(P)2007 Isis Publishing Ltd.
I have read this book many times since the seventies but this was my first time with the audio version. I knew the story or thought I knew the story but Anna Bentinck's performance allowed me to understand things which I had missed entirely. She is wonderful. Her voice reveals the subtle humor and touches of playfulness of the story. The oppressive sense of loneliness or despair which figure in the Bronte sisters' works, Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights or Villette is somehow replaced with optimism and hope.
Charlotte Bronte had a dust-up with her publisher over his praise of Jane Austen. Charlotte had some negative thoughts about Austen and was not shy in expressing them. After listening to this story, I now wonder if she wasn't influenced a bit after all. The Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre and the one who wrote Shirley seem to be different writers. This story has dirt under the fingernails. Not to overstate the case, the sprinkle of comic characters would suggest an Austen influence. Now I have done it! The Bronte sisters will rise from their graves to pummel me as I sleep.
My title quotes the author describing her story I think with accuracy. If she were a portrait artist, her paintings would be in the fashion of Vincent van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters" or in the harsh interplay of shadow and light on the canvas of Edgar Degas. Charlotte Bronte paints with fine brush strokes one color, one image after another, piling them on the canvas until the ungainly rough features of her story takes form. Yet, there are even flashes of Johannes Vermeer's delicate brush strokes, brilliant colors and of love shinning in the eyes of the "Girl with the Pearl Earring". Sometimes she paints the delicate beauty of flower gardens in moonlight evenings but also of harsh, glaring Monday mornings, the gritty, sometimes mean realities and human flaws.
First, Anna Bentinck gives a spectacular performance. She is clear, well-paced, and gives different characters to all of the major persona. Not an easy task in a book that you need a playbill for just to keep up. I'll definitely seek out more by her.
"Shirley" is something of a sleeper in the Bronte canon. It's an interesting treatise on the independence and status of women in the early 19th century -- long before there was much feminist activism. The book has an interesting political and economic aspect. A quick look at the Wikipedia page on Luddites will put things in context if your British history is as lacking as mine.
But it is also tragically romantic and downright steamy even at points. Perhaps it's just a modern perspective that sees this as so obvious, but it is hard to imagine how this wasn't considered scandalous by Victorian moral standards. Of course, everyone keeps their clothes on, both feet on the floor and no one ever does anything more than briedly hold hands.
My book club selected this as our "long" summer read, and two of us finished before June had barely begun. Worth a read!
trying to see the world with my ears
This was proof to me of the value of audiobooks! I picked up my paperback of "Shirley" several times over the last 20 years but never got past the introductory chapters. As a listen, I very much enjoyed "Shirley" as a 19th century novel-romance and for the characters and the commentary on women's roles. I was disappointed in it as an "industrial novel," but I guess it's the best the experience a Bronte could furnish. I thought Gaskill's later "North-South" was a better example of that sub genre, but I do not find Gaskill's novels as satisfying a reading (or listening) experience.
I recently fell in love with classic novels (less than a year) & I have found Charlotte Bronte's novels superb. The use of descriptive language makes me realize how much we (as a society) have lost with the growth in technology. No one utilizes language in this imaginative manner anymore! Shirley is an excellent, heart-warming novel. It is the perfect companion to any task or hobby.
This is not Charlotte Bronte's best book and at times it is a bit tedious but an enjoyable experience in spite of this.
This novel is long, 24 hours of listening pleasure. It was so very interesting, considering it is a historical piece. I love learned about the Napolean era and the effects it had on England. Charlotte weaves in the characters within this terrible time in history. The narrator is excellent. I was lost in time once again. I am amazed that Charlotte wrote and completed this book during a span of which her 3 remaining siblings died. Her brother, Ann Bronte, and Emily Bronte. She is definitely a novelist I would have liked to meet!
I really wanted to like this book, but it's so hard to be interested in. I gravitate to mid 19th century english fiction and I like historical novels. This has both, but the is so boring. Characters are described, but I don't feel any connection to them. I haven't completed the book (it's a drudge to turn on this book), but I wanted to warn others. The narrator is only OK - she struggles with the accents and too many of the characters are extremely nasily. Really - move on to something else - this is such a disappointment. At least this book made me investigate the Luddite era, so I did learn something - but much more from Wikpedia than from this story.
After having just given Anne Bronte's "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" 5 stars in all areas I was looking forward to reading this by her sister. After multiple attempts to get into it the story I gave up.I really enjoy the English period stories but I just could not grasp the story or understand the profusion of esoteric verbage in this one.
Say something about yourself!
Imagine a delicately dressed, quietly soft woman, circa 1800 under the influence of Napoleon's murderous campaign against Europe, writing in the hand of Ayn Rand, in a copse in wild Yorkshire, and you have an idea of the scope of 'Shirley'. What a treat! Industrialization, striking roughs, aristocrats poor and prosperous, and the plague of poverty, struggle with the politics of embargo and isolation. There are no devils in this story, but people wrestling realities, truths of spirit, ignorance and pride. Characters are given grace and life by the impeccable narration of Anna Bentinck, and the story and words of Charlotte Bronte bring a beauty to humanity, understanding and love, that begs the ear and heart to devour more.
I would recommend Shirley to any who love the time period or the stories of British. I just returned from England and loved coming home and hearing the descriptions of the moors and the life of the English townpeople in their struggles during the British Industrial Revolution.
Terrific reader that keeps one engaged in long descriptive parts.
"Very nice to listen to"
Well narrated. Bentinck captures the right tone and makes distinction between the characters by giving him or her a different voice and accent. I like this, because I do not get confused about who is speaking and it makes the novel more animated. In addition Bentincks (first person) narrative mode is pleasant, not nasal e.g.
"Feisty Wish Fulfillment Beautifully Read"
Anna Bentinck reads superbly including accents.
I had forgotten what Shirley was like or maybe I have changed. Such a patchwork of romance, even arch comedy (had never heard "enthronisation" before); the cry of the unvalued governess and the wishfulfilng( for the author perhaps) drawn out Belgian love affairs; the feminism on one hand and the need to to be conquered; the tears, the suffering and oh the joy and fine profiles and complexions; with a bit of violent class conflict; industrial revolution and church commentary, and Lady Audley's secret made right, in such colourful and flighty language.
Jane Eyre this is not, but it is a fascinating, wandery jumble of things with two love stories, beautifully read.
"The forgotten Bronte novel"
Well forgotten by me anyway. I have recently been re-reading and listening to many of the better known 19th century novels and have really enjoyed them. Most recently I read and listened to Jane Eyre and then Villette which are both well known. However, Shirley meant little to me and I was pleased to find an audio edition available. Like both novels already mentioned Shirley deals with the plight of the poor 19th century woman through the character of Caroline Helstone (and her mother), but also the difficulties facing a rich one, Shirley, as well. It also comments on the behaviour of the clergy and the uprisings in the Yorkshire textile industry. The story held my attention and it was beautifully written. While none of the main protagonists really pleased me I did care about what came of them. When listening to the Tenant of Wildfell Hall I really wished I had downloaded the abridged edition but I didn't regret any of the time spent listening to this and importantly it was beautifully read.
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