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A passionate but unsentimental depiction of conflict between classes, sexes and generations

Struggling manufacturer Robert Moore has introduced labour saving machinery to his Yorkshire mill, arousing a ferment of unemployment and discontent among his workers. Robert considers marriage to the wealthy and independent Shirley Keeldar to solve his financial woes, yet his heart lies with his cousin Caroline, who, bored and desperate, lives as a dependent in her uncle's home with no prospect of a career. Shirley, meanwhile, is in love with Robert's brother, an impoverished tutor - a match opposed by her family. As industrial unrest builds to a potentially fatal pitch, can the four be reconciled? Set during the Napoleonic wars at a time of national economic struggles, Shirley (1849) is an unsentimental, yet passionate depiction of conflict between classes, sexes and generations.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780141439860
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/26/2006
Series: Penguin Classics Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 101,423
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855), English writer noted for her novel Jane Eyre (1847), sister of Anne Bronte and Emily Bronte. The three sisters are almost as famous for their short, tragic lives as for their novels. The collection of poems, Poems By Currer, Ellis And Acton Bell (1846), which Charlotte wrote with her sisters, sold only two copies. Her novel The Professor never found a publisher during her lifetime. Undeterred by this rejection, Charlotte began Jane Eyre, which appeared in 1847 and became an immediate success. Jane Eyre was followed by Shirley (1848) and Vilette (1853).

Lucasta Miller read English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She is the author of The Brontë Myth and writes for The Guardian.

Jessica Cox is a research student and postgraduate tutorial assistant in the Department of English at the University of Wales Swansea. Her research interests include the sensation fiction of the 1860s, the feminist movement of the nineteenth century and the Victorians in the twentieth century.

Date of Birth:

April 21, 1816

Date of Death:

March 31, 1855

Place of Birth:

Thornton, Yorkshire, England

Place of Death:

Haworth, West Yorkshire, England


Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire; Miss Wooler's School at Roe Head

Read an Excerpt

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. But not of late years are we about to speak; we are going back to the beginning of this century: late years--present years are dusty, sun-burnt, hot, arid; we will evade the noon, forget it in siesta, pass the mid-day in slumber, and dream of dawn.

If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken. Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry, and reverie? Do you expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama? Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool, and solid, lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto. It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting, perhaps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is resolved that the first dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic--ay, even an Anglo-Catholic--might eat on Good Friday in Passion Week: it shall be cold lentils and vinegar without oil; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.

Of late years, I say, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England; but in eighteen-hundred-eleven-twelve that affluent rain had not descended: curates were scarce then: there was no Pastoral Aid--no Additional Curates' Society to stretch a helping hand to worn-out old rectors andincumbents, and give them the wherewithal to pay a vigorous young colleague from Oxford or Cambridge. The present successors of the apostles, disciples of Dr. Pusey and tools of the Propaganda, were at that time being hatched under cradle-blankets, or undergoing regeneration by nursery-baptism in wash-hand-basins. You could not have guessed by looking at any one of them that the Italian-ironed double frills of its net-cap surrounded the brows of a pre-ordained, specially sanctified successor of St. Paul, St. Peter, or St. John; nor could you have foreseen in the folds of its long nightgown the white surplice in which it was hereafter cruelly to exercise the souls of its parishioners, and strangely to nonplus its old-fashioned vicar by flourishing aloft in a pulpit the shirt-like raiment which had never before waved higher than the reading-desk.

Yet even in those days of scarcity there were curates: the precious plant was rare, but it might be found. A certain favoured district in the West Riding of Yorkshire could boast three rods of Aaron blossoming within a circuit of twenty miles. You shall see them, reader. Step into this neat garden-house on the skirts of Whinbury, walk forward into the little parlour--there they are at dinner. Allow me to introduce them to you:--Mr. Donne, curate of Whinbury; Mr. Malone, curate of Briarfield; Mr. Sweeting, curate of Nunnely. These are Mr. Donne's lodgings, being the habitation of one John Gale, a small clothier. Mr. Donne has kindly invited his brethren to regale with him. You and I will join the party, see what is to be seen, and hear what is to be heard. At present, however, they are only eating; and while they eat we will talk aside.

These gentlemen are in the bloom of youth; they possess all the activity of that interesting age--an activity which their moping old vicars would fain turn into the channel of their pastoral duties, often expressing a wish to see it expended in a diligent superintendence of the schools, and in frequent visits to the sick of their respective parishes. But the youthful Levites feel this to be dull work; they prefer lavishing their energies on a course of proceeding, which, though to other eyes it appear more heavy with ennui, more cursed with monotony, than the toil of the weaver at his loom, seems to yield them an unfailing supply of enjoyment and occupation.

I allude to a rushing backwards and forwards, amongst themselves, to and from their respective lodgings: not a round--but a triangle of visits, which they keep up all the year through, in winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Season and weather make no difference; with unintelligible zeal they dare snow and hail, wind and rain, mire and dust, to go and dine, or drink tea, or sup with each other. What attracts them, it would be difficult to say. It is not friendship; for whenever they meet they quarrel. It is not religion; the thing is never named amongst them: theology they may discuss occasionally, but piety--never. It is not the love of eating and drinking: each might have as good a joint and pudding, tea as potent, and toast as succulent, at his own lodgings, as is served to him at his brother's. Mrs. Gale, Mrs. Hogg, and Mrs. Whipp--their respective landladies--affirm that "it is just for nought else but to give folk trouble." By "folk," the good ladies of course mean themselves; for indeed they are kept in a continual "fry" by this system of mutual invasion.

Mr. Donne and his guests, as I have said, are at dinner; Mrs. Gale waits on them, but a spark of the hot kitchen fire is in her eye. She considers that the privilege of inviting a friend to a meal occasionally, without additional charge (a privilege included in the terms on which she lets her lodgings), has been quite sufficiently exercised of late. The present week is yet but at Thursday, and on Monday, Mr. Malone, the curate of Briarfield, came to breakfast and stayed dinner; on Tuesday, Mr. Malone and Mr. Sweeting of Nunnely, came to tea, remained to supper, occupied the spare bed, and favoured her with their company to breakfast on Wednesday morning; now, on Thursday, they are both here at dinner, and she is almost certain they will stay all night. "C'en est trop," she would say, if she could speak French.

Mr. Sweeting is mincing the slice of roast-beef on his plate, and complaining that it is very tough; Mr. Donne says the beer is flat. Ay! that is the worst of it: if they would only be civil, Mrs. Gale wouldn't mind it so much; if they would only seem satisfied with what they get, she wouldn't care, but "these young parsons is so high and so scornful, they set everybody beneath their 'fit': they treat her with less than civility, just because she does not keep a servant, but does the work of the house herself, as her mother did afore her: then they are always speaking against Yorkshire ways and Yorkshire folk," and by that very token Mrs. Gale does not believe one of them to be a real gentleman, or come of gentle kin. "The old parsons is worth the whole lump of college lads; they know what belongs to good manners, and is kind to high and low."

"More bread!" cries Mr. Malone, in a tone which, though prolonged but to utter two syllables, proclaims him at once a native of the land of shamrocks and potatoes. Mrs. Gale hates Mr. Malone more than either of the other two; but she fears him also, for he is a tall, strongly-built personage, with real Irish legs and arms, and a face as genuinely national: not the Milesian face--not Daniel O'Connell's style, but the high-featured, North-American-Indian sort of visage, which belongs to a certain class of the Irish gentry, and has a petrified and proud look, better suited to the owner of an estate of slaves, than to the landlord of a free peasantry. Mr. Malone's father termed himself a gentleman: he was poor and in debt, and besottedly arrogant; and his son was like him.

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Shirley 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Charming, lovely, and captivating is this story. Though it is Charlotte Bronte's lesser known of works, it is a beautifully woven tale just as enchanting as Jane Eyre, though perhaps less melodramatic. It is a bit hard to get into at first, but after the the second or third chapters the book begins to weave a magic web around your imagination, spellbinding it til 'the end'. Read it and you will not regret it.
Catherine-E-Chapman More than 1 year ago
A breath of fresh air. I feel a strong sense of relief at having discovered Shirley. I consider myself a fan of Charlotte Bronte but have in the past abandoned her novel The Professor and found Villette hard-going (though ultimately rewarding). Shirley is certainly not 'standard' Charlotte Bronte. It reads a lot more like a George Eliot (or even Charles Dickens) novel, in being a work which is much more socially aware than Jane Eyre, with a larger cast of characters. In contrast with Jane Eyre, the book has a third person narrator, which brings it more in line with the standard model for the Nineteenth Century novel. Also significant is the fact that it's her only novel to really transcend her abiding obsession with the lot of a female governess – although, latterly, a male tutor does become a significant character. But I found it refreshing to read heroines who were not as doom-laden and self-absorbed as Lucy Snowe (Villette). Whilst Caroline is a more sensitive character, more akin to what we expect from Bronte, the feisty Shirley herself defies our expectations and, for me, this was one of the greatest revelations of the novel. I found the first 100 pages (one-fifth) of the book rather arduous (although, it's here that there is social scene-setting that is interestingly atypical of Bronte) but it's necessary for what follows. Whilst I acknowledge that Shirley is Bronte's most ambitious novel in terms of providing a commentary on the society of early Nineteenth Century Britain, I found it most rewarding as the story of a love triangle and, when this strand of the plot develops later on in the book, I believe it becomes a much more compelling read. We also see in this storyline CB writing with emotional depth to challenge Jane Eyre. So it's for this aspect of Shirley that I would recommend the book to any fan of CB's writing. But I would also say that, if you're a fan of the Nineteenth Century novel but not a fan of Jane Eyre, I would give Shirley a go – it shows a very different side to Charlotte Bronte's writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to say that this is now my favorite Bronte tale. I picked up this novel for an independent study course I was taking in gender studies but after the first few chapters I couldn't put it down. The characters are full of life and depth and the plot itself is strategically tied to cultural events going on during this period in history. The romance is complicated and yet spellbinding and the barriers thrown up in front of the main characters are the typical social expectations and class lines which make you route for the tender-hearted as well as the stubborn/willful women of the day. It is a must read for any lover of classic literature and a must own for any true Bronte fan!
Luli81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maybe the less romantic novel by Charlotte, but her most mature work, an account of the changing times in the early XIXth century.The story follows the lives of four main characters. Miss Helstone, a young woman with no prospects, niece of a Curate in Yorkshire, her serious cousin Mr. Moore, a businessman who struggles to earn his living, Miss Shirley, a spirited heiress of a great fortune and her tutor Mr. Moore's brother, Louis. Being a Brontë's novel though, there's not one, but two romances going on, presented in the most extravagant way and what makes the novel even more compelling is that its characters have flaws and make mistakes and learn their way along the way with the reader.In the end, we find realistic characters who fight to find their position in the world, each in their own way, the story being a faithful portrait of women searching for independence and men challenging the order of the old regime. I think that Charlotte used Shirley and Miss Caroline Helstone to speak her mind in several subjects such as politics or religion and that these two characters, being both so different from each other, where what Charlotte Brontë would have liked to be in her real life. Miss Helsonte, pious, humble and full of patience and good sense, is able to win over her man's heart. Shirley, with her strong character and of independent means, who is bold enough to speak her mind about business and politics with men, manages to marry who she chooses (and I'm sure Charlotte would have liked to be able to do that!!).I could also glimpse Elisabeth Gaskell's influence in this work, the subject of industrialisation reminded me of "North & South" and the story had many similarities about the peripheral characters and the problems they had to deal with.All in all, a rewarding reading with great final chapters which close the novel with a bitter sweet taste. Don't be mistaken though, this is no Jane Eyre, so don't expect accelerated pulse and breathtaking dialogues because you won't find them in here.Some quotations:"I will never be where you would not wish me to be, nor see nor hear what you wish unseen and unheard"" 'Never! We will remember that with what measure we mete it shall be measured unto us, and so we will give no scorn, only affection' ' Which won't satisfy, I warn you of that. Something besides affection - something far stronger, sweeter, warmer - will be demanded one day. Is it there to give?' ""Am I to die without you, or am I to live for you?"
readingwithtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I battled with myself through the first two thirds of the book to keep reading, and it was only a day stuck ill in bed that gave me the opportunity to finish it. I suppose the foreword gave me plenty of warning, claiming that the book is as ¿unromantic as a Monday morning¿, but still. Shirley is set in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the early nineteenth century, in a collection of villages suffering religious division, economic hardship due to the Napoleonic War and the start of industrialisation of the traditional cloth-making trade. We follow the rector¿s niece Caroline through a year of her life as she falls in love with her Belgian mill-owning cousin, deals with her uncle¿s inattention, meets and befriends a newcomer to the neighbour (Shirley herself ¿ she doesn¿t feature until at least 1/3 of the way through the book, which left me wondering if I¿d missed something for the first 100 pages or whether the book should actually be called Caroline), becomes gravely ill, discovers who her mother is, and eventually comes to a happy ending. No huge plot spoilers there, I think ¿ I suspect one rather needs the outline in order to understand what¿s going on!This was everything that Jane Eyre managed to steer just clear of: unnecessarily verbose, with pathetic girls falling in love and pining to death¿s door, and with a cast significantly larger than one could really track comfortably.It gets a 2/10 rather than a 1/10 partly because the writing is still elegant, and partly because there is a relatively satisfactory conclusion to the whole charade and thus a pleasing arc in the storyline. Still ¿ not worth the hours.
bookwoman247 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in a woolen mill town in Yorkshire during the Napoleonic Wars, Shirley is the story of the beautiful heiress, Shirley Keeldar, her close friend, Caroline Helstone, impoverished mill owner Robert Moore, and his brother, Louis, who is tutor to Shirley's relatives, the Sympsons, and who is Shirley's former tutor as well.In some ways, I was reminded of North and South by Brontë's friend Elizabeth Gaskell; especially in regards to the background of labor unrest in a woolen mill town. However, Brontë writes with much more passion and depth - the same emotions barely held in check that charactarize Jane Eyre. That is where the comparison to Jane Eyre ends, though, or at least nearly so. Shirley is almost nothing like Brontë's more famous work.Jane Eyre is a lifelong favorite of mine, and always will be, but I find shirley more mature, and actually the stronger, better work.I loved Shirley! It was a bit slow to start, but before I knew it, I found myself completely absorbed in the characters' lives. So much so, that I actually gasped out loud at one part that turned out to be minor.I'll be adding Shirley to my ever-growing list of favorites. What a great way to see out the old year!
kmass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shirley begins as a "condition of England" novel, and is certainly a very sensitive portrayal of the plight of England and her citizens during the Napoleonic Wars. Bronte does an exceptional job of portraying the problems of the working class as they began to lose their jobs en masse, but also of the "rich" industrialists who were being squeezed to the point of bankruptcy. Rather than class warfare, Bronte shows the problems every class was facing. At the same time, she shines a light on some of the corruption and hypocrisy of the Church of England, though also showing the sincerity of many individual believers. All of this is done with brilliant handling of an ensemble cast of characters in the clergy and landowning class, some of whom, refreshingly, genuinely care about those in need.The novel also deals with many of the same issues as Jane Eyre (class, gender, generation, etc), but not only through a single person's eyes. The book feels less isolated. We actually see just about everyone's position. Shirley is an example of a "good" person of wealth, who genuinely wants to help those in need. Ample examples are also provided of wealthy individuals who couldn't care less. There are both "good" (Mr. Hall, Mr. Helstone to a certain extent) and "bad" (the curates) examples of clergy. There are steadfast defenders of the Establishment (Mr. Helstone, Shirley, and many many others) and bitter Dissenters (the Yorke family). The major characters of the novel are both men and women. In fact, there are four "main" characters, whose perspective the novel frequently shifts between (without disorienting the reader, happily). This enables Bronte to show things from different perspectives, and also gives the reader a fresh take on things, as the different principles have differing relationships with each other, other characters, etc. And the characters are genuinely different from each other. No one would accuse Shirley, Caroline, Hortense, or Mrs. Pryor of having similar personalities, any more than they would accuse Misters Helstone, Yorke, or either of the Moores. It's also hard to say who the narrator is. The narrator speaks directly to the reader, much like in Jane Eyre, yet the narrator's identity is never clearly identified, and almost certainly isn't one of the four principles -- nor does it seem to have been any of the characters portrayed in the novel.Bronte makes frequent allusions to other literary traditions in this text, including mythology, but by far her most frequent allusions are to the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare (always a good decision). Not only that, Bronte seems to have been channeling Shakespeare when she wrote this. Many characters actually seem to have soliloquies at the end of important scenes (in fact, this happens extraordinarily often). During some important scenes, the narration seems to disappear in favor of dialog (this especially seems to happen between Shirley and Louis), and one scene even has what seems to be a stage direction at the end ("Exit Shirley"). The rhythm of several conversations, as well as the abrupt shifts from dialog to soliloquy, can't help but remind one of Shakespeare. Bronte seems to realize that Shakespeare is our tradition, our inheritance as English-speaking people (and even more hers as an Englishwoman). We should take pride in him, cherish his works, and take ownership of that heritage.Anyone who has read Jane Eyre knows that Bronte is witty... but there's a linguistic cleverness in Shirley that Jane Eyre doesn't even touch. It's very obvious that Bronte was an even more mature writer by the time she penned Shirley, and that she was at the height of her abilities. The book, like its title character, possesses a "curious charm" (438, 444).It's worth mentioning that there are a ton of great speeches in this novel, a ton of great dialog, and lots of awesome narration. If I were to post my favorite quotes from the novel... I might attempt to do so later, but definitely
geekitten on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A meandering but enjoyable story. It covers the friendship and love lives of several people in an English community. Unrest among the local people occurs when the local textile mill begins to industrialize, which makes for some intense confrontations. Shirley is the title character, but a for a good deal of the book she is no where to be seen. Still enjoyed everyone else's stories though!
Liz_Toronto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are several well-written reviews below that state my thoughts better than I am able to at the moment. I would just like to add that for readers who expect another Jane Eyre when beginning Shirley should be warned that it is a very different type of book that Charlotte Bronte set out to write and what she accomplishes is marvelous. It is lengthy and seem incoherent or contradictory at times, but it bears a second close reading (like any well-written book, really) to understand better what Bronte is getting at. Hated it upon first reading, loved it after the second.
karenzukor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite Bronte book. Not so dark and lonely as Jane Eyre (never really liked the Mrs. Rochester part) or Villette (never liked her delusions.) Shirley is an interesting character, a strong woman who makes her own, unconventional decisions in the face of a very convention-bound society. The hero (Robert) isn't perfect.
drpeff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
have read several times. well-written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shirley just gets better and better every time I read it. It isn't a first read book; it's one you keep coming back to, enjoying it more every time. Sometimes the plot seems to drag a little, and there are parts that I find not as interesting. But there is a wealth of delightful secondary characters, two widely different love stories, and just so much to revel in. There are many humorous parts, particularly those involving the curates. Shirley is brown, and grey, and black; but it's a golden brown, a soft misty grey, and a pure, firm, solid black, like its namesake. Just as good, if not as widely appealing or so quickly attractive, as Jane Eyre. Persevere, and you will be amply rewarded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first decided to read this book simply because I read everything else Charlotte Bronte wrote. It has become my favorite of her books, though it seems to be the least known and neglected by most. It is about the goings on in and around the Yorkshire mills in 1811-12 in the context of the Napoleonic Wars and the relatively early days of the Luddite movement. The principal characters are diverse and, at least to me, most are more believable than those in Bronte's other books. I like that the author's voice is much quieter and is less pompous, preachy and opinionated than in all of Bronte's other books. For the most part, she lets her characters and their actions speak. There are also discussions about politics and the society. Another pleasant surprise is that it is much more feminist that any of Bronte's other books. Almost every female character, regardless of her position in society is a person in her own right, who also feels that she is a full-fledged member of the society: Caroline wants to be just as useful as the men; Shirley, even in her most docile state, is her own person; Hortense worships her brothers, but runs the household; William Ferren's wife stands with her man, not behind him; even the Old Maids, while letting men have the visibility, do not simply dissolve into the background. I find it refreshing, particularly considering that in Villete, Professor, or Jane Eyre women submit to their chosen Masters, which I found rather jarring. The feminism is there, without being shouted or preached about. It is also interesting to consider this book in connection with Elizabeth Gaskell's "North and South". Considering the close friendship between the authors, the common elements are not surprising; but each story stands on its own merit; while the connections only add to the enjoyment of each.
gigi_13 More than 1 year ago
Read this because I was reading all of the Bronte sisters work and have loved it ever since. I find it is my favorite of Charlotte Bronte's books. It begins with a rant about politics and men but I found that it added to the story. If you like the political/economic issues from Gaskell's North and South then this will probably be a good match.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book aboud personality. I think it can develop new image of his author and recommend all your customers to buy it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I expected much better after Jane Eyre. The plot seemed repetitive. I went through the first two-thirds of the book, and figured I had read enough as the same events just kept reoccurring. Also, Shirley is supposed to stand as a polar opposite to display everything Caroline wishes she could be in a male dominated society, but the character just comes off as cocky. If anything, she only serves to make Caroline, a normally fasinating character, look downright pathetic. Pass this one up. It got poor reviews almost 200 years ago, and it should get them today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Jane Eyre, I thought no book could top or compare. Then I read Villette, and proved myself wrong. After that, I highly doubted I could be three times blest with a great novel by Charlotte Bronte- boy, I was wrong! I can't understand why this book is so little talked of- I have even heard people comment that it was a mistake, and never should have been written. I for one, thought it was excellent, loved the characters, and now how a wonderful story to keep as a treasure in my mind, alongside those gleaming gems- Jane Eyre and Villette. Charlotte writes so well, and in such a unique manner, I cant help but be spell-bound by her words and descriptions. For every Bronte lover, and anyone who enjoys a long book, with many various memorable characters and scenes- an investment in time, but surely worth while. No pun intended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Title, bearing my name [ha ha] caught my eye. The summary of the story looked interesting and I was not disappointed. I love stories with headstrong heroines, Shirley's mannerisms and attitude were a delight to read of as the book takes place in the early 1800s where men still dominated society.