There is a downside to reading, I’ve found. Every great reader stumbles across the book that changes their view of reading forever. There’s always that one book that is just SO GOOD that it leaves you breathless no matter how many times you read it. As you all know, Jane Eyre is that book for me. I’ve been obsessed with the book for years, but that obsession of course heightened in the past few months since the new movie version has come out. The problem with finding that book that’s breathtakingly perfect is the fact that once you’ve closed the back cover, you read it again…then you read it again…and again…and again. But one day, you close that cover and you realize that there’s this emptiness in your stomach because you know that you can’t read this same book for the rest of your life (as much as you may want to). After months of reading almost no book but Jane Eyre, I had to finally put it down and begin searching for something new to read. And what did I find?
The Brontes have written an array of very good novels, and though I had heard of Shirley, I had yet to read it. I went to the store and bought it, thinking that if it was written by Charlotte Bronte that it must be somewhat akin to Jane Eyre. WRONG!!
It’s rare that you get a disclaimer on the first page of a novel, but Charlotte Bronte gives one right off the bat. She basically says “don’t expect this to be a love story.” It was almost like she was speaking directly to me, reading my mind, because that was exactly what I was expecting it to be. Shirley is of a completely different breed than Jane Eyre.
It’s almost as if the roles are switched completely. In this novel, the protagonist is the independent heiress and it is the males who constantly depend on her, unlike Jane who was dependent throughout most of Jane Eyre.
Shirley tells the story of Shirley Keeldar, a young and beautiful heiress quite the opposite of the small and plain Jane Eyre. I can’t really explain the entire plot without giving certain details away, but the point is that this book was VERY satisfying. No, it was in no way like Jane Eyre at all. Jane Eyre drips passion and temptation whereas Shirley is less romantic and, I must admit, a bit dry in places. Still, there is just enough passion to satisfy the hopeless romantic and it is a great novel that gives one a sense of empowerment. Shirley Keeldar is a phenomenally strong woman who insists on dominating in a world where women usually take the back seat. She is wild, unafraid to share her opinions, and everything about her contradicts what was considered “normal” in her society. In that way, she and Jane are very much alike.
I read Shirley in order to compare it to Jane Eyre, but this book is fully capable of standing alone. It’s definitely worth a second read and I fully recommend it to any Lit fans. No, it’s not as well-known as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but it is just as good and has the same great qualities that both of these famous novels are known for. Shirley Keeldar should without a doubt be on the list of great literary heroines right next to Jane, Elizabeth Bennet, and numerous other great fictional women.
Next stop on the Bronte Express is rereading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I’ll review that next week most likely.