Tuesday, March 05, 2019


Shirley. Charlotte Bronte. 1849. 624 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.

Premise/plot: On the first page of chapter one, the author tells readers, "If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken." Take her at her word.

Shirley is NOT an easy book to summarize. You'd think that Shirley would be the main character and that the book would focus on her love life or lack of love life. You'd be wrong--mostly. Shirley is introduced as a character about halfway through the novel, and probably a dozen or so pages focus on her love life.

So if Shirley isn't the main character, who is? My vote would be a young woman called Caroline or "Lina" Helstone. She has a cousin, Robert Moore, whom she is in love with. And Caroline becomes chummy with Shirley for a while. (Caroline does worry that maybe just maybe Shirley is falling in love with Robert.)

Robert Moore is definitely one of the main characters--the hero--if you will. He owns a mill or factory. He is not well-liked and he's facing some opposition from the community.

My thoughts: I wanted to love Shirley. I didn't love it. I also didn't hate it. I would say I'm slightly disappointed with the plot and pace. I don't mind books that are more about the journey than the destination--if the journey has some scenery worth taking in. The writing--at times I enjoyed it very much.

  • Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us. (67)
  • Human nature is human nature is everywhere, whether under tile or thatch, and that in every specimen of human nature that breathes, vice and virtue are ever found blended, in smaller or greater proportions, and that the proportion is not determined by station. I have seen villains who were rich, and I have seen villains who were poor, and I have seen villains who were neither rich nor poor. (89)
  • Cherish hope, not anxiety. (99)
  • Suspense is irksome, disappointment bitter. (108). 
  • When I meet with real poetry, I cannot rest till I have learned it by heart, and so made it partly mine. (119)
  • Men and women never struggle so hard as when they struggle alone, without witness, counsellor, or confidant; unencouraged, unadvised, and unpitied. (200)
    Our power of being happy lies a good deal in ourselves. (222)
  • If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend. Then to hear them fall into ecstasies with each other's creations, worshipping the heroine of such a poem--novel--drama, thinking it fine--divine! Fine and divine it may be, but often quite artificial--false as the rose in my best bonnet there. (343)
  • Talking a bit! Just like you! said Shirley. It is a queer thing all the world is so fond of talking over events: you talk if anybody dies suddenly; you talk if a fire breaks out; you talk if a mill-owner fails; you talk if he's murdered. What good does your talking do? (345)
  • Love is real: the most real, the most lasting--the sweetest and yet the bitterest thing we know. (366)
  • 'Is change necessary to happiness?' 'Yes.' 'Is it synonymous with it?' 'I don't know; but I feel monotony and death to be almost the same.' (385)
  • It is pleasant to write about what is near and dear as the core of my heart: none can deprive me of this little book, and through this pencil, I can say to it what I will. (487)
  • I believe--I daily find it proved--that we can get nothing in this world worth keeping, not so much as a principle of conviction, except out of purifying flame, or through strengthening peril. We err; we fall; we are humbled--then we walk more carefully. (505)

© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Paula Vince said...

I read Shirley a couple of years ago and you're right, it's not an read at all. It felt so dense compared to Jane Eyre, and long before the end, I was so over Caroline's apparently unrequited feelings for Robert. She got herself into such a miserable state over him, and it was reinforced so often, I just wished the plot would move on! I loved what I saw of Shirley, and wish there had been more of her romance, which was by far my favourite of the pair. It had plenty of Charlotte Bronte's awesome descriptive writing, but sometimes felt as if the story would never end :D