I did not like Shirley.
That could be my entire review. After reading a novel that was at least 200 pages too long, it probably should be. Because it is late and I am not feeling too charitable towards Charlotte Bronte I will make this brief.
There were many things I disliked about Shirley (★★) but the one thing that I did like was the character of Shirley. Where Shirley was lively and engaging, the other characters were dull, overwrought and over described. I may be in the minority but I think it is a huge problem if the eponymous character does not show up in your story until page 187. Once she did show up she gave everything a much needed jolt of life, including this reader. Honestly, I can’t believe I made it to page 187. I was very close many times to abandoning the book. I didn’t but I can’t say that I’m glad I didn’t.
After reading the brilliance of Anne Bronte’ masterpiece, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Shirley read like an author trying too hard. I should give Charlotte some slack since she lost her three siblings while writing Shirley (including Anne, *sniff*) but I cannot. Especially after learning that Charlotte repressed Anne’s work after she died. It infuriates me that Charlotte and Emily are well-know two hundred years later while Anne, who had much more to say and said it much better, was silenced. I admit I am biased against Charlotte because of it. I cannot help it.
Even if I did not have that prejudice I would not like Shirley. The language was pedantic, the characters annoying and the storyline meandered around searching for a social cause to champion. Unlike Bronte’s contemporary, Elizabeth Gaskell, who wrote brilliant novels about industrialization and the subsequent social struggles, it seems obvious that Bronte had no real experience or knowledge of the lower classes, only what she read in the newspaper. Even without first hand knowledge a writer of Charlotte Bronte’s caliber (at least the caliber she thought she was) should have been able to make her point eloquently. If she had a social point to make, I missed it. Or maybe after slogging through 600 pages I didn’t care.