(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Once more, as in Jane Eyre, Bronte creates several sets of paired characters. The wealthy, animated, bold Shirley Keeldar contrasts with the shy, retiring, timid Caroline Helstone—both are worthy, honorable, attractive young ladies; but their situations are at odds: Shirley is an independent heiress; Caroline is under the thumb of her self-righteous uncle, the rector of Briarfield. The opposing ways in which these ladies deal with love is equally striking: Shirley refuses proposals and argues vigorously with her husband-to-be; Caroline (based, to some degree, on Anne Bronte) falls into a decline for the want of love.

The two principal male characters, the brothers Moore, are also very different. Robert is outspoken, unyielding, adamant; Louis is quietly proud, intellectual, and sensitive. While Robert is facing down the workers and even fighting against their attack, Louis gives French lessons and remains outside the main action of the plot. All these characters have positive qualities: Robert and Shirley are very courageous (Robert enters combat bravely; Shirley cauterizes her own wounded arm with a hot iron.) Louis and Caroline possess intense powers of resilience, overcoming both illness and apparent initial rejection.

There is also a cast of colorful minor characters, including the Yorkshire workmen (whose speech accent is sometimes hard to interpret), the stuffy Sympsons (Shirley's uncle and aunt), and Sir Philip Nunnely, the...

(The entire section is 234 words.)