“Shirley”, the second published novel by Charlotte Bronte, was released in 1949 amongst high anticipations by readers and critics after super success of “Jane Eyre” and like other works by Charlotte has been overshadowed by the artistic superiority and popularity of “Jane Eyre”. The book undoubtedly lacks the integrity of structure and the effects of Charlotte’s own mental agonies over the loss of her brother and sisters while writing this book is inevitably detectable. Still, “Shirley” does make a worthy read.
|Wordsworth Classics (Apr 1998),Penguin Books (06/29/2006), and Others
The story starts with the famous and accurate caricature of curates in the very first chapter followed by the state of business in the England of 1811-12 subjected to the ill effects of an ongoing war. Robert Moore, a mill-owner in Yorkshire, trying to install new machines in his mill faces violent oppositions from the worker but does not relent in his endeavors. He is loved by his cousin Caroline and to some extent does return her affection but is too practical to indulge into a marriage with her due to his financial situation. Caroline is left to despair in silence when he is struggling to save his mill.
Shirley Keelder, young, beautiful, spirited and rich, comes to the neighborhood and she and Caroline soon become good friends. Caroline, living with her uncle since the separation of her parents and death of her father, discovers that Mrs. Pryor, Shirley’s governess is her long lost mother. This restores Caroline to life and happiness to some extent while entire neighborhood expects Shirley and Robert to marry. But Shirley’s is a peculiar nature, independent and fierce; she does want a master in form of a husband but would not recognize any man as master of her freedom. She rejects men of rank and wealth one after another despite of her uncle’s wishes for such matches.
After much trouble and inner turmoil on side of both the characters, Shirley finally finds love in Louis Moore, Robert’s brother and a tutor of her cousin. Meanwhile, Robert is shot by one of the local men and Caroline and he reconciles their friendship during this period followed by avowed love as the war restriction on businesses end. And at last in the happy ending, both the couples are bound in matrimony to live happily ever after.
For this short essence of story, “Shirley” is quite a long book full of narratives about Yorkshire men and their habits, many a side characters with interesting temperaments and behavior and their stories, number of events full of action and drama. But what occupies the major part of the narrative is the description of the state of mind and inner feelings of the main characters rather than their intercourses and communication. The story keeps flitting in and out of different stages and lives of the characters. “Shirley” is full of pretty and beautiful pearls, what’s missing is a central threads to bring these pearls together and form a necklace. There is no narrator or central character to tell the story. Shirley herself is not introduced to the reader until almost one-third of the novel is gone by.
Charlotte Bronte’s strength was her power of observation and building her characters on what she saw and witnessed of life. In “Shirley” she tries to portray heroins that she is hardly familiar with and though their appearance and behavior fit beutifully in the character, their feelings and words sometimes fail to complete the picture. The drive, the sense of purpose for a character fulfiling his or her destiny is blocked here. Charlotte’s ability of creating humour through witty and light intercourses between lovers also appear to be foreshadowed by her personal gloom. The banter of dialogue between Jane and Mr. Rochester that makes quite a significant part of “Jane Eyre”, if not fully absent for Shirley and Louis, is present in very less amount.
But “Shirley” does give a good picture of the war-ridden England and the difficulties of its tradesmen during that time, Yorkshire and its peculiarities of body and spirit and at last two couples who are perfectly carved out for each other. Enjoy Reading…….