quotemyfoot: (FMC)
Lame title, idec, the pun was begging to be made. Also, I remembered I have a journal, I am totes proud. Also, I have found a use for it! I can blog about the books on my reading list, so my notes will exist online and also in one tidy place. Using lj for social stuff? What? PFFFFT.

Shirley is the story - primarily - of Caroline Helstone, niece of the town's cold and distant Rector, and Shirley Keeldar, heiress of the local manor because her parents didn't have a son. It's a Charlotte Bronte, is obviously there is romance, but the real point of the novel is highlighting the struggles - across a few classes - of the early Industrial Revolution, and basically saying how everyone was an idiot back then. Well, no, that's unfair. Bronte is certainly sympathetic to the plight of the working classes, but she also focusses on the trials of mill-owner Robert Moore. He gets more and more in debt in an effort to keep his business going, finally only able to create success with the end of some anti-trading legislation or other (the name escapes me, okay, it had to do with the Napoleonic Wars).

There's a good bit of politics in there as well, from characters like Moore, who only care about politics as far as it affects them, to Hiram Yorke, an admirer of the French Jacobins, and the Rector Matthewson Helstone, who is, I imagine, the setting's version of nationalist right-wing. All of these characters have their faults and positives - no strawmen! Hurrah! - and the political beliefs of all of them turn out to have flaws when applied to the problems of the time - I think Mr. Yorke's was the best, in that light, overall, but I don't really recall and, anyway, the politics is downplayed somewhat, so I image Bronte included it to a) show the different (popular) views of the time fairly and b) show political people that, look guys, even the opposition is human, so play nice, okay?

Of course, being a Bronte novel, feminism is a powerful theme. For the most part, I enjoyed the feminist themes here more than in Jane Eyre - Jane is a pretty modern character, it's true, but she doesn't come up against characters quite as misogynist as Joe Scott, who says without shame that women cannot understand politics or religious doctrine enough to talk about it, and that every man is allowed to hold his own opinion but women should hold only the opinions of their husband. WTF?! Even Rector Helstone, who is overall a decent guy, had his wife die of misery because she was a woman and therefore not worth attention, and his niece almost suffered the same fate. It took him months to notice that she was depressed as all hell. Whuut. To be fair, I think characters like Joe Scott were unusual even for the time, because Shirley (Shirley Keeldar, who dares to manage her estate like a man!) just laughs at him. It's very interesting to see the two strong females of the novel (Caroline and Shirley, though Caroline is strong in the sense of persevering through the suffering of women, and Shirley in the sense that she is a woman with privilege and a social position) react to these sorts of things.

Lastly, there's religion/nature. I didn't pay as much attention to this, I admit, but it's clear that Bronte ties them together through things like Shirley's near-worship of the countryside. There's also that odd little bit in the epilogue where Robert tears down most of the forest on his land. Religion itself isn't harped on quite so much as in Jane Eyre - there are the three curates, Sweeting, Donne and Malone (in order from best to worst, and the last of whom, amusingly, is also Irish), and the three Rectors: Hall, Helstone, and Dr. Somethingorother who is old. Bronte definitely uses this large number of priests to showcase the various characters in the Anglican Church - Helstone is specifically stated to have chosen the wrong professon; he would have been far better as a soldier. He's a hard sort of character and, as reflected in his treatment of niece Caroline, not what I would call compassionate. That said, he's presented in a largely positive light as a priest - not perfect for the position, maybe, but he serves in it admirably, and certainly better than Malone, who is a coward, a drunkard, and a bit of a twat for good measure. He only really looks that bad at all because we've got Hall, who is the perfect priest and the type of guy who would be everyone's favourite grandfather. It probably helps that I imagine him as Bernard Cribbins.

Overall: Shirley is wonderful. I like it better than Jane Eyre. It's also cemented Charlotte Bronte as one of my favourite authors - if I didn't have a bunch of other stuff to read (loltwentybooks), her other novels would definitely be on my list. I need to give Anne and Emily a look sometime.
As to how accurate - the novel is set some 30 years before the writing. It certainly wouldn't have been hard for Bronte to find people alive during the time, and most of the social stuff is probably pretty accurate, but I imagine that the lack of distance makes some of the historical stuff unreliable.
Also, the first book to make me cry since The Book Thief. ;-;


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October 2011

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