Shirley: A Tale - Vol. 3

Shirley: A Tale - Vol. 3

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Shirley: A Tale - Vol. 3

Shirley: A Tale - Vol. 3

Read FREE!

Synopsis

Following the tremendous popular success of Jane Eyre, which earned her lifelong notoriety as a moral revolutionary, Charlotte Bronte 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. A work that combines social commentary with the more private preoccupations of Jane Eyre, Shirley demonstrates the full range of Bronte's literary talent.

Excerpt

Shirley was begun in 1848 and published in 1849, at the end of a decade of profound social unrest. Revolutionary conflicts had shaken the thrones of Europe. in England, the widening rift between the 'two nations', the rich and the poor, which had oppressed the imagination of Heine in the 1820s, aroused the compassionate indignation ofCarlyle in Past and Present and Disraeli in Sybil. Legislators made slow progress against social evils exacerbated by ignorance, prejudice and self-interest and by the unavoidable distresses arising from recurrent trade depressions and from the Irish famine. Chartists turned to mob violence, incendiarism and riot after the failure of the Petition of 1839. the Church, split by sectarian controversies, seemed to lack the strength needed to convert the idealism of the few into the salvation of the many.

All these themes-dissatisfaction with the government, the 'two nations', mob violence, and an inadequate church -- are touched on in Shirley, yet all are translated into an earlier period. Why, in such deeply disturbing times, did Charlotte Brontë choose to set a novel concerned with social problems in the England of 1811-12?

In the first place, why did she write a 'social' novel at all? It was the drama of individual life which had made Jane Eyre such a tremendous popular success in 1847, and it was still being rapidly reprinted when she began Shirley. It had, however, been criticized by G. H. Lewes and others for its melodrama, and Charlotte determined on a 'salutary' change; the original manuscript version of Shirley makes clear the connection with Jane Eyre: 'Do you expect passion and stimulus and melo-drama? . . . Twice in succession they are not good for you -- you must have a change: something -- what you would call -- slow is more wholesome -- something real and severe and unromantic as Monday . . .

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