Shirley – Charlotte Bronte

Dear Charlotte, you and I will never be friends. I’m convinced of it now. I do get on with your sisters well, but not with you. It saddens my heart, but there it is. I cannot help it. It all started with your Jane Eyre. My most popular book, you would say. And I agree. It is. Only, I couldn’t be part of the popular view. Not that I disliked it, but I couldn’t say I really liked it either. However, I kept my hopes alive. To complete the Bronte canon, I still had two of your books on the shelf. And I was quite prepared to take another chance with you. But your Shirley made me realize that, however much I tried, I’ll never be able to embrace you with my whole heart.

If it would be a consolation to you, I’ll say I liked Shirley more than Jane Eyre. Storywise, Jane Eyre is the better one, I agree. But, when it comes to characters, Shirley surpasses Jane Eyre. At least, it was so to me. I can tell you quite honestly that I never cared much for your characters, but in Shirley, the four main characters, Shirley Keeldar, Caroline Helstone, and Robert and Louis Moore made me alter my opinion. They were not perfect, and indeed they had many faults. Still, I couldn’t help but like them. And I thank you sincerely for presenting them to me. They were the sweet fruits of your sweet and sour pickle. Also sweet were the two romances. I don’t know why you said when you began the story that this is no romance and that we shouldn’t expect one, for what I read was certainly a romance.

Now may I go to the sour points? You, my dear Charlotte, adopt this preachy tone with your verbose language, and to tell the truth, it exasperates me to no end. You have a gift for flowery prose, I don’t deny that. But I believe you overuse it. Also, you like to shower us with your views and knowledge to the extent of overshadowing the storyline. And I’d like to ask you why you didn’t work hard on your subplot. You started it well, creating the right excitement and interest in the conflict between masters (mill owners) and workers. You worked on generating the right atmosphere for the brooding tempest. But when the tempest finally broke and did its damage, you lost your enthusiasm for its aftermath consequences. True, you came with a twist at the end, but to my excited mind, that wasn’t quite enough.

Overall, Charlotte, I will confess to you that I liked your Shirley, perhaps more than what I’ve read of yours so far. I liked the fact that it was more character-driven. And I enjoyed the spirit with which you unfolded the story. I may not be a keen fan of your style, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating some of your qualities as an author. And despite our differences Charlotte, I promise you that I will read your Villette and complete my Bronte canon.

Rating: 3/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.

Leave a Reply