Monday, May 30, 2011

More of "Shirley" by Charlotte Bronte

I have the most horrid confession to make! Due to the natural impatience of my personality, I reviewed Shirley before I was fully finished with it. "Blasphemy!" I know. To my credit, I can say that I was safely three quarters through the book and I had already known a fourth through that it was worth a second read. The error was that I had no idea just HOW good the book really was because it truly comes alive in the last few chapters. Now I'm deeply remorseful because in my last review, I did not give Shirley the credit it deserves.

For one thing, I chose to really focus on Shirley Keeldar as the protagonist, which was a mistake. Actually, Shirley isn't even introduced as a character until you are about two hundred pages into the book (assuming that you're reading the penguin classics version). Don't get me wrong! Shirley is MOST definitely a protagonist, but not the only one. Caroline Helstone is just as much, if not MORE of a protagonist than Shirley. The two become good friends when they meet, though they are quite different.

Caroline Helstone is described as a pretty girl of online nineteen. She's sympathetic, loving, and at some times restless because she longs to do something with her life that she can't quite understand. With her father dead, and being abandoned by her mother, she lives with her uncle, the Rector who is rather distant and chauvinistic. Despite that, Caroline thrives and seems able to form her own opinions. She is rather shy and hesitant about sharing them, however. She falls in love with her cousin, Robert Moore. Though the two share a mutual affection for one another, Robert is too poor to marry Caroline. In order to save his mill from bankruptcy, he must marry a woman of fortune. Caroline is thus thrown into a sort of heartbreak and her health and spirits decline.

Enter Shirley Keeldar. Shirley is a an heiress of twenty-one with a beautiful form and charming manners. From the very moment she is presented, it is made clear that Shirley is an extroverted and opinionated woman who seeks to rebel against social norms. She speaks her mind without remorse and dares to contradict the opinions of her male counterparts, though she does so with a charm that makes her likeable. She and Caroline become immediate friends, finding that they share similar opinions and interests. Caroline is, of course, less outspoken than Shirley, and it is for this reason that I found myself able to admire Shirley more (as did the other characters in the book).

Shirley takes a peculiar interest in Robert Moore, and it is not long before the neighborhood begins to assume that the two will marry. With this new realization, Caroline is again plunged into heartbreak and falls ill. Shirley's governess comes to the rectory to nurse her, and it is thus discovered that she is Caroline's mother. Caroline now grows stronger, recovers, and develops a loving relationship with her mother (who, I must add, abandoned her for very good reasons).

Meanwhile, company has come to Fieldhead (Shirley's home). This party consists of Shirley's uncle, aunt, their two daughters, young son, and their son's tutor. It is then revealed that the tutor is none other than Robert Moore's brother, Louis. Louis used to teach Shirley, but for some reason, Shirley is often cold to him and borders on uncivil. Four suitors propose to Shirley, each of high moral and social standing, but she rejects each of them, which greatly angers her uncle.

Robert Moore has been away to London for the past few months and now comes back with a change of heart. It turns out that he had proposed to Shirley, who rejected him. Shirley knows that Caroline and Robert love eachother, and she knew that Robert was only proposing because of her fortune. Her wounding of his pride caused him to run away to London. Robert now comes back, realizing that he loved Caroline and that his drive to become rich had clouded his morality. Upon admitting this, he is shot. As he recovers, Caroline comes to see him and there a small romance sparks. He makes his intentions towards her clear, but they still cannot marry as of yet because of his financial circumstances.

At around the same time, we find out that Louis Moore is in love with Shirley. The two have loved each other for a long time, but Shirley has been unable to admit it because she afraid of being "tamed." He proposes to her claiming "Tame or fierce, wild or subdued, you are MINE." She accepts despite his low position. Shortly after their engagement, fortunes change for Robert and he admits his love to Caroline, asking her to forgive him for all the pain he has caused her. He proposes and she accepts.

There is more to the story, of course. It is for that reason that I recommend everyone to read it. There are many religious references, political issues, and intellectual conversations that I found very interesting to read within the novel. Caroline Helstone reveals herself to be just as strong as Shirley, though she shows it in rather different ways. The language of the book is beautiful and the symbolism is riveting. Bronte once again uses her pen to create a lot of imagery, describing the settings in great detail. The world of Shirley comes alive before the reader's eyes and leaves you entranced and moved.

Try it, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

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