My result for The Classics Club’s last wonderful Spin feature was the epic Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. If I’m honest I’m a little daunted by this choice. Due to the length and the fact I previously read Jane Eyre and it hadn’t lived up to my expectations. I tried to go into this with an open mind though.
Shirley takes us to a rural community in Yorkshire populated with a selection of landowners, clergymen, mill workers and their families. This is a quiet and rather comforting tale of day-to day life, work troubles, village festivals, friendship, marriage, and political and denomination arguments. Things are to be enlivened a little with the arrival of Miss Shirley Keeldar, a young and beautiful heiress. The women want to be her friend and the men want to marry her however Miss Keeldar is to surprise them all, she is one of those new breed of educated woman.
There is quite a large cast of characters in Shirley but the two I feel we get to know the best are the title characters Miss Shirley Keeldar and another young woman Miss Caroline Helstone. I found Shirley a fascinating woman to read about but it was Caroline who I liked and connected with the best. Caroline is the niece of a local reverend, she is quiet, pretty, educated and humble who is a lonely character until Shirley arrives. The two become fast friends and bring out good qualities in each other. Shirley emboldens Caroline while Caroline mellows Shirley. What let Jane Eyre down for me was how frustrating I found Jane so I was pleased to find I liked Caroline in this.
This is the third novel I have read by the Brontë sisters, having previously read Wuthering Heights by Emily and Jane Eyre by Charlotte. The first I loved while the latter I was disappointed by. With this in mind I tried to go into my second read by Charlotte with an open mind and I am glad I did. I found Shirley to be well written and a slow but a comfortingly slow read. I took my time with this novel, reading one chapter a night before going to bed. Taking my time meant I was able to take on board the amount of characters and also gave me time to reflect on Charlotte’s detailed style and some of the character’s convoluted speech style. After reading this I am feeling more positive about reading more by the Brontë sisters.
Shirley is a slow and comforting tale of a rural community from England’s past. I recommend if you are interested in reading English classics. This is now my 27th read off my Classics Club list. Good read.
Have you read this? What Brontë novel do you recommend I read next?