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My favourite Charlotte bronte novel isn't Jane Eyre, but it's follow-up, Shirley. The book is set in Yorkshire at the time of the Luddite riots, but though it is socially aware Bronte is more concerned to what happens to the two central characters - Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone. Her sister Emily was dead when she was writing this novel and her youngest sister Anne was dying, Shirley and Caroline are idealised versions of her two sisters, and all the more poignent for that. Shirley is based on Emily, an independent and unconventional woman, determined to live life on her own terms. Caroline is based on Anne, quieter and shyer, taken advantage of because of her good nature by a cold uncle and an inconsiderate lover. Two brothers supply the romantic interest - Robert Moore owns a mill and his brother Louis is tutor to the Keeldar family. Robert is in love with Caroline, as she is with him, but because he desperately needs money he proposes to Shirley, who happens to have pots of the stuff! It's hard to warm to someone who can ignore his own feelings and risk the happiness of someone he, alledgedly, cares for. Caroline, however, undoubtedly loves him and it nearly kills her. Until she meets Shirley she has no real friends, and no one to love or love her. It's only when Shirley's governess reveals that she is in fact Caroline's long-lost mother that she finds focus for her affection and realises she can live without Robert. In her own way she becomes as independent as Shirley is. Louis comes into the novel quite late, but he is an attractive, odd character and it is obvious that he and Shirley are already in love, they have a history together - he was her tutor. He doesn't humour her like everyone else in her life, and he isn't intimidated by the fact that he is poor and she is wealthy. He knows his own worth and pushes through all the facades that society and position has built up between the m. He is certainly one of Bronte's most well-rounded male characters and possibly based on the professor she fell in love with while at school in Belgium. Shirley is eccentric and spirited, if Caroline has to learn to be more independent; she has to learn to be more dependent on those she loves, and to accept their love. So do they get married and live happily ever after. Read the book and find out!
"Shirley" by Charlotte Bronte. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-043095-4 This is a gem of a book, written just after Jane Eyre and set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it is one of Charlotte Bronte's best. It follows the fortunes of two women Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar and their involvement with the Moore brothers. These relationships are set against the politics of England and the Continent at the time of the Luddite uprisings and Napoleonic wars respectively. In that respect Shirley has a farther reach as a novel than some of Charlotte Bronte's other more personal novels such as Jane Eyre. It is particularly interesting as a literary piece because there is some evidence that the two principle female characters are based on Charlotte's two sisters Anne and Emily and as such give the reader some insight into what these two authors were like as individuals, at least from their sister's point of view. We find Caroline Helstone (modelled on Anne) a shy and retiring individual whilst Shirley Keeldar (modelled on Emily) a confident, self possessed and fiery personality. What is both an interesting and sad fact is that the description of Caroline's illness was written around the time of Anne Bronte's death. I will not pretend that this is an easy book to read but it is worth the effort.
Following the tremendous popular success of Jane Eyre, which earned her lifelong notoriety as a moral revolutionary, Charlotte Brontë vowed to write a sweeping social chronicle that focused on something real and unromantic as Monday morning. Set in the industrializing England of the Napoleonic wars and Luddite revolts of 1811-12, Shirley (1849) is the story of two contrasting heroines. One is the shy Caroline Helstone, who is trapped in the oppressive atmosphere of a Yorkshire rectory and whose bare life symbolizes the plight of single women in the nineteenth century. The other is the vivacious Shirley Keeldar, who inherits a local estate and whose wealth liberates her from convention. 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.