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I wonder if it's coincidence that Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell both use the name Helstone, one for the character and the other for the town. It's a good name, anyway.

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books, but it took me quite a while to get into. I started Villette last summer but got distracted before I could get into it at all. I suppose that says something for costume drama films, since it was one of the movie versions that inspired me to read Jane Eyre. I've never encountered Shirley before, but its view of the author sounds interesting. My only problem will be getting past the first hundred pages.


Shirley is a book I have been meaning to read for ages. Even if it is not Charlotte's best your review and the quote from the intro make it sound interesting and worthwhile nonetheless.


Anna--It would be interesting to read more about Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Gaskell. I've only read two of Charlotte's novels and none of Elizabeth's. Maybe Helstone was a common name? I didn't read Jane Eyre until just a few years ago, and have reread it since then. I liked Shirley, but I really loved Jane Eyre and will be curious about Villette. Although Shirley doesn't make an appearance until after the first 100 pages, reading about Caroline Helstone is actually pretty interesting. Shirley is a book that would be great to read in a class or a group with discussion!
Stefanie--Yes, it is definitely a worthy read, though I did prefer Jane Eyre to it. There is much to think about and she obviously constructed it very carefully. The editor even went into how it is a bit of a reversal of Jane Eyre character-wise. Now I will have to read Villette, though I really should give Anne's work a try as well!


This is the third Mary Barton reference for me since Sunday, spooky! I'm thinking this title will be a read in 2009 for me.


Darlene--The book is clamoring to be read....! I have a few books by Gaskell but not this one. An excuse to buy a book...


I'm reading the Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell at the moment, and have really got into it. Very atmospheric and vivid (although a big Victorian whitewash in some ways, of course) - and interesting for how much of Bronte's ideas are autobiographical or come from stories she heard growing up - including much of Shirley. I recommend it alongside the modern bio.

Dorothy W.

I really enjoyed Villette, although it was a while ago when I read it. We'll see about Shirley -- I'm sure I'll read it, but I need a little more fortitude than I have right now!


Thanks for your review. I haven't encountered many other people that I 'know' who have read this. I had more trouble with Villette, which I never finished, due to all the French. Would love to know your thoughts on that!


What a great review, Danielle, of what is clearly a complex book. I'm not very good with the British 19th century so I really appreciate your reviews which save me from having to read the books!


Pip--Thanks for the recomendation--I think I have a used copy of it somewhere. It would be interesting to read a perspective written at the time Bronte was living and from a friend no less. I've yet to read anything by Elizabeth Gaskell. The intro to Shirley was really fascinating in terms of the autobiographical aspect of the novel. Apparently she based Shirley on her sister Emily. I'll definitely dig out the Gaskell.
Dorothy--I have Villette and will read it at some point, but I would like to try something by Anne first. Shirley is really good, but definitely read it when you are in the mood for something a little challenging and have the time to spend on it.
Tara--I'm not sure I would have chosen this had I not gotten it as a freebie from Oxford Univ Press. I picked it as it sounded good more than that it as a Charlotte Bronte book actually. I'm curious about Villette, but all the French can be a bit on the difficult side.
Litlove--I'm really fascinated by British 19th C literature and it is interesting to see how it all fits together. I think I am the same as you but when it comes to more modern lit, which is why I always love reading your posts. You make it all sound so interesting and easy, though I need to be better about reading more of it!


Don't expect Villette to supplant Jane Eyre as a favorite. When I finished it, my reaction was a wail: "Charlotte, how COULD you!?" I haven't read Shirley, but now I'm apprehensive about it.

Merry Christmas and enjoy your two weeks off!


Krakovianka--Oh no, I don't want to put you off Shirley at all! Though if you've read Villette you already have had another taste of her writing. I think Jane Eyre is simply in a class all its own! Now I am curious about Villette, though I don't expect to get to it anytime soon. And have a wonderful Christmas, too! :)


Oh, I loved Shirley, too. I was particularly interested to read in the introduction of my edition that Charlotte's husband (a clergyman) was so amused by her satirical send-up of a certain pompous kind of clergymen in Shirley that he wanted to marry her!


Nicola--How interesting--I had no idea that Charlotte was married to a clergyman. That's pretty funny as she is rather satirical about them in her books. I really do need to read a biography of her--I only know the barest about the Bronte's in general.


Danielle--no worries. It wasn't your post that made me apprehensive about reading Shirley--it was Villette that did that!


Krakovianka--Oh, good. I hate to put anyone off a book. I will be interested to read Villette now, too (eventually anyway). Did you write about the book on your blog? I'd be curious to read your post.


Shirley is one of my favorite novels. I've read it (and Jane Eyre) dozens of times. They really are different kinds of novels and thus are difficult to compare.

Shirley strikes me as going deeper into character studies. Listen, for instance, to the conversation between Shirley and Caroline when they take their first walk together on Nunnely Common. Listen to Caroline as she summarizes the character of her uncle, Mr. Helstone: "He is neither tyrannical nor hypocritical. He is simply a man who is rather liberal than good-natured, rather brilliant than genial, rather scrupulously equitable than truly just--if you can understand such superfine distinctions."

And Shirley replies, "Oh yes! Good-nature implies indulgence, which he has not; geniality, warmth of heart, which he does not own; and genuine justice is the offspring of sympathy and considerateness, of which, I can well conceive, my bronzed old friend is quite innocent."

Or study the scene in which Caroline visits at Hollow’s Cottage and is unexpectedly confronted and challenged by the imperial Mrs. York. Note how Mrs. York attacks, Caroline answers and, surprisingly, how Mrs. York gives a little ground. And poor Hortense is a bit outside the fray and somewhat bewildered by what is transpiring.

Or study the many differences between the romance between Caroline and Robert on the one hand, and between Shirley and Louis on the other. That would be a subject for a long term paper in itself.

Read Shirley and read it again. It is every bit as great a novel as Jane Eyre.


David--Thanks so much for your lovely and thoughtful comment. I can tell this is indeed a book you have read and appreciated many times. I've read Jane Eyre several times, but Shirley only once. I'm a fan of rereading books and enough time has passed for a reread to be in order for this one. Are you a fan of Charlotte in particular or do you like all the Brontes?


Despite this review, I still believe that Shirley is Charlotte Bronte's finest novel ... I've read them all. It certainly has a happier ending than either Jane Eyre or Villette (which is just tragic and so hard to take, after you've gone through several hundred pages with her!). But the suprising feminist tone of the novel, the strong, well-developed characters and relationships, not only between Caroline and Robert and Shirley and Louis, but the complex friendship between Caroline and Shirley, make it a favorite of mine. It also gives an interesting glimpse into a period of history I knew little about, and found fascinating.


Sharon--Thanks very much for your comment. Although at the time I didn't call it a favorite of mine I certainly respect that others may well consider it her best book. I've still not read all her novels, and this is one that definitely calls for a slower and more considerate reread. I'm sorry if my post gave an impression that I didn't think this a worthy story. I did struggle with it when I read it, but I was glad to have read it. It's certainly never my intention to put any other reader off picking up a book, but this was simply my honest response to it at the time. I always appreciate hearing another view on a book and am open to differing opinions.

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