(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Shirley Keeldar

Shirley Keeldar, the mistress of Fieldhead, a young woman of wealth who owns estates in Yorkshire. A spirited, independent woman of great sense, she finds marriage difficult to contemplate because she does not wish to put herself into the hands of a man who is after her money or a weakling who has no moral fiber of his own. Most of all, she fears submitting to someone who might be a domestic tyrant. Beneath her independent spirit, Shirley is a good-hearted, warm person eager to help anyone who needs assistance. She has a social conscience and tries to organize in the surrounding parishes a system of giving charitable aid to the families of unemployed millworkers. She eventually falls in love with Louis Gérard Moore, her former tutor, and marries him.

Louis Gérard Moore

Louis Gérard Moore, a young man of Belgian and English ancestry who, because of his family’s straitened circumstances, becomes a tutor in the family of Mr. Sympson, Shirley’s uncle. Moore, a quiet, intelligent man, loves Shirley deeply. Through his patience and wisdom, he comes to understand her and to help her understand herself. He wins her for his wife despite his impecunious circumstances and the opposition of Shirley’s uncle, her former guardian.

Robert Gérard Moore

Robert Gérard Moore, a textile manufacturer and Louis Moore’s brother. The mill he operates is rented from Shirley Keeldar. Robert Moore is a man with two sides to his nature. He is a hard-headed businessman for whom his mill and financial success are paramount. Under the domination of this side of his character, he battles ruthlessly with unemployed workers to try to prevent modernization of his factory. Politically, he opposes the embargo of British ports caused by the Napoleonic wars. Once removed from the scene of business and politics, however, he becomes a different man, loving, thoughtful, and kind. Influenced by the harder side of his character, he tries to marry Shirley Keeldar, but she refuses his suit because she realizes that he is more interested in her wealth than...

(The entire section is 882 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The central differences between this novel and Bronte's other works are the point of view and the fact that Shirley treats real...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Given the historical aspects of Shirley, one might find it instructive to return to the writer who was probably her primary...

(The entire section is 381 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The unhappy situation of women in Victorian society always concerned Charlotte Bronte, as is seen in her earlier novel Jane Eyre....

(The entire section is 374 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The historical novel has a long and lofty heritage in English literature, with Sir Walter Scott at its peak. Bronte is, thus, part of an old...

(The entire section is 93 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Craik, W. A. The Brontë Novels. London: Methuen, 1968. Sees Shirley as Brontë’s “least successful novel.” Discusses the failure of the male characters and the third-person point of view.

Edwards, Mike. Charlotte Brontë: The Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Part of the Analysing Texts series; different aspects of the novel are discussed, as well as their counterparts in Brontë’s other novels. A particularly useful source for students.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. In a chapter devoted to Shirley, the authors focus on Brontë’s handling of women who are imprisoned and accepting of self-denial because of their gender.

Ingham, Patricia. The Brontës. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Part of Oxford’s Authors in Context series; discusses how Shirley reflects concerns with social class as well as the governess “problem.”

McLaughlin, Rebecca A. “’I Prefer a Master’: Female Power in Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley.” Brontë Studies 29 (November, 2004): 217-222. Sees the novel as a subversive depiction of the power of women in a male-dominated world.

Torgerson, Beth. Reading the Brontë Body: Disease, Desire, and the Constraints of Culture. New York: Palgrave, 2005. Describes how Brontë uses disease and illness as a metaphor for issues of class and gender.