Shirley Charlotte Brontë Criticism - Essay

G.H. Lewes (essay date 1850)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Currer Bell's Shirley," in Critical Essays on Charlotte Brontë, edited by Barbara Timm Gates, G. K. Hall, 1990, pp. 217-23.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1850 in the Edinburgh Review, Lewes criticizes the characters in Shirley as unnatural and unrealistic, despite the author's claim that they are drawn from real life.]

Shirley is inferior to Jane Eyre in several important points. It is not quite so true; and it is not so fascinating. It does not so rivet the reader's attention, nor hurry him through all obstacles of improbability, with so keen a sympathy in its reality. It is even...

(The entire section is 3423 words.)

Asa Briggs (essay date 1958)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Private and Social Themes in Shirley" in Brontë Society Transactions, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1958, pp. 203-19.

[In this address to the Brontë Society, Briggs explores Shirley's social themethe Luddite uprisingsan element of the novel that is often overlooked.]

I consider it a great honour to address the Brontë Society. The Transactions of the Society reveal the variety of approaches to the work of the Brontës and the continuing relevance and freshness of their creative achievement. There are still new things to say and new ways of saying them. The sense of honour, however, is mixed with some trepidation. I am not a...

(The entire section is 8274 words.)

J.M.S. Tompkins (essay date 1961)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Caroline Helstone's Eyes," in Brontë Society Transactions, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1961, pp. 18-28.

[In the following essay, Tompkins looks at possible sources for the character of Caroline from among the author's family members and friends.]

Two-thirds of the way through Shirley Caroline Helstone's eyes change from brown to blue. This is not an unparalleled phenomenon in a novel. In Shirley, however it is unexpected, for here Charlotte Brontë is much occupied with the looks of her characters. Here, for the only time, she gives herself two pretty girls as heroines, and she does not allow us to forget their charm. Her imagination lingers...

(The entire section is 5278 words.)

Ivy Holgate (essay date 1962)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Structure of Shirley," in Brontë Society Transactions, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1962, pp. 27-35.

[In the essay below, Holgate describes the changes in the novel from its planning stage to its completionchanges brought about by the tragic events in the author's life in 1848-49.]

If any one of Charlotte Brontë's novels could be described as 'ill-starred' it must surely be Shirley.

Its conception was by no means a chance-blown seed; it set out to be an ambitious work; the nucleus and growth started in a decade, and in a district, which offered lush material, rich with incident, for a romance amid industrial...

(The entire section is 5107 words.)

Earl A. Knies (essay date 1965)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Art, Death, and the Composition of Shirley," in The Victorian Newsletter, No. 28, Fall, 1965, pp. 22-4.

[In the following essay, Knies examines Brontë's writing timetable in order to challenge other critics ' claims that Anne Brontë 's death brought about changes in the character and fate of Caroline.]

It is a well-known fact that the composition of Charlotte Brontë's third novel, Shirley, was interrupted by the successive deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë; and writers—notably Janet Spens and J.M.S. Tompkins—have argued plausibly that as a result Charlotte altered her original plan while she was writing the novel....

(The entire section is 2178 words.)

Arnold Shapiro (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Public Themes and Private Lives: Social Criticism in Shirley," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter, 1968, pp. 74-84.

[In this essay, Shapiro challenges the conventional criticism that the public and private realms in the novel are unconnected.]

From the outset, critics of Charlotte Brontë's third novel, Shirley (published in 1849), have said that the book lacks unity. It has been charged repeatedly that there is no correlation in it between the social themes—for example, the Luddite rioting of the turn of the nineteenth century—and the private ones—the two love stories at the center of the book. Thus,...

(The entire section is 4694 words.)

Anne W. Passel (essay date 1969)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Three Voices in Charlotte Brontë's Shirley," in Brontë Society Transactions, Vol. 15, 1969, pp. 323-26.

[In this excerpt, Passel describes the contrapuntal structure of Shirley, in which three voices explore possible solutions to life's problems through religion, work, and love respectively.]

In Shirley, Charlotte Brontë has written a novel with a highly organized three-voiced contrapuntal structure. The novel has seldom been viewed as an organic unity; more often critics consider it to be a gathering together of dissimilar threads of plot. Shortly after its publication, such an attitude was expressed by G. H. Lewes in...

(The entire section is 1957 words.)

Charles Burkhart (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Shirley: The Eternal Feminine," in Charlotte Brontë: A Psychosexual Study of Her Novels, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1973, pp. 78-95.

[In the following excerpt, Burkhart claims that, despite the novel's faults, its title character succeeds as a forerunner of today's liberated women.]

Voices public and private

The habit among Victorian writers of addressing the reader directly was based on the assumptions that reader and writer shared a common background and common beliefs and that the writer's duty was rather more to instruct than to delight. When an author felt his audience becoming inattentive or alienated, he tended to raise his...

(The entire section is 6449 words.)

Andrew and Judith Hook (essay date 1974)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Shirley by Charlotte Brontë, edited by Andrew Hook and Judith Hook, Penguin Books, 1974, pp. 7-32.

[In this introduction to Shirley, the Hooks explore the various social themes of the novel as well as the circumstances under which it was written and the intentions of its author.]

With Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë achieved the kind of success denied to all but a handful of writers, the kind of success that soars beyond the approval of critics and reading-public alike. Jane Eyre belongs to that select company of books which have passed into a nation's literary consciousness. An extraordinary combination of...

(The entire section is 10365 words.)

Terry Eagleton (essay date 1975)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Shirley," in Myths of Power: A Marxist Studies of the Brontës, second edition, Macmillan Press, 1988, pp. 45-60.

[In this excerpt, originally published in 1975, Eagleton explores the possible reasons for the novel's focus on the Luddite disturbances of 1812 rather than the Chartist unrest of Brontë's own time.]

Shirley was published in 1849, one year after the defeat of Chartism; and yet, though the novel is much preoccupied with class-conflict, it is backdated to the Luddite events of 1812. It is worth enquiring why this should be so. The West Riding of the 1840s was an intensive focus of Chartist agitation: Leeds was second only to...

(The entire section is 6134 words.)

Susan Gubar (essay date 1976)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Genesis of Hunger, According to Shirley," in Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, Nos. 3-4, Spring-Summer, 1976, pp. 5-21.

[In the following excerpt, Gubar dismisses those critics who claim that Shirley lacks unity, and praises the novel as a revolutionary text.]

Charlotte Brontë's second published novel, Shirley, begins with three clergymen at table: complaining that the roast beef is tough and the beer flat, they nevertheless swallow enormous quantities of both, calling for "More bread!" and ordering their landlady to "Cut it, woman."1 They also consume all her vegetables, cheese and spice cake. Is it merely a scene of local...

(The entire section is 9703 words.)

Helene Moglen (essay date 1976)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Shirley: Feminism and Power," in Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived, W. W. Norton and Company, 1976, pp. 152-89.

[In the following excerpt, Moglen looks at the author's progression from Jane Eyre to Shirley as an attempt to turn from the personal to the political.]

For reasons which I will shortly sketch, Charlotte Brontë turned away from the quasi-allegorical mode of Jane Eyre and attempted to write what she conceived as a social and political novel. She would, of course, not abandon the psychological conundrums she had explored in that violent and radical new myth of heterosexual relationship, but she would now...

(The entire section is 14803 words.)

Deirdre Lashgari (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "What Some Women Can't Swallow: Hunger as Protest in Charlotte Brontë's Shirley," in Disorderly Eaters: Texts in Self-Empowerment, edited by Lilian R. Furst and Peter W. Graham, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992, pp. 141-52.

[In this excerpt, Lashgari discusses images of food, starvation, and eating disorders in Shirley.]

Does virtue lie in abnegation of self? I do not believe it. (10:190)

You expected bread, and you have got a stone. (6:105)


Individual eating disorders in Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley (1849)...

(The entire section is 4945 words.)