Shirley

  • by Charlotte Bronte
  • Narrated by Anna Bentinck
  • 25 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Set in the industrialising England of the Napoleonic wars, a period of bad harvests, Luddite riots, and economic unrest, Shirley is the story of two contrasting heroines and the men they love. One is the shy Caroline Helstone, trapped in the oppressive atmosphere of a Yorkshire rectory, whose life represents the plight of single women in the 19th century. The other is the vivacious Shirley Keeldar, who inherits a local estate and whose wealth liberates her from convention.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

"As Romantic As Monday Morning"

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.
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- Joseph R

Holy Mackerel!

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!
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- Regan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-29-2007
  • Publisher: ISIS Audio Books