shirley by Charlotte Brontë, our Old School Classic Group Read for December 2018.

Spoilers allowed here.

Please feel free to discuss anything you wish, relating to the book and let us know what you thought :)


message 2: by Cynda (last edited Dec 11, 2018 07:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments I am listening to Shirley on Hoopla. The narrator is pretty good. Good because she can speak what sounds to be like good French, do an accent, and speak English as her first language, On Hoopla, as probably on all/most services, I can speed up the narrator. I started out with about 23 hours and now have about 18 hours to go. I continue.

This was a choice to listen to audiobook. With all the social crisis of the time, not understanding French, the long-to-me list of characters, I was better off with a decent narrator. The narrator translates ( I am almost positive she is.), helping me to prevent reading stops to learn more about about the French translations and the Luddite Movement. I reviewed and learned a bit more in about an hour about Luddites. So thenaudiobook is helping me stay focused on the story about mechanization, family relations and later romance.

Staying focused as I intend to finish by Jan 1.
Coloring while listening helps. Difficult for me to do just one thing sometimes.

Enjoying enough to continue on.


Pink | 6556 comments Cynda wrote: "I am listening to Shirley on Hoopla. The narrator is pretty good. Good because she can speak what sounds to be like good French, do an accent, and speak English as her first language, On Hoopla, as..."

Same here, but I’ve just started listening. Thought it was about time if I plan to finish this by January! How are you getting on? Are you still listening?


message 4: by Cynda (last edited Dec 14, 2018 12:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments Hi Pink :-) I am a bit over halfway through. I was at 3 hours listening and wanted to finish listening, but that would be about 11 hours more of listening. 🤨 I will just finish +/- soon.

The social issues seem strange. Yet other novels deal with social issues. Maybe it seems strange because of the length of discussion. Yet the that first chapter about naughty curates inform novel. Unnecessarily inform? Oh my. Best just to listen and try to enjoy instead of judge.


message 5: by Cynda (last edited Dec 16, 2018 07:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments Chapter 22. Charlotte Bronte directly addresses fathers of silly, embarassing daughters with 19thc sensiiblities. With this group Cathing Up, I re-read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792). For Wollestonecraft to have crafted such a fine set of essays, someone had to write first or speak first. I have wondered who. And where are the journals, letters, fragments, etc. that thinking women shared woth each each other? In Shirley, Charlotte Brontë moves the conversation forward. She shows at least two (2) are described as strong business women. Shirley manages her inherited properrty, knows her own mind, makes decisions, laughs at her own fallability. A real person. Not a pretending, simpering, coy half-person. Bronte lays the problem at the feet of the fathers. If mothers raise sons, perhaps fathers raise daughters. Fathers definitely ruled them.


message 6: by Cynda (last edited Dec 16, 2018 07:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments Bronte also moves the conversation about women's right forward, combining workers' rights and women's rights. This is an English social novel. Yet in US, we here too had the women's rights movememt combined with slave workers'/abolitionist movement. (Sojourner Truth: "Ain't I a Woman?")


Cynda | 2762 comments Now I am getting glad that I committed to reading the novel.


Pink | 6556 comments Moved to the spoiler thread

Wong wrote: "I just finished Shirley and I don't particularly like it. It was unnecessarily wordy which made it quite unpleasant to read, especially in the beginning of the book where bronte spent 3 chapters describing the characters Moore and Yorke without anything happening. There was just no momentum, no attraction I felt to keep reading. In fact, I fell asleep several times reading it during the two weeks finishing it. I read it because it is a "classic" and finished it because I am a perfectionist who rarely left any book unfinished.

Some discussion about feminism, marriage and the effect of technology on the working class were interesting but they were not satisfying. For example, Shirley, the lioness, eventually must be tamed by her master and married a man superior to her like all women at that time did. And Caroline's affection for her cousin Robert remained unchanged throughout the book and did marry him in the end. It seemed to me that Shirley's intellectual need to be an equal to her husband was such an irony when she also had such a desire to be conquered, to submit and to be taught to be good. It felt like bronte saying that Shirley was defying the men because they were not good enough, intellectual enough, etc. When the man worthy of her submission came, she would eventually be conquered. Submission was not women's nature!

P.S. I am typing on my tablet so forgive my typos :) ..."



Yeung To Wong | 4 comments I seemed to have posted my comment in the wrong place, sorry :(


Cynda | 2762 comments Perfect Wong: Interesting but not satisfying.


Cynda | 2762 comments I hope to listen more to the audiobook tonight, If not, tomorrow.


message 12: by Pink (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pink | 6556 comments Wong wrote: "I seemed to have posted my comment in the wrong place, sorry :("

No problem. I’ll read through your comments properly and reply once I’m finished reading. I’m at about 80% now. I’m still enjoying the book a great deal, though I feel Charlotte’s pain.


Karen | 71 comments I have not re-read Shirley since I was a teenager. Back then, I loved this book more than Jane Eyre. So, I was a little nervous at re-reading this work. This was not helped by the fact that I had forgotten it had a relatively slow start. But I have fallen in love with it all over again.

Shirley does not appear until about a third of the way through the novel but when she does she is a catalyst in many of the plot points. Most importantly she inspires Caroline, who in many ways is the chief character in this book and is the key to her maturing character. As well as being my favourite.

I like the use of the political unrest at the time, compared to the social situations and the commentary on the clerical status (there are good, bad and indifferent clerics here). I had forgotten how feminist this novel was. We have here the old maid portrayed in a sympathetic way - and shown as gaining agency by helping to provide relief to the poor at a time of economic crisis. We have descriptions of marriages and why they fail. There is Shirley and her autonomy when making business decisions and her ability to stand up to male control by refusing to marry as her uncle demands. Much is made of the importance of female education. In this sense, the ending of the book comes as a bit of a let down as Shirley embraces the traditional relations between a man and a wife and gives up control to Louis. Am I meant to see this as still a positive action as she chooses to do this (Louis does not insist) or is Charlotte here seeing the need to bring her characters back once more into the virtuous Victorian mould that they were stretching? It kind of reminds me of the ending of Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell in which the ending almost ruins the book by finishing with a great dollop of traditional morality when it arguably, would have been better without it. Also, the ending was a little abrupt.

But overall, I loved this book.


message 14: by Cynda (last edited Dec 28, 2018 09:12PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments I am not quite finished reading yet. I stopped as soon as I realozed I was to hear confsssions enough to bring the conclusion. At times, this novel seems to be important, worthwhile, but not quite satisfying.

I was sometimes entertained when listening to audiobook with a better narrator. My borrow time on Hoopla timed out and I thought to give Libivox on YouTube a chance. (I wanted to keep a last allowed monthly borrow for something else.) Next time, I knkw to get on with Hoopla audiobooks. Solidly good narrator.

Plus Librivox (at least on YouTuhe) does not allow me to speed up narration.

I started with audiobook choice for adjustable speed (Hoopla) amd for ability to stay focused on the story, not derailed for every definition, memory shakeup, images wantes, etc.

I have learned my audiobook lesson.


Terris | 2422 comments Cynda wrote: "I am not quite finished reading yet. I stopped as soon as I realozed I was to hear confsssions enough to bring the conclusion. At times, this novel seems to be important, worthwhile, but not quite ..."

Cynda, I know what you mean about LibriVox. I have enjoyed it at times but the different volunteer readers sometimes throws me off. But this time it was my only alternative! (I ordered the audio version through my library's Cloud Library and it was in Italian!!!). Anyway, FYI - if you use LibriVox's free app you can speed up the narration. So you might want to try that sometime :)


message 16: by Cynda (last edited Dec 28, 2018 09:11PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments Thank you Terris. I may need to use LibriVox again and would be glad to know how to speed up the narration.


message 17: by Pink (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pink | 6556 comments I also listened to this, on Scribd, narrated by Georgina Sutton, whom I enjoyed.

I really enjoyed this book and it had several elements of interest. I’m always a sucker for romance and I found this in a similar vein to works by Jane Austen. I also liked the look at women’s roles in society during that period, the expectation of them to marry and how they could, or couldn’t function as women in their own right. I know others have been disappointed by Shirley’s marriage in the end and relinquishing her role as landlord to her husband, but I don’t think we can expect today’s feminist ideals to have been much of a possibility during that time. What was her alternative? To stay single and unhappy? I think she was pretty much her husbands equal, as much as it was possible to be, even if she did hand over the reins of money and express that she wanted to be tamed. I saw this more of wanting to meet her match, rather than have an insipid and stupid husband.

The role of the curates was amusing, especially considering how Charlotte was used to this in her own home and the marriage proposals she encountered. She seemed to think most of these men as stupid, or irritating. There were a lot of side characters, showing various traits, some were harsh and unhelpful, some kind. Caroline’s Mother being revealed was something I was waiting for and I found quite touching. Of course the most interesting friendship was that of Caroline and Shirley. In many ways they were opposites and though Shirley seemed to have the upper hand with her wealth, looks and winning personality, they seemed genuine friends and equals. Their relationship took a back seat in the latter stage of the novel, when the romances were coming to a head, which was a slight shame.

I was very pleased with Caroline’s ending and marriage. At one point I didn’t think it was heading that way and I wondered if she’d end up single, or dead. The ending did seem rushed compared to the main body of the novel and I wonder if Charlotte Bronte changed her plans. Are people aware of the real life family deaths Charlotte encountered while writing this book? She lost her brother and last two sisters before this book was finished, which left her alone at home with her Father. That must have been a devastating blow to her and surely influenced her mood and writing. I wonder if she planned a happy ending for everyone from the beginning, or if she allowed her characters this happiness after losing her family. I do enjoy pondering the story behind the book, thinking about what Charlotte went through.

This was the last work I had left to read by the Bronte sisters and I’m so glad to have read it. I don’t think it’s a good starting out point, but if you have enjoyed Charlotte’s other works, or Anne’s, then this is probably a good choice for you. I doesn’t have the drama of Jane Eyre, or Emily’s Wuthering Heights (what does?!) but I found it a delightful story. It’s definitly slow in places, not a lot really happens throughout and some people find this sort of book boring, but not me! I hope some more people will join in with the book and give it a try.


message 18: by Cynda (last edited Dec 29, 2018 06:42PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments Thanks for your insights Pink. The ending did feel pushed and pressed down. Grief and Financial Needs are often strange taskmasters.

Having never read this novel before, I took my lead from Wikipedka which labels this novel as a "social novel." If I had read this novel rather than listened to it, I would have had also another understanding threading through. The names of the various gods/understandings of what the Divine might be would have interested me. Why? Charlotte Bronte, the daughter of a rector, might have some insights worth knowing just a bit about. So what stopped me? I don' t know how to spell many of those god names 😦

my review of Shirley


Amanda | 2 comments I just finished the book and I guess I’m really struggling with how I feel about it. I really liked Shirley’s character and I really liked Louis’ proposal to her and how she made it clear that she couldn’t be tamed. With that said, I was really disappointed with the wedding since, at least to me, it felt like Shirley suddenly went from being a main character to being pushed to the sidelines and not making any decisions at all anymore.

I also didn’t care for Robert Moore at all. He just seemed like such a stiff character to me and I would have preferred to see Caroline end up with Martin.

I also wished that William Farren played more of a role in Robert’s character development. I guess I was hoping for something similar to Higgins and Mr. Thornton where they learn from each other.

I really liked the last sentence that the book ended with where Charlotte was challenging us as the readers to find the moral of the story. I actually laughed out loud at this part since I was trying to find a moral and didn’t understand what it was supposed to be.


Amanda | 2 comments Edit: Higgins and Mr. Thornton in Elizabeth Haskell’s North and South


Terris | 2422 comments Amanda wrote: "Edit: Higgins and Mr. Thornton in Elizabeth Haskell’s North and South"

I liked Shirley fine, but I think I might have enjoyed Gaskell's North and South better.


message 22: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 26 comments I'm struggling with this one. I haven't gotten through the first 100 pages. I like the way she draws her characters, but the prose is so purple...and her authorial voice is so heavy- she's not trusting her readers to interpret the text. It's been a LONG time since I read Jane Eyre, so maybe I'm misremembering, but the writing seemed more elegant in that novel.


message 23: by Cynda (last edited Jan 03, 2019 12:08PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cynda | 2762 comments Rachel I so felt that way too, so I decided to just listen to it rather than read it. I am not a fan of audiobooks. But I had committed to a friend, so I had to find a way.


Emily Dybdahl | 147 comments Rachel I also agree...she did a lot of telling where she could have done more showing, and that type of writing seemed very different from her other books.


Yeung To Wong | 4 comments I agree. She just wrote too many pages to describe her characters and this was very difficult for me to remember cause characters' attributes were not attached to a story. Random facts were just impossible to retain in memory especially when I didn't finish it in one go.


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments I started reading but I'm going to take a pause and finish Pere Goriot first.

I was struck how the beginning was so very different from Jane Eyre. There was a lot more humor too, with her mocking the behavior of the curates.

I also like how she told us in the beginning that this was NOT a romance. :D


message 27: by Liesl (new) - added it

Liesl | 453 comments This is meant to be a Long Read so is there a plan for reading this over the 3 months? Or is everyone just reading at their own pace?


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments Liesl - I’ll probably end up taking the whole three months to read. I’m waiting to finish that other book then I’ll really get going.


message 29: by Denise (new) - added it

Denise | 12 comments I’m on Chapter 2 and it’s very different from Jane Eyre.


Laurie | 1630 comments It is very different from Jane Eyre or The Professor. I am on chapter 11 and I'm not sure how I feel about this book yet.


message 31: by Sam (last edited Jul 10, 2021 04:35PM) (new)

Sam | 217 comments I have finished this up quicker than intended since I have other reading committments in August. I was fascinated by the novel, not because it was a tight fun read like Jane Eyre, but because it was a more mature experiment where Bronte stretches her writing talents. I will wait a bit to comment more fully so as not to spoil, but I don't think it spoils to talk of Bronte's narrator. The narrator is an omniscient voice, speaking at times in a variety of styles from plain prose to elevated or exalted prose, filled with literary especially biblical allusions. The style which I associate more with educated men reminded me more of the 18th century than the 19th and while it can be difficult to read for us I think it suits the material in the novel well, lending the narrator authority in the discussion of philosophic, social, political and especially what we would now consider feminist issues.


Philina | 1562 comments I‘m now about 1/3 through. Jane Eyre ist one of my absolute favorites. I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. The first chapters didn’t catch me at all, but now with Caroline and Shirley the story becomes more focused and I enjoy it more.

I also love Gaskell‘s North and South and so far think it covers the subject matter of mills and the problems of factory workers on a more approachable easier to understand level. CB seems to be more academic. It makes sense, though, that they write about the same topic. They were friends after all.

Fun fact: Shirley was a male name in the past. This book made it fashionable for females and today (I guess) it’s a predominantly female name.

Also interesting: Some scholars draw parallels between Shirley and CB‘s sister Emily, especially in her relationship with animals. Some see her sister Anne in Caroline. In the originally intended ending Caroline was to die much like Anne did.
Her sisters had recently died when she wrote this, so maybe writing this helped with her grieving process.
I wonder if CB recycles most of her friends and family in this book. Are there parallels between the curate Malone and her Irish father who was also a clergyman and walked about with a loaded weapon?
Robert Moore shares traits with Rochester and Mr. Emanuel (Villette). Older (dark & brooding) men with striking personalities with whom a younger inexperienced heroine falls in love. He‘s a French speaker like Emanuel and the real professor CB fell in love with.


Anjali Raj (anjalivraj) | 43 comments I am done (as in completed). Unlike Jane Eyre there are many strong female voices in this novel. Also politics, war and riots are new. Not as excellent as Jane Eyre but it's a good read.


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments I'm 20% through. It's taking me a lot longer than I thought it would. I don't dislike it, but it's not one that I want to "cuddle up with" so to speak. I wish I had access to an audio version, I think that would help me move along a bit quicker.

I like all the snark in this one.

Philina - That's really interesting about the name, Shirley!


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments I realized that one of the things holding me back were the sections written in "accents." I HATE when authors write in accents. It's extremely painful for me to read.

I finally gave in and bought the audiobook. Now I feel like I'm really going to make some progress. I very easily listened to an hour today. The narrator is fantastic and I didn't even notice the parts that were written in that atrocious style, because she reads it so clearly.

I'm very excited about this audiobook!

So far I'm not feeling strongly about any characters. I was glad that Mr. Moore gave a second thought to William Farren (spelling?) after turning him down at the mill. That made me feel better about him.


Piyangie | 417 comments Natalie wrote: "I realized that one of the things holding me back were the sections written in "accents." I HATE when authors write in accents. It's extremely painful for me to read.

I finally gave in and bought..."


I switched to audio after the very first chapter. I felt that if I continue reading, I'll probably drop it. By the way, may I ask which audiobook you bought, Natalie?


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments Piyangie - I was feeling the same way! I got the one on Audible read by Anna Bentink.


Piyangie | 417 comments Natalie wrote: "Piyangie - I was feeling the same way! I got the one on Audible read by Anna Bentink."

The very same I listened to, Natalie. I enjoyed her narrative and how she voiced the characters. She really does a great job.


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments Now that I'm using the audio my progress is a lot better, I'm almost halfway through! :) I'm enjoying it. I also like it better now that Shirley has shown up. I really like her and Caroline.


message 40: by Brian (last edited Sep 11, 2021 09:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian Reynolds | 127 comments I'm a bit over 40% through and a few comments:
1) So far, I am enjoying it more than I did either Villette or the Professor and I probably like it better than Jane Eyre although I read that 30 years ago so its harder to compare. Perhaps, since I work in the field and enjoy labor history, it's because the machinery versus labor issue involved here sparks my interest;
2) But I also like the character depictions presented so far. I am finding the Shirley/Caroline/Robert triangle very intriguing and also enjoy the clerical character depictions; it all feels closer to a Trollope than anything else I've read by a Bronte;
3) As this is an 'industrial' novel, I foresaw a more urban setting, like North & South's Manchester, than the more rustic one presented here. However, this more rustic setting is probably a better location for both the romantic triangle and clerical depictions;
4) While this is a long novel, it is a fairly smooth read so far and has kept my interest more than her other works. I have no difficulty with the dialect here, especially compared to my experience with Villette's French passages.
5) Shirley's habit of referring to herself in the third person is quite humorous, especially since such a habit is considered the epitome of arrogant behavior in the present time - at least to me and my friends.


Piyangie | 417 comments Brian, I haven't read Villette. But I liked Shirley more than Professor and Jane Eyre. I'm happy you feel the same way. :) To me, it is the best of Charlotte Bronte so far.


Natalie (nsmiles29) | 868 comments Finished!

I think the thing that struck me the most in this novel was the complete lack of power all the women had. I know I'm looking at it through my 21st century lens, but it just kind of brings home how far women's rights have come.

I loved when Shirley tore her uncle a new one. Those were possibly my favorite scenes. I did not like her talking about how she wanted her husband to be her "master." And I REALLY didn't like the glimpses into Louis's journal where he talked about wanting to be above Shirley. It made me greatly dislike him. It showed me that Shirley was still trapped in her time period. As they all were.

I didn't love Robert either, but I did like how he admitted how terrible he'd been and I do think he genuinely loved Caroline. He underestimated her, though. If he had asked her to pack up and head out West with him, she would've done it in a heartbeat. I think Caroline had a quiet, often overlooked, inner strength. She was my favorite character. My heart often broke for her because of how trapped she was.

I loved the relationship between Mrs. Pryor and Caroline. That was my favorite plotline.

It's not a book I'll read again, but I'm glad I read it once. I look forward to reading Charlotte's other works.


message 43: by lethe (last edited Sep 20, 2021 06:16AM) (new)

lethe | 127 comments I finished this recently, and I am sorry to say I found it very long-drawn-out. There were enjoyable and interesting parts, but mostly it just dragged and dragged. The eponymous heroine isn't even introduced until 200 pages in, and there is a lot of unnecessary detail.

One thing that struck me as odd was a fast-forward to the funeral of a child who is a very minor character in the book. Charlotte probably wrote that while mourning her siblings who had died (or were dying) in rapid succession, but it felt out of place.

In my opinion, the book could easily have lost 250 pages and be all the better for it. One of the last chapters is named "Wherein Matters Make Some Progress, but Not Much". I'm afraid that's how I felt about the whole book.

Give me Jane Eyre any day!


Brian Reynolds | 127 comments FINISHED THE BOOK

I did enjoy the characters in this book more than in any previous Charlotte B novel. The book turned out to be more about both Caroline and Shirley as central characters and ended appropriately for that emphasis. Caroline was probably the more empathetic character and Shirley probably the more interesting. I also enjoyed the male characters, faults and all, better than Rochester or the Professor.

While the storyline was overall a decent one, it also meandered a bit with threads and characters disappearing for awhile. It was definitely overly long and possibly not well planned out. It also had much less of an "industrial novel" feel and more of a" landed gentry" feel that I had anticipated, probably when the central locale turned to Shirley's estate.

Overall, the book seemed more like an early work than others, including Jane Eyre, which was written before this one. Charlotte B even acted as an intrusive narrator at times. Her ending recap unnecessarily updated the reader on characters who had disappeared from the plot for what seemed like eons before.

Good characters. A decent but overlong and meandering plot. Overall a 3 star read.


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